I realized from a recent comment on my blog that the term “conservative” could mean many things to many people. Although I consider myself a conservative (hence the name Virginia Conservative), others may consider themselves conservative and have considerably opposing viewpoints. Like a political Baskin Robbins, conservatism can take many forms, many flavors. The purpose of this article is to sort out some of the differing kinds of conservatism and what type of philosophies or aims that they embody.
Traditional Conservative– Dictionary.com defines conservatism as, “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.” Even though this definition likely applies to all Conservatives to some extent, it is by no means all encompassing. For example, in the American Revolution those in the colonies who supported the British were called the Tories or Conservatives. They opposed separating from Great Britain and favored the monarchy. Now do all conservatives support a return to the monarchy today? Hardly, though it is true that many of them hold notions of some sort of supposed idyllic past be it the 1980’s, 1950’s, or even the 1850’s. Classic Conservatives do oppose change for change’s sake and embrace the old ways, customs, and traditions.
Fiscal Conservative– Someone who believes that they have a greater claim to their own money than the government. Although fiscal liberals would often label them as greedy and selfish, a Scrooge McDuck (if you want a popular culture reference), that negative stereotype is often incorrect. Many are quite generous with their funds but they believe that they should decide how to use their money, not someone else. They see any form of wealth distribution as a kind of state sponsored theft. They favor low taxes and little to no government spending when it comes to aid (be it personal, corporate, or international). They hold to the ideals of capitalism and free markets and believe the government should neither regulate the supply, demand, or price, of goods.
Social Conservative– These type of conservatives believe that the government should take an active role in protecting and even promoting the traditional cultural values. Although not necessarily overtly religious, certainly most in the movement wear their beliefs, to some extent, on their sleeves and their activism is an extension of their strongly held convictions. Key issues to social conservatives include: opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, school choice/privatization, some level of religious promotion in society and government, support gun ownership, and are against affirmative action.
Constitutional Conservative– A conservative who opposes the significant expansion in governmental power, especially when it comes to the United States, or federal, government. They favor limiting the government to mainly the expressed powers given to it in the Constitution while curtailing or eliminating the implied powers granted by the courts or outright taken by the legislature and the executive branch. They also support the system of checks and balances as a means to further restrain the government. The question for Constitutional conservatives is if these powers were stripped from the federal government, to whom should they go? States-rights Conservatives would favor greater power to the states and the people, while Libertarian Conservatives would favor giving the power almost exclusively to the people. Both, I think, support a strengthening/stricter enforcement of the 10th Amendment.
Foreign policy. When it comes to foreign policy, there are two competing schools of thought, the neo-conservative and the paleoconservative. Unlike other kinds of conservatism, these two stand in stark contrast to each other as they battle for the title of “true conservatism”. One cannot be both a neo and a paleo at the same time.
Neo-conservative– Seeks an active role for the United States in world affairs. Like the Social Conservative, seeks to promote his values on his own nation, as well as others, often tying opinions and relationships of other nations to their internal policies such as form of government and human rights. In the trend of Woodrow Wilson, believes that we need to make the “world safe for democracy”. Willing to use various forms of manipulation including diplomacy and military force to affect internal changes in nations. Supports nation building and instillation of new, pro-U.S. governments. Wishes to establish bases in many parts of the world, especially volatile regions in order to increase U.S. security. In domestic affairs, is more tolerant of big government as long as the increase serves some sort of greater good such as to promote society’s values or increase internal stability. Favor close ties with the state of Israel. Practically all are strong supporters of the war in Iraq and prefer increased immigration. Often labeled by its detractors as imperialistic and militaristic.
Paleoconservative– Wishes in the words of Rep. Ron Paul a “more humble foreign policy”. Opposes nation building and meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. Promotes trade with other nations, often times including ones with non-democratic governments and poor track records on human rights. Against the League of Nations and the United Nations. Practically all are opponents of the war in Iraq. Usually support strict limits on immigration. Labeled by its detractors as isolationists and xenophobic.
Well, it may not be 31 varieties, but my point is that there are many kinds of conservatism out there and that often a person can adhere to one form without embracing another. So the next time someone calls him or herself a conservative, bear in mind that that does not necessarily mean they support limited government, pro-life legislation, an end to corporate welfare, and winning the war in Iraq. The simple term “conservative”, just like the word liberal doesn’t hold too much meaning without getting into a discussion on the heart of issues and the individuals who hold them. One last thing, if I’ve failed to include a particular variety of conservatism or you feel I’ve misrepresented any term, please let me know.