The Parable of the Chainsaws
First off, I'd like to direct your attention to a piece I wrote back in July 2005, It Takes a Village (of Lumberjacks), which pretty much gets my personal political philosophy in an acorn shell.
The same philosophy applies within political movements, as well. Liberals seem to think that "Conservatism" is some monolithic and coherent edifice — and truth to tell, I have been known to tweak my liberal friends from time to time, by saying things like, "Thanks for the invitation, but I can't make it; I've got my Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy meeting that night, and we're supposed to hear a report from the Special Subcommittee on the Oppression and Degradation of Women, but those silly girls can never stop shopping long enough to get anything finished" — but in my assessment, there are at least four main threads that make up the chaotic thing known as modern conservatism. These are:
Cultural Conservatism, which dates back to Hobbes and Locke but was really defined by Burke, in reaction to the French Revolution. Cultural conservatism amounts to one long expression of the idea, "Slow down. I know you're excited and enthusiastic, but let's think about what we're doing before we throw out the old way we did things." William F. Buckley is a cultural conservative.
Economic Conservatism, which traces its roots back to Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations but really came to life in reaction to John Maynard Keynes. For most of human history, economies have run on a pretty straightforward capitalistic supply & demand basis, which, as Locke pointed out, over time tends to produce either plutocracy or oligarchy, and much discontent amongst those who are neither plutocrats nor oligarchs. Keynes's revolutionary idea was that unregulated capitalism had failed and government spending was now the single most important driver in the economy. Further, Keynes said that it was possible for a government to create prosperity for everyone by regulating, redistributing (via taxing and spending), and inflating the money supply, and in the 1930s, the U.S. government adopted Keynesianism with a vengeance. In this light, Friedman, von Hayek, the Austrian School, the Chicago School, and all the rest of the lower taxes, smaller government crowd can be viewed as being one long expression of the idea, "Keynesianism doesn't work. Let's stop doing it." Barry Goldwater was an economic conservative.
Political Conservatism, which began life as anti-socialism — I suppose "anti-Marxism" sounds better, doesn't it? — developed as anti-Progressivism — which again, sounds bad, until you realize that in America, "Progressive" was simply the happy marketing label adopted by the Fabian Socialists — and really came to life after World War II, when people began to wake up to the realities of the Soviet Union. In this light, political conservatism can be viewed as one long expression of the idea, "Hey, the Communists are serious about this one-world communist revolution thing. Let's stop them." Richard Nixon was a political conservative.
And finally, Moral Conservatism, which dates back to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moral conservatism has always simmered just under the surface in America, but it really came to a boil with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. Prior to Roe v. Wade abortion was only legal in Sodomite strongholds like New York, and had that remained the case, the moral conservatives would probably have been content to roll over and go back to sleep. Roe v. Wade is the single most important thing that galvanized the moral conservatives and got them into politics. The reaction to this court decision, combined with the complete failure of Keynesian economics during the Carter administration and the apparent successes of the Soviets in Africa and South American and the Islamists in the Mideast, is what briefly united the moral, political, economic, and cultural conservatives and put Ronald Reagan in the White House.
The above categories provide an extremely simplified and sketchy outline, of course. There are no doubt other threads in the conservative tapesty that I am blind to, and while labels are simple, people are complex. Goldwater, for example, was an economic and political conservative, but by today's standards quite liberal on some social issues. Nixon was a staunch anti-communist and more strongly a social and moral conservative than people remember, but he was also an environmentalist, and economically, he was firmly Keynesian. The neocons, as far as I can tell, are actually Lockeian classical liberals who got fed up with the Democratic Party and decided the Republicans gave them better opportunity to transform their visions into policies, and as for the Libertarians — ah, never mind.
As Yoda might say, "Ever in motion, the political landscape is." And speaking of motion, I've got to get moving, so I'd like to leave you with a few more titles on the recommended reading list:
Larry Elder, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America: Among other things, a devastating indictment of Lyndon Johnson's Keynesian socialist experiment, "The Great Society," and what it's done to black families.
Jean-François Revel, Anti-Americanism: Strongly recommended by my neighbor, Hubert, as testimony to how the French really feel about America — at least, as Hubert says, "ze real French people, like moi, and not zose eentellectual eediots down in Pareese."
Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and The Pride: Funny, innit, that the most passionate and coherent defense of Christianity and western civilization should be written an Italian atheist and communist?
And with all that said, as of Monday, we're back to writing!