Toward a typology of American conservatives circa 2007

In a comment below, I wrote of Ron Paul that, "He's the candidate with the views most attractive to traditional conservatives." I spent a lot of time worrying about what adjective to use before settling on 'traditional', and now that I've had another twenty minutes to think about it, I'm still not sure if I made the right choice.

What I wanted to get at was that Ron Paul is the guy you'd most expect a 1960s vintage Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley to support. The only point of disagreement I can see is that Goldwater (and Buckley for all I know) seriously bought into the cold war and Paul, at least recently, has been pooh-poohing the Vietnam domino theory when talking about getting out of Iraq.

One of the odd things here is that while we take it as read that the coalition on the left is fractious and divided (we don't even know if we're progressives or liberals anymore!), even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary we tend to talk about conservatism as if it were a single coherent movement. Or maybe another way to put this is that we tend to see disagreements on the left as disagreements between ideologies and disagreements on the right as disagreements within an ideology.

Or maybe that's completely wrong. Anyway, I was thinking about this today and I came up with the four claims that seem to me to carve up the major varieties of conservative thinking. In no particular order, they are:
  • The United States should consolidate its status as a hyper-power, and should use this status to further its interests.
  • The United States is first and foremost a Christian nation, and our laws should reflect and promote this fact.
  • All government action, and most especially taxes, are restrictions on individual liberty and and so should be restricted to the greatest extent possible.
  • The most proper function of government is to serve the interests of the owning class.

The first three correspond roughly and respectively to neoconservatism, social conservatism, and libertarianism. The last probably isn't something that anyone other than Conrad Black would publicly avow, at least not the way that I've worded it, but I think it's out there nonetheless.

One last thought. While there are certainly conservatives who emphasize one or the other of these principles, it's also clearly the case that these ideologies overlap quite a bit. For example, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, would seem to subscribe to all four. My Uncle Bob, on the other hand, thinks that the first and fourth are batshit insane, but agrees wholeheartedly with the second and third.

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