Overview of American Conservatism
By Violet Lake
On the surface, modern American "conservatism" seems to be
what Ayn Rand once described as "...that embarrassing conglomeration
of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality...".
Ideologically, there seems to be no principle that binds the
various conservative groups together. If not ideology, then
what is it that unites and drives them? The answer can be
summed up in one word: liberals.
Rand gives us a clear view of the "enemy":
"The goal of the 'liberals'--as it emerges from the record
of the past decades--was to smuggle this country into welfare
statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging
the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting
these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting
their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be
named. Thus, statism was to come, not by vote or by violence,
but by slow rot--by a long process of evasion and epistemological
corruption, leading to a fait accompli."
Rand's observation captures the essence of the reasoning
that drives conservatives to this day. This is the dogma that
won for conservatives the virtual tyranny that they currently
exercise over the American people. It is clear now that this
brand of "conservatism" is simply statism by other means.
Fait accompli, Ayn.
Who are these "compassionate conservatives" that are making
the rest of the world so nervous? Is there a method to their
madness? Comprehensive answers to these questions are beyond
my immediate means, but I can offer several observations and
ideas that I hope you'll find useful.
The conservative gradient can be divided into four basic
groups: "neoconservatives," moderates, the Christian Right,
and extremists. Although they share a common adversary, the
groups have widely divergent ideals and goals. Together, they
form a combustible mix of power politics, nationalism, religion,
and mutual appeasement. In order to understand this dynamic,
one needs to look at each group in more detail.
Neoconservatives - The neoconservatives are at the top of
the conservative establishment. They are Reagan-era hawks,
ex-Marxists, disgruntled liberals, and assorted GOP opportunists,
guided by the philosophy of Leo Strauss. Strauss believed
that morals don't apply to clever people, and he advocated
the right of the powerful to rule the weak. The Straussian
ideal can be summed up as absolute domination by "superior"
people, achieved by means such as "noble lies," physical force,
perpetual warfare, and religion. According to Strauss, the
gravest threats to civilization come from ideas like secularism,
eclecticism, and liberalism.
Judging the "neocons" by their philosophy, one has to conclude
that they're capable of doing anything in order to maintain
their grip on power. Judging them by their actions, one has
to arrive at the same conclusion. By operating beyond the
bounds of morality, the neocons are directing one of the most
shameful episodes in American history. The proof is in the
spin. They resist honestly accounting for the failures of
their "policies" because doing so would unravel their web.
So instead, they continue to spin frantically, not realizing
that they're trapping themselves in a silky casket of their
They are getting more vicious as their day of reckoning
gets closer--as evidenced by their treatment of the Spanish
people after the 3/11 tragedy. Two hundred million dollars
won't be enough money to fool the American people into voting
for something that's so inherently against their nature. The
truth is becoming more apparent by the day. People are beginning
to demand accountability. Exactly how far the neocons will
go to conceal their crimes is anyone's guess. Nothing short
of a disaster will save them.
It seems the neocons didn't realize that Strauss is a one-way
ticket to history's hall of villains. The remarkable thing
is that "Straussianism" is little more than the latest attempt
at justifying the unjustifiable. It is evil in a trendy new
package. Once again I quote Ayn Rand (who is on target this
"The moral cannibalism of all hedonist and altruist doctrines
lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates
the injury of another."
Moderates - Moderates are the heart of the conservative
establishment. They are the educated, middle & upper class,
small government idealists and civil libertarians that are
most likely to feel betrayed by the Bush administration. They
are torn between their loyalty to a party that doesn't respect
their values anymore, and capitulating to the "tax & spend"
Democrats in order to do the right thing. To understand the
difficulty of their choice, one has to take into account a
mindset that has been engaged in an exaggerated ideological
battle with Democrats and "liberals" for decades. After fighting
the "slow rot" of "socialism" for so long, they find themselves
in an untenable position.
Moderates still exercise a disproportionate amount of influence
over the conservative establishment, although their influence
has waned considerably with the ascendancy of the neoconservatives,
and the "promotion" of the Christian Right. Moderates used
to be conservatism's favorite children. They would be natural
allies for a Democratic Party that could redefine its ideology
more along the lines of classical liberalism--which is basically
the ideology that moderate conservatives are forever fighting
Christian Right - The Christian Right is the muscle of the
conservative establishment. It is the most populous right
wing group. One can reasonably place the president in this
group. The Christian Right is predominant in southern states,
and is a growing influence in northern and western states.
Without the Christian Right, the Republican Party would be
little more than "the loyal opposition." It is the "culture
war" army of the neocons--who perform the dangerous balancing
act of inciting it to political action while struggling to
keep its uglier propensities in check.
Like the Straussians at the top, the Christian Right considers
secularism, eclecticism, and liberalism to be the gravest
threats. Politically, its goal is to turn the U.S. into a
fundamentalist Christian theocracy, where "believers" can
shape the future by enforcing a medieval version of Christian
morality. This goal is clearly at odds with the ideals of
the moderate Right, but it seems that the moderates are willing
to appease them in return for the grassroots support that
fuels the Republican Party. One has to wonder where the line
between them will ultimately be drawn.
Extremists - Right wing extremists aren't part of the "official"
conservative establishment. Nevertheless, they can be counted
on to support the Republicans as the "lesser of two evils."
This group is a loose collection of extremist groups such
as anarchists, paramilitary militias, and white supremacists.
The folks in this category are manipulated through issues
like guns, immigration, and national sovereignty. They're
relatively small in numbers, and the political influence they
exert is limited by the fact that mainstream conservatives
publicly disown them.
Right wing extremism is the deranged child of conservatism.
Instead of working to cure its illness, conservatives prefer
to keep it chained in the basement. Many of the "right to
bear arms" arguments that conservatives use are inspired in
large part by the spectacular homicides committed by right
wing extremists--and their troubled offspring. Go figure...
Talk about a vicious cycle.
Anti-liberalism is the "principle" that holds conservatives
together. Moderates are specifically against 20th century
"socialist" liberalism, and the other three groups are against
all liberalism. Amoral intellectuals, who cynically manipulate
"inferior" conservatives through fear, drive the machine.
"Liberals" are still their favorite target, but now they have
other villains to promote, and other battles to provoke. Bush
was chosen as the figurehead of this "new conservatism" because
he knows conservatives of every stripe. He's the "uniter."
The Democratic Party would do well to reach out to moderate
Republicans, and reassure them that their values will be respected.
Their help is needed to bring our country back from the brink
of disaster. Moderates from both sides have more in common
than either side seems to realize. Together, they represent
the most significant majority in the nation. As the natural
advocates of social stability, it is the responsibility of
moderates to address the problems that are threatening the
stability of American society. At stake is the ripest expression
of classical liberalism on earth. If Bush is reelected, America
will be one step closer to discarding the fruit that most
of the world hungers for. The circumstances call for a new,
more enlightened era in American politics.