The Quixotic Quest to Comprehend Conservatism, Part 2

  • Posted on: 29 May 2014
  • By: benfell

June 4, 2014: This is the third and final qualifying essay for Ph.D. candidacy; the first draft was published here on May 4 and a second on May 29, and the latter has been accepted by my professor. The next step is a defense of all three essays, likely to happen in early Fall.

Part 1 is the second qualifying essay for Ph.D. candidacy, available here (link updated June 20, 2015).

ABSTRACT

This essay builds on a previous essay, The quixotic quest to comprehend conservatism (Benfell, May 16, 2014), and reviews categories or species of conservatism listed by Nash (2006, 2009). Much of this is covered in the previous essay, but in reprising the species of conservatism previously treated, new insights are added. Several species that Nash mentions seem not to be species at all, but different only in trivial ways from those categories which were previously dealt with. Two categories, however, those of paleoconservatism and neoconservatism are sufficiently different that they are treated as new here. Paleoconservatives offer the one unique idea found in this exploration, that societies should be segregated according to (European) ethnic lines. Otherwise, each species of conservative appears to overlap others considerably in its ideas—there is a limited set of ideas, which conservatives of various species pick and choose from in assembling their own flavors of conservatism, and which seem amenable to critical discourse analysis.

Introduction

By the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the American Right encompassed five distinct impulses: libertarianism, traditionalism, anti-Communism, neoconservatism, and the Religious Right. . . . By 2006 these categories had been joined by neocons, paleocons, ‘theocons’ (theological or religious conservatives), and ‘Leocons’ (disciples of Leo Strauss). (Nash, 2006, pp. 559, 577)

Nash (2006) wrote these words in The conservative intellectual movement in America since 1945, a book recognized by Kim Phillips-Fein (2011) in her survey of scholarship on conservatism as “[t] he most influential synthesis of [conservative intellectual history]” (p. 729). Donald T. Critchlow (2011) notes that the book, “published nearly thirty-five years ago, remains unchallenged” (p. 752). This high praise is well-founded. Nash, a conservative, treats his subject soberly and thoroughly, although Critchlow points to “recent studies on Ayn Rand, southern agrarians, black conservative intellectuals, neoconservatives, jurisprudence, and supply-side and rational-choice economics [that] reveal the limitations of Nash’s focus and his ‘fusionist’ interpretation” (p. 752). In this essay, I will take issue with Nash’s quote, reproduced above, as bearing the mark of—rare for Nash—exaggeration. Some of Nash’s species of conservatives are not at all distinct, and in what immediately follows, I shall take these up. Two, however, paleoconservativism and neoconservatism, are legitimate, and further, that neoconservatives can be considered in two phases, a domestically-oriented first phase, and a muscular foreign policy-oriented second phase. This essay is, it turns out, largely about neoconservatives, whose rise coincides with and seems integral to the conservative backlash that followed the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

Finally, it is possible to suspect in Nash’s (Spring, 2009) words a trace of annoyance: He perceives a “growing tendency on the Right to classify conservatives into ever-smaller sectarian groupings” as “evidence . . . of a political and intellectual movement in crisis.” Perhaps so, but more substantive reasons would be 1) the possibility that capitalist libertarians may leave the ‘fusionist’ alliance that has propelled conservatism from pariah status in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II to political dominance beginning with the presidency of Jimmy Carter (Clune, February 26, 2013; Goldberg, December 31, 2006; Hacker & Pierson, 2010; Lindsey, 2006, 2010; Mishel, Shierholz, & Schmitt, November 19, 2013; Nash, 2006; Phillips-Fein, 2011; Quiggin, May 20, 2013); 2) “a nearly thirty-year war between the neoconservatives and the paleoconservatives” (Nash, Spring, 2009) in which neoconservatives and paleoconservatives accuse each other of anti-Semitism, racism, fascism, and descent from ‘American Trotskyism’ (Antle, 2008; Ashbee, 2000; Francis, 1989; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Weisberg, September 2, 1991); and 3) a tension between functionalist conservatives and authoritarian populists that exploded over battles over the federal government budget, debt limit, and the Affordable Care Act (Benfell, May 16, 2014).

Such discord among conservatives is nothing new. Nash (2006) himself documents as much, and it is abundantly clear, from his 600-plus page volume, that pointing one’s self-identified conservative finger at another self-identified conservative and declaring that s/he is not a ‘true’ conservative is really rather standard fare. Conservatives may generally view themselves as non-ideological, but they periodically engage in what very much resemble ideological purges and power struggles. Examples include controversy over Senator Joe McCarthy, who was (choose up to two) 1) entirely right, 2) right in some important ways, or 3) abusing his power; the power struggle for control of Human Events between capitalist libertarians and anti-communists; a power struggle over The Freeman over whether editorial emphasis should be on economics or on ‘personalities’, meaning especially McCarthy; the expulsion of Peter Viereck, for being insufficiently conservative; Frank Meyer’s column in the National Review which, according to Nash (2006), “relentlessly exposed deviationists” (p. 243); controversy over Meyer’s ‘fusionist’ solution to a heretofore furious division between traditionalists and capitalist libertarians, a solution that seems to have been adopted more out of desperation for something resembling intellectual coherence and fatigue from the battles that had preceded it; and an ongoing division over racism. “Since its formation, National Review has been a gatekeeper, excluding from the ranks of acceptable conservatives anti-Semites, the atheist Ayn Rand, the conspiracist John Birch Society, anti–Vietnam War libertarians, and most recently the opponents of the Iraq War epitomized by Pat Buchanan,” writes Martin Durham (2011, p. 758; also see Ashbee, 2000). Conservatives may be allies, at least most of the time, but they are often not happy allies.

This essay supplements a previous essay in which I examined the categories—I now prefer the word species—of conservatism which predominate in Nash’s (2006) analysis, namely traditionalist conservatism, capitalist libertarianism (a term I apply to distinguish right-wing libertarians from libertarian socialists), social conservatism, and anti-communism (whom I include as authoritarian populists). In addition, in that essay, I discussed a generally unacknowledged category, functionalist conservatism (Benfell, May 16, 2014). I will reprise those often interbred and always interrelated species here.

Non-categories

In the work leading up to my previous essay, I came to a conclusion that the very notion of ‘categories’ was problematic. I considered using the term tendencies and, in this essay, I choose the term species. The divisions between these species, however, are far from neat—the species have interbred and my project has been to try to discover ‘original’ species—and I concluded that the inter-relationships between these species are such that conservatives exist in an ecosystem, with interdependencies that would likely lead to unpredictable consequences should any of these—capitalist libertarians would be the most likely (Lindsey, 2006, 2010)—withdraw. To the extent that this is the case, reductionist analysis becomes inapplicable, but one might suspect that the predominance of this mode of analysis in our society may be what led Nash (Spring, 2009) to perceive some of these “ever-smaller sectarian groupings: neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, big government conservatives, leave-us-alone conservatives, ‘national greatness’ conservatives, compassionate conservatives, crunchy conservatives—and the list goes on.”

Theological Conservatives. It can safely be said that theological conservatives are those I refer to as social conservatives. They are also known as the Religious Right. In my literature search I found one article of any substance, which turned out to discuss the theology of Conservative Judaism (as opposed to Orthodox and Reform Judaism: Dorff, 1991); this is not the political conservatism I have in mind in undertaking this study.

‘Leave-Us-Alone’ and ‘National Greatness’ Conservatives. Nash (2006, Spring, 2009) is presenting an ‘intellectual history,’ which might explain why he never addresses authoritarian populists, who make up a part of the anti-communist movement, but also includes ‘leave-us-alone’ conservatives and ‘national greatness’ conservatives. I reprise authoritarian populists further on in this essay.

‘Crunchy’ Conservatives. Even easier to dispose of than the ‘leave-us-alone’ conservatives and the ‘national greatness’ conservatives are the so-called ‘crunchy’ conservatives, traditionalist conservatives who have discovered farmers’ markets (Dreher, March 10, 2006; Guthrie, 2006). “A crunchy conservative—as in crunchy granola—is just the 21st-century version of a traditionalist conservative,” Rod Dreher told Christianity Today (Guthrie, 2006). That is not to say there is no tension between ‘crunchy cons’ and other conservatives:

A few summers ago, in the National Review offices on the east side of Manhattan, I told my editor that I was leaving work early so I could pick up my family's weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables from the neighborhood organic food co-op to which we belonged.

"Ewww, that's so lefty," she said, and made the kind of face I'd have expected if I'd informed her I was headed off to hear Peter, Paul and Mary warble at a fundraiser for cross-dressing El Salvadoran hemp farmers. (Dreher, March 10, 2006)

Rod Dreher, who has written a book about ‘crunchy cons’, seems to be the only one who has anything at all to say about them. And that other conservatives may recoil from organic food says more about them than it does about ‘crunchy cons’. In effect, I will thus be returning to the topic of ‘crunchy cons’ when I discuss traditionalist conservatives in reprising my previous essay.

Straussian Conservatives. If there is a weakness in my assessment of what ‘categories’ of conservatives to consider as such, my decision to exclude Straussian conservatives may be it. Karl Jahn (2000) asserts that they “have reportedly been gradually, quietly infiltrating and taking over political-science departments, making that discipline characteristically theirs, as Marxists have done with sociology, and libertarians with economics.” Perhaps so, but to begin with Leo Strauss himself, a vigorous, sometimes bitter, and mostly scholarly debate is ongoing over what he actually meant (see, for examples, Banitzky, 2005; Guerra, 2007; Howse, December 2012; Minowitz, 2011; J. Muller, 2010; Smith, 2009). I am only mostly satisfied that he was even a conservative. He might have been reactionary in anti-liberal views, but seeking caution and moderation in opposition to what he called ‘nihilism’, from which Nazism and Hitler arose (Armon, 2010); to be ‘anti-liberal’ fails to explain what one is for, and opposition to Nazism is hardly unique to conservatives. His daughter states that “[h]e was a conservative insofar as he did not think that change is necessarily change for the better,” which would seem to suggest that non-conservatives believe that all “change is necessarily change for the better” (Clay, June 7, 2003), an unhelpful distinction, as I know of no one who would make such a claim.

It seems Strauss’s writing is not easy to decipher. He may—although this is unclear—have been intentionally practicing what he preached, that which he called ‘esoteric’ writing, intended both to protect mainstream society from the ‘radical’ ideas of philosophers, and the philosophers themselves from the backlash he believed, apparently based on the experience of Socrates, would result if mainstream society understood their ‘radical’ ideas (Armon, 2010; Batnitzky, 2005; Havers, 2002; Hunt, 2009; Jahn, 2000; Kenneally, 2007; Minowitz, 2011; Muller, 2010; Ryn, 2005). Strauss is, nonetheless, important to this essay for a reason:

Much of this attention has flowed from the ill-informed and incredible belief that Strauss is somehow responsible for master-minding the [George W.] Bush administration's approach to foreign policy and its use of military force in the Middle East. If it were not for the dishonor these kinds of frenzied machinations heap upon Strauss's life and his own thought, such portrayals would be laughable. (Guerra, 2007, p. 47)

It seems that, rightly or wrongly—and probably wrongly—a lot of the blame for what I will call second phase neoconservatism is heaped on Strauss, and there is a body of opinion that what neoconservatives infer from Strauss is not at all what Strauss actually meant (Clay, June 7, 2003; Gottfried, 2011, May 2012; Kenneally, 2007).

[C]onsider the tribute President [George W.] Bush paid in February to the cohort of journalists, political philosophers and policy wonks known -- primarily to themselves -- as Straussians. “You are some of the best brains in our country,” Mr. Bush declared in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “and my government employs about 20 of you.'' (Atlas, May 4, 2003).

The connection seems not to be entirely absent, but while traditionalist conservatives rely on a concept of original sin and derive moral authority from religion (Kirk, 1985/2001; R. Weaver, 1964/1995) and Strauss seems to derive moral and cultural authority mostly from ancient Greek political philosophy (Atlas, May 4, 2003; Devigne, 2009; Gottfried, May 2012; Havers, 2002, 2005; Jahn, 2000; Ryn, 2005), traditionalists and Strauss seemingly find more common ground than not in the struggle against relativism, with traditionalists strongly preferring Christianity (Bishirjian, July 10, 2008; Blum, August 14, 2008; Campbell, June 11, 2008; Champ, August 15, 2008; Dougherty, September 22, 2008; Kinneging, September 26, 2008; Kirk, 1985/2001; R. Weaver, 1964/1995) and Strauss apparently arguing for absolute and universally applicable values of morality, culture, and justice, but perhaps not religion (Atlas, May 4, 2003; Brinkley, 1994; Campbell, June 11, 2008; Ceaser, 2008; Clay, June 7, 2003; Devigne, 2009; Goldman, 2011; Havers, 2002; Homolar-Riechmann, 2009; Kerwick, 2013; Lewis, 2008; Milione, February 11, 2008; Muller, 2010; Noble, 1978; Ryn, 2005). However, the universal application of these values apparently could not be done with a “universal state” that would suppress local differences (Paskewich, 2009) and Havers (2002) is convinced Strauss opposed biblical universalism. Straussianism otherwise repeats much of what traditionalists have to say, and when traditionalists and their paleoconservative allies refer to “usurpers, opportunists, and apostates” (Benfell, May 16, 2014), a conclusion that they very probably often mean neoconservatives seems inescapable (Antle, 2008; Francis, 1989; Frohnen, 2006; Gottfried, May 23, 2008; Hart, September 23, 2008; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Nash, Spring, 2009; Pickett, September 30, 2008).

Strauss strongly opposed historicism, but scholars do not seem to agree as to what Strauss meant by historicism. It may have been, “among other things, an inclination to treat history [meaning tradition] respectfully” (Ryn, 2005, p. 32), and from this, we may understand Strauss’s critique of it as “a rejection of conservative attempts to preserve tradition” (Havers, 2005, p. 7). Strauss may have understood historicism as “hold[ing] that the thoughts of premodern philosophers are ‘outmoded’ and irrelevant; they were mental prisoners of their epoch” (Jahn, 2000). He may have understood historicism from Machiavelli in radical form as “the position that all modes of knowledge are local, contingent and temporary” (Devigne, 2009, p. 597) or by way of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Schmitt as “the charge that society and history create thought and not vice versa” (Devigne, 2009, p. 598). Or Strauss may have meant “the well-known classical view that the actualization of the best regime ‘depends on chance’” (attributed to Altman in Minowitz, 2011, p. 221).

Another example of the difficulty of understanding Strauss is that of natural right, usually referred to in relevant texts in the singular right form, rather than the plural rights form. Here is what the Norton dictionary of modern thought has to say about it—or them:

Declared by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) to be 'nonsense on stilts', the doctrine of natural rights has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, though under the label of 'human' rather than 'natural' rights. The most extravagant versions of the doctrine that 'nature' endows us with natural and inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have fallen into disrepute along with a faith in reason and reason's dictates. On the other hand the view that no government is lawful which fails to secure the rights of its citizens is widely held, and is supported by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights are, evidently, more fundamental than rights which merely happen to be enshrined in the local law, and are, in that sense, natural rights. In spite of Benthams' scepticism about rights which were nowhere spelled out by their creator, the 20th century has felt a great need for a doctrine which will justify the view that governments exist in order to enforce rights which governments did not create and are not entitled to abrogate. (Ryan, 1999)

Some conservatives, however, understand natural right in contrast to ‘human rights’, and in fact express disdain for ‘human rights’, by which they mean ‘positive rights’, these being those rights which require someone to enforce and thus impose on the liberty of those called upon to enforce them (one might indeed inquire about the enforcement of any law given such a criterion). Beyond that, many conservatives and even many scholars who discuss Strauss leave the term natural right completely undefined. Inferring only from context, traditionalist conservatives might mean the term to refer to a right to hold property and to participate in the marketplace (Kirk, 1985/2001; R. Weaver, 1964/1995).

Strauss, on the other hand, seems to have understood Burke to mean an inherited right of some unspecified someone to rule (Radasanu, 2011). There seems to be no agreement as to what Strauss meant in his own understanding of the term. He may have understood ‘natural right’ as stemming from fear of violent death, and thus as the source of legitimacy for an idealized government (Armon, 2010; Kenneally, 2007). Or, he might have understood ‘natural right’ as each human’s possession of “a natural end, a natural destiny, which determines what kind of operation is good for them” (Smith, 2009, p. 41). Less plausibly, Strauss might have meant the right of philosophers to rule over the ‘ignorant’ (Havers, 2002). Or,

To be sure, Strauss asserted “the natural right of the stronger” to prevail: “The only restraint in which the West can put some confidence is the tyrant's fear of the West's immense military power.” But he was skeptical of triumphalism, and conscious of the dangers of foreign occupation: “Even the lowliest men prefer being subjects to men of their own people rather than to any aliens.” (Atlas, May 4, 2003)

Suffice it to say, reading through the voluminous literature on Strauss is an unsatisfactory experience. There are more than a few scholars who are all each convinced they understand what he meant. Some of them may be right. Some or all of them may be wrong. I see no consensus and hence, no sufficient basis for saying what a ‘Straussian conservative’ is or is not. But there is, in Strauss’s writings, considerable grist for conservative—and in the hazy overlap of realms of conservatism, not just neoconservative—thought (Nash, 2006).

Limitations and Revisions

This essay, while reprising previously studied groupings of conservative thought, is my first serious foray into the ideas of those referred to as paleoconservatives and neoconservatives. At this point, I am reasonably satisfied with my understanding of traditionalist conservatives, social conservatives, capitalist libertarians, and authoritarian populists. Further, as we shall see, neoconservatives are well described.

Paleoconservatives, however, are often confounded with traditionalist conservatives (examples include Klingenstein, 2003; Antle, 2008). A problem with attempting to categorize conservatives is that there is so much overlap between many of them in their thinking, but probably among no two groups is this truer than with paleoconservatives and traditionalist conservatives. The distinction I draw between them in this essay must be regarded as especially tentative.

Another difficulty is with the lineage of anti-communism, understood as the ‘glue’ that held the fusionist coalition together. I have understood anti-communists to form part of an ongoing authoritarian populist strain, which I have partially already described in this essay above, and will revisit in the following section (Benfell, May 16, 2014). But I now believe that neoconservatives, despite their enmity with paleoconservatives (Antle, 2008; Ashbee, 2000; Francis, 1989; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003) and, to a less visible degree, traditionalist conservatives (Hart, September 23, 2008), also play a role here. It is apparent that neoconservatives share much ideological ground with authoritarian populists, but the two kinds of conservatives are not the same. My understanding of how these two groups might interact, especially given the serious divisions that remain among conservatives, to supply that fusionist ‘glue’ is incomplete.

Finally, Nash (2006) attributes neoliberal policies to capitalist libertarian influence. This has always seemed somewhat odd to me; capitalist libertarians have never had a sufficiently large following for this to completely make sense, even if figures like Friedrich Hayek (1944/2007) and Milton Friedman have had a disproportionate influence on economic policy. Part of the explanation for this is that authoritarian populists, among whose numbers I count Ayn Rand, adopted the economic ideas of capitalist libertarians (Benfell, May 16, 2014). Further, as Adam Wolfson (Winter, 2004) points out, the policies that have actually been adopted fall short of capitalist libertarian ideals—despite a privatization trend that has affected, among other things, prisons and even the space program. For example, local fire departments generally continue to be supported by taxpayers as functions of government (see Nash, 2006). It turns out that the neoconservative notion of ‘good government’ includes neoliberal policy and indeed, the adoption of neoliberal policies paved the way for a shift from a domestic-oriented first phase neoconservatism to an aggressive foreign policy-oriented second phase neoconservatism (Himmelfarb, 2011; Shudak & Helfenbein, 2005; Wolfson, Winter, 2004). Neoconservatives, largely arising in reaction to the social unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s, are a far more plausible candidate for the promotion of neoliberal policies. They had gained considerable political influence even in the Reagan administration (Judis, 1995; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Kerwick, 2013; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Langille, 2008; Nash, 2006, Spring, 2009; Ribuffo, 2003; Ricci, 2009; Ryn, 2005; T. Weaver, 2009).

Capitalist libertarians, on the other hand, do not seem to me to ever have had a sufficient following to account for the rise of what now seems to be neoliberal orthodoxy. I would suggest instead that neoconservatives, who gained positions of considerable political influence no later than during the Reagan administration, and who consider a largely but not entirely capitalist libertarian economic policy essential to good government (Judis, 1995; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Kerwick, 2013; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Langille, 2008; Ribuffo, 2003; Ricci, 2009; Ryn, 2005; T. Weaver, 2009), have much to do with the rise of neoliberal policy, which began in the Carter era (Clune, February 26, 2013; Hacker & Pierson, 2010; Mishel, Shierholz, & Schmitt, November 19, 2013; Phillips-Fein, 2011; Quiggin, May 20, 2013). Furthermore, the policies that have been adopted, harsh as they may be, in fact fall short of the capitalist libertarian ideal. As Wolfson (2011) succinctly puts it, “‘Two cheers for capitalism,’ Irving Kristol once famously remarked--not three” (p. 41). We have not, for instance, privatized fire departments—at least, not yet (see Nash, 2006).

Reprise

This essay continues a study of conservatism which seeks to understand the various strands of thinking in conservatism. In an essay completed in May 2014, I discussed five kinds of conservatives: traditionalist conservatives, social conservatives, capitalist libertarians, functionalist conservatives, and authoritarian populists. I noticed I was unable to discuss many of these categories without reference to the others, so much so that I was troubled by the term ‘category’. These are, I speculated, elements in an ecosystem, suggesting that complexity theory might be an appropriate lens. That essay includes a chart describing the interrelationships, which I expand upon in Table 1.

Table 1Strains of Conservatism and their Interactions (expanded from Benfell, May 16, 2014)
Strains of Conservatism Interactions with other strains
Traditionalist Conservatives
  • Allies with social conservatives on religion, but traditionalists are more concerned with the size of government.
  • Less likely than capitalist libertarians to endorse laissez-faire economics.
  • Allied with capitalist libertarians in Meyer’s fusionism.
  • Do not share authoritarian populists’ hyper-patriotism and do not see the U.S. as an ‘exceptional’ nation.
  • Object to functionalist conservatives’ alliances with big business.
  • Closely related ideologically to paleoconservatives, but privilege the legacy of British culture and of conservatism as interpreted from Edmund Burke.
  • Join with paleoconservatives and, often, capitalist libertarians, tending toward what neoconservatives see as ‘isolationism’ and thus are in strong opposition to neoconservatives.
Social Conservatives
  • Often focus on gender and sexuality issues, which are of less interest to all but traditionalist conservatives.
  • Agree with traditionalist conservatives that government’s legitimacy derives from a Christian god.
  • Benefited from anti-Communist (authoritarian populist) and functionalist conservative sponsorship of religious revival movement in the early Cold War.
  • Support anti-Communism because authoritarian communism as practiced in the Soviet Union was atheistic.
  • Relationships with paleoconservatives are probably similar to those with traditionalists, but this is not established.
  • Appear to have the support of neoconservatives who readily resort to the image of a ‘crusade’ in building support for their aggressive foreign policy.
Capitalist Libertarians
  • Allied with traditionalist conservatives in Meyer’s fusionism.
  • Mostly oppose government intervention in economic and personal matters, bringing them into conflict with functionalist, social, and traditionalist conservatives.
  • Authoritarian populists adopt the capitalist libertarian economic agenda in hierarchically invidious monistic form.
  • Often oppose foreign interventions along with traditionalist conservatives and paleoconservatives, bringing them into conflict with neoconservatives.
  • Supply the economic ideology of neoliberalism, which neoconservatives take as a moral system in their conception of ‘good government.’
Authoritarian Populists
  • As anti-communists, the ‘glue’ of the fusionist coalition with traditionalist conservatives and capitalist libertarians.
  • Often share social and traditionalist conservative views on sexuality, seeing sexuality education and advocacy of non-heterosexual rights as impinging upon their own rights.
  • Emphasize patriotism, which expressed in militaristic form, serves the neoconservative agenda.
  • Appear to share the anti-communist legacy (which I interpret as a phase of longer-standing authoritarian populism) with neoconservatives, but this relationship is not entirely clear.
  • In conflict with functionalist conservatives over federal government prerogatives (see Benfell, May 4, 2014).
Functionalist Conservatives
  • Often unrecognized as conservative by other groups, but an essential part of the coalition that, in seeking to preserve elite privileges, is in a position to advance other conservative priorities, as with decreasing availability of abortion for traditionalist and social conservatives, an early Cold War religious revival movement for social conservatives, neoliberal policy for capitalist libertarians, and social safety net cuts for authoritarian populists.
Paleoconservatives
  • Often conflated with traditionalists but argue for (European) ethnic segregation and do not privilege tradition inherited from Britain.
  • Join with traditionalists and, sometimes, capitalist libertarians in what neoconservatives call “isolationism,” opposing neoconservative policy recommendations.
  • Other relationships are unclear.
Neoconservatives
  • Adopted capitalist libertarian economic ideas as essential to ‘good government’ and probably are most responsible for the adoption of these ideas as political orthodoxy.
  • Share an anti-communist legacy with authoritarian populists.
  • Pursue an aggressive foreign policy to instill so-called ‘capitalist democracy’ in other countries, placing them at odds with those they call “isolationist”: traditionalist conservatives, paleoconservatives, and, sometimes, capitalist libertarians. The latter groups fear that such militarism will serve to enlarge rather than diminish government; neoconservatives accept that risk.
  • Ally with social conservatives in pursuit of a military ‘crusade’ in support of so-called ‘capitalist democracy.’

 

In this essay, particularly with the introduction of neoconservatives, whom I had treated only in passing before, the difficulty of distinguishing between ‘categories’ of conservatism has increased. Not yet having seriously examined neoconservatism, I have previously viewed them as a sort of functionalist conservative, expressing a will to power through imperialism (Benfell, April 26, 2013), and as we shall see, this is not wrong so much as it is incomplete, applying more to second phase neoconservatives than to first phase neoconservatives. Now, however, I find it impossible to discuss capitalist libertarians without significant reference both to authoritarian populists and to neoconservatives: The ecosystem has become a jungle, and it seems to me that the appropriate way of viewing the various sorts of conservatives is clearly not as categories, but rather as closely related species, often interbred with each other, often hybridized.

In reprising these species for this essay, my thinking has progressed significantly from the earlier essay (Benfell, May 16, 2014). While I would advise that this essay should be read in conjunction with that one, even in reprising these species, there is new material, incorporating material I have found in an ongoing literature search.

Traditionalist Conservatives

Traditionalist conservatives advocate theocracy, but they are often Catholics and intellectuals (Nash, 2006). They ally with social conservatives on abortion and same sex marriage, and they may oppose birth control and divorce (see especially Blum, 2006). Like most conservatives, they associate property with liberty but also express mixed views about capitalism, mostly allying with capitalist libertarians, but expressing concern about the exploitive aspects at least of industrial capitalism, while usually overlooking the at least as severe exploitation to be found in agricultural and retail workplaces (Benfell, May 16, 2014).

All conservatives are, one way or another, authoritarian (Benfell, April 12, 2013), but traditionalists prefer that authority be held at the local level in the person of a ‘squire’, that is, of a landlord in a patriarchal, some might say feudal system, but in which the ‘squire’ is understood to protect and care for his subjects (Benfell, May 16, 2014). As David Anderson (2005) writes of nostalgia for the antebellum Deep South, the slaves are understood to have loved their masters; everyone, in such a society, has ‘their place’ and is expected to keep to it. Of Colin Woodard’s (2011) history of “eleven nations,” traditionalism’s soul seems to lie in the antebellum Deep South of slaveholders (see especially R. Weaver, 1964/1995). Their governing principles are probably best summarized in the word habit—their analogy is to a skill so practiced that one does not think about how to exercise it. As Jack Kerwick (2013) explains it, their epistemology embraces the knowledge of prejudice, habit, and passed-down skill ("practical" or "traditional" knowledge) as a foundation for all "technical" knowledge, with “technical” knowledge understood in the form of a recipe that one may follow when the foundation of prejudice, habit, and passed-down skill is insufficient.

Finally, traditionalists are suspicious of any attempts at ‘progress’, ‘social engineering’, or ‘social justice’, as these disturb “God’s plan.” They staunchly oppose egalitarianism, preferring the word equalitarianism, claiming that it renders all humans the same, and it is thus that we see that their notion of diversity is of a vertical, hierarchical, authoritarian sort. Accordingly, they are also suspicious of any kind of ‘redistribution’ (Kirk, 1985/2001; R. Weaver, 1964/1995), which would seem to have the effect of keeping the poor profoundly dependent upon and thus vulnerable to the elite.

Social Conservatives

In contrast to traditionalists, who tend to be Catholic and intellectual, social conservatives tend to be Protestant and less educated (Nash, 2006). Social conservatives are the ones most often heard from, certainly the ones who are least discreet, in a putative ‘war on women’. As I wrote previously of politicians who made foolish statements in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, “it is hard not to notice that these are men seeking political power, diminishing the violence of rape, promising to legislate women’s bodies, and who seem obsessed with sex” (emphasis in original, Benfell, May 16, 2014). They share a theocratic agenda with traditionalists and they benefited from a government- and corporate-sponsored revival movement implemented by anti-communists (whom I subsume in the category of authoritarian populists) in the early Cold War. But it is also important to note that the campaign to impose the role of breeder and mother on women seems to have its origins no later than in the immediate post-Civil War era as a means of preserving white male hegemony (Benfell, May 16, 2014).

Capitalist Libertarians

I suppose that one measure of the importance that Nash (2006) assigns to libertarianism, which I refer to as capitalist libertarianism so as to distinguish it from libertarian socialism, might lie in his choice to devote the first chapter of his intellectual history of conservatism to them. By the same sort of measure, one might also understand capitalist libertarianism as a largely post-World War II phenomenon, propelled in large part by emigrés from Eastern Europe reacting to the rise of communism Eastern Europe and to Nazism. Such suppositions should be treated with caution.

One might also argue that Nash (2006) could have begun his account of libertarianism earlier. For I can find no significant ideological differences between capitalist libertarians and the reactionaries and fascists—as George Seldes (1948/2009) labels them—who, protesting vociferously about “property rights,” might have launched a coup against Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal but for their betrayal by the retired Marine Corps general they had chosen to lead the military operation, Smedley Butler, who instead testified about the plot before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Charles Reich (1970) writes of this opposition,

Every step the New Deal took encountered the massive, bitter opposition of Consciousness I people. They found their world changing beyond recognition, and instead of blaming the primary forces behind that change, they blamed the efforts at solving problems. They totally lacked the sophistication necessary to see that a measure such as the Wagner Act might be redressing an existing oppression rather than creating oppression. The businessmen who were the most vocal in their opposition had a pathological hatred of the New Deal, a hatred so intense and personal as to defy analysis. Why this hatred, when the New Deal, in retrospect, seems to have saved the capitalist system? Perhaps because the New Deal intruded irrevocably upon their make-believe, problem-free world in which the pursuit of business gain and self-interest was imagined to be automatically beneficial to all of mankind, requiring of them no additional responsibility whatever. In any event, there was a large and politically powerful number of Americans who never accepted the New Deal even when it benefited them, and used their power whenever they could to cut it back. (Reich, 1970, pp. 56-57)

Reich (1970) attributes this ideology to a historical viewpoint that had not adapted to social realities since the Industrial Revolution. This ideology, somewhat realized as neoliberalism, seeks to resurrect the economic ideas of classical liberalism, notably laissez-faire, that government should intervene as little as possible in the economy, and free its citizens to pursue self-interest. In naïve form, they do this by competing to provide the highest quality products and services at the lowest prices; this efficiency is realized through innovation (Hayek, 1944/2007; Nash, 2006; Rand, 1957/1999; Wolfson, 2011). The assumption is that this efficiency benefits the entire population, that even as some win and some lose in this competition, a rising tide floats all boats.

However, power discrepancies in the labor market mean that much of this supposed efficiency comes at the expense of workers; further, this pattern is self-reinforcing—complexity theorists would call it a positive feedback—driving wages ever lower. Even worse, it seems that capitalists have an interest in keeping a population of potential workers desperate in order to minimize demands for improved labor conditions or wages (Kent, 2011; Muller, March/April, 2013; Weber, 1978/2010). Nonetheless, many working class folks seem persuaded that this system benefits them. As Thomas Frank (2005) points out in his description of Kansas conservatives, whom I count as authoritarian populists, when they lose their jobs, when their wages are reduced, when they work longer hours, it is “just business;” they have apparently accepted in whole the laissez-faire notion that politics and the economy should remain separate.

One might also see a resemblance to capitalist libertarianism in Colin Woodard’s (2011) history in which describes the people of the region he labels New Netherland, an area encompassing New York City, western Long Island, and northern New Jersey, as strongly in favor both of freedom of expression and freedom of trade. In an article about Woodard’s book, the Washington Post’s Reid Wilson labels another of Woodard’s ethnocultural nations, the Far West, “intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government” (Wilson, November 8, 2013); hence, we might understand the story of Cliven Bundy, who has made news during the course of this writing for his armed resistance to Bureau of Land Management grazing restrictions and fees (Associated Press, April 12, 2014; Cama, April 14, 2014, April 15, 2014; Gettys, April 16, 2014; Lesniewski, April 17, 2014; Zuckerman, April 15, 2014). In the book itself, however, Woodard is more cautious, explaining that

Many of the Far West’s senators and congressmen receive most of their campaign donations from interests outside the region and have become among the most reliable champions of the external industrial corporations at work there. But they do so through the libertarian rhetoric of individual freedom of governmental tyranny. (Woodard, 2011, p. 252)

There is a difference between ‘libertarian rhetoric’ and capitalist libertarianism; most conservatives agree with capitalist libertarian ideas to some degree, which makes it harder to tell one sort of conservative from another. Further, belying any notion of an ‘Old West’ flavor that might associate with the armed men on horseback defending Bundy’s cattle and who have apparently set up checkpoints around the area (Raju, April 28, 2014), Adam Wolfson (2011) writes,

In contrast to the paleoconservative and the traditionalist, the libertarian is entirely at home in today's world. He takes his bearings from John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and such twentieth-century social thinkers as Friedrich Hayek. The libertarian spirit is neither backward-looking nor meliorative. It is progressive, and aims at expanding economic freedom and individual choice ever-forward. Libertarians oppose almost all regulation, whether of markets or morals. (Wolfson, 2011, p. 38)

Indeed, if one judges by policies that have actually been adopted, the match between capitalist libertarianism and neoliberalism seems imprecise. In one essay, Henry Giroux (February 11, 2014) describes neoliberalism in a way that incorporates elements of its neoconservative counterpart:

The ideological script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for governing all of social life, not just the economy; a survival-of the fittest ethic now drives the stories we tell about ourselves; individual responsibility is promoted in order to tear up social solidarities; militaristic values trump democratic ideals; the welfare state is the arch enemy of freedom; private interests negate public values; consumerism becomes the only obligation of citizenship; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities and war becomes the all-embracing organizing principle for developing society and the economy. (Giroux, February 11, 2014)

In another essay, Giroux (April 26, 2014) describes neoliberalism in a way that evokes authoritarian populism:

Not only are public servants described as the new "welfare queens" and degenerate freeloaders but young people are also increasingly subjected to harsh disciplinary measures both in and out of schools, often as a result of a violation of the most trivial rules. Once set in motion, economic Darwinism unleashes a mode of thinking in which social problems are reduced to individual flaws and political considerations collapse into the injurious and self-indicting discourse of character. (Footnotes elided, Giroux, April 26, 2014)

An analysis of conservatism such as I attempt here is not Giroux’s (February 11, 2014, April 8, 2014, April 26, 2014) project and he does not assign labels such as I do. In the most recent essay (April 26, 2014), however, he evokes a binary, or as Elizabeth Minnich (2005) calls it, a hierarchically invidious monism, that figures prominently in my previous essay (Benfell, May 16, 2014). As Chip Berlet (2011) explains it,

Right-wing [authoritarian] populism often is based on racialized, patriarchal, and heterosexist narratives that buttress a sense of privilege and entitlement among a targeted audience of straight White Christian men. It tends to frame economic questions in terms of hard working producers pitted against parasites above and below. This technique was used to mobilize poor and working class Whites against newly-freed Black former slaves after the Civil War. It was utilized by George Wallace in his first Presidential Campaign, and later borrowed by Richard Nixon and the Republican Party to create the “Southern Strategy.” It exists in stories of “welfare queens” where race need not be mentioned. Ironically, today anti-elite populist rhetoric is used by Republicans to invert the historical account and claim that the Democratic Party is the enemy of true civil rights. (Berlet, 2011, p. 22)

The essential feature of a hierarchically invidious monism, and the reason Minnich (2005) eschews the term dualism, is that one side of the binary is perceived as superior to the other. Conveniently for the writing of this essay, perhaps too conveniently, Cliven Bundy followed up his resistance to the Bureau of Land Management by holding forth on “the Negro,” declaring that on government assistance and in public housing, they were no freer than when they were slaves, saying “they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do” (Bundy, quoted in Nagourney, April 23, 2014). These remarks were widely judged blatantly racist enough that Republican politicians who had probably hoped and perhaps thought they had a hero in the 2014 election year akin to “Joe the Plumber,” who figured in the 2008 campaign, raced to disavow Bundy’s remarks (Richardson, April 24, 2014).

Similarly, I notice in the book Atlas shrugged that Ayn Rand’s (1957/1999) the “hierarchically invidious monism between ‘creators’ and ‘looters’ aligns with the dualism between producers and ‘parasites’ that [has] helped to motivate authoritarian populists since at least the Reconstruction era” (Benfell, May 16, 2014; see Berlet, 2011) and so I categorize Rand and her followers with authoritarian populists. I do this also because I perceive a difference between Rand’s views and Friedrich Hayek’s (1944/2007) acknowledgment that government should provide those socially necessary services that the profit motive cannot, including, if necessary, a social welfare scheme. Because capitalist libertarians are best known—and taken most seriously—for their economic views, there is ample cause for confusion. However, capitalist libertarians also reject the intrusion of government into issues of personal morality, such as on sexuality and drug use, placing them somewhat at odds with many other conservatives, and if there is to be a break-up of the ‘fusionist’ coalition that is often credited for so much conservative political success, it may well be capitalist libertarians who leave (Goldman, December 31, 2006; Lindsey, 2006, 2010).

Authoritarian Populists

Authoritarian populists are not so much an intellectual species as they are a sort of ideological mongrel. Authoritarian populists are typified by a chauvinism in favor of the United States, which is abstract and ideological, of the “my country, right or wrong,” and “America—love it or leave it” bumper sticker variety, and which belies any claim that conservatism is non-ideological. It is the conservatism that clearly lies behind, for example, the English-only movement (Fonte, 2003) and includes, as I write this, the aforementioned confrontation in Nevada, in which a rancher, Cliven Bundy, claims that local authority outranks federal authority, that the Bureau of Land Management has no business intruding on his use of federal land (Associated Press, April 12, 2014; Cama, April 14, 2014, April 15, 2014; Gettys, April 16, 2014; Lesniewski, April 17, 2014; Marcotte, April 25, 2014; Nagourney, April 23, 2014; Zuckerman, April 15, 2014).

“You know [Senate Majority Leader] Harry [Reid], Nevada citizens, we the people elected you to go back to the United States Senate and take care of the United States business, which might be something like defend us from foreign nations,” Bundy said. “Harry, get back there and take care of that work and leave us alone here in Nevada.” (Lesniewski, April 17, 2014)

This is Nash’s (Spring, 2009) ‘leave-us-alone’ conservatism and one that borrows a line from one of the many rants in Ayn Rand’s (1957/1999) Atlas shrugged that the federal government should confine itself to defending against external threats. And yet, even as Bundy and those who have come to his defense—they are armed and, according to a letter reportedly sent by Congressman Steven Horsford, “have created checkpoints requiring individuals “to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass” and have established “a persistent presence” around highways, local schools and churches” (Raju, April 28, 2014)—rise against the federal government’s ‘meddling’, they view themselves as patriots. The photographs that accompany this coverage are replete with patriotic imagery; in one, a row of men are seen on horseback, all with their hats held to their chests, as they pause for the national anthem (Marcotte, April 25, 2014; Nagourney, April 23, 2014; Zuckerman, April 15, 2014).

Authoritarian populism might not really be a species at all. It can be seen as something of a mutt: Ideologically, it draws upon the ideas of other species, but it is, as nearly as I can determine, a conservatism that is entirely un-thought—and it sees nothing in its beliefs that require thinking about, as when former-Alaska Governor and former-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin responded to a Christian and social conservative outcry over a joke that terrorists should be ‘baptized’ by waterboarding (Kurtzleben, April 28, 2014; Edwards, April 30, 2014), saying “Would I make [the joke] again? Why wouldn’t I? Yeah, absolutely” (Palin, quoted in Sherfinski, April 28, 2014). These ‘truths’, for authoritarian populists, simply ‘are’, which is to say that they take in a great many beliefs, with wide-ranging ramifications, as foundational values, placed beyond challenge. In words that foreshadow the Tea Party, Amos Esty (2005) concludes his history of North Carolina Republican Party politics, writing of its politicians that “[b]y appealing to what they believed to be traditional American values, polarizing politics along racial lines, and linking spending on social programs to the loss of liberty and morality, conservatives turned their once ridiculed ideology into national policy” (p. 32)—they were appealing to authoritarian populists.

There are a number of aspects to authoritarian populism that are troubling for even the pretense of representative government. First, there is the matter of a strongly hierarchically invidiously monistic world view, one that repeatedly draws a line between “us” and “them.” As Kim Messick (October 12, 2013) describes a “largely rural, Southern and white” electorate:

These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. (Messick, October 12, 2013)

Political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein (April 27, 2012) say much the same thing of authoritarian populist Republican representation in Congress:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. (Mann & Ornstein, April 27, 2012).

Thomas Frank (2005) echoes the description of (authoritarian populist) conservative Kansas voters’ simplistic and anti-intellectual approach to the problems of governing, explaining,

Education at the K-12 level, meanwhile, is the main place where average Kansans routinely encounter government, and for the [Conservatives] that encounter is often frustrating and offensive. School is where big government makes its most insidious moves into their private lives, teaching their kids that homosexuality is OK or showing them their way around a condom. [Conservatives] find their beliefs under attack by another tiny, insular group of arrogant professionals—the National Education Association—that stands above democratic control, and they look for relief in vouchers, homeschooling, or private religious schools. (Frank, 2005, p. 204)

There is irony in this description. As I noted in my previous essay, functionalist conservatives take advantage of authoritarian populists in a way that preserves their voice but also reinforces their sense of victimization (Benfell, May 16, 2014). Authoritarian populists are often people losing well-paid jobs and who, if they get any jobs at all in return, are often much more poorly paid than before. They have legitimate grievances against an increasingly globalized capitalist system (Berlet, 2011; Sernau, 2006). In the language of critical theory, they are unmistakably a colonized people (Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, 2008). I find no fault with their often seething anger in and of itself, but rather that instead of directing that anger against capitalist-colonizers, they direct it against other subaltern groups (Berlet, 2011; Sernau, 2006) for the offense of not being like themselves (Messick, October 12, 2013). Chip Berlet (2011) points to what may well be the best explanation in his claim that the Tea Party is part of a longstanding pattern that includes anti-communism and dates back to the U.S. Revolution. In this pattern, the demons are always the government and always the other, and it resembles selective observation: Authoritarian populists only notice what their demons do to them—or what they perceive their demons do to them—not what anybody else does.

Functionalist Conservatives

Within the conservative milieu, functionalist conservatives often go unacknowledged. And when they are acknowledged, it is often with disdain. Richard Weaver (1964/1995), a traditionalist conservative, is only untypical in the degree to which he elaborates when he writes,

Much of the criticism leveled at this section [the North, in contrast to the South] concerns the dominance of the businessman type. The North has in general taken the view that it is the duty of man to carry on an unceasing work of exploitation, which is variously denominated "business," "development," and "progress." It may be recalled here that Calvin Coolidge, that narrowest and least imaginative of all American Presidents, who was in many ways representative of this outlook, once declared from the White House that "the business of America is business." The winning of the West was largely a northern enterprise, and the industrialization of the country was almost exclusively such. Almost everything in the North, including social alignments, has been geared to an expanding business "civilization." The stories of young men who started out with only their bare hands and became immensely wealthy have been the most approved American sagas. There occurred, consequently, an extraordinary adulation of function or capacity to show results, and with it the creation of a class of "functionalists" called "businessmen." A few years ago Professor Elijah Jordan pointed out in his original book entitled Business Be Damned that never before in history had this type of person formed a class enjoying social prestige. There have always been activists and gain-getters, but it was reserved for the modern age, under American leadership, to give the successful gain-getter an honorific in the form of "businessman." (Weaver, 1964/1995, p. 32)

Nash (2006) quotes Russell Kirk writing that “[c]onservatism is something more than mere solicitude for tidy incomes” (p. 122) and writes

Kirk had worked for a “soulless corporation” and had lived in a dreary industrial city; he had no inclination to idealize free enterprise. Robert Nisbet was also critical of the corrosive, antisocial laissez-faire of the nineteenth century: it had weakened social bonds and “accelerated” the aggrandizement of the omnicompetent State” (p. 122).

Functionalist conservatives are indeed not only business persons. Functionalist conservatives are C. Wright Mills’s (1956/2000) “power elite,” including corporate executives, government—especially bureaucracy—leaders, and high-ranking military officers. These elites are effectively united psychologically, socially and, sometimes, through “a more explicit co-ordination.” “[i]n so far as the power elite is composed of men of similar origin and education, of similar career and style of life, . . . they are of similar social type” and there is “the interchangeability of positions between the three dominant institutional orders” (Mills, 1958/2005, p. 141). They are concerned not only with comfort, but with the preservation of their privilege over, power over, and distinction from the rest of the population. They seem to have adopted the attitude that Woodard (2011) attributes to those he calls Tidelanders from an ethnocultural region comprising parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina, those who also, by the way, had an outsized representation among the U.S. “Founding Fathers”: Society, in their view, exists to support them. I am reluctant to endorse Malcolm Harris’ (April 25, 2014) specific assessment of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but his argument that Bloomberg supports gun control as a means of preserving elite control over the general population by removing a means of popular resistance is consistent with my view of functionalist conservatism.

Against this, however, is the failure of the federal government as yet to react forcefully to Cliven Bundy’s uprising in Nevada, ostensibly, to avoid a repeat of the Branch Davidian or Ruby Ridge incidents (Associated Press, April 12, 2014; Cama, April 14, 2014, April 15, 2014; Gettys, April 16, 2014; Lesniewski, April 17, 2014; Zuckerman, April 15, 2014). This lack of response is striking, particularly in contrast to the brutal treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protests (Harris, October 22, 2011; Mann, October 23, 2011; Slosson, May 2, 2012; Solnit, November 22, 2011). This situation bears watching.

Paleoconservatives

Paleoconservatism has also inherited strains drawn from the "paranoid style in American politics" that Richard Hofstadter identified three decades ago. It is marked by the hostility to the "east coast establishment" that structured different populist movements. There are echoes of Huey Long's attacks on the wealthy and Father Charles Coughlin's pleas on behalf of the local community against what he saw as the arrogance and self-interested indifference of metropolitan financial interests. Paleoconservatism also shares the sense of exclusion from the government apparatus and large corporations that informed "white ethnic" politics and movements such as McCarthyism. Buchanan not only regards Senator Joseph McCarthy as a political hero because of his anti-communism, but also because McCarthyism conveyed the hostility and resentment of those who remained outside WASP circles: "for four years he was daily kicking the living hell out of people most Americans concluded ought to have the living hell kicked out of them." (Ashbee, 2000, p. 75)

Not unlike other species of conservatism, there are overlaps between paleoconservatism and other forms of conservatism, indeed Ashbee (2000) describes what appear to be overlaps with traditionalist conservatism, capitalist libertarianism, social conservatism, and neoconservatism. In the passage just quoted, the overlap is with authoritarian populism: When Ashbee mentions the “east coast establishment”, he seems to refer to the same authoritarian and intellectual elites that Thomas Frank’s (2005) Kansan conservatives (authoritarian populists) object to strenuously, and when Ashbee mentions anti-communism, he again refers to an aspect of authoritarian populism.

Paleoconservatives, however, are most often conflated with traditionalist conservatives—again, there is enormous overlap, with paleoconservatives often framed as being in the “Old Right” in a binary with neoconservatives: In this binary, paleoconservatives—sometimes extended to include even capitalist libertarians—are often seen as isolationists in foreign policy and neoconservatives are seen as aggressive in foreign policy (see, for examples, Antle, 2008; Francis, 1989; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003, Weisberg, September 2, 1991). In this binary, authoritarian populists should fall in with neoconservatives, but in the following, they more resemble paleoconservatives:

The term paleoconservative arose in the late 1980s to describe a loosely organized school of thought then emerging on the Right. Scotchie describes the paleo-world view as depicting "a grand battle royale waged between a mostly rural and small-town Middle America and their Washington-Manhattan-Hollywood tormenters." This battle has included skirmishes with other conservatives. These "conservative wars" crested in the mid-1980s, but resurfaced after September 11, 2001, over issues of immigration, foreign policy, and national identity. Both Schneider and Scotchie recount the controversies: fifty years ago, the debate over the John Birchers; thirty years ago, the arrival of the neoconservatives; twenty years ago, the famous meeting of the Philadelphia Society that made public the Great Schism between the paleoconservatives and neoconservatives; a dozen years ago, the speech of Patrick J. Buchanan at the Republican National Convention; and so on, until today. (Russello, 2005, p. 70)

Like many binaries, the binary between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives grossly oversimplifies. Gerald Russello (2005), writing in the traditionalist journal Modern Age, points to the difference between paleoconservatives and traditionalists from a traditionalist perspective:

The traditionalists of the 1930s and 1940s, even into the 1950s, were born into a particular tradition which they saw slipping away and which they wished to preserve. Russell Kirk, for example, stoutly defended the Depression-era Michigan of his youth against the left-wing revisionists and urban planners. To read someone like Garet Garrett, the lead editorial writer of The Saturday Evening Post who defended an America of little regulation and maximum liberty, is to enter an America that is no more. The world the paleos wish to substitute for the modern liberal state is, while better than that alternative, still not completely satisfactory. Samuel Francis, for example, was writing in the 1990s of the "Middle American Radical," not a category that would have appealed to Kirk or others on the Old Right. While provocative and at times prescient, the cultural solutions they propose are based in a tradition of thought beginning with thinkers like Gaetano Mosca or Max Weber rather than those to whom traditionalists like Kirk looked for guidance. (Russello, 2005, p. 70)

Adam Wolfson (2004) argues that paleoconservatives “are not conservatives so much as reactionaries or pseudo-radicals. The paleos can fairly be said to despise much of contemporary American life and would like somehow to move beyond the modern American political debate” (p. 36). Wolfson’s (2004) assertion that paleoconservatives “are not conservatives” is unpersuasive; this essay has already noted that conservatives engage in such claims routinely, and in this dispute, Wolfson, a first phase neoconservative, is hardly an unbiased source on paleoconservatives, who have been neoconservatives’ opponents in, as Nash (Spring, 2009) put it, “a nearly thirty-year war.” That said, when paleoconservatism is a topic, Patrick Buchanan is often mentioned, even if he is a somewhat less than perfect exemplar (Antle, 2008; Ashbee, 2000; Frohnen, 2006; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Nash, Spring, 2009; Russello, 2005; Wolfson), and Wolfson quotes Buchanan in the 2000 campaign, running as a third party candidate: “‘With this campaign,’ [Buchanan] declared, ‘I intend to redefine what it means to be a conservative’” (Wolfson, p. 36). Wolfson continues:

Buchananism stood for anti-free trade and anti-globalism in economic policy; anti-immigration and pro-life in social policy; and isolationism in foreign policy. Yet despite his strong pro-life position and frequent religious appeals, Buchanan was rejected by rank-and-file religious conservatives and their leadership. He may have declared a "religious war" for the heart and soul of the nation, but religious conservatives did not choose to support him. They sided in the Republican primaries with President Bush in 1992 and Senator Robert Dole in 1996--neither of whom was known to be strongly supportive of the religious right's agenda. The media largely missed the salience of these alliances, which greatly damaged Buchanan's electoral viability. The paleos' agenda, as it turns out, is more quixotic than anyone quite realized, and the religious right more bourgeois than is generally supposed. (Wolfson, 2004, p. 37)

Wolfson (2004) points to interesting ironies about Buchanan, but his implicit conclusion taking the lack of conservative support for Buchanan in 2000 as a kind of referendum on paleoconservatism should be treated with caution. First, Buchanan was running as a third-party candidate in a very predominantly two-party system. Second, Buchanan is a less than perfect representative of paleoconservatism (Ashbee, 2000). Third, Buchanan’s anti-Semitic, racist, and therefore unsavory, reputation (Ashbee; Brownfeld, January 28, 1994; DeVega, March 6, 2012; Kimmel, November 17, 2013; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Walsh, October 1, 2013; Weisberg, 1991) cannot have helped perceptions of Buchanan’s electability. The claim that Buchanan is anti-Semitic may not be entirely fair: Klingenstein’s attack on Buchanan relies on his challenges to Israeli policy and on his allegations that Israel exerts undue influence on U.S. policy; this in effect equates Israel to Jews, and equates anti-Semitism to any challenge either to Israeli policy or to U.S. policy supporting Israel (see also Brownfeld, who notes similar, earlier charges). Although Buchanan has proposed a constitutional amendment effectively incorporating the Civil Rights Act (Ashbee), he played a role in ‘Southern strategy’ that lured many white voters to the Republican Party, and the charge of racism seems harder to shake (DeVega, March 6, 2012; Kimmel, November 17, 2013; Walsh, October 1, 2013).

The question of how well Buchanan represents paleoconservatives, in turn, should be viewed in light of serious policy disagreements among paleoconservatives. To my eyes, many of these rifts, cited by Ashbee (2000), occur on traditionalist conservative policies and particularly on those that incur neoconservative wrath. Traditionalists, for example, argue for states’ rights and nullification; paleoconservatives seem to cleave between the traditionalist position and one that favors outright secession. Richard Weaver (1964/1995), a traditionalist, writes powerfully against ‘total war’, a doctrine that treats an opponent’s economy as a legitimate military target and, Weaver complains, disrupts civilian life (Weaver accepts as unavoidable, however, what he calls ‘chivalrous war’, which might never have actually existed) and traditionalists seem generally suspicious of ‘adventurous’ foreign policy. Jeffrey Hart (September 23, 2008) writes as searing an indictment of second phase neoconservativism and the war in Iraq as any I have seen on the left. Another traditionalist, T. H. Pickett (September 30, 2008) writes similarly, “[c]oncerning all presumptive projects to transform the world, whether they be Wilsonian or neoconservative in flavor and conception, honest conservatism recognizes not only their futility but their conceit.” Yet Buchanan, according to Ashbee (2000), supported the intervention in Croatia in the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, while other paleoconservatives are more strictly ‘isolationist’. As this essay has already noted, traditionalist conservatives are suspicious of human rights and favor ‘natural rights’ whose meaning they seemingly take for granted. They favor rule by the ‘squire’, a sort of landlord (also see Benfell, May 16, 2014). According to Ashbee, while paleoconservatives apparently share these views, Buchanan deviates with his talk of “liberty,” “democracy,” and of a constitutional amendment to enshrine the Civil Rights Act.

Buchanan, according to Ashbee (2000), supports protectionism in trade as a means of redressing wage discrepancies, and thus the advantage some other countries have in attracting at least some industry. Apparently, on this issue, other paleoconservatives believe that Buchanan should accommodate a wider spectrum of conservative opinion; this would seem to refer to neoliberalism, which supports so-called ‘free trade’, but Ashbee also makes paleoconservatives sound, if anything, more suspicious than traditionalists of capitalism—the tension between traditionalist conservatives and capitalist libertarians was, as this essay has already noted, what needed to be smoothed over—not really resolved—by Meyer’s fusionism (Nash, 2006).

Wolfson (2004) also argues for a distinction between paleoconservatives and traditionalist conservatives:

[T]he paleocons contend that we have become irrevocably cut off from a living, sustainable tradition. In their view, the acids of modernity have left us entirely disinherited from old customs and ways, and conservatism's project of conservation is but a glittering illusion. (Wolfson, 2004, p. 37)

Ashbee (2000) offers a different understanding. Wolfson’s (2004) “living sustainable tradition” (p. 37) would be that which traditionalists inherited from the British, principally by way of Edmund Burke; indeed Russell Kirk (1985/2001) seems to judge conservatives almost entirely by their fealty to Burke’s ideas. Ashbee suggests that paleoconservatives would organize and segregate society according to ethnicity: Swedish-Americans should live among Swedish-Americans, for example. Each of these segregated societies would govern itself by its own traditions. While this vision is both more diverse and less tolerant, it also seems limited to ethnic Europeans:

Black Americans are, for example, largely invisible. Their position within the American nation is almost always undefined. Others are only considered through the use of allusion. In a rare exploration of the question, Clyde Wilson and Thomas Fleming hint at the boundaries of American ethnicity when they describe the fate of the American national culture that established itself in the 1920s: “the flux of talented refugees from the Third Reich nipped the native growth of our civilization perhaps not in the bud but in the flower.” Judaic culture, it seems to have been alleged, was not only unassimilable, it also subverted and undermined existing American cultural forms.

Among leading paleoconservatives, only Samuel Francis confronts the boundaries between American ethnicity directly. Some races, he asserts, cannot be assimilated because there are fixed limits to their material and cultural progress: “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.” (Ashbee, 2000, p. 76)

Neoconservatives

A beginning point for understanding neoconservatism is to understand that its emphasis has shifted over time, hence my reference to first phase and second phase neoconservatives. This story seems largely to begin with the counterculture movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, in which the Democratic Party was perceived by “right wing liberals” to have shifted far to the left, stranding them politically. These erstwhile ‘liberals’ turned conservative—‘neoconservative’ (Fleming, 2004; Nash, 2006)—and are still considered liberal by some conservatives (Brownfeld, January 28, 1994). Their initial emphasis—first phase neoconservatism—was on domestic policy (Nash, 2006; Wolfson, 2004), and in this, it is essential to distinguish between classical liberalism, which neoliberalism claims to revive, and which favors so-called laissez-faire capitalism; and modern ‘bleeding heart’ liberalism, which emphasizes protection for subaltern groups:

The animating spirit of the first generation of neoconservatives was, first, anti-communist, and second, skepticism of modern liberalism. In journals including Commentary, Encounter and the Public Interest, the forbearers of the neoconservative movement commented on the supposed failures of modern liberalism; Irving Kristol, in as example, identified the ‘intellectual godfathers’ of his ideological transformation as Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Neibuhr. Trilling, he recalls, pointed to ‘liberalism’s dirty secret . . . [that] its progressive metaphysics [were basically rotten]’, whereas Niebuhr provided the ‘intellectual vocabulary’ of religion and hence, a plank to criticize the secularism of liberalism (Kristol 1993: 434–485). In any event, from the cultural milieu of the pre-‘conservative’ neoconservatives, represented in their various journals, the figures of the movement opined against the ‘excesses’ of the 1960s, as embodied in black liberation, feminism and cultural permissiveness. The quasi-moral concerns of the budding neoconservatives were bolstered by an increasingly hard-line anti-communism. (Langille, 2008, p. 323)

In that passage, Langille (2008) covers too quickly several important points. First, not only did neoconservatives—or those we now call neoconservatives—recoil from modern liberal and counterculture sensibilities about civil rights, sexual freedom, recreational drugs, and the Vietnam War, but grand liberal projects, such as Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and Keynesian economic policy, were, by the late 1970s, considered to have failed. Given their starting point in the 1960s and 1970s as what Nash calls “right wing liberals” to the political influence they had manifestly acquired by the time of the Reagan administration (Ronald Reagan, elected to the presidency in 1980, served from January 1981 to January 1989), it seems the 1970s were a period of rapid neoconservative ascendency (Judis, 1995; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Kerwick, 2013; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Langille, 2008; Nash, 2006, Spring, 2009; Ribuffo, 2003; Ricci, 2009; Ryn, 2005; T. Weaver, 2009). This essay has already suggested that neoconservatives deserve some credit for neoliberal policies that they consider essential to ‘good government’ and that this paved the way for more outward looking policies (Himmelfarb, 2011; Shudak & Helfenbein, 2005; Wolfson, Winter, 2004). Nonetheless, the attribution of blame for the Iraq war to neoconservatives seems to have caught neoconservative Adam Wolfson (Winter, 2004) by surprise:

Over the last year, however, and especially during the months prior to the war in Iraq, the label of neoconservatism made its way back into our public discussions and political debates. "It is neocons ... who are the brains behind Bush's push to expel Hussein," wrote Jacob Heilbrunn in the Los Angeles Times. "Without them there would be no war talk." He was not alone in singling out the neocons. It has become the label of choice for left- and right-wing war critics. Though John Judis and Patrick Buchanan may have little in common, though Christopher Matthews and Paul Craig Roberts may not agree on much else, they all agree that the war in Iraq was somehow an outgrowth of neoconservative ideology. And the fascination with neoconservatism has hardly abated: "Neocons On The Line," blared a recent headline in Newsweek; "The Neocons in Charge" read another in the New York Review of Books. Presidential hopeful Howard Dean declared on the campaign stump that President Bush has "been captured by the neoconservatives around him." (Wolfson, Winter, 2004, p. 33)

If Wolfson (Winter, 2004) is indeed surprised, it is—rather than a widespread conservative disavowal of Bush administration policy after the fact, or more precisely, after the 2006 elections when Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress—because “[n]eoconservatism has generally been associated with domestic policy, and has never produced a single approach to foreign policy (just as there is no distinctively neoconservative method of constitutional interpretation)” (p. 45). Traditionalist Jeffrey Hart explains:

An important mutation had taken place between the older generation of neoconservatives represented by The Public Interest, founded by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell in 1965. These neoconservatives, that is, former liberals, advocated a fact-based politics concerned about the hubristic faith of Great Society liberalism in the ability of government to solve entrenched social problems, and included such people as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, James Q. Wilson, Glen Loury, and Charles Murray. As Moynihan memorably said, culture matters more than politics, and he was excoriated for calling attention to the pathologies of the Negro family. James Q. Wilson argued that it was illusory to believe that social policy could cure the “root causes” of crime and recommended that crime itself be attacked wherever it appeared. In foreign policy such neoconservatives as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Francis Fukuyama, and Norman Podhoretz rejected what Fukuyama called “utopian social engineering.” Resisting Communist takeovers did not mean supporting only democracies. An authoritarian regime was preferable to a totalitarian one. (Hart, September 23, 2008)

This is the difference between what I label first phase neoconservatism and second phase neoconservatism and it is not so much a philosophical or ideological difference as it is a notion that having achieved the adoption of neoliberal policies at home (Clune, February 26, 2013; Goldberg, December 31, 2006; Hacker & Pierson, 2010; Lindsey, 2006, 2010; Mishel, Shierholz, & Schmitt, November 19, 2013; Nash, 2006; Phillips-Fein, 2011; Quiggin, May 20, 2013), the time had come to export so-called “capitalist democracy” abroad (Himmelfarb, 2011; Shudak & Helfenbein, 2005; Wolfson, Winter, 2004) as a presumed universally superior system of social organization applicable for all human beings in all situations in all places around the world—the classic rationalization for colonization.

These neo-neoconservatives were inspired by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying disappearance of Communism in its satellites. It also looked to a period of American military and economic supremacy to help democracy spread around the world. As George W. Bush said in his first inaugural address, "Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and soul." After 9-11, Bush made democracy in the Middle East the answer to Islamic terrorism. (Hart, September 23, 2008)

There is much that goes along with this, and it is here that we may see that neoconservatism overlaps with authoritarian populism not merely for its anti-communist roots but for a hyper-patriotism that admits no question of the desirability of a so-called “capitalist democratic” system anywhere in the world, let alone when imposed by military force (Brownfeld, January 28, 1994; Dorrien, 2013; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Langille, 2008; Pickett, September 30, 2008; Selden, April, 2004). Also apparent, despite traditionalists’ manifest opposition to neoconservatism (Hart, September 23, 2008; Pickett, September 30, 2008), is the overlap with traditionalist conservatism on morality; their difference is in isolationism versus an aggressive foreign policy, with traditionalists fearing, with some justification, that war is a means to expanded government (Selden, April, 2004; Urban, 2007). Finally, Urban points to the meeting ground between neoconservatism and social conservatism. This was exemplified in Bush’s rhetorical unity between hyper-patriotism about so-called “capitalist democracy” and his characterization of it as a “gift from God,” but also manifest with Blackwater, which operated with near impunity under numerous “national security” contracts (Scahill, 2007) and with an evangelization of the military (Banerjee, April 26, 2008; Goodstein, June 23, 2005; July 12, 2005; Quinn, April 26, 2013).

Conclusion

Over the course of two essays (see also Benfell, May 16, 2014), I have developed a taxonomy consisting of seven species of conservatism: traditionalist conservatism, social conservatism, capitalist libertarianism, authoritarian populism, functionalist conservatism, paleoconservatism, and neoconservatism. 1) Traditionalists prefer a heritage drawn from the British particularly in the person of Edmund Burke. This heritage emphasizes theocracy, limited government primarily at a local level, and property rights. 2) Social conservatives are better known as the religious right or as evangelicals. They ally with traditionalists on theocracy but are more populist and are prone to endorse neoconservative ‘crusades.’ 3) Capitalist libertarians generally oppose political coercion but either do not recognize or do not object to economic coercion. Capitalist libertarians resist government intrusion into private matters, such as abortion, contraception, and drugs. They accept the so-called ‘free market’ as an arbiter of nearly all value. 4) Authoritarian populists adopt the capitalist libertarian economic views but generally not their social views (as with abortion, contraception, and drugs). Their most outstanding feature is hierarchically invidious monism, dividing the world into good/evil binaries such as ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Their views tend to be harsh toward other subaltern groups, which is ironic, since it is entirely possible to view them as a subaltern group. 5) Functionalist conservatives are fundamentally interested the preservation or expansion of elite privilege and authority. They are essential to the conservative coalition, however, as they are the ones in positions to effect changes desired by other conservatives. 6) Paleoconservatives are often conflated with traditionalist conservatives but favor segregation by (European) ethnicity, while apparently failing to allow for non-white races. In doing so, they do not privilege the British legacy favored by traditionalists. 7) Neoconservatives arose as a countermovement to the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s and rapidly ascended to power as ‘bleeding heart’ liberal and Keynesian ideas appeared to have failed. I argue that we can credit neoconservatives rather than capitalist libertarians for the adoption of neoliberal policies as political orthodoxy beginning in the late 1970s.

In my previous essay, I suggested that conservatism might appropriately be seen as an ecosystem, with interactions between what I label here as species that are essential to the system and accordingly suggested that complexity theory might be an appropriate lens with which to view this topic (Benfell, May 16, 2014). In this essay, conservatism appears more as a list of ideological “ingredients,” which various species of conservatives choose from and combine in different ways. The only idea I have encountered for the first time in this consideration of paleoconservatives and neoconservatives is the paleoconservative notion of communities organized along (European) ethnic lines.

We may suspect then that conservative ideas form a limited class, that each of these ingredients, these ideas—rather than the species of conservatism themselves—are susceptible to the method I originally envisioned for a forthcoming dissertation: critical discourse analysis. This analysis can then be synthesized into the species of conservatism for an understanding of how a multi-faceted conservatism works. That will be the topic of a forthcoming proposal.

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