Right All Along

I have been a political conservative since 1964 when I was 7 years old.  Brit Hume has a fascinating history, Right All Along, of the modern American conservative movement running on FOX News on Sundays at 8:00 PM Eastern.  Part 2 is being broadcast tonight:  A Time For Choosing.

The success of the modern American conservative movement is truly remarkable.  42% of adult Americans identify as conservatives, more than twice the number of self-identified liberals. This has been accomplished in the teeth of almost all of the media, academia and the entertainment industry being hostile to the movement.  In a way this opposition has been of assistance to conservatives politically.  Most institutions in this country have come into disrepute since the 60’s, so a political movement which is perceived as being opposed by the powers that be can often find favor with many voters for that reason.  Politically conservatives have often prospered in defeat, the aftermath of the elections of 1964, 1976, 1992 and 2008, for example, while victories have usually led to a fracturing of the movement, and political defeat.

American conservatism is, most American conservatives believe,  in large part the political ideals of the Founding Fathers. These ideals of course did not spring newborn to Earth in 1776. The largest ingredient was the experience of the American colonists from the time of settlement up to the Revolution. The colonies were largely left to their own devices by England throughout most of the colonial period. They grew used to running their own affairs. The American colonists were lightly taxed by the governments they set up, probably the most lightly taxed people in the history of the world. Self-reliance was a must in a new country with virtually zero in government services, and not much in the way of government at all, especially outside of the few towns. This was a great laboratory for a grand experiment in a new way of looking at government, and this experiment is still underway.

American conservatism is not reactionary, unlike what passes for conservatism in other countries. Edmund Burke and the Founding Fathers, with a strong admixture of Lincoln, are the guiding stars of most American conservatives from a philosophical stand point. A few of the things most American conservatives believe:

1. In a strong national defense.

2. In free enterprise.

3. In limited government.

4. In traditional moral values.

5. A concern as to the Federal government usurping powers that belong to the state.

6. A deep rooted suspicion of utopian projects that depend upon governmental power.

7. Self-reliance rather than reliance on the State.

8. In low taxes.

9. That government only derives its power from the consent of the governed.

10. That government is always a danger to human freedom unless carefully watched.

American conservatism is a movement that has attracted little  careful analysis due to the antipathy that most of the academy have for it, and what analysis is done is often laughable.

After the 2008 election Sam Tanenhaus, wrote a book proclaiming the death of conservatism.  Although a man of the Left, Tanenhaus had written a sympathetic biography of Whittaker Chambers, and was not by any stretch a reflexive basher of the Right.  That he could be so incredibly wrong, demonstrates how little conservatism in this country is understood by most non-conservative American intellectuals.

It is a shame that it will probably be mostly conservatives who watch the Fox series on the history of the conservative movement.  It is impossible to be an intelligent observer of the American scene without understanding conservatism, and to many non-conservative intellectuals in this country, conservatism is simply terra incognita.

Share With Friends

Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Ten Amens!

    I wonder what are liberals’ top ten propositions.

    Camus: “All attempts to make Heaven on Earth have resulted in hell on Earth.” (6)

    Here’s my hare-brained take on a liberal ten diktats:

    1. War never solved anything. Anyhow, we deserve any and all attacks.

    2. Free enterprise/free marrket system is racist, uncharitable, and unjust.

    3. Unlimited government in every aspect of life.

    4. “If it feels good and doesn’t ‘hurt’ someone, do it!” “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    5. Federal government power eclipsing the states is necessary to ensure the narrative is funded and universally executed. They will need fly-over states’ money to bail out CA.

    6. Distort, exaggerate, and invent crises. Institute unworkable, fiscally ruinous, utopian projects dependent upon massive governmental power.

    7. Popular dependence (through desperation) on the State is needed to ensure perennial re-election.

    8. Institute high taxes to give $$$ to the voting bloc.

    9. That government derives its powers from liberal judges, who know better than we the people and our elected representatives, i.e., the consent of the governed. They call it the “dictatorship of the majority.”

    10. That untrammeled government is necessary for human liberation from traditional morality; personal responsibility; Republicans; Sarah Palin; and zenophobic, evil, rich people (class envy).

    It’s probably best they do not pronounce them. We’d likey want to exile them to Zimbabwe or California.


  2. Re: T. Shaw:

    Since the author stressed a hope that non-conservatives would gain a greater understanding of conservatives, I will present a more charitable layman’s version of what American liberals actually believe:

    1. In equal rights and rule of law.

    2. In individual freedom.

    3. In a strong national defense, but that it is immoral to engage in foreign wars for mere economic or political interests.

    4. A concern that free enterprise is imperfect and that there is a role for government to promote fairness and transparency in the economy.

    5. That personal morality is personal and it is the role of the government to enforce rights not morality.

    7. That no man is an island and that promoting the health and welfare of the most vulnerable benefits everyone.

    The take-away message I get from this exercise is that it is easy to make a list for any side that sounds good in principle, and easy to make a caricature to demonize your opponents. The hard part is figuring out what actually works when the rubber meets the road – and it doesn’t do anyone any good if you don’t bother to understand what others actual stand for.

  3. I watched Hume’s special… It’s decent. I would compare it to Ice Truckers on the History Channel.


    Do you have Sam Tanenhaus’ book? Have you read it? I have it setting right beside me. I think you have totally misrepresented his thought. Very simply his argument in this book is that there are two camps of Conservatives. The first are “realists” or pragmatists like Eisenhower, Reagan, Chambers, and Buckley. The second are “revanchists” or ideologues like Krauthammer, Podhoretz, Kristol and Gingrich. The true role of conservatism is not to advance a narrow ideological agenda, but to engage in a serious dialogue with liberalism.

    “God preserve me from ideologues.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

  4. I have read his book Dave. He understands American conservatism as much as a pig understands penance. By no stretch could Eisenhower be considered a conservative except when viewed from rather far to the Left. As to his attempted division among conservatives, Tanenhaus likes conservatives who have been dead for a while. It is living conservatives who tend to give him the heebie jeebies. No doubt he has been having a bad case of the heebie jeebies since the election following his prediction that conservatism was dead. Excellent!!!

    Oh and Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a pro-abort Dave. He considered pro-lifers to be among those he denounced as narrow ideologues, although partial birth abortion was a bridge too far even for him.

  5. I’ve read the late Murray Rothbard’s book Dave. He was a pro-abort loon who thought Eisenhower was a bigger threat to the world than Khrushchev. The video below is taken from Chapter 14 of his Ethics of Liberty. Repugnant is too mild a term for my view of Murray Rothbard’s body of work.

    William F. Buckley said it all in his obituary on Rothbard:

    “MURRAY ROTHBARD, age 68, died on January 7. We extend condolences to his family, but not to the movement he inspired.

    The academic and journalistic achievements of Professor Murray Rothbard of the University of Nevada were prodigious-25 books, including Man, Economy, and State, and a four-volume history of economic thought, the final two volumes of which will appear in the spring. He was the primary influence in founding the Libertarian. Party, whose godfather he continued to be until he broke with it a few years ago.

    What reason, then, not to regret the end of his influence on the conservative-libertarian movement?

    Murray Rothbard had defective judgment. It pains even to recall it, but in 1959 when Khrushchev arrived in New York, with much of America stunned by the visit of the butcher of Budapest-the Soviet protege of Stalin who was threatening a world war over Berlin Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street. He gave as his reason for this that, after all, Khrushchev had killed fewer people than General Eisenhower, his host.

    Murray couldn’t handle moral priorities. In 1991 he decried the Cold War, which had just ended by liberating three hundred million people while maintaining our own independence. As president of the John Randolph Society, he spoke jubilantly at its convention in 1991 of his fancy, that we should “think the unthinkable and restore the good old Articles of Confederation.” In recent years he disavowed Milton Friedman on the grounds that in endorsing the idea of school vouchers, Professor Friedman had sold out to the enemy, the State. James Burnham, the noble strategist and philosopher, he attacked bitterly in 1968 (“I can see Burnham now, helping the slavemasters of the South round up the slave rebels under Nat Turner”). In 1957, reviewing in NR a book by Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt observed that he suffered from “extreme apriorism.” Indeed he did, Rothbard retorted in an essay that defended categorical positions, leaving no room for qualifications however critical. We have not read his economic history, but if it is as reliable as his contemporary history, we warn against it a generation of scholars which, from all appearances, is paying it the attention it deserves. In his speech to the John Randolph Society Rothbard gave this rendition of the history of NATIONAL REVIEW: “And so the purges began. One after another, Buckley and NATIONAL REVIEW purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the nonrespectables. Consider the roll call: isolationists (such as JOM T. Flynn), anti-Zionists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those who continued, like the early NATIONAL REVIEW, to dare to oppose Martin Luther King and the civil-rights revolution.” Anybody who could decipher this magazine’s history as above, could also conclude that Khrushchev was morally preferable to Eisenhower.

    Murray Rothbard was a wonderfully pleasant social companion. He had been a friend and colleague-he did the research for the passages in Up from Liberalism that dealt with economics. But in 1962, at an lSI-sponsored seminar at Yale, I spoke derisively, if with good humor, about Murray’s proposal to privatize the lighthouses, suggesting that such a platform would persuade listeners less of the advantages of the private sector than of the disadvantages of knowing nothing about lighthouses. Rothbard was outraged and noisily denounced this journal, vowing never again to contribute to it.

    We muddled through without him, and he got on with his own work, though the influence of the Libertarian Party did not correspond with its valuable insights- the American people, during the Cold War, were not going to welcome in large numbers a political party whose leader thought the defense of freedom through containment was a travesty.

    It was a great pity, but his problem ought not to be thought of as tracing to the seamless integrity of libertarian principles. In Murray’s case, much of what drove him was a contrarian spirit, the deranging scrupulosity that caused him to disdain such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and-yes-Newt Gingrich, while huffing and puffing in the little cloister whose walls he labored so strenuously to contract, leaving him, in the end, not as the father of a swelling movement that “rous [ed] the masses from their slumber,” as he once stated his ambition, but with about as many disciples as David Koresh had in his little redoubt in Waco. Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God.”

  6. Donald – Rothbard was far from a perfect human being. No one would argue about that. Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty (which Blackadder & Blosser have read or are reading) actually goes into detail about both the flaws and greatness of Rothbard’s personality. Notice the links I put on Joe’s post about Pro-Life Libertarians. I made those remarks before your own. Great minds think a like.

    I think though to get a more balanced perspective on the complexities of the man it’s important to read what his friends had to say about him. Lew Rockwell Jr., Justin Raimondo, and Ron Paul would be good folks to read about their views of Rothbard.

    I must admit though your distaste of Rothbard matches similar thoughts I have of Buckley and N.R. in general. Highly negative opinions of Buckley are shared by many others of the Right as well, i.e. Russell Kirk, etc. His neoconservatism is one the root causes of this dislike… Insulting a man after he’s dead is another. That takes a lot of courage.

  7. I would caution against worship or adoration (dulia) of Ronald Reagan. The worship of him at the Republican debate that was held at his Presidential Library, and some other debates as well, was frankly sickening. Many Presidential historians and political scientists, who are honest, will tell you Reagan first few years were the best. After he was shot it went all down-hill. His second term was largely consumed by the Iran-Contra affair. Much of what Reagan criticized in former administrations he did at more egregious levels than anyone in history… His complete and total lack of fiscal discipline exploded our deficit and debt. Cutting taxes while increasing spending was (and is) a fatal flaw. The fruit of this irresponsibility would a few years later cause Ross Perot to run for President. No, Reagan is no hero or saint. Maybe Nancy, but not Ronald.

    Trying to be balanced here I will admit that Reagan was a great communicator. He was natural. Entertainment was in his blood. Running for national office is all about show-business. Refer to another great communicator of that era below…


  8. “Insulting a man after he’s dead is another. That takes a lot of courage.”

    He didn’t insult Rothbard Dave, he merely told the truth about the man. He said nothing in the obituary that he hadn’t said many times to Rothbard directly while he was alive. Calling Buckley a neo-conservative is rich. He was a conservative, and fighting for conservative principles, long before you came into existence Dave. The conservatism that you favor of the Lew Rockwell and the Justin Raimondo exotic strains is distinctly a very minute viewpoint among conservatives in this country and Buckley helped bring this about. Hence the disdain in which Buckley is held in paleocon circles.

  9. [Buckley’s] neoconservatism is one the root causes of this dislike…

    Clearly the term has lost any meaning whatsoever if Buckley is going to be labeled a neo-con. Anyway, he certainly had a more meaningful impact on conservatism and on the course of this country than the likes of Lew Rockwell and his merry brand of paleocon hucksters.

  10. My folks were part of the conservative Democratic coalition that help to elect Reagan, both times. I remember distinctly making a folder of cut-out articles promoting his Presidency in 1984. Considering the times and the alternatives he was the best choice. The first election I could vote in myself was 1992. (I nearly missed the cut-off in 1988.) If only PJB could have beaten H.W. Bush.


    I think we need to make an honest assessment of Reagan’s Presidency, both the good and bad. Any political scientist and historian whose expertise is the Presidency will tell you it takes 50 years or longer to judge a Presidency. It’s far too early to judge his Presidency because the consequences of his decisions are still being felt in the current, both the good and bad ones.

    Rockwell and Raimondo are not Paleo-cons. Maybe Paleo-Libertarians would be a better description. Both of them are anti-war, at least against unjust wars. Both of these groups support a more realistic and reasonable foreign policy. The foreign policy that our Founding Fathers advocated in fact. None of which Buckley and followers supported or supports. Both of these groups promote more reasonable monetary and fiscal policies. All of these positions are the truly conservative one. No my friend, the union of Traditional/Paleo-Conservatives and Libertarians is a good thing, a very good thing.


  11. I just looked up the definition of huckster. It gave Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and William Kristol as perfect examples of one. Oh, I missed one. The God-Father of Hucksters Inc. is William F. Buckley Jr.

  12. “I just looked up the definition of huckster. It gave Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and William Kristol as perfect examples of one. Oh, I missed one. The God-Father of Hucksters Inc. is William F. Buckley Jr.”

    Dave, please do not clutter up my threads with this type of rubbish.

  13. From the Amazon review of the above books:

    “Deconstructs the war on Iraq as part of the neo-con blueprint for consolidating the American Empire.”

    Errrr right. Pass.

  14. Dave, I am truly not interested in your conspiratorial bed time reading. I think it best for the future if you not comment in my threads. I assure you that I have no interest in the future in commenting on any of your submissions to this blog.

  15. Contributions include academics such as Noam Chomsky, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Claes Ryn; journalists Milton Viorst, Robert Fisk, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Justin Raimondo; former CIA professional Ray McGovern; former Defense Intelligence Agency professional W. Patrick Lang; and Fr. Jean-Marie Benjamin, personal friend of the former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Traiq Aziz.


  16. I deleted your last comment Dave. I told you not to comment on any of my threads in the future and I meant it. Any future attempts by you to comment on my threads will be deleted by me when I see them.

  17. Dr. Tom Wood’s well-written and substantial review and endorsement of the Neo-conned books is very helpful. It clears up the Cardinal Ottaviani confusion above. It also references several other Catholic writers, among other non-Catholics, whose thought is collected within this two-volume series.

    Refer to the short-list of various folk who have endorsed these books. The endorsements go on for pages and it’s truly an impressive list of endorsements.

    Bishop Mark Coleridge, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne
    Bishop Hilarion Capucci, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem in Exile, retired Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine
    David Allen White, Professor of English, U.S. Naval Academy (a rock-solid Catholic evangelist and apologist @ the Naval Academy)
    Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School

    Donald – my apologies for upsetting you. I crossed the line by calling Buckley a huckster. I would only ask others to refrain in calling Rothbard, Rockwell, and Raimondo a bunch of huskers and cranks, etc. We all can do better. Politics always seems to get folks riled up. My apologies though. I really do mean that. I will refrain from making any further comments on your post(s) unless you give me the thumbs up to do.

    The Chief Among Sinners ~ Jones

Comments are closed.