The seven tendencies of conservatism

Conservatism is not monolithic. In my dissertation, I describe seven tendencies of conservatism. Conservatives may subscribe to one or more of these tendencies in various degrees and there are overlaps and very fuzzy boundaries between them.[1] Further, these tendencies have different areas of emphasis and cannot always be directly compared on particular issues.

I am creating this page both as a synthesis and an evolution of ideas I first developed for my dissertation, which I completed in December 2015, and accordingly many ideas may not yet be properly attributed to my original sources. I expect to improve this and, in the meantime, I would suggesting looking to my dissertation[2] and to the sources I do cite. This page will remain under development as my thinking continues to evolve.

Please see my note on citation styles. I will seek to implement that policy here.

Authoritarian populism

Authoritarian populists comprise the larger portion of Donald Trump’s base. Their Manichean ideology reduces to a hierarchically invidious monism of “us” versus “them,” in which “we” are (mostly white) patriotic, conservative Christians who “belong” “here” and “they” are (often people of color) “libtards,” gender non-binary, bisexual or gay, or migrants. From my dissertation:

Elizabeth Minnich (2005[3]) prefers the term hierarchically invidious monism to dualism in referring to certain binaries such as male and female, rich and poor, white and Black, and so on. The problem, she explains, is that these are not pairs of equally paired members but rather, in our society, very unequally paired members. In thinking of authoritarian populists, I think first of hierarchically invidious monisms and second of an unwillingness to contemplate the injustice of those monisms. Indeed, as Thomas Frank (2005[4]) explained, authoritarian populists view class not in terms of socioeconomic status but in terms of authenticity, valorizing themselves as ‘ordinary’ people and criticizing urban liberals (as in whatever they’re opposed to) as pretentious snobs. Further, though as Frank, Scott Sernau (2006[5]), and Chip Berlet (2011[6]) also explain, authoritarian populists have legitimate economic grievances against so-called ‘free’ trade and the corporate elites who have exported working class jobs, authoritarian populists instead blame other subaltern people—women and people of color—for taking their jobs.[7]

Authoritarian populism has considerable overlap with another tendency, social conservatism. I distinguish authoritarian populism from paleoconservatism by the former’s insistent denial that it is racist or xenophobic and the latter’s forthright declaration that it is indeed racist and xenophobic. Authoritarian populists are also much more likely to support foreign wars than paleoconservatives and I associate the militia movement with authoritarian populism although some militia groups are white supremacist and therefore paleoconservative. Due to authoritarian populist resentment of, extreme distrust of, and extreme disdain for “elites,” understood as “liberals,” city-dwellers, academics, politicians, and corporate executives, authoritarian populists tend to support a simplistic form of capitalist libertarianism and where neoconservatism can be understood as a backlash to the social uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s, authoritarian populism is a backlash to the elite that predates neoconservatism.

While I am inclined to view the U.S. generally as fascist for its treatment of the poor and of indigenous people, of migrants, and of people of color, authoritarian populists are especially so.

Fascism is an ideology that seeks to institutionalize structural and physical violence against some or many subaltern groups on the grounds of bigotry and to increase its own public support through the exploitation of such violence and bigotry. This bigotry may take several forms including nationalism, scapegoating, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. To the extent that it succeeds, it acts as a self-reinforcing feedback as public support enables further and more extreme violence.[8]

This is, in essence, Trump’s modus operandi. He makes inflammatory statements that alienate people outside his base, but his base loves him for these “politically incorrect” claims and for “speaking his mind.” In this way, Trump builds support from authoritarian populists and paleoconservatives. (His appeal to social conservatives is different.)

Authoritarian populists very strongly resemble the people of Colin Woodard’s Greater Appalachia[9] and to the extent that this comparison is accurate, authoritarian populism may be suspected to date back a millenium.[10] Chip Berlet’s description of authoritarian populism[11] and Thomas Frank’s description of “Cons” in Kansas[12] form the basis of my own treatment. I would supplement these with Frank’s more recent work harshly criticizing Barack Obama’s handling of the financial crisis of 2008.[13]

From my dissertation:

Much of the anger and resentment that one sees among authoritarian populists, however, springs from legitimate grievances. Many have lost well-paying jobs as multinational corporations have shifted their jobs overseas. Unfortunately, rather than direct their anger at the decision makers who are responsible for globalization and so-called ‘free trade,’ they accept these losses as “just business” and misdirect their anger toward subaltern “others,” such as women or people of color (Berlet, 2011;[14] T. Frank, 2005;[15] Sernau, 2006[16]).

Kim Messick (October 12, 2013[17]) explains that those I call authoritarian populists “identify the country with [their] own beliefs and values. Those with different preferences then become almost by definition ‘un-American.’” Which is to say that for authoritarian populists, “America” is overwhelmingly homogeneous, white, rural, English-speaking, capitalist, and tending to be evangelical Protestant. Anyone who does not fit this description is the “other,” and quite possibly a threat that must be suppressed. In the wake of 9/11, it was likely authoritarian populists who flew oversize U.S. flags from the beds of their pickup trucks. For authoritarian populists, a militant patriotism is the chauvinistic nationalism that identifies difference as a threat to national coherence (Anderson, 2006[18]).[19]

Capitalist Libertarianism

Capitalist libertarians claim to be reviving “classical liberalism,” that is, the “liberalism” of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, also described by Jürgen Habermas.[20]

In essence, this is an idea that government should do very little and capitalist markets should do pretty much everything else. Ayn Rand has a pirate argue that government should do nothing more than to defend the country.[21] However, even Friedrich Hayek initially accepted that government would need to provide services which could not be supported by the profit motive.[22] Capitalist libertarians have since repudiated the latter view, famously holding even that fire departments should serve only paid subscribers.[23]

When we say that capitalist libertarians believe that government should do very little, that would obviously preclude, among other things, occupational safety and health:

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.[24]

From an anarchist perspective, capitalist libertarians see political, but not economic, authority as illegitimate. This is problematic because, given the conditions many workers face, it is apparent that these workers are means to an end, that employers (whether or not through a so-called “independent contractor” relationship) view them as infinitely replaceable—as machines—rather than as intrinsically valuable human beings. This cannot be construed as a balanced power relationship.

Now, you may believe that employment is a market relationship like any other — there’s a buyer and a seller, and it’s just a matter of mutual consent. You may also believe in Santa Claus. The truth is that employment is, in many though not all cases, a power relationship. In good economic times, or where workers’ position is protected by legal restraints and/or strong unions, that relationship may be relatively symmetric. In times like these, it’s hugely asymmetric: employers and employees alike know that workers are easy to replace, lost jobs very hard to replace.[25]

And it is so, structurally. Capitalism—really any economic system of exchange—privileges whomever has the greater power to say no and handicaps whomever has the greater need for a transaction. The gains and losses from each transaction are cumulative, unless redressed through a political system, and thus function to widen social inequality.[26]

“Well, what if I do start crying?” I ask the woman who warns me to keep it together no matter how awfully I’m treated. “Are they really going to fire me for that?”

“Yes,” she says. “There’s 16 other people who want your job. Why would they keep a person who gets emotional, especially in this economy?”

Still, she advises, regardless of how much they push me, don’t work so hard that I injure myself. I’m young. I have a long life ahead of me. It’s not worth it to do permanent physical damage, she says, which, considering that I got hired at elevensomething dollars an hour, is a bit of an understatement.[27]

For the capitalist libertarian system to work as capitalist libertarians claim, the playing field on which the market operates would have to be implausibly level, each individual would need to be equally adept at defending their self-interest, and each individual would need to be in an equal position to do so. This, of course, is ludicrous, and what we see with the example of a capitalist libertarian fire department is that, really, capitalist libertarians don’t care.[28] From my dissertation (at considerable length):

Capitalist libertarians are best known for a 20th century, or more precisely, Austrian manifestation of a centuries-old strongly pro-capitalist economic view. When George Nash (2006[29]) opens his history of post-World War II conservative thought, he inadvertently diminishes the fact that these Austrian economists, principally Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Joseph Schumpeter, developed their thinking no later than in the 1920s and 1930s. In a broad sweep, capitalist libertarianism seems indistinguishable from the ideology of neoliberalism or the ideology that George Seldes (1948/2009[30] attributes to those he labels ‘reactionaries’ and ‘fascists’ who vociferously opposed New Deal policies and who even sought to launch a coup against Franklin Delano Roosevelt to protect “their” private property rights. As Charles Reich (1970[31] describes what he calls ‘Consciousness I’ people,

They found their world changing beyond recognition, and instead of blaming the primary forces behind that change, they blamed the efforts at solving problems. They totally lacked the sophistication necessary to see that a measure such as the Wagner Act might be redressing an existing oppression rather than creating oppression. The businessmen who were the most vocal in their opposition had a pathological hatred of the New Deal, a hatred so intense and personal as to defy analysis. Why this hatred, when the New Deal, in retrospect, seems to have saved the capitalist system? Perhaps because the New Deal intruded irrevocably upon their make-believe, problem-free world in which the pursuit of business gain and self-interest was imagined to be automatically beneficial to all of mankind, requiring of them no additional responsibility whatever. In any event, there was a large and politically powerful number of Americans who never accepted the New Deal even when it benefited them, and used their power whenever they could to cut it back. (C. Reich, 1970,[32] pp. 56-57)

On closer inspection however, Hayek (1944/2007[33]) is the most moderate of these founding figures, allowing as how central planning might not in every case lead to ‘serfdom,’ and that there may be a role for government to supply social goods that cannot be supported through the profit motive. The others, Popper, von Mises, and Schumpeter, at least as Nash (2006[34]) describes them, seem much more committed to the barest minimum role for government. While it can be hardly be said that neoliberalism has achieved a capitalist libertarian ‘utopia,’ it seems to have become a governing ideology in the United States in the 1970s (Perlstein, 2014[35]) and it seems impossible to separate the rise of neoliberalism from the rise of neoconservatism, which adopts capitalist libertarian or neoliberal economic policies as part of a morality system (Homolar-Riechmann, 2009; Sheldon, 1981).

Neoliberalism is virtually the same ideology that Mark Blyth (2013[36]) bundles up under the label, austerity. He attributes it to John Locke and David Hume and argues that it has, for well over three hundred years, successfully resisted contrary evidence. It understands (along with many other tendencies of conservatism) “liberty” as grounded in private property (I will return to the association of private property with ‘freedom’ in discussing traditionalist conservatives). Following an ideology developed to wrest power from authoritarian monarchs, capitalist libertarians see the problem with power relationships as principally one of political, but not economic authority. Anarcho-capitalists take this reasoning to its extreme, seeking the abolition of government, and thereby draw criticism from anarchists and libertarian socialists for failing to acknowledge that economic authority can also be oppressive. Undeterred, capitalist libertarians and anarcho-capitalists construe as ‘liberty’ an unregulated ability to economically exploit one’s fellow humans, who are imagined to be ‘free labor’ (Price, October 22, 2013).

In a succeeding section, we will see that neoconservatism tends to assign morality to functionalist conservative practices. In neoliberalism, neoconservatives do this with capitalist libertarian ideology. Thus, a series of economic practices are ‘moral’ even as they fail when “everyone” does them simultaneously because these practices in fact depend on others to engage in practices that neoliberals consider ‘immoral.’ As Blyth (2013[37]) explains, “We tend to forget that someone has to spend for someone else to save; otherwise the saver would have no income from which to save” (p. 8), for example. But worse than this, if unemployment decreases spending, it can create a vicious cycle in which ever more people are thrown out of work (Kuttner, May 5, 2013[38]). Blyth observes that “surplus countries have no problem running a permanent trade surplus but criticize others for running deficits, as if you can have one without the other” (p. 115). This is a recurring problem as financial crises and economic depressions become worldwide and Blyth is particularly scathing in his analysis of northern European countries’ policies on southern European countries’ debts. These policies have imposed such severe austerity especially on Greece and Spain that these countries are in a downward economic spiral from which there appears to be no escape.

Among many myths, which Blyth (2013[39]) painstakingly refutes, are the efficient markets hypothesis, the idea that government “intervention is always and everywhere harmful” to the economy (p. 118) and cannot help the poor but only impoverish the rich, a belief that “the government crowds out investment” (p. 124) thereby delaying economic recovery, a rhetoric that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) to austerity, an assumption that saving directly causes investment, and that the “creative destruction” of economic hard times “produces the raw material for the next round of innovation and investment” (p. 120).

This ideology valorizes both markets and the saver and condemns both government and the spender. But worse than that, it shifts blame. Kuttner (May 5, 2013[40]) notes that while bankers caused the crisis that began in 2007, governments and families are “asked to accept austerity for the common good.” Blyth (2013[41]) paints this more starkly as blame for the financial crisis that began in 2007 thus remarkably shifts from Wall Street, which “invested,” to the U.S. government which bailed out Wall Street banks and absorbs the ongoing social safety net costs of unemployment insurance benefits, disability benefits, welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid that have increased as a consequence of that catastrophe. Government, it seems, can be blamed even for offering a social safety net. Blyth (2013[42]) attributes to Milton Friedman a belief widely held among capitalist libertarians, that

unemployment was voluntary and was not due to a deficiency of demand. People choose labor or leisure at the prevailing wage. There is no demand-deficient unemployment in Milton’s world. (Blyth, 2013,[43] p. 153)

Which is to say generally, that the poor or the unemployed or anyone who has fallen on hard times has chosen to be poor or unemployed or to suffer and that we may disregard their poverty, their unemployment, and their suffering because, apparently, there are always jobs or opportunities to work available. As Blyth (2013[44]) puts it,

The notion that unemployment is voluntary is, in the context of the current self-inflicted wound in Europe, downright offensive. Real workers must pay bills and feed families from jobs that have fixed hours and fixed wage rates. The idea that workers “trade off” labor against leisure by figuring out the real wage rate and then slacking off or going on an indefinite unpaid leave is the type of thinking that leads us to see the Great Depression as a giant, unexpected, and astonishingly long unpaid vacation for millions of people: original, yes; helpful, no. (Blyth, 2013,[45] p. 159)

It is also hard to see a view of unemployment as voluntary fails to strongly favor employers over employees. It calls to mind a passage from Ayn Rand’s (1957/1999[46]) novel Atlas Shrugged, that “there’s no such thing as a lousy job—only lousy men who don’t care to do it” (p. 751), which ignores the reality that even setting aside modern-day sweatshops and capitalism’s historic links to slavery (Beckert, December 12, 2014[47]), there are lousy jobs, and that as neoliberalism has developed, they have become prominent in the job market with such notorious employers as McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and Amazon, and with the increasing prevalence of poorly-paid, temporary, and part-time work, often with unpredictable schedules, and often under appalling conditions (D’Addario, July 30, 2013;[48] Eidelson, November 18, 2013,[49] November 29, 2013,[50] December 16, 2013,[51] January 13, 2014,[52] January 22, 2014;[53] Egan, June 9, 2014;[54] Gracely, November 28, 2014;[55] Greenhouse, August 31, 2014;[56] Hatton, January 26, 2013;[57] Head, February 23, 2014;[58] Jaskunas, February 14, 2015;[59] Kilkenny, November 18, 2013;[60] Krugman, December 24, 2013,[61] December 26, 2013;[62] Kurtzleben, January 22, 2015;[63] E. McClelland, March 1, 2014;[64] M. McClelland, February 27, 2012;[65] Mott, October 9, 2014;[66] Pilisuk & Rountree, 2008;[67] Rabin-Havt, June 25, 2014;[68] Seitz-Wald, July 30, 2013;[69] Semuels, April 7, 2013a,[70] April 7, 2013b,[71] April 7, 2013c;[72] Soper, September 11, 2011;[73] L. Wise, December 2, 2014[74]). One might also add that while such jobs may reduce the unemployment rate, they are unlikely to much improve workers’ (including authoritarian populists’) senses of well-being.

Heaping injury onto injury in Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s (1957/1999[75]) hero-pirate also robs the poor to pay the rich. He is seemingly oblivious to the fact that the operation of a market system of exchange already accomplishes this. Such systems inherently privilege whomever, in any potential relationship, has the greater ability to say no and thus to hold out for a deal that better advances one’s own self-interest. And because they do so, these systems help the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor (Kent, 2011;[76] Muller, March, 2013; Weber, 1978/2010[77]). As Weber put it, the poor,

being propertyless, have nothing to offer but their labor or the resulting products, and . . . are compelled to get rid of these products in order to subsist at all. The mode of distribution gives to the propertied a monopoly on the possibility of transferring property from the sphere of use as “wealth” to the sphere of “capital,” that is, it gives them the entrepreneurial function and all chances to share directly or indirectly in returns on capital. (Weber, 1978/2010, p. 120[78])

The capitalist libertarian collection of myths most recently coalesced into Daniel Stedman Jones (2012[79]) attributes the rise of neoliberalism 1) to ‘stagflation,’ which seemed to discredit Keynesianism; 2) to, in significant part, Friedman’s advocacy; and 3) to the development of Austrian economic ideas and a somewhat elitist social movement that organized around these ideas over the preceding several decades. In this ideology, the only monopolies which need to be suppressed are labor unions; and because neoliberalism arises in reaction to increased regulation that began with the New Deal, it emphasizes deregulation and tax policies that favor the wealthy.

For an impetus, Rick Perlstein (2014[80]) points to the near bankruptcy of New York City in 1974-1975, which businesspeople saw as a refutation of (“bleeding heart”) ‘liberalism.’ The city stopped just short of bankruptcy and recovered within three years (Roberts, July 25, 2013), but the source of a reaction favoring austerity for New York City beginning in 1974 strongly resembles the same class of businesspeople whom Seldes (1948/2009[81]) labels ‘reactionaries’ and ‘fascists,’ who sought to launch a coup against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934. As Perlstein (2014[82]) portrays it, New York City’s financial crisis was a moment they seized upon to demonize what some have since called the “L-word,” (“bleeding heart”) liberalism. In neoconservative style, the city’s alleged profligacy became the subject of a morality play, casting taxpayers in the rest of the country against liberal policies. Then-President Gerald Ford, whose administration included neoconservatives Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, promised there would be no bailout.

Democrats had also begun moving toward or, perhaps more accurately, returning to the right in 1974 and Jimmy Carter, who became president in 1977, initiated neoliberal policies that his successor, Ronald Reagan, would pursue with the neoconservatives in his administration (Cannon, 2000; Hacker & Pierson, 2010). The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 seems to have been widely interpreted as morally vindicating U.S. policy, including a neoliberal view of “free” markets (Leffler, November 7, 2014[83]).

A little over a decade later, the George W. Bush administration doubled down on neoliberal policies, again valorizing savers, again emphasizing deregulation, and again emphasizing tax cuts that helped to turn the budget surpluses Bush had inherited from Bill Clinton into a massive deficit for Bush’s successor (Altman, 2004[84]). In retrospect and as Daniel Altman predicted, it seems likely that this deficit helped to guarantee that a Keynesian respite, in the wake of the collapse of the financial sector in 2008 would be inadequate and short-lived (Krugman, January 6, 2009, February 12, 2009, September 5, 2010, December 29, 2011, October 21, 2012, August 21, 2013, February 20, 2014). Obama’s inadequate response to unemployment and housing woes, juxtaposed with speedy and generous relief for banks, in turn reinforces a somewhat justified authoritarian populist perception of the bank bailouts conflated with the stimulus as a betrayal of the working class (Barofsky, 2012;[85] T. Frank, 2012,[86] Kuttner, May 5, 2013;[87] Quiggin, May 20, 2013[88]).

However, capitalist libertarians do not just think government should minimize interference in the economic sector. “Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel,” says Rand’s (1957/1999[89]) pirate, “because the purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the [emphasis added] proper function of a government” (Rand, 1957/1999,[90] pp. 576-577). Similarly, as Nash (2006[91]) put it, “a key question for FEE [the Foundation for Economic Education] was: What are the proper functions of government? Government strictly limited to the prevention of ‘aggressive force’ was FEE’s answer.” (p. 30). There is a range of opinion within capitalist libertarianism, with some even advocating private firefighting companies that would only put out fires on properties whose owners were paid up (Henderson, October 5, 2010). More broadly, there is a rejection of any central planning, with Hayek (1944/2007[92]), a relative moderate, suggesting that any such planning occurs on a Road to Serfdom whose direction leads down a very slippery slope to socialism that would be exceedingly difficult to climb back up.

All this in turn raises the question of what capitalist libertarians think of legislation with ends meant to advance the common good, not least including traditionalist and social conservative theocratic ideals. Even if Jonah Goldberg’s (December 31, 2006) phrasing is less than ideal when he explains that “[Frank] Meyer’s libertarianism was primarily concerned with the ability of the individual to find the virtuous path within ‘an objective moral order based on ontological foundations’ best expressed in Western civilization” (p. 20), I believe he is reaching the nub of a capitalist libertarian dilemma. His point is somewhat aspirational. As previously noted, in the 1970s, Meyer rationalized a united conservatism that came to be labeled ‘fusionism.’ This helped to propel a highly successful and, as we shall see, largely neoconservative backlash to the social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s (Nash, 2006[93]), contributing to victories for Ronald Reagan and many, many other Republicans even after the ignominies of Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Vietnam War. As Goldberg (December 31, 2006) paints it, Meyer is hoping that freed from government interference, people will choose a morality that is consistent with the theocratic values of social and traditionalist conservatism even if the government itself failed to participate.

While some capitalist libertarians have indeed chosen a social conservative morality, there are also some whose

libertarian complaint should be familiar by now: From Terri Schiavo to diarrheic spending, the GOP has betrayed its commitment to limited government. So, the libertarians reason, why not “experiment” with the Democrats a bit? They expand government too, but at least they’re more liberty-loving when it comes to drugs, sex, abortion, etc. (Goldberg, December 31, 2006, p. 18)

It would seem that Meyer’s (quoted in Goldberg, December 31, 2006) “objective moral order based on ontological foundations” leads to very different “virtuous path[s]” (p. 20) according to varying subjective perspectives. I am reluctant to forecast that this will lead to a break-up of Meyer’s fusionist alliance, even given other schisms in this alliance. However, articles occasionally appear suggesting just that (see, for examples, Babcock, November 20, 2014; Lindsey, 2010; Miller, September 16, 2014; North, September 16, 2014; J. Rubin, September 11, 2014), sometimes even advocating a capitalist libertarian alliance with the Democratic Party (Lindsey, 2006). Articles also appear in response, seeking to preserve the alliance (see, for example, Goldberg, December 31, 2006).[94]

I no longer consider neoliberalism somewhat equivalent to capitalist libertarianism, but rather the product of the latter coming to power with a functionalist conservative emphasis on preserving the privileges of the powerful relative to the rest of the population. An important difference is that where capitalist libertarians pretend the market can be a level playing field, neoliberals see corporate monopolies as benign, preferring to focus antitrust enforcement on labor unions:[95] I am far from the first to observe such hypocrisy in which capitalists may organize, but workers may not. And we are thus also to believe either that corporate monopolies do not impede competition or that competition does not matter.

Under neoliberal organization and under the guise of so-called “free” (for whom, to do what, to whom?) “trade,” workers are forced to compete globally on terms not generally under their control: for examples, environmental and labor regulation, taxation, and wages. They are individualized and particularized as units of production, whose sole value is measured by the difference between what they cost their employers (even if as so-called “independent contractors”) and what they earn for their employers. Workers must compete with each other, even if corporate monopolies leave no competition of their own.

As my thinking on neoliberalism has developed, I associate it increasingly with neoconservatism as the Amerikkkan Way thought to have been vindicated when the Soviet system collapsed[96] and less with capitalist libertarianism due to its explicit (rather than implicit) anti-labor bias.[97] Neoconservatism embraces neoliberalism as a moral imperative.[98] That said, the origin of neoliberalism lies unmistakably with capitalist libertarianism.

In Woodard’s scheme of sociocultural nations, capitalist libertarianism most resembles New Netherland,[99] however, it seems an inadequate description of New York City as we know it today. I would apply it rather to many in Silicon Valley.

Functionalist Conservatism

Woodard describes Tidewater as ruled by oligarchs who see other people as existing merely to serve oligarchs.[100] This is a likely partial basis for James Madison’s siding with the wealthy—he is concerned to protect the minority rights not of any subaltern group but rather the property rights of wealthy white male slaveholders—against the poor, who, if empowered through an actual democracy, he feared, might confiscate the property of the rich.[101]

And I strongly suspect that the people Madison is concerned to protect that property from are the Greater Appalachians folk—authoritarian populists. If we understand from Woodard’s map that Tidewater includes portions of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Delaware, Greater Appalachia includes areas immediately to the west.[102] It’s pretty easy to imagine a tension between these sociocultural regions.

This dovetails with Frank’s explanation of how Republican elites (functionalist conservatives) have exploited “Cons” (authoritarian populists) with empty promises on social issues.[103] It’s also possible to understand that the idea was that authoritarian populists were never ever supposed to gain power. This dam was effectively broken when Trump won first, the Republican presidential nomination, and second, the presidency.

I see all politicians as, to some degree, functionalist conservative, concerned to protect their own position and privileges relative to the rest of the population. Had they not been concerned about acquiring their positions and their privileges, they wouldn’t have run for office in the first place. Were they not concerned about preserving their positions and privileges once they have them, they would not seek re-election. Accordingly, we can expect functionalist conservative politicians to be somewhat chameleon-like as they adopt positions they believe will keep them in office.

Which is also part of how Trump has captured the Republican Party so thoroughly. Once authoritarian populists had demonstrated the degree of electoral strength that they did, Republican politicians concerned to preserve their positions simply changed their colors. But in addition to this, it is important to watch what Trump does at least as much as what he says: Trump has cultivated social and traditionalist conservatives, with whom authoritarian populists share considerable overlap, through judicial selections, including to the Supreme Court, and advances of social conservative policies; neoconservatives and capitalist libertarians with pro-Zionist and neoliberal policies (deregulation and tax cuts for the rich); and paleoconservatives with rhetoric that verges on, and is, effectively, white supremacist. Trump’s Muslim ban and concentration camps on the U.S. Mexican border[104] are, flatly, authoritarian populist and paleoconservative policies.

Corporate executives and the wealthy generally are also functional conservatives. This appears in all sorts of weird ways, in effect as a caste system, where the well-off erect formidable social barriers to entry into their society, and set self-serving standards on who will be admitted.[105] Crucially, through “donations,” they influence who can even afford to run for political office, which is to say that they are uniquely positioned to protect their own positions, just as Madison intended, and thus to resist or derail even crucial social change, slowing it to a painfully slow, iterative process,[106] lest it impact their privileges. This is a serious roadblock for even existential issues such as the climate crisis. From my dissertation:

Functionalist conservatives seem to be concerned to distinguish themselves from ordinary people. They may do this through 1) conspicuous consumption (Shah, May 14, 2003); 2) by erecting and maintaining social barriers that exclude ordinary people; 3) by setting the criteria by which people may be recognized as worthy of admission, by dubious claims of merit (Cookson & Persell, 2005;[107] Domhoff, 2005;[108] Hayes, 2012;[109] Mills, 1956/2000;[110] Turner, 2005[111] 4) through various means of propaganda (Lenski, 1966; Pilisuk & Rountree, 2008, 2015) including 5) a stigmatization and criminalization of the poor that diverts attention from the class distinctions between themselves and everyone else (Gans, 1995;[112] Reiman, 2004[113]), 6) stoking and evoking racial differences (Du Bois, 1935/2010;[114] Esty, 2005; Haney-López, December 22, 2013), and 7) stoking and evoking any other available differences (Butler, 1991/2010; Hartsock, 1987/2010). Ultimately, however, functionalist conservatives maintain their position through 8) a monopoly on the purportedly legitimate use of state violence (Giddens, 1990; Weber, 1946/2010[115]).[116]

Neoconservatism

One of the most striking schisms in conservatism is between traditionalist conservatives and those they label “usurpers” and “Trotskyites,” namely neoconservatives. Significantly, capitalist libertarians, paleoconservatives, and traditionalist conservatives tend to oppose at least some wars. Neoconservatives, on the other hand, born from the tumult of the 1960s and 1970s, emphasized “law and order” initially as a means to resist liberation movements and the anti-war movement. Where much of the unrest of that period challenged capitalism and the U.S. political system, neoconservatives affirm both, not just for the U.S., but universally as the best possible system for all people everywhere, and accordingly seek aggressively to “defend” it, leading inexorably to endless war, as neoconservatives cannot comprehend that anyone with any intelligence at all should fail to appreciate the virtues of the Amerikkkan way. This also means they embrace neoliberalism as a moral imperative.[117]

There is also a term here, “liberal interventionist.” Liberal interventionism may differ from neoconservatism on some social issues, but in terms of what makes a neoconservative a neoconservative, the only difference really seems to be that “liberal interventionist” is what a Republican Party neoconservative may call his or her Democratic Party (neoliberal party) counterpart in order to support an illusion of difference between the two political parties prior to Trump’s presidency.

While strands of neoconservative thought can be seen in Richard Nixon’s response to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, it really came together under Gerald Ford, notably with Ford’s refusal to bail out New York City, which faced a bankruptcy whose difficulties conservatives attributed to (“bleeding heart”) “liberal” policies.[118] Hence, as I dimly recall, “liberal” became the “L-word;” it was certainly this by the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. From my dissertation:

Neoconservatives have, according to Gary Dorrien (2013), “achieved more success in US politics than any intellectual movement of the past generation” (p. 398). I find it hard to disagree. While they have occasionally risen to prominence, particularly during the George W. Bush presidency, they have been a continuous presence on the national scene since the 1960s and have never really left the scene, even in the ignominy of the discredited Iraq war. Alexandra Homalar-Riechmann (2009) seems to have been prescient in forecasting their continued influence and noting that neoconservatives applauded many of President Obama’s choices for national security and foreign policy positions. Though Bush is a Republican and his successor, Obama, is a Democrat, the latter has indeed embraced and expanded numerous neoconservative policies from his predecessor, including the so-called “War on Terror,” albeit largely in secret and without the label, domestic spying, and what may well amount to war crimes. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined and the U.S. has dropped to 46th place on the World Press Freedom Index. Finally, the Obama administration has failed to prosecute Bush administration officials for crimes including torture (Amnesty International, October 22, 2013; DeYoung & Jaffe, June 4, 2012; Holtzman, March 20, 2013; Human Rights Committee, April 23, 2014; Human Rights Watch, October, 2013; Johnston & Savage, January 2, 2009; Linebaugh, December 29, 2013; Reporters Without Borders, 2014; Shane, June 17, 2011; Turse, June 14, 2012, January 20, 2015; Emmerson, 2014; Walsh & Mehsud, October 22, 2013).

The neoconservatives supported America’s war in Vietnam, but more importantly, they were repulsed by the antiwar movement. To them it was appalling that the party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy nominated George McGovern for president in 1972. McGovern stood for appeasement and the politics of liberal guilt, while good liberalism stood for an aggressive, patriotic Americanism that fought communism wherever it spread. (Dorrien, 2013, p. 398)

Irving Kristol famously defined neoconservatives as “liberals mugged by reality” (quoted in Homolar-Riechmann, 2009, p. 181; King, 2004, p. 261; see also Kimball, September, 2006, p. 9). Nathan Glazer, an editor of the now-defunct neoconservative Public Interest, explains that

All of us had voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and I would hazard that most of the original stalwarts of The Public Interest, editors and regular contributors, continued to vote for Democratic presidential candidates all the way to the present. Recall that the original definition of the neoconservatives was that they fully embraced the reforms of the New Deal, and indeed the major programs of Johnson’s Great Society. (Glazer, Spring, 2005, p. 15)

As Glazer (Spring, 2005) acknowledges and Nash (2006[119]) recounts, however, neoconservatism moved right. What constituted this ‘mugging’ that Kristol alleged? Some of it was the economy, in which a new word, stagflation, signified a seemingly intractable combination of low growth, high inflation, and high unemployment that seemed to suggest the Keynesian ‘operating manual’ for the economy no longer worked. Another part was a false narrative that Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs to reduce poverty had failed (Jones, 2012;[120] Nash, 2006;[121] Perlstein, 2014[122]). But also, Kristol’s erstwhile ‘liberals’ were appalled by what they saw as the disorder of the 1960s and 1970s:

The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged Communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West coast. Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington, D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia. (Zinn, 2005, p. 542)

Perlstein (2014[123]) points to the anti-war movement and a conservative desperation to portray the Vietnam War as a patriotic victory; to prisoners of war who had been shot down while bombing North Vietnamese civilians, who were released at the end of that war, and a conservative desperation to portray them as heroes; to the Watergate scandal and a conservative desperation to justify President Richard Nixon’s actions in the name of ‘national security;’ to abortion rights, divorce, sexual liberation, and a conservative desperation to return to the ‘innocence’ of the 1950s with, at least in part, a national evangelical Protestant revival; to a newly widespread sense that humans are destroying the earth punctuated by an energy crisis that conservatives desperately wanted to blame on environmentalists; to a struggling working class white desperation to blame their unemployment on affirmative action; to revelations of intelligence agency skullduggery that conservatives blamed for assassinations of CIA station chiefs; and to a fear of U.S. decline that conservatives sought to substitute with a reflexive, unthinking patriotism. Charles Lemert lists

the civil rights march on Washington, John Kennedy’s assassination, Malcolm X’s [assassination], the Black Power revolts, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King’s assassination, Robert Kennedy’s [assassination], the student rebellions at Berkeley and Columbia, Bob Dylan, People’s Park, the Chicago conspiracy trial, the antiwar movement, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, early feminist rebellions in homes and in public, Woodstock, the Stonewall rebellion, Altamont, Kent State, and so on. . . . Unkempt youth. Strange music. Drugs. Radical protesters. Priests spilling blood on draft files. Open disobedience of authority. Abuse of the flag. Draft dodging. (Lemert, 2010, pp. 371-372)

And still there was more, including an upsurge in religious cults, the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, court-ordered busing to desegregate schools, battles over school textbooks and curriculum, and the rise of the anti-abortion right-to-life movement (Perlstein, 2014[124]). For conservatives, “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop” (Buckley, November 19, 1955), this was “a world spinning out of control” (Lemert, 2010, p. 371). As for neoconservatives, Dorrien (2013) writes of his debates with neoconservative Richard Neuhaus that, “we clashed over gay and lesbian rights, feminism, American imperialism, the rights of smokers, economic justice, how to read Niebuhr and John Courtney Murray, and liberal theology” (p. 401). On many points of ideology, it is difficult to distinguish neoconservatives from authoritarian populists as the latter express outrage about many of these same developments (Frank, 2005[125]).[126]

Neoconservatism then became the bipartisan “Washington consensus” when the Berlin Wall fell and, in a triumph of the fallacy of a false dichotomy, U.S. politicians misinterpreted the collapse of the Soviet system as a vindication of the U.S. system.[127] Trump has led the Republican Party part of the way out of this consensus but it still infects the mainstream of the Democratic (neoliberal) Party. I treat neoliberalism at length in the section on capitalist libertarianism.

Paleoconservatism

At core, paleoconservatives do not accept that people of different races and ethnicities should live together. In my dissertation, this made them indistinguishable from authoritarian populists[128] but paleoconservatives, embracing separation from the other, generally do not favor foreign wars. Some, however, especially those who join various militia groups, most clearly favor a race war to create a “white ethnostate.” Paleoconservatives are up front about their racism, where I am convinced of authoritarian populists’ racism by their emphatic denials of racism.

Paleoconservatives include neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the “alt Right.”

I am unclear on how paleoconservatism became distinct from traditionalist conservatism or even that they were even really ever the same tendency. Views opposing “forced mixing” of “cultures” (meaning races, in a reaction to Brown v. Board of Education) can be found, for example, with Richard Weaver, a traditionalist, as late as the early 1960s.[129] Mark Malvasi can be found decrying a lingering racism in “Southern” (I presume traditionalist) conservatism in Modern Age, a traditionalist journal, in 2008.[130] From my dissertation:

Paleoconservatives are often confounded with traditionalist conservatives (see, for examples, Antle, 2008; Francis, 1989; King, 2004; Klingenstein, 2003, Weisberg, September 2, 1991) and it has only been recently, in the late 1980s, that they have been distinguished from other conservatives (Russello, 2005). Scholarly work that correctly distinguishes paleoconservatives from other conservatives is rare, but while the conflation may have some historical basis, it is currently incorrect. As traditionalist conservative Gerald Russello explains, “the cultural solutions [paleoconservatives] propose are based in a tradition of thought beginning with thinkers like Gaetano Mosca or Max Weber rather than those to whom traditionalists like [Russell] Kirk looked for guidance” (p. 70).[131]

Indeed, traditionalist conservatives measure what they consider ‘conservatism’ by fealty to Edmund Burke, an English parliamentarian, and draw a notion of ‘culture’ entirely from England, not even from Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, while “Paleoconservatives . . . claim to see each racial and ethnic group as having its own traditions—or ‘folkways’—which it should preserve and by which it should live and indeed this might be construed as ‘celebrat[ing] the different communities and sectional identities’ (Ashbee, 2000, p. 75).”[132]

To the extent that paleoconservatives have their own churches to be found linked on white supremacist websites, these are Protestant, not Catholic, and traditionalist conservatives are more often Catholic. The Christian connection would thus be more to social conservatism, which is overwhelmingly evangelical Protestant, than to traditionalist conservatism. Social conservatism, in turn, significantly overlaps authoritarian populism.

Paleoconservatism can be found all over the United States—both paleoconservatism and authoritarian populism appear common where I live in the Pittsburgh area—but it seems most strongly associated with the Deep South, both as understood popularly and as one of Colin Woodard’s sociocultural regions.

The Deep South, according to Woodard, originated as a particularly brutal slave society in Barbados and in the absence of any middle class whatsoever appears as an extreme version of Tidewater (functionalist conservatism).[133] In the Reconstruction era, wealthy whites made a deal with poor whites that while the latter might still be poor and consigned to endless labor, they at least would not be Black.[134] Paleoconservatism may originate as a backlash to progress against slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow, as an abrogation of that deal: It might be that whites of this tendency claim that if, as has been clear especially since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, Blacks and other people of color will not accept a subordinate position in society, then they cannot be a part of that society:

It would be hard to overstate the influence of this experience [of slavery and white supremacism] on the mind of the South. For one thing, it meant that the white South was, in effect, a garrison state. White Southerners lived in close proximity to a large population they routinely abused, terrorized and defiled. Fear of black violence and revolt is a constant theme of white society before and after the Civil War. The South’s noisily martial version of patriotism has its roots here, as does the region’s love affair with guns. And there are obvious connections between these facts and its stubborn embrace of patriarchy and misogyny. (Does the name “Todd Akin” ring any bells?)[135]

Social Conservatism

I had suggested a religious connection between paleoconservatism and social conservatism and, in the passage I quoted above from Kim Messick, there is a final line connecting paleoconservatism to misogyny.[136] From my dissertation:

Though drawing on Calvinist ideas that date back to the Protestant Reformation, social conservatism, in the form we recognize it today, probably took shape in the mid- to late 19th century, especially in the post-Civil War era with the Industrial Revolution. As Deborah Rhode (1993[137]) describes it, it is at this time that young men and young women began migrating away from home in larger numbers (apparently, although she does not specify, to cities). Often they found each other and all too often, young women found themselves pregnant, with the responsible young men nowhere in sight.

Men who fail to take responsibility for their offspring may certainly be cause for moral outrage, but other events were happening as well that cast an entirely different light on the rise of social conservatism. This is also a time when the 13th Amendment freed Black slaves from the plantations, the 15th Amendment guaranteed all men, including non-whites, the vote, the 14th Amendment sought to ensure that all men, including non-whites, had equal protection under and access to due process of law, and by the early 20th century, a massive migration of often-Catholic, often non-native English speaking, often darker-skinned southern and eastern Europeans to the United States was under way (Boyer et al, 2005). It appears that a lot of “married, native-born, Protestant women, frequently of middle- or upper-class status” were obtaining abortions under the ruse of treatment for missed menstrual periods (Kerber & De Hart, 2004, p. 188). Rhode (1993[138]) also notes a “decline in fertility rates among the ‘better classes’ during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [that] sparked fears of ‘race suicide’” (p. 642). In other words, white women, especially middle- and upper-class white women, were needed to produce white babies, especially white male babies, to preserve white hegemony. Rhode (1993[139]) notes that “In the mid-nineteenth century, [there was] growth of religious revival movements and moral reform societies, together with the culture idealization of domesticity” (p. 638).[140]

Yes, indeed, these are coincidences, but they are coincidences that are unrelated except for a potential threat (which to this day, remains largely unrealized) to white hegemony. Which makes social conservatism, seemingly concerned with little else besides sex, appear to be a means to an end, just as it treats women’s bodies as a means to an end. I deconstructed this in my dissertation:

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff (2006) sheds further light on social conservative thinking, however, that seems to me to support a more direct argument. First, he notes that just as a trunk is a distinctive characteristic of an elephant—its ‘essence’ as he calls it—women’s capacity to bear children is distinctive to them. Lakoff believes that many conservatives thus see childbearing as the plan of the god of Abraham for women, and abortion and contraception as interference in that plan. Further, Lakoff refers obliquely to the so-called ‘natural order’ he has previously explained (Lakoff, 2002) in which men are firmly in charge of women.

As I understand Lakoff’s (2002, 2006) explanation, if childbearing is divinely mandated, then a woman’s body is less her own than a man’s body is his. And if women are subordinate to men, then their personal and moral autonomy is impaired. Which is to suggest that in the social (and traditionalist) conservative scheme, women are less than fully human.[141]

There is a fundamental incompatibility between evangelism and secularism which inherently makes social conservatism uniquely problematic among the tendencies of conservatism: To be an evangelical, one must proselytize.[142] This warps the meaning of “freedom of religion” as it suggests that for evangelicals to practice their faith, they must intrude on the practices, or lack thereof, of others. We could not even give them their own country, for they would feel compelled to come to ours.[143]

This creates a peculiar binary in which tolerance for multiple faiths and divergent moralities amounts to persecution for social conservatives. Therefore, social conservatives effectively insist that “freedom of religion” is only for them, not for anyone who fails to agree with them and that laws in an allegedly secular system must accommodate their preferences.[144]

Traditionalist conservatism

From my dissertation:

As I mentioned in refuting the alleged commonality between paleoconservatives and traditionalist conservatives, the latter seem to value only one linguistic, historical, and religious heritage, and with Richard Weaver’s (1964/1995) “tyrannizing image” they assign members of that heritage a privileged status in society. Traditionalists are unsubtly authoritarian, albeit at a radically decentralized, local level, “insist[ing] on the right of the better to command the worse, however conceived, against the revolutionary claim that no one has the inherent authority to rule anyone else” (Goldman, March, 2012, p. 37). I see woefully few clear means of differentiating the “better” from the “worse” other than Weaver’s “tyrannizing image,” however; and those who have power are apparently in charge because the god of Abraham put them there (Kirk, 1985/2001; Weaver, 1964/1995). Russell Kirk writes nostalgically of “the squire,” a feudal landlord, and “the parson,” a preacher. He disparages democracy and praises the U.S. Constitution for qualities that limit democracy. With a frequency that seems out of place for an event that occurred hundreds of years ago, traditionalist conservatives express an apoplectic view of the French Revolution that upset the medieval order and sought to impose ‘equalitarianism’ (Attarian, January 12, 2009; Blum, 2006; Goldman, March, 2012; Kirk, 1985/2001; Livingston, August, 2011; Mattie, 2003/2008; Preece, 1980; Radasanu, 2011; Weaver, 1964/1995).

Traditionalists write glowingly of diversity, but realize it in a vertical and authoritarian hierarchy. T. S. Eliot (1948/1962) understands the diversity of trades, but oblivious to any distinction between coercive authority and the authority of experience or learning, uses the lesser and greater skilled as a rationalization for authoritarian hierarchy. Traditionalists strenuously object to equality, which they confound with the mathematical sense of sameness, as “levelling.” As if to emphasize the point, I rarely see traditionalists refer to egalitarianism; instead, they much more often criticize “equalitarianism.” Social inequality, it seems, is the plan of the god of Abraham, and human attempts to “engineer” or ameliorate a reduction of that inequality are foolish and arrogant, an interference with that god’s plan (Eliot, 1948/1962; Kirk, 1985/2001; Weaver, 1964/1995).[145]

Social and traditionalist conservatives agree on many social conservative issues[146] and thus can be understood to favor theocracy. However, traditionalist conservatives are particularly concerned with authority, which they believe should be concentrated at a local level.[147]

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