Conservatives Vs. Conservatism

4 comments December 9th, 2007at 08:33pm Posted by Eli

Paul Rosenberg is certainly not the first to point out that modern “conservatives” have repudiated most of conservativism’s core values, but he does a particularly excellent job of it:

(1) Conservatism used to be opposed to radical change. It embraced the existing order, the organic structures of society, however they came about. This is why, for example, Buckley and the National Review had no problem defending segregation. They were crying “stop”!


The neocons aren’t the only branch of conservatives who are zealous, change-the-whole-world types. Every single strain of conservatism on the scene today thinks that way, from Ron Paul wanting to abolish the Federal Reserve and the FDA as well as the New Deal, to the Theocons who want to abolish democracy itself. They all claim to be super-patriots who love America-not like you, hippy scum!-and yet every last one of them wants to radically transform America into their pet fantasyland. They fundamentally hate actually existing America.

(2) Conservatism used to be patriotic. And while BushCo can wrap themselves in the flag with the best of them, there is simply no denying the fact that liberal economics from 1933 onward built the strongest economy the world had ever seen, while conservative economics from Richard Nixon onwards, but shifting into overdrive with Reagan, has shipped the vast majority of our productive capacity, and tens of millions high-paying industrial jobs, overseas. Economic nationalism is anathema to movement conservatism, except in the form of immigrant bashing and special privileges for US business written into so-called “free trade” deals. And the shameful treatment of America’s armed forces by the Bush Administration-completely overlooked by the Republican Congress for six long years-is just icing on the cake.

(3) Conservatism used to be a sober philosophy, opposed to feel-good solutions, and wild-eyed schemes. Then came “voodoo economics.” The Laffer Curve promised that you could increase government revenues by cutting spending [I think that’s supposed to be “taxes”]. Something for nothing. It didn’t work, of course….

But here’s the more fundamental point: even if it did work, it would be a most un-conservative thing to believe in.You’re supposed to work hard for stuff. Advance requires sacrifice. And this goes for nations and governments as well as individuals. If you want to look for the roots of Bush’s something-for-nothing style of government, look no farther than this.

(4) Conservatism used to oppose deficit spending and unbalanced budgets. In fact, they used to call it, “fiscal conservatism.” Some still do. They crack me up. This brings us back to the fact that the Laffer Curve and “voodoo economics” didn’t work. And the fact that Bush II returned us to the Reagan/Bush land of limitless budget deficits as far as the eye can see, after Bill Clinton had returned us to [running] surpluses. The reasoning is transparently obvious: people like the welfare state. Rank-and-file conservatives like the welfare state. So the only way for movement conservatives to destroy the welfare state is to spend all the money in the known universe on their own pet schemes, so that none of it is left to spend on the welfare state. End of story.

(5) Conservatism used to be built upon the premise of personal virtue. Newt Gingrich’s multiple marriages. Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff’s finances. Rush Limbaugh’s pill-popping. The Chickenhawk army’s mass flight from military service. The list goes on and on and on and on. Sure, conservatives still talk unceasingly about virtue for other people. But there’s actions, and there’s words. And the actions have spoken. (And it’s not just the leadership, in case you want to check the red state divorce statistics, for example.)

(6) American conservatism used to be committed to limited government. …[T]he reality is that conservatism is about the maintenance of elite rule….

And American conservatism has two contradictory rationales deeply buried in it heart: On the one hand, it supports the centralized power of the state to crush populist [uprisings] against wealthy elites. This is the great story of how the 14th Amendment was rewritten to protect corporations from state and local regulation in the late 19th Century, just to cite one prominent manifestation. On the other hand, when protecting their own is not involved, conservatism is all about “states rights,” which gives local and regional elites a free hand in their own backyards.

The Bush Administration’s disdain for limits on the presidency is not some quirky [aberration], touched off by 9/11. Nor is it simply the result of Dick Cheney’s decades-long obsession. No, American conservatism at its core has only ever been committed to limited government as a defense against political movements it could most easily thwart with that rationale. It has never had so much power accumulated so quickly before, and so it got a little careless under Bush. But the reality goes far, far beyond the current unpopular crowd in the White House.

Bottom Line

There is much more that could be said on the topic. But I think the case is clear: It’s not just BushCo. There are no “true conservatives” in the GOP, because “true conservatism” is simply a myth. It’s contradictions go down to its very core. And its high time that we shifted more attention to this fact, particularly as a badly-weakened conservative movement desperately attempts to re-brand itself.

As a special bonus, Rosenberg leads off with some examples of Sainted Conservative Icon Ronald Reagan’s liberal tendencies. That should hopefully set some wingnut heads to exploding.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Politics,Republicans


  • 1. Pain  |  December 9th, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Modern day American conservatism is nothing more than neoclassical Calvinism confronted with existentialism wherein the elites are allowed to be the latter while the rank and file are forced to carry the burden of the former.

  • 2. Ruth  |  December 10th, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    The ‘conservative ideal’ is the capitalist who has risen from the lower classes by hard work and ability to become a success. As with Sen. McCain, many were enabled by the GI Bills, back when the draft was active. It doesn’t work for the gang that can’t/won’t shoot straight, so they’re out to scrap all the enabling programs. see

  • 3. Multi Medium » Chri&hellip  |  December 15th, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    […] as Paul Rosenberg pointed out, it goes way beyond that. Today’s conservatives don’t really seem to adhere […]

  • 4. americawesto  |  May 6th, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    damage reminded work I grew to dine woods in the

Contact Eli



Most Recent Posts




December 2007
« Nov   Jan »

Thinking Blogger

Pittsburgh Webloggers

Site Meter

View My Stats *