Next Conservatism 4: Nuts and Bolts

For all the effects it’s having in politics, Next Conservatism is outside politics. It looks so mundane at first that the remarkable stories don’t get covered by the political press. They don’t see those national renovations underway.

For example: “Idle Load,” sometimes called “vampire load”, is the electricity that household devices consume when they’re “Off” or in “sleep mode” or on “standby” but using power. In a single house, the Idle Load’s value to the user is tiny, but the cost is so low most consumers don’t see it, and for the moment most of them don’t have a way to notice it. Neither does the press. But added up by millions of houses, it’s an issue for national concern and political attention.

The National Resources Defense Council says that the average household has 65 such “always on” devices: “Most are consuming electricity around-the-clock, even when the owners are not using them or think they have been turned off. This always-on energy use by inactive devices translates to approximately 19 billion a year — about $165 per U. S. household on average, and as high as $440 using the local utility’s top tier-rate — and 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants’ worth of electricity.” “To put this into perspective,” says the NRDC, “the amount of saved electricity is the same amount consumed by all the residents of Arizona and Alabama in one year.” (

This doesn’t come up on radio talk shows for good reasons: it’s not fun. It’s technical. And fossil fuel interests like Idle Load. They make the same money from waste as they make from smart uses, so they aren’t eager to make it an issue. And no shock jock worth his microphone will preach anything that makes the environmentalists and liberals look right even when they are right.

For Next Conservatives, it’s an opportunity. The technology for detecting and stopping Idle Load is both increasingly available and easy to use. The money saved is worth it. It doesn’t require legislation. It doesn’t even need consensus. It’s free market common sense: one household practicing authentic Conservative thrift like this gets an advantage over one that doesn’t. Millions of them in the aggregate are making more effective Conservative policy than the ideologues who deny climate change and argue for the Keystone Pipeline: “If all homes in the United States reduced their always-on load for devices not being actively used to the level that a quarter of the homes in our study have already achieved, it would:

· save consumers $8 billion on their annual utility bills

· avoid 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity use per year, and

· prevent 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution, or 4.6 percent of U.S. residential sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electricity generation.”

It’s been typical for Conservative media to naysay climate change, and in so doing to trivialize the technology that mitigates it. Next Conservatives don’t have to take a side on the global warming question. If it’s about a couple hundred dollars a year, and it’s easy, the Next Conservative will make this about the money.

The End of Fluff Conservatism

The difference between Next Conservatism and the ideologues is the difference between an electric bill and a fairy tale.

Today’s inconclusiveness comes after almost seventy-five years of Conservative bedtime stories. Modern explicators such as Weaver, Buckley and Nash avoided defining Conservatism to suggest that their philosophy, if that’s what it is, was above mere definition. Weaver anointed it as “a paradigm of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is in continuing approximation.” Buckley famously committed his National Review, the movement’s house organ, to “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Vagueness built the movement’s numbers at the expense of specificity. “It is almost true,” said Russell Kirk, “that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such.” Their successors, heirs to vapor, affirmed that “the goal of conservatism was to restore to men and women a metaphysical dream that allows for ultimate meaning in our existence.” It’s “a commitment to the defense of the particular habits, mores and institutions of the United States against those socioeconomic trends that threaten to undermine them, and those political movements (generally on the left, but sometimes on the right) that seek to change them radically in the pursuit of particular ideological goals” — indistinct today as ever, with the definitions of “commitment”, “particular habits, mores and institutions”, “trends”, “movements”, “radical” and “in”, “of”, and “to” left up to the Conservative who thinks himself in charge of the “defense”. It’s the definition by Micklethwait and Wooldridge in The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (2004): Conservatism is “a deep suspicion of the power of the state; a preference for liberty over equality; patriotism; a belief in established institutions and hierarchies; skepticism about the idea of progress; and elitism”. But ten people calling themselves Conservatives would find ten different ways to express “deep suspicion” and “preference” and “patriotism” and so on.

Ultimate meaning? That means whatever a Conservative says it means. After three generations the first prerogative of a Movement Conservative is to define the whole philosophy for himself. There’s no way to judge it. On the other hand, ten different motives for cutting idle load or implementing solar or driving a hybrid car would all be scored by the same numbers: dollar savings, kilowatt hours saved, pounds of CO2 kept out of the environment. The motives don’t matter. In the Next Conservatism, all that counts is, did you conserve? How much? How can I do that too?

Next Conservatism 5: Case Study — The Smart House is at