It has long been understood that there is something peculiar, even paradoxical, about conservatism in America. American conservatism is different from conservatism in other countries, even those countries which were the original source of many other American ideas and ideals, i.e., the countries of Europe. Indeed, the very term “American conservatism” is something of an oxymoron. For most Europeans who came to America, the whole purpose of their difficult and disruptive journey to the New World was not to conserve European institutions but to leave them behind and to create something new, often an entirely new life and even a new identity, for themselves.
In this essay, we will examine how the paradoxes of American conservatism have unfolded and revealed themselves during the period of the last three or four decades. We begin our discussion by noting the three distinct dimensions that have always defined American conservatism. The original and traditional American conservatism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries collapsed in a great debacle during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but this was followed by a creative reinvention of American conservatism during the Great Stagflation of the 1970s. This reinvented conservatism experienced its own debacle during the current Great Recession, which began in 2007 and which continues into the 2010s. We conclude with a review of the current condition of what was once a reinvented, but now seems to be YET another collapsed conservatism, in the light of the elections of 2012. The decisive defeats of the Republican party, particularly in the Presidential and Senatorial elections, have demonstrated that American conservatism will once again have to be reinvented and the Republican party will have to appeal to new constituencies or they, like the Federalists, Whigs, and traditional conservatives before them, will disappear or be eclipsed.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
A brief history of the conservative movement in America