With the following essays, our goal is to bring together scholars from different fields in order to trace the history, politics, beliefs, attitudes, and values of conservative cultures and to explore an obscure, but perhaps still viable common ground of liberalism and conservatism in the United States. The articles also demonstrate the heterogeneity of conservatism. As a loose coalition of anti-communists, libertarians, and traditionalists in the fifties, the movement has incorporated Christian conservatives, nationalists, and foreign policy hawks throughout the second half of the twentieth century. These groups often pursue different political and social agendas that, more often than not, cause inner tension within the movement.
Just how powerful, unified, and successful was and is American conservatism? Arguably, the conservative movement has been one of the most powerful and successful uprisings in twentieth-century American history and perhaps the whole of US history. However, reassessing its sixty-year trajectory raises serious questions about its past, present, and future trajectories. In retrospect, this juggernaut looks fragmented, disjointed, and contested. Moreover, the movement and the Republican Party that houses it also seems fractured since conservatives have struggled to govern in the past, are struggling now, and will most likely struggle in the foreseeable future. As such, there is currently a need to reexamine persistent historical myths about conservatism’s rise as well as liberalism’s supposed fall in order to best understand how the American experiment has and will continue to unfold.
Small business owners played a key role in the rise of postwar conservatism. New historians of capitalism have shown how business activism shaped the politics of the postwar era, funded the rise of movement conservatism, and endeavored to roll back the New Deal. But the image of the small businessman is also an important figure in the struggle for the cultural legitimacy of conservatism. This essay looks at the role that Progressive Era writers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jack London, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, played in restoring the image of the small business owner—especially after the shady business practices, corruption of politics, and scandalous personal lives of the captains of industry in the preceding decades had dealt a severe blow to the image of business.
On April 6th, 1917, one Reed Owen Smoot prayed for aid in troubled times. That is hardly original in itself. The scene would thus be unworthy of note if it were not for further specifics. April 6th, 1917, was the day on which the United States declared war on Germany and entered the conflict now known as World War I. The prayer was offered in the US Senate in response to that decision. But just as significant as the setting is the praying subject. Smoot was a Senator from Utah, a Republican, and an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), that is a Mormon. To which the average reader likely responds, “of course.” If Smoot was from Utah, he was of course Mormon, of course Republican, and of course willing to perform religiosity in public. This essay does not aim to cut through that chain of assumptions. Rather, my discussion offers an account of how these links have been forged: a development that would have surprised the majority of nineteenth-century Mormons as much as their non-Mormon contemporaries. What could be conservative about open scriptural canon, communitarian utopianism, and non-monogamous marriage? Ultimately, however, Mormon conservatism is grounded in particulars of that theology. It has further been shaped, gradually but thereby durably, through shifting principles of LDS political engagement. Consideration of this process offers a case study in how an initially radical formation can fashion itself into conservatism.
This article investigates to what extent William F. Buckley’s lifelong public campaign against atheism is actually motivated by religious values and convictions and to what extent the label ‘atheist’ has been used within the conservative discourse to stigmatize political opponents as well as opposing voices within the movement. It will be argued that Buckley-style conservatism, in spite of the fact that it rests on a Christian foundation of values, stands in the tradition of what I call the ‘hauntological’ tradition of atheism which conjures up the specter of atheism as a weapon to be employed in the battlefields of America’s culture wars.
It is the opposition to the permanent revolution of capitalism that enacts American conservationism’s credibility as an anticapitalist tradition. By contrast, classical American conservatism entrusted industrial capitalism with the revolutionary proclivities it otherwise condemned on social, moral, and religious grounds. The conservationist tradition is, then, conservative in the Marxist sense, despite the misunderstandings such a description inevitably entails. Hence, by opposition, the historical rapprochement and mutual compensation of classical, mercantile American conservatism and the New Left: What classical conservatism repudiated in revolutionary capitalism (the “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions”), the New Left soon made palatable under the guise of “destratification.” What the New Left criticized in revolutionary capitalism (“inequalities”), turned out to be a profitable intellectual position posing as ‘post-Marxism.’ As early as the mid-1980s, the CIA, speaking from its own conservative position, already identified some of the institutional perks of adopting such an intellectual posture.
Many months have passed since I presented this essay at Göttingen in February of 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. In light of intervening events there is one additional matter I would take note of, one which is arguably a positive development; this is that President Trump’s conduct in office, and that of his associates during the campaign, has highlighted an essential feature of the American political system that often remains obscured. This is that America does not have three coequal branches of government; rather, it has three separate and largely independent branches of government, of which Congress is preeminent. This is appropriate since Congress, the lower House in particular, is directly responsive (by virtue of their short terms of office) to the supreme power of the ‘People.’
This essay will analyze the ‘unipolar turn’ in neoconservative foreign policy thinking from 1989–2009. Its core premise is that the touchstone of neoconservative foreign policy in these years was the preservation of America’s so-called unipolar moment—its post-Cold War status as the single pole of power in every region of the world. This, rather than the export or promotion of democracy, constituted the central organizing principle of neoconservative foreign policy in this period. However, the consensus around the concept of unipolarism began to fracture in the mid-2000s as leading neocon thinkers began to grapple with the American failure in Iraq and the rise of other great powers, which challenged their assumptions about the reach and depth of American power.
Conservatism is a notoriously contentious term, so any attempt to analyze it will necessarily involve a struggle over naming-rights. A movement calling itself conservative has been gaining prominence on the world stage. With the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and the rise of right-wing populism evident everywhere in Europe, we seem to be in the midst of a revolution. There is a specter haunting Europe, the United States, perhaps the world. Is it the specter of conservatism?