Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Rise of American Conservatism: A Brief History

The 1964 presidential election between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson put a new conservative philosophy in the limelight of public discourse. The Republican candidate Goldwater was running on a revolutionary ‘new’ conservative platform that sought to rollback many of the ongoing liberal policies of the last thirty years in government. At the time of the 1964 election, Goldwater’s views were seen by many as rather extreme and he was handed a crushing loss to Johnson in ‘64. However, Goldwater proved to be the pioneer that led the charge for a new conservative shift in the American populace which reached its zenith with election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The principles of conservatism were articulated brilliantly in Goldwater’s essay entitled The Conscience of a Conservative. He argued that conservatism is based upon the principle that freedom is the ultimate maxim of human existence. Personal responsibility for one’s actions and the protection of individual freedom are the essential components of conservatism. Conservatism also argues that government should be as limited as possible, intervening only to keep maintenance and order of the society. Goldwater also believed that conservatives are not only economic beings but also spiritual beings. These beliefs laid the foundation for conservatism to gain its prominence by the late 1970s.

The evolution of conservatism from this era allowed for presidential candidate Ronald Reagan to win the presidency in 1980 against incumbent Jimmy Carter. By the 1980s, conservatism was seen as more mainstream, as opposed to the radical nature of the philosophy in the 1960s. The principles of conservatism for Reagan rest in the calls for new economic policies which combated the Great Society of the 1960s. Reagan advocated a smaller federal government, de-regulation in the business sector, lower taxes, and a strong national defense against communism. For Reagan, Carter’s policies favored too much governmental control which he believed was the cause of the economic crisis in America at that time. Reagan proclaims, “We don’t need Carter’s eight-or 10-point programs to “fix” or fine tune the economy.”

One of the new methods of conservative activism in 1980 was direct mail. One conservative activist stated in 1980, “Without the mail, most conservative activity would wither and die.” Direct mail enabled mobilization and allowed for funding, volunteering, and petitions to surface at the local levels. As Richard Viguerie stated, “Without direct mail, we might have no National Review, no Human Events, no Conservative Digest, no Conservative PACs…” Conservatism was essentially born from the usage of this mechanism which promulgated conservative information and support that allowed for the movement to sustain itself.

Another facet of conservatism in the late 1970s early 1980s was the creation of single issue groups on a national level. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, many religious advocates came forth and began speaking out for the ‘right to life’ of an unborn child. Groups like the Right to Life, the National Rifles Association, and the Right to Work Movements all sprung up and mobilized conservatives to vote and elect candidates who adhered to their positions. The religious “awakening” that occurred within some movements of conservatism was mostly a reaction of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. One of the major religious opponents of this decision was Reverend Jerry Falwell. Falwell rallied fellow Christians to speak out against abortion as he stated about an abortion, “It didn’t matter if her human parents wanted her to live or die. God wanted her to live.” Goldwater’s libertarian ideas somewhat conflicted with that of the religious right and the issue of abortion. Many of these libertarian paleo-conservatives felt that abortion was a matter of personal choice.

The New Right was breaking on the scene in the mid 1970s and it was a seemingly conscious reaction of the politics of the liberal 1960s. With the massive division within the Democratic Party in 1968, the Republicans were able to seize control of the White House with Richard Nixon, who had run on similar policies that Goldwater had advocated. Conservative think tanks began sprouting up as the battle for ideas became an all out war in the public discourse. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Young Americans for Freedom, the Leadership Institute all led the New Right movement with policy positions that influenced US domestic and foreign policy for the next decade.

With the advent of this new conservative movement, tensions within the movement itself were very prevalent. For example, the traditionalists and supply-siders within the conservative movement were at odds at each others over the correct role of governmental economic policy. The supply-siders favored permanent tax cuts with a rising deficit while the traditionalists favored some tax increases to alleviate the burden of the rising deficit.The conservative movement solidified a break from New Deal/Great Society politics of liberalism and big government, to a more strict limited government.

The conservative philosophy was brought to the center stage with Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and it was finally achieved and realized with Reagan ascending to the presidency in 1980 (although some would argue Nixon followed Goldwater’s ideals as well). The conservatism of the 60s, 70s, and 80s was indeed a reactionary phenomenon from the liberal politics of the day; yet, it made its way to organization and structure with the coming of direct mail and single issue groups.

3 comments:

Fabian (the Knight Formerly Known as Commie) said...

Quite elaborate! At first I thought "History of 'conservatism'? Here we go again." But the whole definition can of worms was avoided. You limited the history of conservatism to 1964-today, and used the Goldwater-Reagan model for a definition. As we have established "Reaganism" (what you called "paleo-conservatism") is what you mean when you say conservatism, and is your ideology. Basically, Goldwater "paleoconservatism" -> Reaganite conservatism. Strausian conservatism -> "National Review" conservatism -> Neoconservatism (Bush dynasty, etc.) and various crypto-fascist ideologies.

This post is not without its ironies however...
[I]"He argued that conservatism is based upon the principle that freedom is the ultimate maxim of human existence. Personal responsibility for one’s actions and the protection of individual freedom are the essential components of conservatism. Conservatism also argues that government should be as limited as possible, intervening only to keep maintenance and order of the society. Goldwater also believed that conservatives are not only economic beings but also spiritual beings."[/I]
A fair evaluation of Goldwater's conservatism, though admittedly it seems like propaganda, particularly that bit about being "not only economic beings but also spiritual beings," but I digress...

[I]Another facet of conservatism in the late 1970s early 1980s was the creation of single issue groups on a national level. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, many religious advocates came forth and began speaking out for the ‘right to life’ of an unborn child. Groups like the Right to Life, the National Rifles Association, and the Right to Work Movements all sprung up and mobilized conservatives to vote and elect candidates who adhered to their positions. The religious “awakening” that occurred within some movements of conservatism was mostly a reaction of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. One of the major religious opponents of this decision was Reverend Jerry Falwell. Falwell rallied fellow Christians to speak out against abortion as he stated about an abortion, “It didn’t matter if her human parents wanted her to live or die. God wanted her to live.” [B]Goldwater’s libertarian ideas somewhat conflicted with that of the religious right and the issue of abortion. Many of these libertarian paleo-conservatives felt that abortion was a matter of personal choice.[/B]
[/I]
Herein lies the irony and paradox. "Conservatism" promises a small government but the American Right has largely championed statism and authoritarianism. Makes one wonder how right-wing statists ("big government conservatives") came to be. Of course whether someone personally has an ethical qualm with abortion or not is their own decision and orthogonal to their political stance on it. Many people oppose abortion on moral grounds but still support the woman's right to chose. (On the other hand, the Chinese government has no problem with abortion, but they are hardly pro-choice for a different reason.)

[I]"The conservatism of the 60s, 70s, and 80s was indeed a reactionary phenomenon from the liberal politics of the day; yet, it made its way to organization and structure with the coming of direct mail and single issue groups."[/I]

Unfortunately for you (and ultimately all of us), Goldwater-Reagan conservatism is DEAD. Of course the Left is equally as DEAD. The Left was killed mostly from without, but Reaganism was killed from within by the Neocons who took over your party (the GOP). Of course, I now have an idea how to discern Libertarians from Conservatives as you so define them. Many people brandish the libertarian banner, but few actually qualify. Remembering the political compass, along the right-wing end of the economic scale, individuals run from Fascist to Libertarian depending on their degree of statism vs. personal freedom. For instance, Milton Friedman, Penn Jillette, Teller, John Stossell, Lew Rockwell, and Ayn Rand all are considered Libertarians. I think that Penn, Teller, Friedman, and possibly John Stossell and the Austrian school qualify. People like Lew Rockwell and the Cato Institute however, are Reaganist/Paleoconservatives. (And Ayn Rand was no Libertarian! Rand was clearly a Fascist and Objectivism is a fascist wolf in sheep's clothing.) Libertarians are essentially socially liberal and fiscally conservative and favor a small government. Conservatives of your type agree philosophically with Libertarians, but are more willing to make statist compromises, downplaying personal liberation for a free market agenda (when deemed necessary) and to endorse a strong military, among other things. Some conservatives of this type would champion certain socially conservative causes as a result, (usually to gain votes), but balance this with the need for small government. Neoconservatives are far more statist and openly imperialist (though they would object to that word).

Neoconservatism actively promotes socially conservative values in favor prioritizing social engineering (and moralist rhetoric) over a free market. The Neocons actually favor corporatism to laissez-faire capitalism, and often show a populist streak (albeit a "right-wing" sort of populism). Neoconservatism is the brainchild of the crypto-fascist philosopher Leo Strauss (the Darth Sidious of neoconism), and picked up by William F. Buckley. Not to say that all neoconservatives are fascist or quasi-fascist. (I would not stoop to calling Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove, etc. fascists, though no doubt many of their supporters and some elected Republicans (including those on the Supreme Court) certainly are!)

I am curious what conservatives like you, Mike, or like Lew Rockwell plan on doing to take your GOP back from the authoritarians who hijacked it. Unfortunately the far right has attained tremendous power and ALL of us suffer. People think conservative or right wing and they think Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, or Ingraham. Michael Savage is not a conservative. He is a fascist. Ditto Ann Coulter, the Limbaugh Bros., and Fuhrer Pat Buchanan.

And it is interesting you mentioned Jerry the Hutt (Fallwell). Rev. Jabba Falwell has been associated with the Repubs, but it should be interesting to point out, that the whole reaction to Roe v. Wade is a symptom, not a cause of this rising social conservatism and religious fundamentalism. The fact is, throughout the Cold War and the American struggle against "Godless Communism", religion was emphasized (hence why the national motto is "In God We Trust" or why "One Nation Under God" was added to the pledge), so piety and puritanism was encouraged as long as the USSR existed (Why else was it manly to deny having a penis and lady-like to deny having a vagina from 1945-1960?)! Interestingly before the Cold War there was a significant Christian Left. Fundamentalist Christians typically had a quasi-socialist ideology. Right-wing Christians like Falwell and Robertson emerged as a result to Cold War political conditions. Bolshevist bastards betrayed the Left and the Workers of the World! Before WW1, "Western" (US, Canadian, Western European, etc.) society was becoming increasingly secular and progressive. Now thanks to Lenin's coup and the Red Scare, progress has been retarded.

Case in point, social conservatism is nothing more than a trick to get the reactionary American proletariat into supporting the right-wing neocon agenda. Leo Strauss, ironically an atheistic Jew, supported the use of socially conservative causes and religious rhetoric to dupe the working class into supporting the Right. For instance, I can not think of anything more irrelevant than "oh-no-Fags-are-getting-married"! What a stupid issue! We have lunatics flying planes into skyscrapers, a war with no end in sight, economic crisis, environmental issues, and they worry about "queer marriage"! (Unfortunately a significant percentage of Americans medically qualify as hopelessly stupid.)

I am still a socialist, but even though we are ideological opponents, I hope your camp wins for now, because maybe non-statist conservatives could retrieve the Republican Party, perhaps even attract the Libertarians and form a "new GOP". Kick out the Far Right Authoritarians and "Populist Conservatives"! If they want power, let them form their own party. They could call it the National Socialist Christian Arbeiter Party (NSCAP).

Basically, if Democrats are to be liberals, they should model their liberalism on the Green Party platform. The Dems need leaders like Barack Obama or Ralph Nader, not totalitarian Zionists like Joe Lieberman or spineless populists like Hilary Clinton. Meanwhile Republicans need sensible conservatives (i.e. libertarian-conservatives). That means no Michelle Malkins or Ann Coulters claiming Islam is the anti-christ, more someone along the lines of Islam is [b]mostly[/b] a peaceful faith, albeit with some crazy fucks who twist the message for evil purposes. (Admitedly Bush is not openly, at least, hostile to Islam (as opposed to the racist propaganda against Amerindians by Jackson, against Germans by Wilson and against, Japanese by FDR) but he does little to diminish such sentiment.) For instance the economy is in a bad state. Some on the Right (Libertarian Party, "true" conservatives) argue that the market is not free enough, that laissez-faire reforms must be taken. Others believe that we need a truly Keynesian platform, possibly even a socialistically reformed capitalism. Either way, both solutions are probably preferable to neocon corporatism. Only through open challenge between Keynesians (i.e. what Dems should be) and L-F (what Repubs should be) could a resolution be found. Instead we have spineless Democrats and corporatist neocons.

Come and think of it, I say this as a leftist. If people like you were in charge at the turn of the previous century (instead of assholes like McKinley, T. Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson), we would all probably be better off! You start from 1964, but note that the Republican Party between Wilson and FDR (the good Roosevelt) were strict isolationists. The Republican party changed significantly, being socially liberal and progressive durring Lincoln's time (abolishing slavery), reverting to imperialism, statism, and authoritarianism (also racism, nationalism, and self-righteous moralism) durring the presidencies of McKinley and TR, and adapting a more reasonable and less reactionary stance, an isolationist and pro-capitalist one thus forshadowing the Republican pro-capitalism to come while the FDR democrats developed modern American liberalism durring the presidencies of Coolidge and Hoover, to develop conservatism (as defined herein) in the 60's, culiminating in Reagan, finally, the Republicans were taken over by the Neocons durring the presidency of Bush I.

Had sensible small-government conservatives (or for that matter, staunch pacifist liberals, not appeasment cowards) been in charge from 1914-1918, then America would have never enntered Great Imperialist White Men's Tribal War (aka WW1, probably the single stupidest war America ever fought), and so, Germany would have won narrowly (or else a stalemate would have resulted), the Nazis would have never rose to power, the Communists would have failed in an attempt to take over, and the world would have been FAR better off!

So in conclusion, I may disagree with your final motives, but I sincerely wish your camp would take the reigns! If you think this is suspicious, remember. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Right now, cutting back on taxes, government spending, regulation of industry, welfare programs, or the federal budget and reducing gun restrictions are the least of my worries! Particularly, when we have someone like Skkkalia on the court, a War in Iraq which is going nowhere fast, an aggressive Iranian leader on one hand and a Korean Napoleon (Kim Jong Il) testing nukes, growing influence of the end-times Evangelical Christian lobby (people who actually believe those hilarious Left Behind books) who oppose the teaching of science (which is partially facilitaed by post-modernist pseudointellectuals on the left) and women's rights to control their uterine destiny. Not to mention the powerful Zionist lobby, as if Americans owe anything to (a small minority of) Jews who wish to establish an apartheid state in a godforsaken (no pun intended) desert wasteland, albeit in a region rife with conflict and both military and economic strategic importance.

Fabian said...

I am curious, Mike, why you haven't responded to my last two comments. Too busy? I'm curious to see what you have to say!

zach said...

Hello fabian,

I was quite intrigued with your analysis on this article and while you have your positions, are sympathetic towards Mike's Libertarian/Conservative views. It is quite interesting to hear a "Leftist" Liberal Socialist, as you call yourself, admit to the need for "your camp to take the reigns" as you are clearly ideological opposites. This is the first time I have EVER read anything like this and it was quite refreshing to hear someone with your views seem to agree on many fronts with people like mike's positions. Since it sounds as if you are an Obama vote, and you have your reasons, what would you think of a Ron Paul movement "taking the reigns" of the Republican Party? As I also share your disgust to what the GOP has become.