When Paul Weyrich cofounded the Heritage Foundation in 1973, the conservative movement was in low ebb. Barry Goldwater had fallen short in 1964, Watergate was in the papers, and the nation churned over Vietnam. Weyrich and co-founder Edwin Feulner sensed the drift—more to the point, they noted the absence of fresh conservative ideas in the public square. So they went to work, creating the think tank that arguably has had more influence on American public policy in the last 25 years than any other single organization. Indeed, the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s might never have occurred were it not for the advance work performed by Heritage.
But this is hardly Weyrich’s sole accomplishment. The indefatigable activist had a hand in several major conservative initiatives of the last quarter century—the Free Congress Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Council for National Policy, and Christian Voice, to name a few. There’s a reason why the Economist described him as “one of the conservative movement’s more vigorous thinkers.”
This month, Crisis Magazine and the Morley Institute for Church & Culture will present Weyrich with our Eleventh Annual Partnership Award, honoring his lifelong commitment to Church and nation. You see, Weyrich isn’t only a political figure—he also happens to be a protodeacon in the Melkite Catholic Church. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with his work, for the streams of faith and politics flow together in his thought.
Weyrich was one of the first conservatives to notice the untapped political potential of American evangelicalism. At the time, conservative Protestants tended to keep themselves out of the public square—a grudging retreat from a culture that gleefully opposed their most cherished values. But a culture war cannot be won if it isn’t engaged. Weyrich saw this; in time, his evangelical friends did as well. Good things can happen if good people decide to fight for them.
But while optimistic, Weyrich is no dreamer. A man deep in his tradition, he knows that power—unrestrained and unchecked—will indeed corrupt. As a consequence, we cannot place all our hopes in a political party, for it will let us down. Indeed, Weyrich has his own disappointments with contemporary Republicanism, from the war in Iraq to the explosion in federal spending.
He fights on, regardless. Now confined to a wheelchair—serious illness claimed his legs last year—he pursues his newest initiative: the wholesale reconstruction of the conservative movement, starting at the grass roots. The Next Conservatism, as Weyrich calls it, will turn its attention to rebuilding traditional culture.
A tall task, to be sure. But Weyrich has done this before. And his plan is a simple one—no bald power grab or legislative coup. Rather, we should follow in the footsteps of Christ and St. Francis and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and every other figure who led through deed before word.
By living our lives according to the old rules and in the old, honest, modest ways of our forefathers, preferring work over entertainment, our neighbors’ well-being over profits and production over consumption, we can set the right example. We can demonstrate that lives lived this way are richer, fuller, more rewarding than lives devoted to instant gratification and conspicuous consumption, to ego, vanity and stuff. The power of example is safe power, because it does not coerce. Rather, it leads and inspires.
Paul Weyrich has not left the battlefield. We should all be inspired.