Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism

Sep 24, 2006 6:27 pm

The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism

My old friend, historian C. Bradley Thompson, recently appointed to a plum position at Clemson University, has a fascinating piece in the current issue of The Objective Standard on the Bush admininstration's unashamed embrace of big government conservatism.

This isn't just a recap of other articles on this topic. Thompson covers new ground.

Thompson gathers together the facts and figures of how government has grown under Bush. He then moves on to the central role played by neocons but, unlike most commentators, does not limit his focus to foreign policy. Thompson explores how neocons almost singlehandedly converted the GOP to a pro-welfare state party in theory as well as practice.

Thompson is now writing another article on neocon foreign policy views but, for now, this will have to suffice.

Here is an excerpt:

At the heart of the neocons’ “governing philosophy” is a pragmatic method for gaining and keeping power. They urge Republicans to “think politically,” which means to assess and “confront the reality” of their immediate political situation and to “adapt” to changing political realities “in a self-preserving way.” By adaptation, the neocons are referring to the process of adjusting to the principles and policies of those who currently hold power or who threaten your power.

“Thinking politically” means compromising with liberals, particularly when liberals claim the moral high ground on issues that concern the alleged “needs” of the people, such as child or health care. It means that Republicans should co-opt the liberal message in order to expand their political base and to form a permanent ruling majority. As William Kristol has written: “A minority party becomes a majority party by absorbing elements of the other party.” In other words, the way to defeat liberalism is to become a liberal.

What specific advice have the neocons offered to Republicans in this regard? Here are the kinds of tactics the neocons have recommended (these might sound familiar): If liberals launch a national campaign for socialized medicine, Republicans should steal the issue from the Democrats and advocate a system of universal health care but one that allows people to choose their own doctor or HMO. If liberals commence a public campaign against the profits of “big business” or the salaries of their executives, Republicans should neutralize liberal pretensions by encouraging “greedy” and “profiteering” corporate executives to voluntarily donate their profits to charities. If radical environmentalists launch a public relations campaign against global warming, Republicans should encourage American companies to hire environmentalists as advisors. If feminists propose to nationalize pre-school child care, Republicans should go along but insist that parents be given vouchers to send their children to the day-care facility of their choice.

This is what it means to “think politically.”

The neocons’ pragmatic rationale for this wholesale capitulation is that “If it’s going to happen, why not take the credit?” If we’re going to have a new form of socialism, why shouldn’t Republicans claim victory for having put it into practice? The problem with Republicans, according to Kristol, is that the “merits of pre-emptive spending seem destined to remain forever incomprehensible to the conservative cast of mind.”

The “art of government,” writes Kristol, is to translate the “liberal or radical impulse into enduring institutions,” which means that socialist ends will be achieved with conservative means.55 This is the neocon methodology. Their advice to the Republican Party is to compromise and accept the moral ends of liberal-socialism, but with the caveat that conservatives can do a better job of doling out the goods and services.

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Jeff Riggenbach - 9/25/2006

As though conservatism ever stood for anything but big, intrusive government. As though the Republican Party was ever anything but the party of big, intrusive government. The brief period in the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s when the party had a quasi-libertarian wing (one which never exercised any influence at all in the party at large) is long gone. And even then, only a fool with no knowledge of history would have concluded that the best hope of individual liberty lay with the GOP. All Dubya has done is return to the standard meaning of "conservatism" and return to the longstanding heritage of the Republican Party.


Sudha Shenoy - 9/25/2006

Reads like a replay of the Tories blindly following Labour; -- except that the Tories were far stupider, of course.

Steve Jackson - 9/24/2006

I don't see anything all that new in this, altough it's a good summary of how government has grown under Bush.

The rest of it reads like Ayn Rand with footnotes. Didn't it ever occur to Mr. Thompson that one of the reason government grows is selfishness? People don't want to take care of their parents when they get older, families want to have two incomes so they send their children to daycare and want the government to pick up the tab, etc.