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What Americans Believe

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Conservative Group: Fred and Diego Speaking
Current speaker Current speaker We said there was a family of conservatisms, so we want to give you some idea of what some of the family members are like. People often talk about conservatives and liberals as if most conservatives believe this and most liberals believe that. It just doesn't work that way. American political thought is endlessly complicated. There are a dozen kinds of conservatives. We hardly know where to begin.

So here is a short list of some of the major groupings of people and ideas. If this confuses you, you are not alone. Just remember that society doesn't break down into neatly defined packages of ideas. All these labels and definitions are just a rough way to divide people into categories that help us to organize our thinking.

  • Paleoconservatism. The paleocons or "old" conservatives tend to stress the value of Christianity as the spiritual core of American culture and have a reverence for the past. They oppose not just communism but the American welfare-bureaucratic state. They are skeptical about foreign military intervention and tend to oppose the neoconservative impulse to spread democracy and free markets around the world.

  • The conservative movement or conservative "fusion" centered around The National Review magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. The leaders of the movement were William F. Buckley, jr. and Fred Meyer. They sought to bring together several strands of conservative thought (and several conservative groups) into a unified movement. They were strongly opposed to communism abroad as well as the New Deal welfare state, the expansion of federal power, and economic regulation at home. In addition, their philosophy included a reverence for the past and a go-very-slow approach to black civil rights.

  • Neoconservatism. The neocons or "new" conservatives are often former leftists who changed their views after disappointment with Soviet policy and the failures of the welfare state here in the US. They accept a modest welfare state but stress the limits of its capacity to change people and society. Neocons often advocate the use of American military power to spread democracy and free markets throughout the world. Thus, they are sometimes called "democratic globalists." They often take a tough pro-Israel position. Irving Kristol (now deceased) and his son Bill Kristol both qualify as neoconservatives.

  • Evangelical conservatism. Until the 1970s, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians tended to remain outside electoral politics, stressing instead the importance of individual conversion and individual religious experience. A series of events and trends led to a change in this attitude toward politics. These included the removal of prayer from public schools, the spread of no-fault divorce, the legalization of abortion, the entry of large numbers of women with small children into the labor force (along with the women's movement in general), and popular sympathy for gay rights. The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of several Evangelical (and Catholic) leaders and organizations with a strong culturally conservative bent. The leaders included Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Richard Viguerie, and Paul Weyrich. The best known organization was the Moral Majority led by Falwell. Somewhat later came the Christian Coalition led by Reed.

We recommend looking at Paul Gottfried's book The Conservative Movement. It may help you to get a clearer notion of what these labels mean.

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