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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Factions in the American conservative universe

When you read some posts in more left-oriented blogs, one notices that conservatives are generally lumped together in a rather unpleasant mass: they're basically European fascists who are somehow joined-at-the-hip with Karl Rove and Bushco, beholden to the Christian Right and Big Business. Even more centrist and supposedly right-leaning outfits like The Economist do this on occasion.

For my part as something of a conservative, I've always thought this was odd, and definitely wrong - there are numerous factions in the conservative world, with vast diversity of thought and opinion. Here's some I can think of, in no particular order:

1. Libertarians. They're generally socially liberal and are usually economic Classical Liberals. Non-extremist libertarians tend to come in two political flavors, defined more by their fears than anything else: those who are more afraid of big-government welfare-statists, or those who are more afraid of religious conservatives; few libertarians are religious. The former are the libertarians of the Right, while the latter are libertarians of the Left. There are lots of libertarians, especially in Silicon Valley and California generally, and as far as I can tell, whether they are left-libs or right-libs is driven by whether they see religious conservatives as a big threat or not.

I'm purposely ignoring "radical libertarians" of the abolish-the-State type from this discussion since they aren't terribly numerous or politically all that interesting, but want to point out that those they'd likely call "weak libertarians" are quite numerous.

2. Paleo-conservatives. These are the group most like European "Right-Wing" Blood&Soil parties in their thinking; they're more friendly to "rooted conservatism" and "tradition" arguments. In American politics, Pat Buchanan is the best example of this type. Their hot-button issue is immigration.

3. Religious conservatives. These come in many flavors, but are generally politically driven by their religious convictions. They aren't particularly opposed to government approaches to social questions as long as these approaches are in line with their principles, but they're quite hostile to government actions that go against their principles. They were the group most attracted to Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" ideas.

Paleos and Religious Conservatives and Libertarians are generally mutually hostile ideologically, although they can make common cause on occasional issues such as opposition to gun control.

4. Big Business. I don't regard big businesses as particularly conservative; they're actually politically agnostic, as long as they make money. Contrary to the beliefs of many lefties, corporations aren't devotees of Adam Smith, unless it suits their rhetorical purposes; they're just as likely to ask for competition-stifling regulation, protection from foreign competition, or out and out handouts from government in the form of corporate welfare as they are to champion free markets and open competition. But more Lefties than Righties are hostile to Big Business, so many people regard Big Business as part of the "conservative universe".

5. Neocons. These people are often 1960s activists who shifted the focus of their activism from leftist causes to more right-aligned causes as they grew aware of the intellectual bankruptcy of many of the leftist ideas.

6. The "Old Wise Ones". These are people who are deeply suspicious of government activism of all sorts, having seen it be worse than useless over and over, and they have a healthy respect for tradition. These are probably the most "pure" conservatives.

Libertarians and Old Wise Ones are most mutually sympathetic, but they are distinct groups in that Old Wise Ones are typically less socially liberal than libertarians and are more sympathetic to the social concerns of religious conservatives.

There are doubtless groups I've missed, but my point is there is vast complexity in the conservative universe, and many liberals, in particular, misunderstand it.

Personally, I'm probably a "right libertarian", with a weak streak of neocon and strong streak of "old wise one". Most others in the conservative universe have other "streaks" in their personalities as well, so there's large overlap in the above "factions".

according a lengthy internet survey i did a few yrs back, i'm an authoratative libertarian, whatever that means!
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