What Does It Mean to be an Urban Conservative?

I had never given any thought to what it means to be an “urban” conservative—as opposed to a “paleo,” “neo,” “social,” “mainstreet,” or some other kind of conservative—until my long-time friend and colleague Peter Bell suggested the novel combination as grist for an American Experiment symposium. Yes, I proudly handed out literature for one of my all-time heroes, Bill Buckley, when he ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 (I was 17 at the time). But he won only 13.4 percent of the vote, and I’ve dwelled on other things since.

In making the case for the topic and locution, Peter argued persuasively that the “conservative movement in our country is entering an important period of introspection, reviewing important questions of principle and policy,” begging a powerfully pivotal question: “Can a conservative governing coalition be built in this country that’s almost exclusively suburban and rural?” Not since the days of Jack Kemp’s public service, he noted, has the matter been seriously considered.

This symposium is the latest in a long line of lower-case catholic and well-received American Experiment anthologies on a wide range of issues, including most recently last May, Should Medicare be Means Tested?

This package is also one of the first projects in a year-long series of American Experiment activities aimed at rethinking and re-energizing conservatism—partially prompted by a certain political convention to be held in St. Paul next summer. Though, I’m quick to emphasize, as is the case with everything the Center does, this project is wholly nonpartisan, featuring 40 writers of various party stripes and ideological denominations, from Minnesota and across the nation. Among questions they pondered are the following:

  • Should we even bother thinking about something conceived as urban conservatism (as opposed to other basic kinds) to begin with?
  • If you were to design a philosophy of urban conservatism, what would it contain? What would it not contain?
  • Do you believe it’s possible to build and maintain a sufficiently potent and long-term conservative movement in the United States without more than token support in major cities and other urban areas?
  • What about the same question in regards to Minnesota? Is it possible to build and maintain a sufficiently potent and long-term conservative movement here with hardly any support in Minneapolis and St. Paul and most inner-ring suburbs? In considering this question and the one immediately above, you may want to take into account various demographic changes well underway across the country, especially significant increases in minority populations.
  • And by the way, how do you define conservatism?

Mitch Pearlstein
Founder and President
January 2008