James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, December 22, 2005

real conservatives

Brad Spangler, Logan Ferree, and Vache Folle all have posted reactions to my PO column "Will Real Conservatives Become Democrats?" Spangler gives us a great history of libertarianism. I suspect that he wrote most of his piece beforehand, read my article, and then decided to incorporate it into what he'd already written.

I just wanted to mention here what I meant by "true" or "real" conservatives in my piece. I didn't mean it in any academic definition of conservatism, anything that would invoke Edmund Burke or Russel Kirk. Only what it had long been understood to mean since Robert Taft used to challenge for the Republican Presidential nomination, through Goldwater, through the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan. That conservatism was essentially a coalition built on compromises, but the direction was toward a smaller role for government in the economy and the restoration of federalism.

I considered myself conservative until about four years ago and am still sympathetic to these goals. Indeed, I voted Libertarian in 2000 precisely because I knew that the Republican candidate was not a conservative. (I can't believe now that I thought I was generally on the same page with Rush Limbaugh and National Review throughout the Clinton years.) Today, I cringe whenever I hear the "conservative" label ascribed to George WMD Boy and the Big Government Republicans who control Congress.

I wonder, however, how many "real" conservatives there ever really were. Perhaps militarism and the culture war, not federalism and smaller government, have always animated most people who've voted for Republican Presidential candidates. Maybe that's what they think when they hear the word "conservative," and why they call themselves that. I would love to hear what Barry Goldwater would say about these Daddy-state fascists.

3 comments:

  1. I suspect that he wrote most of his piece beforehand, read my article, and then decided to incorporate it into what he'd already written.

    Close, but not exactly. Most of it was kicking around in the back of my head for a long while. Reading your article caused it to mentally "gel" for me and I then made myself knock it out all at once.

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  2. >I wonder, however, how many "real" conservatives there ever really were.<

    That's a good question that I keep asking myself over and over again. When you get down to it, the heart of the Republican Party under Taft was the Midwest and the more rural periphery of New England. When I think about militarism and the culture war, I think about the South. In many ways I view the South as the most anti-liberty region of the country even while it clings the most to the rhetoric of liberty. Yes, they can rant all they want about how the 'War Between the States' was about states' rights. But turn back the clock a few years before 1861 and you had the South in support of a strong activist Supreme Court with Dred Scott and a strong activist federal government using tools like the fugitive slave act. When I look at people who stand up for civil liberties and against militarism, like Senator Feingold or even the late Senator Wellstone, I see liberals who have managed to be successful in their states because they are able to appeal to some of the true conservatives in their state. They aren't true conservatives, but they are certainly closer to them than the Republican candidates are today. Hell, even Bernie Sanders seems to be able to show some of the tendecies that the Taft wing of the Republican Party once had in terms of foreign policy.

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  3. "I would love to hear what Barry Goldwater would say about these Daddy-state fascists."

    I'm thinking that any windy weather in Arizona is caused by Goldwater spinning in his grave.

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