Review: ‘Conservative Insurgency’ by Kurt Schlicter

A ‘Looking Backward’ For Conservatives

August 23, 2014

When Edward Bellamy published his utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 in 1888, he did not fancy himself a reformer, nor had he intended to fashion a social blueprint. "The idea," he later wrote, "was of a mere literary fantasy, a fairy tale of social felicity."

But contemporaries reacted quite differently to his tale of a Gilded Age American who falls asleep and awakens centuries later in a socialist paradise. He spends the novel tracing the emergence of this utopia from the social reality of his own time. Looking Backward became one of the era’s all-time bestsellers, inspiring a political movement.

In one sense, Kurt Schlicter’s Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle To Take America Back, 2009-2041, a long-form prophecy in the form of a future history, is the conservative answer to Bellamy’s progressive dream. Yet Schlicter has accomplished more than that. Indeed, his account presents a mostly realistic and achievable future for America and the conservative movement.

He shows this, moreover, not through the preachy speeches by which Bellamy described his utopia. Schlicter creates an oral history, like that used in Max Brook’s World War Z, to describe how today’s somewhat beleaguered conservatism triumphed in the near future. Fictional yet generally plausible characters—a Republican president-elect, a straight-talking Floridian chief of staff, conservative activists, and even a few bitter liberals—chart, through their own recollections, a path for conservatives to return to power.

This format entertains as it details the titular conservative insurgency, "a small, dedicated group, defying a corrupt, decrepit authority, and winning through persistence and dedication." Citing the late Andrew Brietbart’s maxim that "politics is downstream from culture," Schlicter, whose military experience surely inspired the strategy, tells a story of how decentralized conservative efforts stealthily and gradually reclaimed the liberal institutions of media, academia, and entertainment.

At the same time, Schlicter’s grassroots conservatives, refashioning themselves as "Constitutional Conservatives," purified the Republican Party, reaching out to groups—young people, blacks—to whom the party today has trouble appealing. Above all, these conservatives, tempered by decades of defeat, did not hesitate to combat liberalism head-on.

Schlicter deserves credit not only for his advice, but also for making the road to his utopia bumpy. His short-term vision for America is bleak (pay special attention to a frightening domestic altercation that alludes to some of the more apocalyptic theories of American decline). He admits some major conservative missteps, before and during their ascendancy. Still, in Schlicter’s telling, liberalism at its most powerful is also at its most bloated and self-caricatured—some portions of his narrative resemble Atlas Shrugged—which renders it perfectly susceptible to a well-executed conservative insurgency.

Yet the book remains utopian. Some aspects stand out as unrealistic conjectures. Raw milk and recreational drugs, for example, emerge repeatedly as reasons that anti-GOP voters shift their allegiances. Supporting the former may be sensible, but milk is unlikely to become "one of the flashpoints for so many people on the left turning right," as one character asserts. Supporting drug legalization is a still-developing concern and an unproven political fix.

Similar decisions to yield ground on abortion and traditional marriage would be concessions to liberalism, not victories over it. And a constitutional amendment that mandates self-responsibility in all individuals is similar to Judge Narragansett’s naive constitutional amendment that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade" near the end of Atlas Shrugged.

Though some conservatives may chafe at these features, Schlicter’s work remains worth reading. Even those who disagree with some of his advice ought to consider it. If nothing else, he warns, excessive intra-movement acrimony could prevent cooperation on popular consensus issues, such as attacking cronyism, thereby prolonging the left ascendancy.

If Schlicter’s treatment of social issues is Conservative Insurgency’s most troubling quality, his passionate, neo-Leonidian spirit emerges as by far its most inspiring. "Our opponents, therefore, have us surrounded," he writes, describing today’s political environment for conservatives. "This is good. It means we can attack in any direction."

Only that spirit will inspire conservatives to implement Schlicter’s blueprint. Despite the shortcomings of Schlicter’s future, it remains one which today’s conservatives ought to strive toward.