By Gabriel de Arruda Castro
So-called contemporary American conservatism, which emerged in the second half of the 20th century to fight, among other things, against the influence of socialism, had two clear pillars.
One: adherence to economic liberalism.
Two: the defense of traditional values derived from Western philosophy and Christian culture, such as the family’s primary role in society.
Increasingly, this coalition is falling apart.
As private businesses increasingly embrace the cultural agenda of the progressive left, divorce rates rise, and birthrates decline, many conservatives have become more reticent about the free market’s power to prevent the social fabric’s degradation.
This week, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a Washington-based think tank with a right-wing ideological profile, released a manifesto defending pro-family policies.
The text is signed by Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D. from Princeton University, Robert P. George, professor at the same university, Helen Alvaré, professor at George Mason University, and researchers from other institutions and journalists.
The document maintains that “in its ideal form, the family is the social institution through which children are brought into existence, raised, and prepared to assume responsibilities as they mature.”
The text proposes to public officials ten measures to strengthen families.
Some are what you would expect from a conservative entity, such as supporting “durable bonds” between family members and protecting children from the time of pregnancy.
Others may surprise those accustomed to associating the right with advocating the minimal state in the economy.
One item on the list calls for the state to “pursue approaches to paid leave that provide basic protection for new parents in the face of workplace demands.”
Another asks that the state “develop labor policies that create flexibility for parents without compromising their financial security, allowing more families to find the right work-life balance for them.”
A third is to promote policies that make motherhood (or fatherhood) cheaper.
To Gazeta do Povo, one of the letter’s signatories explains that the idea is not to break with the free market ideas enthusiastically defended by liberals but to readjust priorities so that families are treated with more attention.
Patrick T. Brown, a researcher at EPPC, says that mere economic calculation is not enough.
“In recent decades, conservatives have too easily accepted that the liberal approach has taken over in economic policymaking. Not that there aren’t important ideas in the liberal tradition,” he says,
“But the economic perspective can’t be the only way we look at public policy; we need to think about the long-term impact for workers, families, and communities.”
Brown admits that some of the policies proposed on the list may go against the premises of the free market, pure and simple, but he says that the price to be paid for the disruption of families is much greater.
In other words: every society needs children to continue to exist, and families fulfill a social role by begetting children and caring for them.
“As the direct costs and opportunity costs of having a child continue to rise, society must ensure that parents are not overly burdened with the expenses of having a child and raising a family. The question is not whether we can take modest steps toward more pro-family policies; it is what will happen if we don’t,” he reasons.
THE REDEFINITION OF AMERICAN CONSERVATISM
The EPPC initiative is part of a broader movement that rejects automatic adherence to economic liberalism agendas.
In recent years, authors such as University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen have questioned the classical liberal view.
In 2018, Deneen published a book whose title gets right to the point: “Why Liberalism Failed.”
Donald Trump‘s victory in 2016, on a more protectionist platform than his Republican competitors, has also been interpreted as a signal in this direction.
The strongest name within the Republican Party for the 2026 presidential election, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also set aside the traditional handbook of American conservatism by buying a fight with a major corporation on ideological grounds.
On his initiative, Florida last year removed much of the tax privileges of Disney World in Orlando after the company took a stand against the law aimed at preventing the teaching of sex education to children in the early school grades.
The new conservatism – more nationalistic and less concerned with defending capitalism – even has a name: “national conservatism”.
At one of the movement’s periodic conventions, which usually bring together leading Republican politicians, one can see intellectuals advocating alliances of conservatives with unions to defeat the alliance between the progressive elites entrenched in universities, the media, and increasingly in big business.
It is a significant change. Whether it will bear fruit remains to be seen.
With information from Gazeta do Povo