|A Brief History of Modern Conservatism in America.|
Conservatism is a fairly new political movement. There have been those who supported a strictly interpreted constitution and greater respect for the balance of power between states and the federal government from the beginning of the Republic. But an actual movement probably can't arise until things have moved far from the positions the movement opposes. In the case of modern conservatism, young men returned from WWII and surveyed the results of FDR's continuation of the the progressive politics that started in the late 1800's.
The timeline looks like this: Russell Kirk's book "The Conservative Mind" in 1953 is thought to have kicked off modern conservatism. W. F. Buckley, Jr. started National Revview in 1955. Barry Goldwater's book "The Conscience of a Conservative" took him to the Presidential nomination in 1964. In the 70's the religious right formed - we saw the beginning of The Moral Majority. Opposition to communism remained a unifier for the different factions and the cold-war need to maintain a strong military would have made it harder to support a separation between those who wanted a global military presence and those who wanted to pull back more to our own borders. The Reagan era focused on the cold-war military confrontation with the Soviet Union. But they also engaged in deregulation, massive tax cuts, privatization, and reducing welfare. The rhetoric was consistently pro-America and pro-Free Enterprise. Until the 90's conservatives were found in both Democratic and Republican party. Now it is almost exclusively Republican.
Christians who are Conservatives, or a Conservatives who happens to be a Christians?
There have been two major splits in the Conservative movement (as best I can tell). One is the division between those who may or may not be religious, but don't make religious positions their primary goal in politics and those whose primary motivation appears to be religious in nature. It isn't a division that is precise and it isn't always a useful understanding since many of those who make up the religious right don't always wear that label. They often hide the degree to which it is religion that motivates them. The real dividing line in my mind would be which comes first for them, the constitution or a religious belief. Those who founded the conservative movement believed in God but they were, in the beginning, comfortable with separation of church and state. The new religious right is not.
Old versus New - Its really Small Govt versus Big Govt
The next division or split amoung the conservatives is between the "old conservatives" - labeled 'paleoconservatives' and the "new conservatives" - labeled 'NeoConservatives.' Michael Harrington, a democratic socialist, coined the current sense of the term neoconservative in a 1973 Dissent magazine article concerning welfare policy. It was used in a derogatory fashion for sometime, and then taken up as an acceptable label later on. [Much of this, and the timeline came from Wikipedia.]
Wikipedia helps to paint a better picture of the difference between the old and new conservatives by quoting from each side. "Paleo historian Thomas Woods elaborates on the divergence in the conservative movement, and the ascent of the neoconservatives, and their distinguishing features from more traditional conservatives:
The conservativeís traditional sympathy for the American South and its people and heritage, evident in the works of such great American conservatives as Richard M. Weaver and Russell Kirk, began to disappear... [T]he neocons are heavily influenced by Woodrow Wilson, with perhaps a hint of Theodore Roosevelt. ... They believe in an aggressive U.S. presence practically everywhere, and in the spread of democracy around the world, by force if necessary. ... Neoconservatives tend to want more efficient government agencies; paleoconservatives want fewer government agencies. [Neoconservatives] generally admire President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his heavily interventionist New Deal policies. Neoconservatives have not exactly been known for their budget consciousness, and you won't hear them talking about making any serious inroads into the federal apparatus.
Then Wikipedia quotes the Neocon, Irving Kristol:
"Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable... People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of de Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk."
Note that it is possible to have someone on the religious right who identifies with the political positions of the Paleocons or with the Neocons. Strong religious concerns work for them, or are totally absent, in either the old or the new.
Some individuals refer to themselves as Reagan Conservatives - usually to distinguish themselves to some degree from Neocons, even if they don't fully side with the paleocons. If someone identifies themselves more as a Goldwater conservative, they are distancing themselves still further from the Neocons.
Just as the Neocons were winning....
The paleocons were being replaced, distanced and maginalized. Neocons had been getting the good political appointments under Bush, big government money flowed to their causes, and they were clawing their way to 'moral' high ground by accusing Paleocons of being isolationists (many are), racists (only a few are), and mean-spirited and stupid. Under Bush they saw their heyday - multiple wars and budgets gone crazy at home. The religious right was also happy as they could be without overturning Roe v Wade and doing something permanent about gay marriage. But the mass of Americans were feeling a disquiet, a sense that things weren't on track as they should be. With the election of Obama, and the continuation of the far left congresses progressive agenda, the terms paleocon and neocon have moved closer to being artifacts of history. A fuzzy new term, "Tea Party" has replaced them both in vigor and effect.
At this point in time, a Tea Partier can be one for religious reasons... that remains a constant in the conservative realm. But the big change is that the Tea Party has thrown out previous forms of conservatism and adopted a set of general political principles instead. It is about 99% Republican, but it is not in the Republican party. The Republican party now has to come to it, to woo it, to attempt to coopt it and use it. In important ways it is outside of the party and keeps its strength by staying out.
There are important questions that arise out of this new turn in the history of modern conservatism. What will tomorrow's conservatives hold as principles? How much of the educational aspect of the Tea Party movement will be absorbed by the average American? And what will the proportions be between those who are primarily religious and those who aren't in the new Tea-Party/Conservative movement? And in the struggle between the Republican power structure and this new grass-roots-based ideological force, where will the Republican party end up?