Dissertation Proposal: Conservative Views on Undocumented Migrants

  • Posted on: 10 November 2014
  • By: benfell

Note: This proposal has been accepted by my committee on November 10, 2014. Saybrook Institutional Review Board clearance was received on November 16, 2014.


Preliminary work leading up to this proposal has yielded a taxonomy of seven schools of conservative thought in the United States: 1) traditionalist conservatism, 2) social conservatism, 3) capitalist libertarianism, 4) authoritarian populism, 5) functionalist conservatism, 6) neoconservatism, and 7) paleoconservatism. These schools overlap considerably in their beliefs and influence each other in ways that suggest, borrowing on complexity theory terminology, an ecosystem of interdependency. This ecological sense is significant in that the conservative revival of the post-World War II era may rest on the unity of these schools and in that the withdrawal of even one of these schools might be catastrophic for the movement as a whole. This essay proposes a discourse-historical analysis on texts from each of these schools on undocumented migrants. This topic is one of several that could be selected. It is chosen first, on a hypothesis that it will highlight the distinctions between these schools; second, because it is timely; and third, because a crisis of multitudes of undocumented children arriving in the U.S. and fleeing violence at home implicates conservative views not only about the border but so-called “free” trade and the war on drugs which some have alleged to be at least partly responsible for this violence. Subsequent studies may focus on, for examples, the “war on terror” and on climate change.




This study will seek to better understand conservative views on undocumented migrants, not simply as a linear matter of degree on one side of a spectrum, but as a multifaceted phenomenon reflecting highly divergent beliefs. The study will use the topic of undocumented migrants, as only one of numerous possible issues that may help to distinguish between seven major schools of conservatism. This will show how different conservatives view issues related to undocumented migrants and test the taxonomy of conservatism that has been developed in preliminary work leading up to this proposal. These schools of conservatism, which will be elucidated in the literature review, include 1) traditionalist conservatism, 2) social conservatism, 3) capitalist libertarianism, 4) authoritarian populism, 5) functionalist conservatism, 6) neoconservatism, and 7) paleoconservatism.


At the outset, it is important to clarify my meaning in using the term ‘school’ to distinguish kinds of conservative thought. I have been wrestling with a number of terms which could be used, none of which is wholly satisfactory. Initially, I thought of ‘categories’ of conservatives, but conservatives do not divide up so neatly, with hard and fast boundaries between them. Rather, 1) they share and exchange ideas, 2) they are interdependent upon each other, and 3) individual members are, perhaps more often than not, prone to advocate a mix of ideas that cannot be attributed solely to any one particular strain of conservatism. Conservatism cannot be said even to be wholly consistent. Some of these schools are at odds with each other in important ways and in the process of forming a coalition, they have made compromises that are far from ideologically pure. In the following passage, Jan-Werner Müller (2006) appears to attempt to treat conservatism monolithically, but what he says of conservatism as a whole is in fact an appropriate caution for each of its subdivisions. As he put it,

The study of conservatism as an ideology has been beset with difficulties. It is widely held that conservatism is hard to define precisely; it is frequently assumed that conservatism is more prone to internal contradictions than other varieties of political thought; and finally, as Michael Freeden has pointed out, it appears that it is mainly conservatives themselves who write about conservatism—giving rise to the suspicion that it might be hard to come by unbiased analyses. (Müller, 2006)

Some of the preliminary work leading up to this proposal illustrated a complex series of interactions and dependencies between schools of conservatism that evokes the complexity theory sense of ‘ecosystem,’ and indeed, where Müller (2006) sees contradictions in conservatism, a complexity theorist might substitute paradoxes, with an understanding that the presence of paradox is 1) at least as often the rule as not, and 2) often an essential feature of the system. This sense of a system is one in which the whole cannot be reduced to its parts and in which unexpected properties—emergent properties—may appear as a system forms or reconstitutes itself. Further, such systems are sustained through negative feedbacks and destabilized through positive feedbacks. As positive feedbacks accumulate, the system may reach a threshold or “tipping point” where the entire system changes substantially, perhaps unrecognizably (Capra, 1996; Macy, 1995).

Recognizing ecosystem aspects of conservatism in some preliminary work leading up to this proposal, I even adopted the term ‘species’ to distinguish between kinds of conservatism. I did not intend this in a biological sense nor even, though it seems inevitable to do so, really to apply to living beings. Rather it was an attempt to evoke a complex and interdependent relationship between these ideas and sets of ideas, where ideas could be seen as traits that might be shared between ‘species’ and individual members of species.

For now, I adopt the term ‘school,’ but on no account should this to be taken to indicate a coherent set of conservative ideas neatly divided from any other set of conservative ideas. Conservatism is less clear than that, and in some schools, ideas are less well-integrated than in others. I return to the question of who is who among schools of conservatism in the literature review. The remainder of this section will briefly take up the question of undocumented migrants.

Undocumented Migrants. I choose the term ‘undocumented migrants’ in place of several others: ‘illegal aliens,’ ‘illegal immigrants,’ and many others which are in some way derogatory. I wish not to reify borders or to endorse any notion that human beings belong—or are ‘legal’—on one side of an arbitrary line or the other, or that they are more or less deserving accordingly (see Benfell, October 15, 2013). However, in this research, I refer principally to those who come to the U.S. from Latin America without U.S. government permission and to those who, even if they arrived ‘legally,’ may have overstayed their visas.

Tensions between, on one hand, these migrants and the families and communities they leave behind, and, on the other hand, United States citizens began no later than with the latter’s incursions into what we now call Texas. This led to the Mexican-American War and the dispossession of a number of Mexican landholders (Gonzales, 2000; Vargas, 1999). This history is by no means resolved and may yet lead to the formation of a new country including portions of northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. (Woodard, 2011). More recently, relations between these peoples have been exacerbated by several “push” factors propelling migration from south to north, including 1) so-called ‘free’ trade agreements that have undermined many Latin American livelihoods, increasing poverty and desperation in an already poverty-stricken part of the world; 2) violence stemming from the U.S. ‘war on drugs,’ which has increased the power of criminal gangs throughout Latin America; and 3) U.S. acquiescence to, if not tacit support for, a coup in Honduras in 2009, which also increased violence. At this writing, these factors have culminated in an influx of children, who are only sometimes accompanied by their mothers across the U.S. southern border (Avorn, October 30, 2014; Carlsen, December 14, 2009; Wallach in Democracy Now!, January 3, 2014a; Rosset in Democracy Now!, January 3, 2014b; Democracy Now!, July 17, 2014; Economist, July 12, 2014; Greenblatt, July 9, 2014; Isla, July 9, 2014; Keating, July 11, 2014; Latin America News Dispatch, September 26, 2014; Lopez, July 23, 2014; Pérez-Rocha, December 29, 2013; Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, January, 2014; Wise, January 2, 2014).

This influx has heightened an already considerable controversy in the United States. On one hand, whites are losing their demographic predominance and the Democratic Party, which is the less conservative of the two major parties, has been a principle electoral beneficiary (Harwood, October 30, 2013). Nonetheless, Democratic President Barack Obama has deported over two million people—mostly Latinos since his inauguration in 2009. He has deferred action to reform immigration policy even as children are sent back to the very dangers they fled (Navarette, July 21, 2014).

Many conservatives, however, are unsympathetic. An article on Breitbart.com, exaggerating a claim made in the National Review, accuses the Obama administration of reuniting numerous gang members with their families in the U.S. (Lee, June 14, 2014). The corresponding National Review article speaks of a single case where this may have happened (Lovelace, June 13, 2014). Meanwhile, a Town Hall article suggests that Obama is using the children for propaganda purposes and turning border patrol agents into “baby-sitters” (Moudy, June 15, 2014). A WorldNetDaily article warns of the diseases these children may be carrying and suggests this influx is a plot to overwhelm social services in states along the Mexican border and institute “socialism” (Vliet, June 17, 2014). Texas Governor Rick Perry (July 9, 2014) demands that the border be secured, “once and for all.” Texas Representative Louie Gohmert argues that the crisis threatens “our continued existence.” And the list goes on.

Despite the shrill claims, however, it would be a mistake to view conservatism as monolithic, even on this issue. Consider, for example, an article in World, recognizing that the trade in illegal drugs is behind the influx and “call[ing] on the federal government to take responsibility for fighting Latin American drug cartels” (Stinnette, June 18, 2014). Another article in the same publication casts doubt on the need to detain so many migrants (Derrick, August 11, 2014). And those conservatives I label capitalist libertarians call for less hypocrisy on the issue and seem to favor allowing migrants to remain in the U.S. (Llosa, September 8, 2014; Matthews, September 13, 2014; Reed, September 9, 2014).


Discourse about politics in the United States often suggests a distinction between left and right, perhaps on a linear scale, with left equated to the Democratic Party and right equated to the Republican Party, and with views outside the range circumscribed by these poles dismissed as irrelevant. Indeed, Howard Zinn (2005) argues that the function of a two-party system is to limit the possibility of change by limiting the range of discourse to that of two parties which are not really very much different. The differences between these parties, such as they are, have been mocked by Gore Vidal, who has apparently said on multiple occasions that “the United States has only one party—the property party. It’s the party of big corporations, the party of money. It has two right wings; one is Democrat and the other is Republican” (Barsamian, August, 2006). Similarly, Noam Chomsky (1990/2005) once wrote that “there is essentially one political party, the business party, with two factions. Shifting coalitions of investors account for a large part of political history.”

I should, perhaps, confess that I have considerable sympathy for Chomsky’s and Vidal’s view of the condition of the putatively two-party system in U.S. politics. However, it must also be clear even from the foregoing examples of discourse on undocumented migrants, let alone the preliminary work discussed in the literature review which will follow, that their view glosses over considerable diversity on the right (to say nothing of the left). It risks overlooking the tension between, for example, authoritarian populists and functionalist conservatives that led to Cantor’s defeat, or, in another example, the possibility that capitalist libertarians might leave the fusionist alliance of anti-communists (whom I would divide between authoritarian populists and neoconservatives), capitalist libertarians, and traditionalist conservatives stitched together in the 1970s (Goldberg, December 31, 2006; Lindsey, 2006, 2010; Nash, 2006). Indeed, anyone tempted to view conservatism monolithically would do well to consider Nash’s (2006, Spring, 2009) distress at the factionalism within conservatism, a factionalism whose existence the preliminary work (Benfell, May 16, 2014, June 4, 2014) leading to this proposal has largely confirmed.

This factionalism not only belies a common left view of the right, but, Nash (2006, Spring, 2009) evidently fears, poses a risk of disintegration of the conservative coalition on the right. It appears, perhaps most visibly, when traditionalists dismiss—most likely—neoconservatives as ‘usurpers,’ ‘opportunists,’ and ‘apostates’ (see, for examples, Bishirjian et al., 2007; Panichas, 2005, November 12, 2008), and when some authoritarian populists complain that some politicians are “RINO,” that is, “Republican In Name Only,” because they are allegedly insufficiently conservative. Such a risk also presents opportunities to the left that a monolithic view may lead them to overlook.

This proposal, then, suggests a beginning to an exploration of this factionalism, particularly in application to the issue of undocumented migrants. This research aims not to treat conservatism as a psychological condition or as reflecting personality traits (see, for examples, Crowson, 2009; Crowson, Thoma, & Hestevold, 2005; De Zavala, Cislak, & Wesolowska, 2010; Duckitt, Bizumic, Krauss, & Heled, 2010; Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003; Koleva & Rip, 2009; Matthews, Levin, & Sidanius, 2009; Mehrabian, 1996; Miller, 1995; Stenner, 2009a, 2009b); not to, as Nash (2006) accuses many researchers of doing, evade conservative arguments; but rather to critically analyze those arguments to better understand the divergent schools of conservative thought.

I choose to focus on undocumented migrants as one issue of many that could be examined with this approach, and thus potentially, as a beginning point for similar studies on other issues, with three intended goals: first, to validate and refine the descriptions of and distinctions between schools of conservatism already set forth in this proposal; second, to search for any additional schools; and third, to aid in developing a context for conservative arguments on the issue at hand, in this case, undocumented migrants.

Research Question

What are possible distinctions in the way these types or schools view and take positions regarding undocumented migrants?

Review of the Literature

Insofar as I have been able to determine, the idea of using a well-developed taxonomy of conservative thought as an organizing principle for critically examining that thought is an innovation of this research. Nash (2006) himself may have come closest, treating at considerable length the ideas of anti-communists (whom I would divide between neoconservatives and authoritarian populists), (capitalist) libertarians, and traditionalist conservatives. To his evident dismay, however, conservatives have further subdivided themselves (see also Nash, Spring, 2009), and as already noted here, some of these divisions are significant. Further, Nash overlooks entirely two groups of conservatives: authoritarian populists and functionalist conservatives—groups that are essential in understanding, for instance, the earlier mentioned defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at the hands of David Brat and, more generally, the polarization that currently afflicts U.S. politics (Benfell, May 16, 2014, June 4, 2014).

All that said, it has long been evident that not all conservatives agree with each other, there have been numerous taxonomies offered and this section will briefly review some of them.

At a macro level, there are multiple pieces to the question of systemizing conservative thought. Because the schools of conservatism I have identified in preliminary work are central to my understanding of conservatism, I discuss the schools first. Following this, I turn to what defines conservatism and to other attempts to develop a taxonomy of conservatism.

Schools of conservatism

This section incorporates and updates preliminary work analyzing the various “schools” of conservatism (tables 1 and 2). As my work in this area progresses, I keep descriptions of the schools in my research wiki accessible at https://parts-unknown.org/wiki/index.php/Category:Conservatism.

Table 1.

Schools of conservatism in brief

School of conservatism Beliefs
Traditionalist conservatism
  • Claims lineage from Edmund Burke, an English Parliamentarian at the time of the revolution in which the U.S. gained independence.
  • Intensely patriarchal: divorce is at least unfortunate if not to be forbidden entirely; contraception and abortion are also forbidden.
  • Government to implement divine will (probably but not necessarily that of a Christian god).
  • Government should be small and local with much authority residing in the squire, a medieval sort of landlord.
  • Freedom is strongly associated with property.
  • Fear of central government as a ‘leviathan.’
  • Strongly anti-war.
  • Anti-positivism and opposed to quantitative methods of analysis.
  • Opposed to industrial
  • Communities should generally be homogeneous, concentrating authority in those with a particular linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage.
  • Not strictly segregationist, but integration (as with schools and neighborhoods) should be voluntary.
Social conservatism
  • Mostly evangelical Protestant.
  • Insistent upon the U.S. as a Christian nation that should openly privilege Christian (evangelical Protestant) values and practices.
Capitalist Libertarianism
  • Origin of neoliberal ideology.
  • Government’s relationship with the market should be limited to ensuring free competition.
  • The ‘free’ market is ‘democratic’ and the most reliable means of decision-making.
  • Government should not intervene in personal practices or interfere with the conduct of business.
  • Generally anti-war.
Authoritarian populism (currently manifest as the “Tea Party”)
  • A mix of social conservatism, neoconservatism, and “free” market aspects of capitalist libertarianism.
  • Hierarchically invidiously monistic thinking.
  • Denies white privilege.
  • Scornful of elites, scholars, mainstream news media, and big cities.
  • Patriotic to the point of chauvinism, but occasionally entertains secessionist ideas.
Functionalist conservatism
  • Largely about preserving and enhancing the privileges and positions of the already wealthy and powerful.
  • Discounts popular opinion.
  • Concerned with “governing” and its associated politics.
  • Tends to agnosticism on ethics.
  • Adopts neoliberalism as a morality system, essential for “good government.”
  • Compromises limited government aims in favor of an aggressive foreign policy that tends to increase the size of government.
  • Favors an aggressive foreign policy to protect and promote “good government.”
  • Emphasizes strictly segregated communities by race and ethnicity.
  • Scornful of multiculturalism.


Table 2

Schools of Conservatism and their Interactions (updated from Benfell, June 4, 2014)

Schools of Conservatism Interactions with other schools
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.
  • Originated 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.
  • Often conflated with traditionalists but are in fact entirely distinct.
  • 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.
  • Allied with authoritarian populists in strident opposition to “illegal immigration” (referred to here as undocumented migration). This includes a hierarchically invidiously monistic view of “us” and “them.”
  • Other relationships are unclear.
  • 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.’
  • When religious, they are sometimes difficult to distinguish from traditionalist conservatives in their support for traditional religious values. See, for example, the journal First Things.

This background will now turn to brief descriptions of each of the major groups to be considered in the proposed research. First, I discuss undocumented migrants; then I turn to each of the ‘schools’ of conservatism.

Traditionalist Conservatives. Traditionalist conservatives sometimes seem defensive and are, perhaps, most intent on asserting a prerogative to define what ‘true’ conservatism is (Benfell, May 16, 2014). Russell Kirk (1985/2001) lists six canons. Four of these would establish theocracy. One associates property with freedom. Finally, one of Kirk’s canons values diversity, but in a vertically hierarchical and authoritarian form. Traditionalists fear centralized government as a ‘leviathan’ that intrudes on established customs, preferring that authority should repose in the “squire,” a medieval kind of landlord whose authority is strongly patriarchal (Blum, 2006).

In describing what they value, traditionalists choose terms like prejudice and habit. They do not strictly mean the most commonly understood meanings of these words. Some indeed seem ambivalent about, if not actually in favor of, slavery (Malvasi, Spring, 2008), and some, like Richard Weaver (1964/1995), oppose—in so many words—forced desegregation as called for in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). More fundamentally, traditionalists probably actually mean with such words as prejudice and habit that their epistemology favors the sort of knowledge that is acquired through experience and the habits acquired over time. They see “experience,” “habit,” and “prejudice” as forming a foundation for “technical knowledge,” with the latter meaning the sort of knowledge that might be found as a recipe in a cookbook (Kerwick, 2013).

Social Conservatives. Used broadly, the term social conservative can include any religious conservative. This includes traditionalists, many authoritarian populists, and some neoconservatives. I use the term more narrowly, as Nash (2006) does, as applying to a popular movement composed largely of 1) fundamentalist, evangelical, and charismatic Protestants and 2) their Catholic allies. Nash sees social conservatives as often allied with traditionalists, particularly on theocratic values, but sees the latter as more predominantly Catholic and intellectual.

The distinction between traditionalist conservatives and social conservatives may be most important in regard to neoconservatives. Neoconservatives, in the journal First Things, for example, which carries advertising from Catholic institutions like the Fellowship of St. James, also appear very traditionalist and very Catholic, but they are at odds with traditionalists on foreign policy, where neoconservatives often favor a muscular approach and traditionalists fear that military adventures will expand centralized government. In this schism, social conservatives often align with neoconservatives, especially since the 9/11 attacks and in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Benfell, June 4, 2014).

Capitalist Libertarians. Capitalist libertarians are usually referred to simply as ‘libertarians.’ I make a point of marking them as capitalist for two reasons: First, I wish to distinguish these libertarians from libertarian socialists. Second, since any economic system of exchange inherently tends to widen inequality by privileging whomever has the greater power to decline a potential deal (Weber, 1978/2010), capitalist libertarianism is inherently anti-egalitarian and thus authoritarian. In contrast, ‘true’ libertarianism is egalitarian, as capitalist libertarians concede when they limit their concern over inequality to politics (Benfell, April 12, 2013).

Nash (2006) credits capitalist libertarians with the neoliberal policies that were widely adopted in the 1970s across the political spectrum in response to stagflation and the perceived failures of Keynesian and social safety net policies of the New Deal, Great Society, and War on Poverty programs. Neoliberal policies have severely exacerbated economic inequality (Hacker & Pierson, 2010). Daniel Stedman Jones (2012) assigns much credit to Milton Friedman for successfully evangelizing in favor of these policies, but the adoption of neoliberalism as political orthodoxy also coincides with the rise of neoconservatives, who view neoliberal policies as essential to ‘good government’ (Himmelfarb, 2011; 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). Jones also observes that as neoliberalism developed, it came more radically to favor privatization, to see the market as a solution even for non-economic ills, to oppose social safety net programs, to see corporate monopolies as benign, to see unions as monopolies that must be opposed, and to emphasize the federal government budget deficit as a problem that must solved even at the expense of prolonged unemployment and slow growth.

Capitalist libertarians are best known for their economic policies, however, they are also often at odds with their fellow conservatives in opposing government intrusions into personal matters such as sexuality and the recreational use of drugs. Some argue that conservative electoral successes have not translated into smaller government. For these reasons, of all the schools of conservatism, capitalist libertarians may well be the most likely to desert the coalition (Goldberg, 2006; Lindsey, 2006, 2010).

Authoritarian Populists. With nearly every school of conservatism, there is at least some semblance of coherence. One might agree or disagree with a conservative body of thought, think it wise or foolish, or challenge or accept its premises, but there is a train of logic that can be followed and there are articulate, intelligent writers who advance their arguments.

Authoritarian populism is different. If the word reactionary was not already in use, specifically by George Seldes (1948/2009) to refer to vociferous opponents of the New Deal, I would be tempted to apply the term instead to authoritarian populists. This is a largely un-thought kind of conservatism that sees little to think about, a conservatism of white resentment, a conservatism of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ It is the conservatism of birtherism persuaded that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya (Benfell, May 16, 2014); of racism that rejects Obama’s presidency on the not so subtle grounds that he is Black (Berlet, 2011; Kimmel, November 17, 2013; Koppelman, September 16, 2009; Lyngar, December 28, 2013; MacAskill, September 16, 2009; Martin, August 2, 2012; Pugh, January 12, 2012); the conservatism of Cliven Bundy, who rejects federal authority over the federal lands he grazes his cattle on (Associated Press, April 12, 2014; Cama, April 14, 2014, April 15, 2014; Gettys, April 16, 2014; Lesniewski, April 17, 2014; Zuckerman, April 15, 2014) and who sees Blacks as having nothing to do and thus as being no better off than when they were slaves (Richardson, April 24, 2014; Nagourney, April 23, 2014); and the conservatism of people who see Latin American migrants as gang members and carriers of disease (see, for examples, Lee, June 14, 2014; Vliet, June 17, 2014).

Authoritarian populism is, in short, a conservatism of hierarchically invidious monism, a term which Elizabeth Minnich (2005) prefers to dualism because dualism implies an egalitarian relationship. Lorraine Code (1991) sheds further light on the mentality of hierarchically invidious monism in explaining that, for instance, the valuations assigned even in binaries such as yes and no, true and false, and light and dark, the counterparts are not truly equal. Instead, Code explains, we generally prefer ‘yes,’ ‘true,’ and ‘light’ to ‘no,’ ‘false,’ and ‘dark.’ In her view, these binaries are historically and inextricably bound up with the valuations assigned to, for examples, male and female, and white and Black.

Authoritarian populism is not a conservatism that takes much trouble to get its facts straight. While Jones (2012) writes mostly of neoliberals and capitalist libertarians, he seems to aim at authoritarian populists when he writes “that it must be possible to return sanity to important political and economic debates” and that “[a]ttempts to rebalance the scales have been scorned” (p. 343). And when political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (April 27, 2012) write that the Republican Party “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), authoritarian populists again seem to be the target.

All that said, authoritarian populism is also a conservatism of some legitimate grievances, such as over the response to the financial crisis that began in 2007, when the federal government expended every effort to restore the financial industry to its previous condition, but did little or nothing for the unemployed or for homeowners who owed more than their houses were worth, and which has generally not held alleged fraudsters to account at levels appropriate to the damages caused. This is a conservatism that sees itself as being on the losing side of widening social inequality, its well-paying manufacturing jobs replaced by poorly-paying service jobs, and as having been betrayed by the federal government. It thus renews its beliefs—authoritarian populism, under various guises, dates back to the revolution against Great Britain—that demonize the federal government and all whom they perceive the federal government to be protecting: not only bankers and the wealthy in general, but the poor, people of color, social safety net beneficiaries, and migrants. And because of its hierarchically invidious monism of “producers” versus “parasites,” it adopts the pre-‘crony capitalist’ ideas of capitalist libertarianism (Berlet, 2011; Frank, 2012; Mishel, Shierholz, & Schmitt, November 19, 2013; Noah, September 3, 2010; Seitz-Wald, July 30, 2013; Stiglitz, June 5, 2012), as was visibly manifest with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unexpected primary election defeat at the hands of a relatively unknown economics professor, David Brat (Judis, June 11, 2014; Lizza, June 11, 2014; Peters & Dewan, June 14, 2014).

Functionalist Conservatives. Thomas Frank’s (June 15, 2014) reaction to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat by David Brat was to highlight what he perceives as a cycle of idealism and betrayal among authoritarian populists:

Free-market idealism, after all, is about applying market forces to the state. This is what everything from Citizens United to toll-road privatization is all about. To be true to such a principle means respecting incentives, answering the call of money. (Frank, June 15, 2014)

Frank (June 15, 2014) is effectively arguing that what happens to authoritarian populists when they acquire power is that they, at least to some degree, become functionalist conservatives. This is likely a risk for anyone who gains religious, economic, political, or social authority over other people (Buechler, 2011). Functionalist conservatism is the label I apply based on Gerhard Lenski’s (1966) usage of the term functionalist in his classic volume on social inequality, Power and privilege. In it, Lenski equates conservatism with functionalism and describes an elite that is motivated to retain power and exploits the privileges of power in order to retain power and seeks to distinguish itself as an object of envy from those who are subject to its rule (Buechler, 2011; Cookson & Persell, 2005; Domhoff, 2005; Lenski, 1966; Shah, May 14, 2003). As Bob Herbert told Bill Moyers,

we've established a power structure in which the great corporations and the big banks have allied themselves with the national government and, in many cases, local government as well, to pursue corporate interests and financial interests as opposed to those things that would be in the best interests of ordinary working people. (Herbert, quoted in Moyers, October 9, 2014)

In part because an elite determines the qualifications of those it judges fit to rise to elite status (Mills, 1956/2000), it effectively perverts any meritocracy in order to preserve its own position (Hayes, 2012). In an electoral system, such preservation requires campaign money, and Frank’s (June 15, 2014) argument is essentially that when the allegedly ‘free’ market is the solution to all or most problems, as neoliberal ideology suggests (Jones, 2012), it becomes legitimate to offer one’s services—political or otherwise—to the highest bidder, infuriating authoritarian populists who object to “crony capitalism.” Hence Cantor’s defeat at the hands of a (for now) perceived “clean” candidate.

And the politicians are interested in getting elected, in amassing power, in raising funds for-- to finance their campaigns, and whatever other benefits they get. They are interested in themselves, their lives, and the power they can accumulate. They are not interested, in most cases, in what's best for the American people. (Herbert, quoted in Moyers, October 9, 2014)

Functionalist conservatism goes largely unacknowledged. Nash (2006; Spring, 2009) does not mention it. I have not found it recognized in any of a number of taxonomies of conservatism. However, when Weaver (1964/1995), a traditionalist conservative, complains about ‘functionalist’ ‘businessmen,’ who value ‘results,’ ‘business,’ ‘development,’ ‘progress,’ and profit too highly (p. 32), he seems inescapably to be referring to functionalist conservatives. Nash (2006), as well, attributes a quotation to Kirk, another traditionalist conservative, that “[c]onservatism is something more than mere solicitude for tidy incomes” (p. 122). Nash (2006) goes on to describe Kirk’s experience with a “soulless corporation” and a “dreary industrial city.” To Kirk (1985/2001) and Weaver (1964/1995), however, functionalist conservatives are not really conservatives; functionalists evince too much faith in a human ability to progress, and such progress threatens to intervene in ‘the’ divine plan.

What makes functionalist conservatism conservative, however, in an argument that Nash (2006) would recognize, is an interest in preserving the status quo. When, for instance, former New York City Michael Bloomberg advocates gun control, Malcolm Harris (April 25, 2014) argues that it is in order to limit the weapons available for a possible uprising, presumably against the rich (including Bloomberg) and powerful.

Paleoconservatives and their distinction from traditionalists. The most distinctive characteristic of paleoconservatives is a conviction that people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds cannot get along and should live separately. I have not found an explanation for this belief; it appears foundational.

In one example, an article noting the divisions of Iraq adopts a view that the country should break up into Kurd, Shi’ite, and Sunni territories. This, in itself, is not especially remarkable; one does not need to be paleoconservative to suggest this. But at the end, the article takes Iraq as another example of why multiculturalism and diversity are ultimately doomed in the United States (Liddell, June 14, 2014). Another article explicitly invokes a hierarchically invidious monism between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’:

A [white] nationalist wants inclusion of his own people only. Anything other than his people should be excluded. This is not a personal judgment, or even a values judgment at all. They don't fit: happy nations are homogenous in culture, heritage and values. By that definition, implied in reciprocal, any person who does not fit this type should be excluded. Even if they have 1,000 IQ points and never commit any crimes, they do not belong among Us because they are Them and should be excluded. (Stevens, June 30, 2014)

Though paleoconservatives are often conflated with traditionalists (see, for examples, Antle, 2008; Francis, 1989; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003, Weisberg, September 2, 1991), Stevens’ (June 30, 2014) view represents the distinction between paleoconservatives and even the racists among traditionalist conservatives and authoritarian populists. Among the latter, Cliven Bundy, having seemingly, at least for now, succeeded in holding his ground against federal authorities seeking to limit his use of federal land in Nevada (Southern Poverty Law Center, July 20, 2014), went on to publicly wonder if poor Blacks are “better off under the old system of slavery or are they better off under the welfare slavery that they’re under now” (Bundy, quoted, Richardson, April 24, 2014), leading Republicans who had embraced him as a populist figure in an election year to disavow him (Richardson). However abhorrent we may perceive Bundy’s remarks to be, he does not claim that Blacks should live in their own segregated communities. Paleoconservatives, by contrast, do (see, for example, Albanese, August 20, 2014).

Closer to the line, the traditionalist Richard Weaver (1964/1995) objected to forced integration. While he prefers a homogenous society, his notion of a tyrannizing image is at the “center” (for which read, ‘top’) of an authoritarian hierarchy based on affinity with a particular cultural, historical, and linguistic heritage (white Christian, Anglo-Saxon, English) which devalues but does not exclude people who do not share that heritage. Another traditionalist, T. S. Eliot (1948/1962), while advocating cultural homogeneity, explicitly values the contributions of what he calls ‘satellite cultures’:

It would be no gain whatever for English culture, for the Welsh, Scots and Irish to become indistinguishable from Englishmen—what would happen, of course, is that we should all become indistinguishable featureless 'Britons', at a lower level of culture than that of any of the separate regions. On the contrary, it is of great advantage for English culture to be constantly influenced from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. (Emphasis in original, Eliot, 1948/1962, p. 55)

Here again, while Weaver’s (1964/1995) and Eliot’s (1948/1962) views are far from egalitarian, in stark contrast to paleoconservatives, they do not advocate mandatory segregation.

Finally, while traditionalists derive their beliefs almost entirely from what they attribute to the British Parliamentarian, Edmund Burke (see especially Kirk, 1985/2001), the paleoconservative perspective can be advanced from any white ethnic perspective (Ashbee, 2000), as in an article in which “Bay Area Guy” (June 22, 2014) defends the “right” of whites to predominate in Sweden.

Distinguishing conservatives from liberals and others

In preliminary work leading up to this proposal, I found that the one common thread to the various strands of conservatism was some form of authoritarianism (Benfell, April 12, 2013), which distinguishes it from more egalitarian ‘nurturant parent’ liberalism (Lakoff, 2002). With some schools, this is obvious: Traditionalist conservatism asserts a vertical hierarchy, preferring that authority be vested at the local level, but nonetheless with an elite. Social conservatism asserts the primacy of religion even over non-believers. Functionalist conservatism seeks to preserve the privileges of those who are already in charge (Benfell, April 12, 2013, May 16, 2014, June 4, 2014).

With other schools, authoritarianism is less directly stated. But Max Weber (1978/2010) considered it an “elemental fact” that an economic system of exchange privileges whomever has the greater power to refuse a potential transaction, and that this privilege creates a leverage that cyclically widens economic inequality. Such inequality leaves the poor vulnerable to the rich, and as such the capitalist libertarian claim that ‘freedom’ can be found in so-called ‘free’ markets should be rejected outright (Benfell, April 12, 2013).

Paleoconservatism is inherently authoritarian in its refusal to tolerate diversity, and in its unexplained insistence that people who are different from each other cannot get along and must be segregated. The problems here are, in part, the problems of borders, which are inherently the creations of sovereignty—an authoritarian construct (Benfell, October 15, 2013).

In terms of authoritarianism, neoconservatism is distinguishable from functionalist conservatism only in its ideology. It accepts the risk of larger government in order to pursue a militaristic foreign policy in the name of protecting ‘good’ government at home—which imposes neoliberal policy (Benfell, June 4, 2014). The use of force to achieve ends is inherently authoritarian. Neoliberal policy, by seeing a so-called ‘free’ market as the solution to all—not just economic—problems (Jones, 2012) extends the economic authoritarianism favored by capitalist libertarians to other spheres of social life.

Other scholars have approached the question of what distinguishes conservatism differently and in three ways. First is the way that conservatives distinguish themselves, which it seems they are quite anxious to do, in large measure because they, themselves, disagree, and have apparently disagreed for quite some time (Arnhart, 2010; Nash, 2006, Spring, 2009) with each other as to what constitutes a conservative. The ways that they disagree highlight some of the distinctions identified in the background section of this proposal. From Ricci’s (2009) perspective, this work is additionally problematic for its reliance on anecdote and qualitative correlation rather than quantitative analysis. I believe Ricci observes their methodology correctly and it is true that conservatives are prone to over-generalization and other unwarranted conclusions as a result. While positivism and quantitative methods are also not without their pitfalls, especially in the human sciences, one can sympathize with Müller’s (2006) desire for less biased analyses.

This is a problem that builds upon itself. In contrast to a certain humility which conservatives attribute to themselves, it is hard to escape an impression of hero worship that risks substituting cults of personalities for issues and philosophical concerns. Over and over again, one sees certain names, Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Michael Oakeshott, Friedrich Hayek, and so on, of conservative luminaries whose ideas are decades or centuries old. Conservative arguments about what constitutes conservatism often compare and analyze foundational texts rather than building on them. Yet, having failed to move beyond that level, conservatives argue repeatedly that their ideas are superior rather than ideological.

A second approach to inquiry on what distinguishes conservatism is by way of the attention granted conservatives by social psychologists who have attempted to identify social attitudes associated with conservatism that, in some cases, seem to suggest pathological conditions. Such treatment, as Nash (2006) points out, is a way of evading conservative arguments; accordingly, this research will leave to others any consideration of conservatism as a mental disorder. This approach does not appear particularly fruitful except that the psychologists illuminate traits and attitudes of conservatism that are worth bearing in mind and that some of them have recognized and tested various schools of conservatism.

Something to observe throughout is how often conservatism is dichotomized between capitalist libertarians (conflated with functionalists) and social conservatives. For any number of reasons, the enumeration of schools of conservatism suggested in the background section of this proposal may end up being wrong. Even to the degree it may be correct today, it may be wrong tomorrow simply because the splintering of the movement which Nash (2006, Spring, 2009) deplores suggests a movement that is not in stasis—new schools may appear; old ones may go fade away. But viewing the movement dichotomously oversimplifies the diversity of views within conservatism.

Much of the work that distinguishes conservatism from political alternatives such as modern (“bleeding heart”) liberalism is more illustrative than productive of a conservative schema. One may find Bruce Fleming (2004) generalizing conservatism from his experience with plebes at the U.S. Naval Academy. He sees conservatives as subordinating the individual to his or her group and to the state, and as valorizing tradition, a homogeneous rather than heterogeneous society, hasty judgments, decisive (even if violent) action, submission to authority, and control. But for all this, Fleming’s evidence is anecdotal. It really only illustrates that some combination of traditionalist and functionalist conservatism is alive and well in at least one branch of the U. S. military.

Fleming’s (2004) argument is not atypical. David Ricci (2009) complains that conservatives “tend to embellish their talk with persuasive anecdotes” (p. 160) and to “often frame [those anecdotes] within persuasive correlations so as to suggest conclusions that support right-wing propositions” (p. 162). From what I have seen so far, Ricci has a point. There is indeed often little or no safeguard against selective observation or fallacies of causation in conservative texts. Ricci would appear to prefer “the sort of data that political scientists are accustomed to analyzing in empirical research” (p. 160). Yet it is apparent from, perhaps most explicitly, Weaver’s (1964/1995) work that such data is precisely the sort that many conservatives devalue (see also Foss, Foss, & Trapp, 2002). Conservatives often fall prey to what Kwame Appiah (2006) calls the naturalistic fallacy, arguing from a view of how they think the world ought to be, rather than from how the world actually is. This view of how the world ought to be, of course, entails Christian morals, “free” market capitalism, and limited government. But along with this, there is also a knowing tone that pretends to know how the world “really” works and how humans “really” are. For the empirical data that Ricci craves, conservatives often substitute what amounts to a doctrine of original sin, casting human nature as essentially self-serving and irresponsibly hedonistic. In the conservative view, humans are capable of redemption only with what Philip Kitcher (2011) labels the “unseen enforcer” (a god).

John Ray (n.d.), who traces the struggle over the size of government to the Norman Conquest in 1066, portrays conservatism as humble, as individualist, as resisting big government (including that of the Normans) for being inherently authoritarian, and as preferring incremental change out of caution and a distrust of human nature. Ray also attributes leftism to envy and ego (thus, in his light, explaining the liberalism of so many college professors) while Fleming (2004) sees a conservative haste to make war as anything but incremental or cautious. Ray seems to illustrate a conservatism resembling that of Thomas Frank’s (2005) Kansans, who seem mostly authoritarian populist.

Christopher Blum (2006) sees conservatism in a traditionalist agrarian sense, strongly resembling that of Richard Weaver (1964/1995), as seeking to preserve social order on a small scale which resembles Larry Arnhart’s (2010) evolutionary conservatism. Prizing small farm society and craftsmanship, Blum senses “that we are [now] interchangeable, standardized, disposable parts within the modern economy and bureaucratic state—which is to say that we are not parts at all, but mere particles of sand in some great heap or pile” (p. 26), words that would hardly endear him to industrial capitalists or post-industrial financiers of the functionalist conservative variety. He views the old European nobility not as a license for pleasure or luxury, but rather as a duty, indeed of subservience, to the people within the small societies that nobles control. Reposing considerable trust in the human nature of these nobles, Blum argues that their wealth is to be used for the people’s benefit. Beneath Blum’s charming view of aristocracy, society, and work lies a patriarchy in which sexuality is thoroughly repressed, and in which he has only praise for big government, in this case, the French, when following the restoration of Louis XVIII, it forbade divorce.

Grant Havers (2005) identifies “three issues of importance to any conservative political philosopher: the meaning of democracy, history, and revealed truth” (p. 6). This list is not exhaustive. Havers, sounding very much like a traditionalist conservative, makes clear the importance of an elite; democracy is not naïvely about equality, but requires protection from the “worst impulses of human nature,” a protection available through an aristocracy presumed by virtue of education to have mastered those impulses, a view that Frank’s (2005) Kansans—authoritarian populists—might have difficulty swallowing but which can also be attributed to James Madison (1787/2003): Madison, Kirk (1985/2001), and Havers (2005) all seek to protect the minority rights not of any disadvantaged or stigmatized group but rather the property rights of a landed aristocracy against the presumed mediocrity of mob rule by ensuring that it is the aristocracy that remains “safely” in charge.

Social Psychological Approaches to Conservatism

From the social psychological standpoint, there has apparently been a tendency to conflate authoritarianism, particularly right wing authoritarianism (RWA), with conservatism, even in instruments designed to measure conservatism (Crowson, Thoma, & Hestevold, 2005). This directly raises Ray’s (2004) claim that conservatives are true anti-authoritarians in contrast to Fleming’s (2004) claim that seems to associate conservatives with a need for control. The difficulty here is real. To the extent that Fleming’s observations are accurate, he could as easily be describing either conservatism, as widely perceived, or RWA,

a set of social attitudes [in contrast to a set of personality traits that might suggest a disorder] . . . [that] express the motivational goal or value of collective security, as opposed to individual freedom or autonomy . . . [and that] this set of social attitudes do not comprise a single dimension but comprise social attitudinal expressions of three related though distinct underlying motivational goals or values. (Duckitt, Bizumic, Krauss, & Heled, 2010, p. 691)

Thus the “authoritarian submission” dimension can be defined as expressing attitudes favouring uncritical, respectful, obedient, submissive support for existing societal or group authorities and institutions (protrait) versus critical, questioning, rebellious, oppositional attitudes toward them (contrait). . . . The “authoritarian aggression” dimension can be defined as expressing attitudinal beliefs favouring the use of strict, tough, harsh, punitive, coercive social control (protrait) versus leniency, indulgence, permissiveness, softness, to violation of social rules and laws (contrait). . . . The “conventionalism” [or "traditionalism"] dimension can be defined as expressing attitudes favouring traditional, old-fashioned social norms, values, and morality (protrait) versus modern, liberal, secular, bohemian, “alternative” values, norms, and morality (contrait). (Duckitt, Bizumic, Krauss, & Heled, 2010, pp. 690-691)

But quantitative results—all of the social psychological studies on conservatism I have found rely upon previously or newly developed quantitative instruments gauging research subjects’ responses to queries—suggest that conservatism may not be the same thing as RWA, even if the latter is frequently conceived of as an extreme form of the former, and even if the two are frequently associated (Crowson, Thoma, & Hestevold, 2005).

In a relatively rare instance where conservatism is not reduced to a dichotomy, Karen Stenner (2009a), distinguishing between authoritarianism, status quo conservatism, and laissez-faire conservatism, largely sees authoritarianism as latent except under conditions of normative threat when it reduces tolerance for diversity, especially in more tolerant societies (western as opposed to eastern Europe, the Netherlands in comparison to Portugal,  non-south in contrast to southern states, and English- as opposed to Afrikaner-South Africans) and increases a debilitating fear. For her, status quo conservatism has little effect on tolerance for diversity, but rather indicates a persistence of pre-existing tolerance or the lack thereof; while in libertarians, an increase in normative threat yields “greater tranquillity, sharper cognition, and more vigilant defence of tolerance” (p. 193). She finds that authoritarianism is marked by cognitive incapacity (and diminished openness to experience) and believes that “authoritarians are not endeavoring to avoid complex thinking so much as a complex world” (p. 193), while cognitive rigidity increases with age in status quo conservatives. Stenner’s (2009b) scheme differs markedly from the one in the background section in this proposal: She distinguishes between

an enduring inclination to favor stability and preservation of the status quo over social change (what I call “status quo conservatism”); a persistent preference for a free market and limited government intervention in the economy (“laissez-faire conservatism”); or an enduring predisposition, in all matters political and social, to favor obedience and conformity (oneness and sameness) over freedom and difference. (Stenner, 2009b, p. 142)

Stenner’s (2009b) authoritarian conservatism seems to be what I would call social conservatism, construed broadly so as to include traditionalism, thus treating temporal and spiritual authority alike. In this scheme the motivation to preserve the power over others of the elites in the status quo is divorced from functionalism, which in Lenski’s (1966) view, seeks to preserve existing power relations and accepts the use of violence in the preservation of those relations; Stenner’s scheme thus fails to account for those tentatively labeled here as “functionalist conservatives” (Fleming, 2004; Havers, 2005; Müller, 2006; Ryn, 2005). This is not to say her analysis is without merit. She explains that

authoritarianism is far more than a personal distaste for difference (and libertarianism more than a mere preference for diversity). It becomes a normative “worldview” about the social value of obedience and conformity (or freedom and difference), the prudent and just balance between group authority and individual autonomy (Duckitt, 1989), and the appropriate uses of (or limits on) that authority. This worldview induces both personal coercion of and bias against different others (racial and ethnic outgroups, political dissidents, moral “deviants”) as well as political demands for authoritative constraints on their behavior. (Stenner, 2009b, p. 143)

In this passage, Stenner (2009b) appears to blend paleoconservatism and functionalist conservatism, however, in attempting to reconcile her scheme with mine, it is important to recognize that she is focusing on psychological characteristics and social attitudes rather than the thought, the theorizing, or the rationalization that accompanies those characteristics and attitudes. It is thus already apparent that this research will be unlikely to reproduce the results of psychological research. In another example, using a convenience sample, Crowson (2009) was able to distinguish between “cultural” (social) and “economic” (capitalist libertarian) conservatives, with the former as

more likely to exhibit higher levels of personal need for structure, need to evaluate, dogmatism, the belief that knowledge is certain, and fear of death and lower levels of need for cognition than those holding less conservative views. Moreover, participants scoring higher on cultural conservatism were more likely to endorse statements reflecting the tendency to use aggression against persons who hold beliefs and values that differ from their own. . . .

In general, economic conservatism was unrelated to personal need for structure, need to evaluate, fear of death, need for cognition, and dogmatic aggression. Although economic conservatism exhibited low positive correlations with dogmatism and the belief that knowledge is certain, these correlations became lower (and even nonsignificant in the case of dogmatism) after controlling for cultural conservatism. These results seem to indicate that economic conservatives are not particularly rigid in their thinking or aggressive against those who hold opposing beliefs and values and may only exhibit a slight propensity to believe that knowledge is certain. (Crowson, 2009, pp. 459-460)

What is striking in reviewing these approaches is 1) how often one finds criticism of how survey questions have been worded or otherwise of the instruments used to assess conservatism and authoritarianism (Mehrabian, 1996); 2) how many different categories of conservatism and its relations are tested for, suggesting the absence of a consensus as to an appropriate taxonomy for conservatism; and 3) that all—or at least all I have found—of this work is quantitative and statistical. John Duckitt and his various co-authors have developed an enormous amount of literature on RWA which seems to suggest that they have largely agreed among themselves as to what RWA is, but not so much as to its relationship with conservatism.

Systematizing Conservatism

It should be apparent from the foregoing that it is quite inadequate to judge conservatism as in any way homogeneous. The conservative movement is a coalition of factions with such profoundly distinct beliefs (Brinkley, 2011; Nash, 2006, Spring, 2009) that, if they should ever lack an opponent—President Obama is only the most prominent current example—to scapegoat for a failure of accomplishment, the coalition might disintegrate amid vast schisms, as it has done before and seems reliably to be forecast to do, albeit never with lasting effect (Phillips-Fein, September 28, 2009; Stark, 2011). Most notable among these schisms is between neoconservatives on one hand and traditionalist conservatives, paleoconservatives, and capitalist libertarians on the other (Benfell, June 4, 2014); Nash (Spring, 2009) describes the relationship between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives as a “thirty-year war;” it is replete with accusations 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 while not all of these accusations are true in each case, some likely are.

Somewhat in parallel with the analysis presented in the background section of this proposal, Phillips-Fein (2011) seems to observe (capitalist) libertarian and evangelical (social) conservative wings as distinct from the political elites (who are considered earlier here as being among functionalist conservatives) who adopt some of their views, and Stephen Johnson and Joseph Tamney (2001) confirmed this distinction using survey methods even when they conflated capitalist libertarians with functionalists. Andrew Stark (2011) sees a similar distinction in domestic policy and adds realist, advocating relative restraint, and neoconservative, advocating promotion of U.S. values, factions in foreign policy.

Larry Arnhart (2010), by contrast, divides conservatism into evolutionary—deriving a necessary social order from human experience—and metaphysical—deriving that order from Christian biblical mandates. Arnhart seemingly associates capitalist libertarians with traditionalist (evolutionary) conservatives by virtue of a friendship and apparent philosophical agreement between Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edmund Burke. By contrast, Richard Weaver, in Arnhart’s scheme, is clearly a metaphysical conservative, with as Arnhart puts it, Weaver “insist[ing] that a healthy cultural order required a ‘metaphysical dream of the world,’ so that people could imagine their cultural life as a “metaphysical community” fulfilling a cosmic purpose” (p. 27).

Aligning Arnhart’s (2010) scheme with the one I have laid out in the background section of this proposal would seem to place traditionalist conservatives, social conservatives, and probably paleoconservatives as ‘metaphysicians’ against ‘evolutionary’ capitalist libertarians, neoconservatives, and functionalist conservatives largely because these latter schools of conservatives are open to the notion either simply that humans are capable of improving their condition or that competition on the so-called ‘free’ market encourages innovation.

Müller’s (2006) offers what she calls “very rough sketch” (p. 363) of dimensions of conservatism against the foregoing. First, she excludes capitalist libertarians for not containing two of the dimensions she reviews. Second, neoconservatives may be included only if they are sincere in arguing that

global democratization is primarily to serve the national interest of the US, and in particular its hegemonic position, and if it is said that there is something intrinsically superior about the American way of life which predisposes the US to be persistently at the top of a hierarchy of nation states. . . . (Müller, 2006, p. 364)

Müller (2006) distinguishes first, between political and aesthetic conservatives; and second, between dimensions of 1) sociological, 2) methodological, 3) dispositional or aesthetic, and 4) philosophical or anthropological conservatism. Political conservatism requires at least two of the four dimensions she identifies. Aesthetic conservatism is included among the four dimensions, and more dispositional,

see[ing] in literature, and in poetry in particular, a privileged mode of articulating what they take to be conservatism. In other words, they are less interested in putting forth a political doctrine than in expressing a disposition. Often, this nostalgic mode comes with an implicit or explicit claim for an epistemic privilege: It is the nostalgic glance backwards that allows conservatives to see more clearly—even if conservatives always arrive too late actually to conserve. The principle ‘lament illuminates’ is at work here. But this aesthetic conservatism, if it is to be consistent, goes together with political passivity. (Müller, 2006, p. 361)

Müller’s (2006) aesthetic conservatism almost certainly refers to traditionalism. The lament and nostalgia that Müller refers to can be found explicitly in the writings of, among others, Weaver (1964/1995) and Eliot (1948/1962). But while traditionalists have much to say about current affairs, they seem impossible to detect among those conservatives who figure much more prominently on the political scene and whom I would label ‘political’ conservatives: neoconservatives, capitalist libertarians, social conservatives, and authoritarian populists. By contrast, it seems unclear how Müller’s criteria for her designation of ‘political’ conservative would exclude any conservatives. Certainly none of the schools I have identified in the background section of this proposal would fail to pass this test.

Müller (2006) explains sociological conservatism as being that of “a particular social group trying to hold onto its privileges” (p. 361). This in a reverence for authority seen with Fleming (2004), in the elitism of Strauss and Madison (Havers, 2005), and even with working class males who have lost well-paying jobs to globalization as they scapegoat women and people of color (Sernau, 2006). Functionalist conservatives, authoritarian populists, paleoconservatives, and probably neoconservatives would all seem to fit here. Capitalist libertarians, who claim to advocate equality through neoliberal means, would not.

Müller’s (2006) methodological dimension is about cautious and incremental change. She denies that conservatives seek to freeze society but argues instead that they seek to manage change in non-disruptive ways. This can be seen with arguments that seek to avoid harm to the economy from changes meant to improve the environment; such arguments obviously fail to consider the recklessness with which the changes that jeopardized the environment were introduced in the first place. They also function to insulate the status quo, and the elites who benefit from it. Ray (2004) and Strauss (Havers, 2005) clearly appear with this dimension. Traditionalist and functionalist conservatives can clearly be seen here. If one accepts self-interested arguments against action to ameliorate climate change, one might include capitalist libertarians and authoritarian populists as well. However, a problem with this criterion lies in the lack of a plausible alternative: Who, even among radicals or so-called ‘liberals,’ advocates unbridled change? And if a call for unbridled change is not the standard by which one might fail this test, where is that line drawn, and how?

Müller’s (2006) dispositional dimension includes what was described earlier as dispositional conservatism. Here she also includes the concern about “instrumentalization of experience (or of other human beings, for that matter),” recalling the townspeople, social conservatives, who staged the Scopes Monkey Trial (Nolan, 2007) as well as Blum (2006) and Frank’s (2005) “red-staters” (authoritarian populists). This dimension applies neither to capitalist libertarian conservatives nor to functionalist conservatives.

Finally, Müller’s (2006) “philosophical conservatives are primarily invested in the importance of hierarchical relationships, or some more or less naturalized conception of inequality” (p. 363). In finding that all schools of conservative are authoritarian, I see no way to exclude any conservatives from this dimension.


Conservatism seems, as argued earlier in this proposal, inextricable from values of domination and authoritarianism. It strongly opposes “equalitarianism” or “levelling” (Brinkley, 1994; Eliot, 1948/1962; Havers, 2005; Hurwitz & Peffley, 1992; Kirk, 1985/2001; Panichas, 2006; R. Weaver, 1964/1995). It consistently endorses economic and social policies that exacerbate rather than ameliorate social inequality (Blum, 2006; Rand, 1957/1999). Finally, it generally advocates policies that would lead to yet more suffering for the poor (Jones, 2012; Krugman, May 31, 2012). This lack of balance invites, I think, a Jungian “shadow” perspective, that is, one which looks at what conservatives do not want to look at, seeks out what they do not want to admit. As I hear the authoritarian populist ranting about borders, the law, and an apocalyptic vision of an “invading” “other” (Cruz, June 26, 2012; Lee, June 14, 2014; Lovelace, June 13, 2014; Murphy, August 4, 2014), I wonder what it is that conservatives are so alarmed about—does it really reduce to a so-called ‘nativist’ fear, seen even to an extent that sexuality and especially women’s bodies must be regulated lest whites will lose hegemony (Heins, 2001/2007; Kerber & DeHart, 2004; Rhode, 1993; Rubin, 1984)?

I do not hope to fully answer such questions in this research. I do, however, intend a still-exploratory beginning with a methodology that, to its core, seeks to expose the discursive practices that reproduce social inequality and social injustice (Weiss & Wodak, 2003; Wodak & Meyer, 2009), and that draws upon a broad critical theory tradition that is similarly concerned (Morrow, 1994).

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is not a single methodology, but rather several. Many of these draw upon the thinking of such luminaries as Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Serge Moscovici, and Michael Halliday (Wodak & Meyer, 2009). My concern always with the invocation of such names is that data may be made to fit their pre-existing theories rather than theories developed based on the data itself. I therefore choose a method, discourse-historical analysis (DHA), that is oriented to the texts and the discourses themselves, seeking to understand them not only for the way authors represent themselves and others, but how these representations relate to each other and to a broader context. This is a very ambitious method, often requiring many researchers and considerable time; accordingly, Reisigl and Wodak (2009) suggest that, for a dissertation, a subset of the approach may be employed and that is what I propose here.

Much of the preliminary work I have done leading up to this proposal can be understood to help fill out this subset. This section, therefore, will review the DHA procedure, step by step, clarifying what has already been done, what I propose to do in this dissertation, and what will remain to be done after I complete the dissertation. I draw the following headings directly from Reisigl and Wodak (2009).

Step 1: Activation and consultation of preceding theoretical knowledge

Reisigl and Wodak (2009) seem to mean by this an understanding of the topic from multiple perspectives. Correspondingly, I have described conservatism as inherently authoritarian, largely based on work done for my practicum (Benfell, April 12, 2013) and as updated earlier in this proposal for schools of conservatism I did not contemplate at that time. A broader exploration of what it means to be conservative from multiple perspectives, one for each school, appears in the qualifying essays for candidacy (Benfell, May 16, 2014, June 4, 2014). This is briefly reprised in the foregoing.

Step 2: Systematic collection of data and context information

I am already engaged in a search for articles to use as data for this dissertation as well as context from mainstream sources. This is part of a daily routine in which I read newsletters and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds from hundreds of news sources and archive articles of interest (both relevant and non-relevant to the research proposed here) for future reference. My initial work relevant to this proposal has been an effort to identify publications associated with each school of conservatism as described earlier. There is a certain circularity in this: I may initially identify publications as associated with particular schools from a variety of sources, but I may reassociate them as I incorporate these publications into my workflow and begin reading articles. This is far from a perfect process. It has several issues.

First, functionalist conservatives effectively control mainstream media (Altschull, 1995; Chomsky, 1989; Croteau & Hoynes, 2003; Halberstam, 2000; Herman & Chomsky, 2002; Seldes, 1948/2009). Articles found in these sources cannot simply be classified as functionalist conservative at face value. Rather, opinions expressed in them are likely to fall within an approved range of ‘acceptable’ (to the publishers) opinion. This range extends beyond functionalist conservatism to encompass views that—as Zinn (2005) observes of the two-party system in U.S. politics—may promote only gradual, not radical change. This is change that does not threaten elite positions.

Functionalist conservative perspectives are nonetheless recognizable. They tend to support the status quo. They represent the practical concerns of people who are in power and seek to remain in power. They cover a range of possible policy choices while considering the political ramifications for each possible course of action (examples include Coll, September 8, 2014; Economist, July 8, 2014, August 8, 2014, September 20, 2014, October 6, 2014; Simpson, September 15, 2014).

Even where publications are unambiguously associated with particular schools, there is a risk in identifying conservative perspectives by the publication they appear in. The putatively paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan (Antle, 2008; Ashbee, 2000; Frohnen, February 15, 2012; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Nash, Spring, 2009; Russello, 2005; Wolfson, 2004), for example, has recently appeared not only in American Conservative, where he is, evidently, a founding editor (Buchanan, March 29, 2013, August 27, 2014), but in Town Hall (Buchanan, August 1, 2014), which I categorize as authoritarian populist, and in Lew Rockwell (Buchanan, September 13, 2014), which is unmistakably capitalist libertarian. He appears to tailor his writing for each. Furthermore, publications may include views that reflect a school’s participation in the conservative (“fusionist”) coalition and therefore do not fit neatly within the ideology associated with a school. Nonetheless, searching identified publications is an obvious starting point for finding articles associated with each school of conservatism.

In the course of preliminary work leading up to this proposal, I identified several such publications that could be clearly identified with a particular school. Some of these are referred to or are sources for articles in the literature searches. Others have cropped up in news media accounts, as for instance, inflammatory statements are attributed to Andrew Breitbart, who maintains a web site at Breitbart.com. Still others are listed in Wikipedia entries. Complete lists for each school with supporting information are maintained in entries under the conservatism category on my research wiki at https://parts-unknown.org/wiki/index.php/Category:Conservatism.

This is a list that has been culled for various reasons, notably when publications no longer seem to be active or seem not to be oriented toward current events. One requirement is that I need to be able to subscribe to either an email newsletter or an RSS feed for the publication. Because I follow so many, it simply is not practical for me to monitor publications for which neither of these facilities is available.

There are special cases. The National Review played a major role in uniting disparate conservative factions to improve the movement’s political prospects under the label of ‘fusionism.’ Historically, the publication served as a gatekeeper defining what is, and is not, conservatism (Ashbee, 2000; Durham, 2011; Nash, 2006; Phillips-Fein, 2011) and I interpret the content of newsletters that it sends out (some daily) to mean that it continues to play these roles today. Consequently, I do not associate the National Review any one school.

Another omission is World Net Daily, which is even more sensationalist than Breitbart.com. My means of getting stories from this publication was to follow an RSS feed, but the headlines were all too often of a hysterical “click-bait” style, which is to say they were effectively meaningless, leaving me no recourse but to click on each article and read them all in order to find out what any of them are about. While I have identified on article (Vliet, June 17, 2014) from World Net Daily for possible use, there are other authoritarian populist sources which are considerably more time-efficient.

A publication I have reclassified is the American Conservative. As noted above, it is associated with Patrick Buchanan, who is usually considered paleoconservative. Accordingly scholars generally consider the journal paleoconservative (Antle, 2008; Buchanan, March 29, 2013, August 27, 2014; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003; Russello, 2005; Stanley, February 8, 2012). However, as earlier noted, scholars have not always clearly distinguished between traditionalist conservatism and paleoconservatism. Ashbee (2000) notes that Buchanan is far from an ideal example of a paleoconservative. Calling Buchanan a “policy entrepreneur” (p. 81), Ashbee points to several areas where Buchanan diverges from paleoconservative thinking.

Finally, the American Conservative itself currently has a tone that is entirely different from other paleoconservative publications. Specifically on the topic of undocumented migration, where paleoconservatives are strictly in favor of segregation by ethnicity and therefore oppose immigration (see, for example, Nowicki, July 15, 2014), Gene Callahan (September 16, 2014) writes, “A healthy level of immigration is a positive good for a community or a nation: it keeps it open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, and helps prevent ossification.” Such a view is more welcoming of diversity than that to be found in the traditionalist T. S. Eliot (1948/1962), let alone that in Richard Weaver (1964/1995). Because of these differences, I have reclassified the American Conservative as traditionalist.

I am currently reviewing the following publications and, so far, I have identified several articles for possible use:

  • Authoritarian populist: Townhall and com. These are notorious for their support of “Tea Party” (authoritarian populist) causes. So far, I have identified one article in a mainstream publication, USA Today (Perry, July 9, 2014), and seven other articles in authoritarian populist publications for possible use (Barr, July 16, 2014; Buchanan, August 1, 2014; Cruz, June 26, 2012; Erickson, July 25, 2014; Lee, June 14, 2014; Moudy, June 15, 2014; Vliet, June 17, 2014).
  • Capitalist libertarian: Cato Journal, Freeman, Libertarian Enterprise, Liberty, Liberty and Power, Lew Rockwell, Independent Review, and the Western Standard. Many of these are listed in a Wikipedia (March 29, 2013) entry for Libertarian publications. So far, I have identified one article in a traditionalist conservative journal, the Imaginative Conservative (Domitrovic, August 28, 2014), one article in a mainstream publication (Matthews, September 13, 2014), and two in capitalist libertarian publications (Llosa, September 8, 2014; Reed, September 9, 2014).
  • Functionalist conservative: Forbes, New Yorker, Economist, Foreign Policy. As noted above, these publications carry articles reflecting a range of opinion and articles must be selected for how well they accord with functionalist conservative ideology as described earlier in this proposal. These publications were mostly culled from an advertising industry magazine article (Chapman, April 26, 2011). I added Foreign Policy based on my own experience with the publication. So far, I have identified three articles for possible inclusion (Economist, July 8, 2014, July 12, 2014, August 8, 2014).
  • Neoconservative: Commentary, First Things, and the Weekly Standard. Commentary crops up in a scholarly literature search for neoconservative perspectives. First Things garners several mentions in a neoconservative context (Ashbee, 2000; Dorrien, 2013; Himmelfarb, 2011; Rosenberg, July 1, 2014). The Weekly Standard is widely regarded as neoconservative (Heilbrunn, July 5, 2014; Homolar-Riechmann, 2009; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Klingenstein, 2003; Langille, 2008; Wolfson, 2004). So far, I have identified two articles for possible inclusion (Tobin, July 14, 2014, July 15, 2014).
  • Paleoconservative: Alternative Right and Occidental Quarterly. These publications are listed in a Wikipedia (October 15, 2008) page. Of the two, Alternative Right is considerably more active. I feel no need to present schools of conservatism in their most extreme forms, so I am omitting American Renaissance, described by the Anti-Defamation League (January 11, 2011) as white supremacist, and VDARE, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2014) as a “hate group.” So far, I have identified one article for possible use (Nowicki, July 15, 2014).
  • Social conservative: World, Christian Headlines, and Christian Post. Numerous searches were futile. These were found in a web search on the term “religious conservative publications.” So far, I have found two articles—representing opposing views—for possible inclusion (Derrick, August 11, 2014; Stinette, June 18, 2014).
  • Traditionalist conservative: American conservative, Humanitas, Imaginative Conservative, Modern Age. These are all listed on a Wikipedia (September 26, 2014) page for Traditionalist conservatism. In addition, Modern Age frequently crops up in scholarly literature searches. So far, I have identified one article for possible inclusion (Vlahos, August 12, 2014).

Upon approval of this proposal, it is my intention to revisit all of these sources and search more comprehensively. I will continue monitoring these sources for at least the duration of this research, both to find yet more articles for possible consideration and to develop a context for each set of views.

Step 3: Selection and preparation of data for specific analyses

Once step 2 is complete, I will select specific articles for analysis. These will be limited by the number of articles I actually locate, but I anticipate selecting at least three or four articles from each school. I will select articles that appear to best represent a variety of views on undocumented migrants. This will not be a representative sample as might be found in quantitative research, but rather one that has been constrained for the sake of convenience

Step 4: Specification of the research question and formulation of assumptions

The research question is already stated in the introduction to this proposal. My assumptions are that 1) each school of conservative will have a distinctive perspective on undocumented migrants, and 2) that these views can be reasonably represented based on published opinion pieces.

Step 5: Qualitative pilot analysis

In work leading up to this proposal, I have focused on identifying the different schools of conservatives and on coming to understand their interrelationships. However, I did conduct a pilot study analyzing Richard Weaver’s (1964/1995) Visions of order: The cultural crisis of our time. This analysis was not focused on the undocumented migrant issue, but rather toward identifying and critiquing a school of conservative thought, which I now label traditionalist conservative. In this study, I was initially perplexed by Richard Weaver’s notion of a tyrannizing image and came to understand that his cultural center consists of individuals who share a particular historical, linguistic, and religious tradition—specifically, well-off white Protestant and English-speaking. Though in this work he referred to the Brown v. Board of Education decision obliquely, his opposition to “forced integration” makes clear an opposition to desegregation. The reference to Brown v. Board of Education was substantially confirmed by accounts of Weaver’s attitude in other articles.

This analysis of Weaver’s writing confirms that material authored by conservatives is accessible to CDA, and that, in particular, power relationships can be exposed from the argumentation employed by authors. It also provides a perspective on the time and resources needed for a close reading. This proposal refines the procedure implemented in the pilot study by recommending that DHA be applied to a multitude of somewhat shorter sources.

Step 6: Detailed case studies

DHA improves on the methodology I used in the pilot study by adding several specific analytic questions to the argumentation analysis I employed. These questions can be summarized as 1) how are persons and objects “named and referred to linguistically” (Reisigl & Wodak, 2009, p. 112), “[w]hat characteristics, qualities and features are attributed to social actors, objects, phenomena/events and processes” (p. 113), “[w]hich arguments are employed in discourses” (p. 113), “[f]rom what perspective are these nominations, attributions and arguments expressed” (p. 113), and “[a]re the respective utterances articulated overtly, are they intensified or mitigated” (p. 113)? In my analysis, I will be asking these questions for each selected article, and for all persons, objects, and actions the article refers to directly or indirectly.

In describing the particulars of the analysis I intend, I should begin with reference to a basic, often-repeated tenet in speech communication: Language is arbitrary, abstract, and ambiguous. This beginning point means I bring some skepticism to the notion that an intensely grammatical parsing of language, as with critical linguistics, in which each detail of each sentence’s structure is a sort of “magic key” that unlocks a “treasure chest” of hidden meanings that can be categorized and quantified as if they were “gold coins.” For me, most people’s use of language is pragmatic, too often based on the only language they’ve heard. One example of this is the term ‘illegal immigrant,’ which, as I noted at the outset of this proposal, carries all sorts of assumptions about the legitimacy of borders and the rights of people positioned on opposing sides of those borders.Such phrasing certainly carries a likelihood of prejudice, but it might also simply be used in place of the less familiar ‘undocumented migrants.’

Analysis needs to be temperate. I do not believe that many human beings are capable of a language use subtlety that would warrant, for example, Theo van Leeuwen’s (1996) six-layer system schematic—evidently meant to satisfy linguists—of twenty-one possible and often only marginally distinct representations of (just!) social actors. Further, keeping an eye on the goal, that is, “to bring a system of excessive inequalities of power into crisis by uncovering its workings and its effects” (Kress, 1996, p. 15), I can settle for a more sociological approach which includes and in fact considerably collapses, in this case, van Leeuwen’s broadly described forms of sociological representations.

What I really want to know is who (the agent) is responsible for doing what to whom (the subject or “patient”), the degree to which the text acknowledges or disguises this responsibility, and what voice, if any, is allowed to agents, subjects, or third parties (van Dijk, 1996; van Leeuwen, 1996). I also want to know how each party is framed: Put much too crudely, who are the “good guys,” who are the “bad guys,” who are the “heroes,” who are the “victims,” and who are the villains” (Wodak, 1996)? How are they connected with or related to each other (van Leeuwen)? Finally, I want to know how each of these operations functions culturally. What inferred meanings will be drawn from word choices, narratives, and arguments (Caldas-Coulthard , 1996; Morrison, 1996)?

As a beginning to these questions, one of van Leeuwen’s (1996) examples is instructive:

To mention just one classic example, Tony Trew (1979: 97ff) showed how, in The Times and the Rhodesian Herald (anno 1975), the police were excluded in accounts of the ‘riots’ during which they had opened fire and killed demonstrators, because it was in the interest of these papers and their readers to attempt to ‘justify white rule in Africa’. (van Leeuwen, 1996, p. 38)

By exclusion, van Leeuwen (1996) means that the police were not identified as agents. Rather, the ‘rioters’ were agents, portrayed as threatening social order. That the police (as agents) were committing mayhem against protesters (as subjects), was suppressed, or to use van Leeuwen’s term, excluded. In that last sentence, as I have written it, using passive voice, a critical discourse analyst’s first question is, who did the suppressing? Van Leeuwen’s answer, in the text I quoted, is that it was the newspapers. From all this, we see that van Leeuwen sees the police in southern Africa as having acted reprehensibly, the newspapers as having been complicit, and that all of this was in support of white rule. Further, we understand that in the newspapers’ portrayals, while ‘rioters’ are held responsible for violence, police—who in fact did the shooting—are shielded from blame.

Another thing to notice in van Leeuwen’s (1996) example above is how protesters are referred to as ‘rioters,’ drawing upon connotations of violence, property damage, and disorder. Teun van Dijk (1996) writes about connotation in terms of who has access to the media to present their view. His examples from the Sun in the United Kingdom highlight the privilege to cast aspersions on a group of people—undocumented migrants—who have little ability to reply. So, in van Dijk’s examples, the Sun refers to them as ‘spongers’ and as ‘illegals’ and supports conservative policies that would expel them. Van Dijk also notices that the Sun uses passive voice to avoid mentioning the employers who hire undocumented migrants and are thus at least complicit in any violations of the law.

Andrew Morrison (1996) demonstrates the importance of inferred meanings in a cultural context with his chapter analyzing Zimbabwean press coverage of lurid allegations, which eventually proved to be false, that a woman had had sex with a dog for pay. She had, it was claimed, “sold herself” to a white man (“colonial thief”), displaced a black man, and thereby “violated her role as a reproductive agent” (p. 232). I cannot do justice to Morrison’s rich analysis here, but one aspect was that a “key distinction – between sexual gratification on the part of men and economic need on the part of the women – was not examined in the state press” (p. 242). This omission seems a bit more significant when it emerges that the whole story was a fabrication concocted by a landlord whose tenant was unable to pay her rent and refused his demand for sex as an alternative form of payment. Morrison concludes

that Critical Discourse Analysis needs to delve more deeply into news media in which the interrelationships between verbal, visual and spoken discourse are complex (see e.g. Morrison, 1993) and where established notions of tabloid and objective reporting are intermingled with rumour and moral judgement. (Morrison, 1996, p. 245)

Van Leeuwen (1996) also wants to know whether a text refers to people generically (as with police and ‘rioters” above) or specifically, perhaps by name or title. To elaborate on this, I will depart from van Leeuwen’s text and instead point to Philip Zimbardo (2008), who conducted the infamous Stanford Prison Experiments. In Zimbardo’s account, he points out how ‘prisoners’ were given identical clothing to wear and identified by number. Similarly, ‘guards’ wore uniforms and oversize reflective sunglasses. Zimbardo explains that thus guards and prisoners both were deindividualized and anonymized. They were reduced to, or, in van Leeuwen’s terminology, assimilated into their roles. They became generic, even as Zimbardo takes care to tell the stories of how individual guards and prisoners behaved in these roles. Thus guards felt able to behave as if they were anonymous members of a group acting, often brutally, against anonymous members of another group—the prisoners. Zimbardo’s account seeks to counter this; other authors might wittingly or unwittingly collude with it.

Van Leeuwen (1996) next considers the question of association and disassociation. Whom does the author associate with or disassociate from whom? For example, C. Wright Mills (1956/2000) explicitly associates bureaucratic, economic, and military elites with each other and argues at length for this association. Van Leeuwen’s example is a bit more casual—he calls it parataxis: “They believed that the immigration program existed for the benefit of politicians, bureaucrats, and the ethnic minorities, not for Australians as a whole” (p. 50). Here, politicians, bureaucrats, and ethnic minorities are lumped together in relation to the immigration program, but not particularly in any other way. In another example, this time of disassociation, he cites the case of children who travel to school together, but then lose this association as they go to class.

Finally, van Leeuwen (1996) considers “overdetermination,” which seems to conflate four features that probably should be distinguished. I will limit my discussion here to those two which seem relevant to a critical theory approach. Connotation entails the exploitation of widely held social associations, much as is already discussed with the inferences associated with ‘rioters’ and with the bestiality story above. Van Leeuwen’s example of a man with a large moustache may translate poorly for a U.S. audience, but its subtlety is more meaningful for audiences familiar with a Prussian military stereotype. Distillation refers to usages of more general, abstract categories where more precisely specified ones might do. Thus, in van Leeuwen’s (1996) example taxonomy, a lawyer gets lumped in, through two degrees of abstraction, with professionals who offer counseling.

Step 7: Formulation of critique

“Our ‘critique,’” explain Reisigl and Wodak (2009), “is based on ethical principles such as democratic norms, human rights and criteria of rational argumentation” (p. 119). They go on to explain that they highlight biases—in this study, I will sometimes encounter outright bigotry—and “contradictory and manipulative relationships between discourses and power structures” (p. 119). I have done this in preliminary work (Benfell, April 12, 2013, October 15, 2013, May 16, 2014, June 4, 2014) leading up to this proposal and fully expect to continue doing this in the dissertation.

Step 8: Application of the detailed analytical results

Reisigl and Wodak (2009) call for results not only to be made available in scholarly publications but, as well, to the general public. A dissertation is inherently inadequate for such a task. Further, the method outlined above needs to be applied to other topics besides undocumented migrants in order to provide a rich view of the various schools of conservatism. I have been publishing much of my work on line at https://parts-unknown.org/wp. I expect that while I am working on the dissertation, this publication will be largely interrupted in order to avoid “pre-publishing” this work. However, I can resume afterwards, hopefully in collaboration with other scholars.


Reisigl and Wodak (2009) would prefer a broader cross-section of communication be represented than I plan here. Fully developed, a project such as they envision would entail participant observation even at neo-Nazi and skinhead (extremist paleoconservative) events, placing an investigator at considerable risk of violence and arrest. A broader cross-section would require more time and resources, resulting in a several-hundred page or thousand-page plus long dissertation. It would also require analysis for interpersonal forms of power (see, for example, Ribeiro, 1996), representations of self (see, for example, Preti, 1996), and of chronologies and spatial arrangements (van Leeuwen, 2008). I am here reminded of JoAnn McAllister’s oft-repeated comment that “a good dissertation is a done dissertation;” following such advice, I am limiting the scope of this project accordingly.

In the foregoing, I have already expressed a concern about tempering analysis. As described in the sources I have found (Caldas-Coulthard & Coulthard, 1996; van Leeuwen, 2008; Wodak & Meyer, 2009), critical discourse analysis seems to have no guard against over-analysis. I found an example of this in critiquing a dissertation in the preliminary work leading to this proposal, in which the then-candidate picked apart selected excerpts of a politician’s discourse and analyzed them to infer the worst meanings possible while failing to consider alternative explanations (Benfell, October 11, 2013). My concern, already expressed in this proposal, about critical discourse analysis methods in general is that researchers’ response to a corollary hazard—of insufficient analysis—is the development of ever more detailed schema for analysis, schema that may not in fact be justified in actual language use. However, there is also no check for this hazard of under-analysis. The analyses I produce will rely heavily on my own judgment of what is “temperate.”

Participants and Research Setting

There will be no human or animal participants in this research. It will be conducted entirely on publicly available written materials.


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