Sunday, September 30, 2007
For related and other uses, see Conservatism (disambiguation)
Conservatism in the United States comprises a constellation of political ideologies including fiscal conservatism, free market or economic liberalism, social conservatism,
The Loyalists of the American Revolution were mostly political conservatives, some of whom produced political discourse of a high order, including lawyer Joseph Galloway and governor-historian Thomas Hutchinson. After the war, the great majority remained in the U.S. and became citizens, but some leaders emigrated to other places in the British Empire. Samuel Seabury was a Loyalist who returned and as the first American bishop played a major role in shaping the Episcopal religion, a stronghold of conservative social values.
The Founding Fathers created the single most important set of political ideas in American history, known as republicanism, which all groups, liberal and conservative alike, have drawn from. The Federalist Party, followers of Alexander Hamilton, developed an important variation of republicanism that can be considered conservative. Rejecting monarchy and aristocracy, they emphasized civic virtue as the core American value. The Federalists spoke for the propertied interests and the upper classes of the cities. They envisioned a modernizing land of banks and factories, with a strong army and navy.
On many issues American conservatism also derives from the republicanism of Thomas Jefferson and his followers, especially John Randolph of Roanoke and his "Old Republican" followers. They idealized the yeoman farmer as the epitome of civic virtue, warned that banking and industry led to corruption, that is to the illegitimate use of government power for private ends. Jefferson himself was a vehement opponent of what today is called "judicial activism". The Jeffersonians stressed States' Rights and small government. In the 1830-54 period the Whig Party attracted conservatives such as Daniel Webster of New England.
Daniel Webster and other leaders of the Whig Party, called it the conservative party in the late 1830s. John C. Calhoun, a Democrat, articulated a sophisticated conservatism in his writings. Richard Hofstadter (1948) called him "The Marx of the Master Class." Calhoun argued that a conservative minority should be able to limit the power of a "majority dictatorship" because tradition represents the wisdom of past generations. (This argument echoes one made by Edmund Burke, the founder of British conservatism, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)). Calhoun is considered the father of the idea of minority rights, a position adopted by liberals in the 1960s in dealing with Civil Rights.
The conservatism of the antebellum period is contested territory; conservatives of the 21st century disagree over what comprises their heritage. Thus William J. Bennett (2006) a prominent conservative leader, tells conservatives to NOT honor Calhoun, Know-Nothings, Copperheads and 20th century isolationists.
Ante-Bellum: Calhoun and Webster
Since 1865 the Republican party has identified itself with President Abraham Lincoln, who was the ideological heir of the Whigs and of both Jefferson and Hamilton. As the Gettysburg Address shows, Lincoln cast himself as a second Jefferson bringing a second birth of freedom to the nation that had been born 86 years before in Jefferson's Declaration. The Copperheads of the Civil War reflected a reactionary opposition to modernity of the sort repudiated by modern conservatives. A few libertarians have adopted a neo-Copperhead position, arguing Lincoln was a dictator who created an all-powerful government.
In the late 19th century the Bourbon Democrats, led by President Grover Cleveland, preached against corruption, high taxes (protective tariffs), and imperialism, and supported the gold standard and business interests. They were overthrown by William Jennings Bryan in 1896, who moved the mainstream of the Democratic Party permanently to the left.
The 1896 presidential election was the first with a conservative versus liberal theme approaching the way in which these terms are now understood in the U.S. Republican William McKinley won using the pro-business slogan "sound money and protection," while the anti-bank and populism of the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan, had a lasting effect on his party.
William Graham Sumner, Yale professor (1872-1910) and polymath, vigorously promoted a libertarian conservative ethic. After dallying with Social Darwinism under the influence of Herbert Spencer, he rejected evolution in his later works, and strongly opposed imperialism. He opposed monopoly and paternalism in theory as a threat to equality, democracy and middle class values, but was vague on what to do about it.
Lincoln to Cleveland
See also: Old Right (United States)
In the Progressive Era (1890s-1932), regulation of industry expanded as conservatives led by Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island were put on the defensive. However, Aldrich's proposal for a strong national banking system was enacted as the Federal Reserve System in 1913. Theodore Roosevelt, the dominant personality of the era, was both liberal and conservative by turns. As a conservative he led the fight to make the country a major naval power, and demanded entry into World War I to stop what he saw as the German attacks on civilization. William Howard Taft promoted a strong federal judiciary that would overrule excessive legislation. Taft defeated Roosevelt on that issue in 1912, forcing Roosevelt out of the GOP and turning it to the right for decades. As president, Taft remade the Supreme Court with five appointments; he himself presided as chief justice in 1921-30, the only former president ever to do so.
Pro-business Republicans returned to dominance in 1920 with the election of President Warren G. Harding. The presidency of Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) was a high water mark for conservatism, both politically and intellectually. Classic writing of the period includes Democracy and Leadership (1924) by Irving Babbitt and H.L. Mencken's magazine American Mercury (1924-33). The Efficiency Movement attracted many conservatives such as Herbert Hoover with its pro-business, pro-engineer approach to solving social and economic problems. Furthermore, in the 1920s many American conservatives generally maintained antiforeign attitudes and, as usual, were disinclined toward changes to the healthy economic climate of the age.
During the Great Depression, other conservatives participated in the taxpayers' revolt at the local level. From 1930 to 1933, Americans formed as many as 3,000 taxpayers' leagues to protest high property taxes. These groups endorsed measures to limit and rollback taxes, lowered penalties on tax delinquents, and cuts in government spending. A few also called for illegal resistance (or tax strikes). Probably the best known of these was led by the Association of Real Estate Taxpayers in Chicago which, at its height, had 30,000 dues-paying members.
An important intellectual movement, calling itself Southern Agrarians and based in Nashville, brought together like-minded novelists, poets and historians who argued that modern values undermined the traditions of American republicanism and civic virtue.
The Depression brought liberals to power under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933). Indeed the term "liberal" now came to mean a supporter of the New Deal. In 1934 Al Smith and pro-business Democrats formed the American Liberty League to fight the new liberalism, but failed. In 1936 the Republicans rejected Hoover and tried the more liberal Alf Landon, who carried only Maine and Vermont. When Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court in 1937 the conservatives finally cooperated across party lines and defeated it with help from Vice President John Nance Garner. Roosevelt unsuccessfully tried to purge the conservative Democrats in the 1938 election. The conservatives in Congress then formed a bipartisan informal Conservative Coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats. It largely controlled Congress from 1937 to 1964. Its most prominent leaders were Senator Robert Taft, a Republican of Ohio, and Senator Richard Russell, Democrat of Georgia.
In the United States, the Old Right, also called the Old Guard, was a group of libertarian, free-market anti-interventionists, originally associated with Midwestern Republicans and Southern Democrats. The Republicans (but not the southern Democrats) were isolationists in 1939-41, (see America First), and later opposed NATO and U.S. military intervention in Korea. According to historian Murray Rothbard, "the libertarian intellectuals were in the minority...[and] theirs was the only thought-out contrasting ideology to the New Deal."
Early 20th century
By 1950, American liberalism was so dominant intellectually that author Lionel Trilling could dismiss contemporary conservatism as "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas."
In the 1950s, principles for a conservative political movement were hashed out in books like Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind (1953) and in the pages of the magazine National Review, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955. National Review editor Frank Meyer used the pages of the magazine to advocate "fusionism", the combination of traditional conseratives and libertarians into a unqiue American style of conservatism.
Whereas Taft's Old Right had been isolationist the new conservatism favored American intervention overseas to oppose communism. It looked to the Founding Fathers for historical inspiration as opposed to Calhoun and the antebellum South.
Ironically, as the Democratic Party became identified with the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s through 1970s, many former southern Democrats joined the Republican Party, even in the face of greater proportional support for civil rights legislation among Republicans, thereby increasingly cementing the Republicans' alignment as a conservative party. Senator Barry Goldwater, sometimes known as "Mr. Conservative," argued in his 1960 Conscience of a Conservative that conservatives split on the issue of civil rights due to some conservatives advocating ends (integration, even in the face of what they saw as unconstitutional Federal involvement) and some advocating means (constitutionality above all else, even in the face of segregation). Republicans joined northern Democrats to override a filibuster of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Later that year, Goldwater was resoundingly defeated by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Out of this defeat emerged the New Right, a political movement that coalesced through grassroots organizing in the years preceding Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. The American New Right is distinct from and opposed to the more moderate/liberal tradition of the so-called Rockefeller Republicans, and succeeded in building a policy approach and electoral apparatus that propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House in the 1980 presidential election.
Later 20th century: Goldwater, Buckley, the Dixiecrats
See also: Nixon and the liberal consensus The Republican administrations of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s were characterized more by their emphasis on realpolitik, détente, and economic policies such as wage and price controls, than by their adherence to conservative views in foreign and economic policy.
Thus, it was not until the election of 1980 and the subsequent eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency that the American conservative movement truly achieved ascendancy. In that election, Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time since 1954, and conservative principles dominated Reagan's economic and foreign policies, with supply side economics and strict opposition to Soviet Communism defining the Administration's philosophy.
An icon of the American conservative movement, Reagan is credited by his supporters with transforming the politics of 1980s United States, galvanizing the success of the Republican Party, uniting a coalition of economic conservatives who supported his economic policies, known as "Reaganomics," foreign policy conservatives who favored his staunch opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union over the détente of his predecessors, and social conservatives who identified with Reagan's conservative religious and social ideals. Reagan, in attempting to define conservativism, said: "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals -- if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is."
It is hotly debated whether the successive Republican Administrations of Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are truly conservative. George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative," but in his second term, conservative critics have negatively cited his increases in Federal spending and the Federal deficits; in contrast, he is often lauded by some conservatives for his commitment to conservative social and religious values, tax-cut initiatives, and a strong national defense.
Nixon, Reagan, and Bush
Defining "American conservatism" requires a definition of conservatism in general, and the term is applied to a number of ideas and ideologies, some more closely related to core conservative beliefs than others.
1. Classical or institutional conservatism - Opposition to rapid change in governmental and societal institutions. This kind of conservatism is anti-ideological insofar as it emphasizes process (slow change) over product (any particular form of government). To the classical conservative, whether one arrives at a right- or left-leaning government is less important than whether change is effected through rule of law rather than through revolution and sudden innovation.
2. Ideological conservatism or right-wing conservatism -- In contrast to the anti-ideological classical conservatism, right-wing conservatism is, as its name implies, ideological. It is typified by three distinct subideologies: social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and economic liberalism. Together, these subideologies comprise the conservative ideology, while separately, these subideologies are incorporated into other political positions.
3. Neoconservatism has come to refer to the views of a subclass of conservatives who support a more assertive foreign policy coupled with one or more other facets of social conservatism, in contrast to the typically isolationist views of early- and mid-20th Century conservatives. Neoconservatism was first described by a group of disaffected liberals, and thus Irving Kristol, usually credited as its intellectual progenitor, defined a "neoconservative" as "a liberal who was mugged by reality." Although originally regarded as an approach to domestic policy (the founding instrument of the movement, Kristol's The Public Interest periodical, did not even cover foreign affairs), through the influence of figures like Dick Cheney, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, Ken Adelman and (Irving's son) William Kristol, it has become more famous for its association with the foreign policy of the George W. Bush Administration.
4. Small government conservatism -- Small government conservatives look for a decreased role of the federal government, and as well weaker state governments. Small government conservatives rather than focusing of the protections given individuals by the Bill of Rights, they try to weaken the federal government, thereby following the Founding Fathers who were suspicious of a centralized, unitary state like Britain, from which they had just won their freedom.
5. Paleoconservatism, which arose in the 1980s in reaction to neoconservatism, stresses tradition, civil society, classical federalism and heritage of Christendom. They see social democracy, ideology, and managerial society as malevolent attempts to remake humanity. Supporters say that the dominant forces in Western society no longer support conserving the traditions, institutions, and values that created and formed it. Therefore, they say true conservatives must oppose the status quo. In statecraft, they call for decentralism, local rule, private property and minimal bureaucracy. In society, they are traditionalist, support a Christian moral order and proclaim the nuclear family is a wise system. Some like Samuel P. Huntington argue that multiracial, multiethnic, and egalitarian states are inherently unstable. Paleos are generally noninterventionist, arguing that American entry into foreign wars is unnecessary and unwise.
Types of conservatism
Classical conservatives tend to be anti-ideological, and some would even say anti-philosophical, promoting rather, as Russell Kirk explains, a steady flow of "prescription and prejudice." Kirk's use of the word "prejudice" here is not intended to carry its contemporary pejorative connotation: a conservative himself, he believes that the inherited wisdom of the ages may be a better guide than apparently rational individual judgment.
In contrast to classical conservatism, social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are concerned with consequences as well as means.
There are two overlapping subgroups of social conservatives—the traditional and the religious. Traditional conservatives strongly support traditional codes of conduct, especially those they feel are threatened by new ideas. For example, traditional conservatives may oppose the use of female soldiers in combat. Religious conservatives focus on rules laid down by religious leaders. In the United States, they especially oppose abortion and homosexuality and often favor the use of government institutions, such as schools and courts, to promote Christianity.
Fiscal conservatives support limited government, limited taxation, and a balanced budget. Some admit the necessity of taxes, but hold that taxes should be low. A recent movement against the inheritance tax labels such a tax a death tax. Fiscal conservatives often argue that competition in the free market is more effective than the regulation of industry, with the exception of industries that exhibit market dominance or monopoly powers. For some this is a matter of principle, as it is for the libertarians and others influenced by thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, who believed that government intervention in the economy is inevitably wasteful and inherently corrupt and immoral. For others, "free market economics" simply represents the most efficient way to promote economic growth: they support it not based on some moral principle, but pragmatically, because it "works".
Most modern American fiscal conservatives accept some social spending programs not specifically delineated in the Constitution. As such, fiscal conservatism today exists somewhere between classical conservatism and contemporary consequentialist political philosophies.
Throughout much of the 20th century, one of the primary forces uniting the occasionally disparate strands of conservatism, and uniting conservatives with their liberal and socialist opponents, was opposition to communism, which was seen not only as an enemy of the traditional order, but also the enemy of western freedom and democracy.
Conservatism as "ideology," or political philosophy
Main article: Social conservatism
Social conservatism or "cultural conservatism" is generally dominated by defense of traditional social norms and values, of local customs and of societal evolution, rather than social upheaval, though the distinction is not absolute. Often based upon religion, modern cultural conservatives, in contrast to "small-government" conservatives and "states-rights" advocates, increasingly turn to the federal government to overrule the states in order to preserve educational and moral standards.
Social conservatives emphasize traditional views of social units such as the family, church, or locale. Social conservatives would typically define family in terms of local histories and tastes. To the Protestant or Catholic, social conservatism may entail support for defining marriage as between a man and a woman (thereby banning gay marriage) and laws placing restrictions on abortion.
From this same respect for local traditions comes the correlation between conservatism and patriotism. In the 1920s, William Jennings Bryan led the battle against Darwinism and evolution, a battle which still goes on in conservative circles today.
Social conservatism and tradition
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