In the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” the discussion turns quite philosophical when in a court scene “M” asks a profound question: “So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves: ‘How safe do you feel?'”
The scene is immediately afterward met by a typical James Bond shootout.
The backdrop of the movie involves a subplot in which the “00” program’s modern relevancy is questioned. “M,” played by actress Judi Dench, tries to make the case that it’s needed now more than ever before. “Our world is not more transparent today. It’s more opaque.”
For a brief moment, the famously unrealistic James Bond franchise actually takes a turn toward realism.
Our world today doesn’t always look as black and white as it does when we study World War II in the history books. It doesn’t look as black and white as it did when we study the Cold War and see the free, capitalist United States against the tyrannical, Communist Soviet Union.
Conservatism was needed back then. Only a third of the population in the world lived in a democracy in the 60s. Since then the number of democratic countries has tripled from about 35 to 100, according to some accounts.
In 1955, William Buckley, Jr., often referred to as the father of the modern conservative movement, founded National Review. In 1966, he started Firing Line, which would become the longest-running public affairs show in history with a single host. The program was loved by conservatives, but everyone was given a chance to speak with dignity, so liberals came on the show as well.
Buckley’s program was well known for two characteristics: its venue for peaceful conversation (albeit with plenty of deadpan sarcasm), and its conservative predisposition. Buckley was well known for being staunchly conservative. Nonetheless, he would give ample time for even his liberal guests to talk and argue with him.
The show came to an end in 1999, but it was rebooted a few months ago. The show’s host is Margaret Hoover, who appears to be moderately conservative on fiscal issues and a social liberal.
From the onset, Hoover, the great-granddaughter of former President Herbert Hoover, said she would be extremely respectful to the type of forum that Buckley had in place from 1966-1999. She has said that she wants to provide an antidote for the political times we live in today. While we live in a world of short-soundbites and angry notes on Twitter, Firing Line provides a half-hour of conversation among people of all political beliefs.
In that respect, Hoover has done a great job. She is polite to the guests, and she allows for a true conversation.
However, she does not promote a conservative worldview that Buckley promoted.
To be sure, Hoover has not hesitated to say that she does not intent to replace Buckley. That is a wise move, since no one can truly replace him. She has also said she wants to approach the show with the upmost respect toward Buckley.
But the question does need to be raised: are we respecting the legacy of Firing Line and William F. Buckley, Jr. if we don’t espouse his worldview?
Hoover has said she is in favor of “free markets, free people.” She is a conservative on many regards when it comes to capitalism, entrepreneurship, and freedom.
However, it remains to be seen if she fully understands the value of conservatism today.
In a conversation with liberal comedian Stephen Colbert, she says that she doesn’t worry about the anti-Communism element of conservatism today, saying that “we’ve actually won that.”
Colbert actually quickly points out: “We’ve actually back slidden a little bit.”
He is absolutely correct, except maybe regarding the “a little bit” part.
China has eliminated term limits and has become much more antagonistic and authoritarian toward Christians and other religions.
Venezuela, already a communist country, has spiraled out of control.
In the U.S., Democrats have become increasingly more open to socialism and less so to capitalism. Also, Republicans have been talking less about fiscal responsibility and social values and more about immigration. Republicans have become much less open to free trade.
Former President George W. Bush pointed out that younger Americans, “who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by Socialist central planning,” are less supportive of democracy itself. It’s a legitimate concern, especially if we agree with Former President Ronald Reagan, who once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Perhaps Hoover doesn’t see a threat of communism or other overbearing government control because the Soviet Union is no longer in existence.
But in all likelihood, we won’t see the threat return looking the same as before. Perhaps we will see a modern China that embraces technology become a much bigger threat than the Soviet Union was. Or perhaps the United States will cripple under the weight of its own debt and embrace some other form of socialism. It may not be communism, but it may be another type of threat.
We must always remain vigilant, and we must always teach about conservatism. We should not assume that those in a capitalist economy like ours will understand it. Nor should we assume that those in the Republican Party understand it. Because Colbert is right: we have backslidden a bit.