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Conservatism in the United States is an umbrella term for an array of American thoughts on political philosophy. In contemporary American politics, it is often associated with the Republican Party. Most conservatives agree with most of these principles: belief in God, capitalism, anti-communism, American exceptionalism, a strong military, smaller federal government, and lower taxes. Many conservatives believe that America should support Judeo-Christian values. Russell Kirk included preservation of moral order and of tradition as conservative principles. From the beginning, American conservatives differed from their European counterparts in rarely if ever advocating monarchy.
There has always been a conservative tradition in America, but the American conservative tradition was popularized by Russell Kirk in 1953, when he wrote The Conservative Mind. In 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr. founded National Review, a conservative magazine that included traditionalists, such as Kirk, along with Roman Catholics, libertarians, and anti-communists. In the 1970s moral issues—especially regarding abortion, sexuality and the family—became politically prominent and conservatives staked out distinctive positions, often with grass roots support from religious conservative organizations such as the Moral Majority. This bringing together of separate ideologies under a conservative umbrella was known as "fusionism".
Politically, the conservative movement in the U.S. has often been a coalition of various groups and ideas, which has sometimes contributed to its electoral success and other times been a source of internal conflict. Modern conservatism became a major political force in 1964, when Barry Goldwater, a U.S. Senator from Arizona and author of The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), won the Republican presidential nomination after a fierce contest. He lost badly but permanently shifted the party to the right. Goldwater attracted white Southern Democrats, alienated by Democratic support of Federal Civil Rights legislation.
In the 1980s Ronald Reagan solidified conservative Republican strength by appealing to fundamentalist Christians who were concerned about social trends which they considered hostile to their beliefs. The Reagan model became the conservative standard for social, economic and foreign policy issues. The political transformation was such that historians and textbooks now routinely refer to the "The Age of Reagan" or "Reagan Era."
According to a June 2009 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans identify themselves as conservative, compared to 35% moderate and 21% liberal. According to the same survey, few Americans consider themselves either extreme liberals or extreme conservatives; most consider themselves moderates.
Prior to the American Revolution, colonial institutions were generally conservative, including established churches, entailed property ownership, and bondage labor. Local land-owning and merchant elites became powerful through patronage from colonial governors and formed "court" factions in the colonial legislatures, opposed by "popular" factions representing less privileged voters. Those conservative elites and their followers who remained loyal to the Crown are called Loyalists or "Tories". During the Revolution, approximately 20% of the loyalists fled the United States, although the great majority remained in America.
Thus the American Revolution disrupted the old networks of conservative elites. The departure of so many royal officials, rich merchants and landed gentry destroyed the hierarchical networks that had dominated most of the colonies. In New York, for example, the departure of key members of the DeLancy, DePester Walton, and Cruger families undercut the interlocking families that largely owned and controlled the Hudson Valley. Likewise in Pennsylvania, the departure of powerful families—Penn, Allen, Chew, Shippen—destroyed the cohesion of the old upper class there. New men became rich merchants but they shared a spirit of republican equality that replaced the elitism and the Americans never recreated such a powerful upper class. One rich patriot in Boston noted in 1779 that "fellows who would have cleaned my shoes five years ago, have amassed fortunes and are riding in chariots."
Since all major American parties descended from the American Revolution and have always held firmly to republicanism, there is often disagreement over which politicians and writers from the past should be included as conservatives.
The American Revolution founded the first modern state based on republicanism and the liberal ideas of John Locke. Conservatives embrace these founding principles—there are no spokesmen for royalty, hereditary aristocracy, or the established church. Russell Kirk, in The Conservative Mind, wrote that the American Revolution was "a conservative reaction, in the English political tradition, against royal innovation". Thus modern liberals and modern conservatives both claim to represent the ideas of the Founding Fathers. The modern conservative movement in the United States combines factions which were on opposite sides in the 18th Century. For example John Adams was in favor of free trade, but also supported a strong federal government. Thomas Jefferson was in favor of religious freedom, but also supported small government.
Unlike England, Europe, and even other former European colonies, the United States did not develop political parties which were as firmly based in ideological differences. For example, during and after the Civil War, the Republican party supported the rights of African-Americans, while the Democratic party styled itself "the Party of the White Man." When Democratic President Lyndon Johnson supported the civil rights movement, the solid South switched parties, from overwhelmingly Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Today, a strong majority of African-Americans are Democrats.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics from 1800 to 1824. When the party split in two, in 1824, the conflict was personal rather than ideological. The presidential election of that year was a tie, and so the House of Representatives decided the election. They chose John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson. For several years, the two factions quarreled over which had the right to call itself "Republican."
In the early 1830s, the National Republicans combined with various other political factions to form the Whig Party, choosing the name "Whig" because it had been used by patriots in the Revolution and therefore appealed to Americans' sense of tradition. Daniel Webster and other Whig leaders called themselves the "conservative party" and used the word "conservative." This word had been coined by French politician Chateaubriand in 1819, and introduced into American politics by John C. Calhoun. In Whig usage, it emphasized preservation of the union and constitutionalism (as opposed to abolitionism). However, the term "conservative" was omitted from Whig's final 1856 presidential platform.
The Whigs were a populist party, successfully running the well-known General William Henry Harrison as its presidential candidate in 1840. The campaign portrayed Harrison as a rugged frontiersman; in reality he was a Virginia planter. But lack of unity, especially over the issue of slavery, led to the party's decline and it disappeared by 1860.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the party that favored strong federal government and opposed slavery was the Republican Party, while the party that favored states' rights and supported slavery was the Democratic Party.
After the Civil War, American conservatives supported the Democratic Party and radicals supported the Republican Party. The so-called Radical Republicans registered Negro voters in the South, and also supported state schools, state funding for the poor and orphans and for institutions for the deaf and blind. Conservative Democrats opposed the growing power of the federal government, and sometimes supported the Ku Klux Klan. The Compromise of 1877 overthrew the power of the Radical Republicans in the South, and delayed voting rights for Blacks for almost another century.
Randolph declared in 1829: "I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality." He is considered, along with John Calhoun, to be one of the main defenders of Southern plantation interests before the Civil War.
Calhoun, a Democrat, articulated a sophisticated conservatism in his writings. Richard Hofstadter (1948) called him "The Marx of the Master Class." He believed that only property holders should be allowed to vote, and resisted the growing strength of the federal government. He also argued that a conservative minority should be able to limit the power of a "majority dictatorship" because tradition represents the wisdom of past generations.
However, as Russell Kirk wrote, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, traditional conservatism faded in the South. "Grant and Sherman ground their valor into powder, Emancipation and Reconstruction demolished the loose structure of their old society, economic subjugation crushed them into the productive machine of modern times. No political philosophy has had a briefer span of triumph than that accorded Randolph's and Calhoun's."
Southern conservatism revived after 1870 with the success of the Redeemers in ousting the Radical Republican biracial coalition that controlled most of the South during Reconstruction. The one-party "Solid South" almost always voted for Democrats in national elections, and in most statewide elections as well. An age of segregation and Jim Crow emerged in the 1890s, as conservative white planters and businessmen tried to beat back the agrarians and Populists typified by Ben Tillman and Tom Watson. The result was second-class citizenship for blacks that lasted from about 1890 to its end in the mid 1960s with federal civil rights legislation.
Conservatism as an intellectual movement in the South was briefly revived in the 1930s with the rise of writers such as William Faulkner and the Southern Agrarians. Today, after Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, cultural and political conservatism has gained a foothold in the American South based not on racism, but on Fundamentalist religion, with the Republican and Democratic parties swapping dominance.
Following the American Civil War, the United States entered the Gilded Age (1868–1900) during which there was massive economic expansion, but also growing divisions of wealth, with John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and others creating huge corporations dominating entire industries, while 12 hour work days, child labor, unethical business dealings and discrimination were common.
During this period, both the Republican and Democratic Parties pursued laissez-faire economic policies. The best known president of this era was Grover Cleveland, a Bourbon Democrat, who fought corruption and high taxes, and vigorously defended big business. William Graham Sumner, a popular philosopher of this period, exemplified the belief in free markets, anti-imperialism and the gold standard. Opposition to conservatism came mostly from outside the two political parties, from trade unions and farm groups, often forming third parties such as the Greenback-Labor Party and the Populist Party.
As the 19th century drew to a close, the United States became a major commercial power and had acquired overseas territories in Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. The two parties re-aligned in the election of 1896, with the Republicans, led by William McKinley, becoming the conservative party of business, sound money, and assertive foreign policy, and promising a home market to American products. In opposition, the Democrats, led by William Jennings Bryan, rejected the pro-business conservatism of President Grover Cleveland, and turned the Democrats into the party of urban workers, poor farmers, and the White South, demanding an inflationary monetary policy (especially "Free Silver"), Jim Crow, anti-imperialism, and opposing railroads and "trusts" (big corporations).
In the early years of the twentieth century, Republican presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft governed more as Progressives than as conservatives (Roosevelt more so) including regulation of railroad rates, federal inspection of food and drugs, and anti-trust legislation and prosecutions. Nelson Aldrich, the pro-business Republican Senate Majority leader, introduced a constitutional amendment to allow an income tax, and also set in motion the process of setting up the Federal Reserve System, which began in 1913.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 alarmed both Democrats and Republicans, leading both parties to take strong anti-communist positions. In 1918, American troops were sent to join European, Asian, Canadian and Australian forces in an allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, while at home the government passed laws against anarchists and other radicals, and conducted numerous raids (see Palmer Raids), deporting thousands of alien radicals back to Europe.
Conservative Republicans returned to dominance in 1920 with the election of President Warren G. Harding. The presidency of Calvin Coolidge (1923–29) was a high water mark for conservatism, both politically and intellectually. Coolidge himself spoke and wrote extensively in defense of American enterprise.
Classic conservative writing of the period includes Democracy and Leadership (1924) by Irving Babbitt and H.L. Mencken's magazine The American Mercury (1924–33). The Efficiency Movement attracted Progressive Republicans like Herbert Hoover with its pro-business, quasi-engineering approach to solving social and economic problems.
The Great Depression which followed the 1929 stock market collapse led to price deflation, massive unemployment, falling farm incomes, investment losses, bank failures, business bankruptcies and reduced government revenues. The voters grew impatient with Republican President Herbert Hoover's claim that prosperity was just around the corner and that his energetic measures would turn the economy around. They failed to do so and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected as president in 1932. Roosevelt assembled experts and introduced a set of policies called the New Deal. These included devaluing the dollar to end deflation and increasing government spending on public works programs, as well as establishing regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Former Democratic presidential candidates John W. Davis (1924) and Al Smith (1928) along with other anti-New Deal Democrats and wealthy industrialists, formed the American Liberty League in order to organize against the new administration.
Opposition to the New Deal also came from the Old Right, a group of libertarian and conservative free-market anti-interventionists, originally associated with Midwestern Republicans and Southern Democrats. The Old Right were also later united in opposing American entry into the Second World War, and were called "isolationists", although opposition to the war came from across the political spectrum (see America First Committee). However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war against the United States united them behind the war effort.
Vice President John Nance Garner worked with congressional allies to prevent Roosevelt from appointing sympathetic Supreme Court judges who would not over-rule New Deal legislation as unconstitutional. U.S. Senator Josiah Bailey (D-NC) released what later became known as the "Conservative Manifesto" in December 1937 which marked the beginning of the "conservative coalition" between Republicans and Southern Democrats. Although Roosevelt tried to purge the conservative Democrats in the 1938 election, the Coalition controlled Congress until 1961, aside from a brief period in 1949–50. Its most prominent leaders were Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) and Senator Richard Russell (D-GA). Robert Taft unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 1940, 1948, and 1952, and was an opponent of American membership in NATO and participation in the Korean War.
Although the United States emerged as the world's undisputed leading power following the Second World War, the Soviet Union was able to build substantial military power, and had influence with many independence groups in European colonies. While the government addressed this perceived threat by maintaining a permanent military presence throughout the world, conservatives used their power in Congress to investigate a perceived threat from domestic Communists. Senator Joe McCarthy and Congressman Richard Nixon were leading congressional anti-communist investigators, while FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover led police investigations and informed the public of the perceived threat, and Screen Actor's Guild President Ronald Reagan looked for Communists working in the film industry.
Although the Republicans returned to power with the election of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in 1952, the economic and social policies of the New Deal had become generally accepted and its opponents were marginalized. Isolationism had discredited the Old Right and their opposition to Civil Rights had discredited the Southern Democrats. The most critical opposition to these policies came from writers. Russell Kirk claimed that both classical and modern liberalism placed too much emphasis on economic issues and failed to address man's spiritual nature, and called for a plan of action for a conservative political movement. He said that conservative leaders should appeal to farmers, small towns, the churches, and others. This target group is similar to the core constituency of the British Conservative Party.
Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman advocated a return to classical liberal or libertarian policies and together provided a vigorous criticism of the welfare state and Keynesian economics. William F. Buckley, Jr. formed the magazine the National Review in 1955 as a forum for these writers to voice their disagreements with modern liberalism and also with one another. He was joined by anti-communist Robert W. Welch Jr., who would found the John Birch Society in 1958, as a shareholder and contributor. By 1962, however, Buckley and the emerging mainstream conservatives rejected the tenets of the John Birch Society and urged the GOP to purge themselves of its influences.
The main disagreement between Kirk, who would become described as a traditionalist conservative, and the libertarians was whether tradition and virtue or liberty should be their primary concern. Frank Meyer tried to resolve the dispute with "fusionism": America could not conserve its traditions without economic freedom. He also noted that they were united in opposition to "big government" and made anti-communism the glue that would unite them. The term "conservative" was used to describe the views of National Review supporters, despite initial protests from the libertarians, because the term "liberal" had become associated with "New Deal" supporters. They were also later known as the "New Right", as opposed to the New Left.
The conservatives united behind the unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had published The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), a best-selling book that explained modern conservative theory. Some support for the campaign came from the newly-formed Young Americans for Freedom. In 1965 conservatives campaigned for Buckley as a third party candidate for Mayor of New York and in 1966 for Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor of California. Reagan sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976, before finally being elected president in 1980.
The growth of conservatism within the Republican Party attracted white conservative Southern Democrats, and the Republicans starting winning presidential elections in the South—but not until the 1990s did the GOP become dominant in state and local politics in the South. A few big names switched to the GOP, including South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond in 1964 and Texas Governor John Connally in 1973. Meanwhile, African American voters in the South began to show overwhelming support for the Democratic Party at both the presidential and local levels. (See Southern Strategy).
In 1971 Lewis F. Powell Jr. urged conservatives to retake command of public discourse by "financing think tanks, reshaping mass media and seeking influence in universities and the judiciary." In the coming decades policies once considered outside the mainstream consensus—abolishing welfare, privatizing Social Security, deregulating banking, embracing preemptive war—were taken seriously and sometimes passed into law thanks to the work of the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Fox News Network, as well as numerous corporate lobbying organizations and university professorships.
See also: Nixon and the liberal consensus
The Republican administrations of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s were characterized more by their emphasis on realpolitik, détente, and economic policies such as wage and price controls, than by their adherence to conservative views in foreign and economic policy.
It was not until the election of 1980 and the subsequent eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency that the modern American conservative movement truly achieved ascendancy. In that election, Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time since 1954, and conservative principles dominated Reagan's economic and foreign policies, with supply side economics and strict opposition to Soviet Communism defining the Administration's philosophy. Reagan's ideas were largely espoused and supported by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which grew dramatically in its influence during the Reagan years as Reagan and his senior aides looked to Heritage for policy guidance.
An icon of the American conservative movement, Reagan is credited by his supporters with transforming the politics of the United States, galvanizing the success of the Republican Party. He brought together a coalition of economic conservatives, who supported his supply-side economics; foreign policy conservatives, who favored his staunch opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union; and social conservatives, who identified with his religious and social ideals. Reagan labeled the former Soviet Union as the "evil empire." He was attacked by liberals at the time as a dangerous warmonger, but conservative historians conclude that he decisively won the Cold War.
In defining conservatism, Reagan said: "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals—if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is."
Subsequent electoral victories included gaining a Republican congressional majority in 1994 and the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. However, some noted conservatives, including Richard A. Viguerie and William F. Buckley, Jr., have said that Bush was not a conservative, either in foreign policy nor in domestic economic policy.
In the United States today, the word "conservative" is often used very differently from the way the word was used in the past and still is used in many parts of the world. The core ideals of historical conservatism, the way they are popularly understood today, were preserving the power of the land-owning class and preserving strong ties between church and state. As the industrial revolution led to a new manufacturing and professional elite, the ideals of conservatism changed to embrace laissez-faire economics and an opposition to socialism.
In the United States, from the mid-20th century on, these two forms of conservatism have largely combined, but still are at odds with those who believe in both limited government and free market economics. Barry Goldwater is one example of a "free enterprise" conservative, one of the last Republican proponents of classical liberalism and small government. Jerry Falwell is an example of a Christian conservative, and indicative of the new alliance between large government conservatives, like George W. Bush, and the religiously-informed proponents of conservative social policy. Many conservatives cite Ronald Reagan as a self-declared conservative who incorporated all of these conservative themes in his political ideology.
In the 21st century U.S., some of the groups calling themselves "conservative" include:
Classical, traditionalist conservatism or institutional conservatism — Opposition to rapid change in governmental and societal institutions. This kind of conservatism is anti-ideological insofar as it emphasizes process (slow change) over product (any particular form of government). To the classical conservative, whether one arrives at a government controlled by a particular political party is less important than whether change is affected through rule of law rather than through revolution and sudden innovation. The classical conservative emphasizes historical continuity, to ensure that a reform does not cause chaos within both the populace and historical institutions of a given society. Classical conservatives also favor tradition over experimentation, and have an inherent distrust in utopian schemes. Prominent classical conservatives include John Engler, Thaddeus McCotter, T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr., Allan C. Carlson and Rod Dreher, all of whom have been influenced by the thinking of such traditionalists as Russell Kirk, Richard M. Weaver and Robert A. Nisbet.
Ideological conservatism or right-wing conservatism — In contrast to the anti-ideological classical conservatism, right-wing conservatism is, as its name implies, ideological. It favors business and established religion, and opposes socialism, fascism, and communism.
Christian conservatism — Conservative Christians are primarily interested in family values. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, believe that abortion is wrong, may favor teacher-led Christian prayer in state schools, define marriage as between one man and one woman, and desire regulation of the public media to reduce profanity and sexual references. They strongly oppose the normalization of homosexuality.
Neoconservatism — A modern form of conservatism that supports a more assertive, interventionist foreign policy, aimed at promoting democracy abroad. Neoconservatism was first described by a group of disaffected liberals, and thus Irving Kristol, usually credited as its intellectual progenitor, defined a neoconservative as "a liberal who was mugged by reality." Although originally regarded as an approach to domestic policy (the founding instrument of the movement, Kristol's The Public Interest periodical, did not even cover foreign affairs), through the influence of figures like Dick Cheney, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and (Irving's son) Bill Kristol, it has become most famous for its association with the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. Many of the nation's most prominent and influential conservatives during the two terms of the Bush administration were considered "neoconservative" in their ideological orientation.
Limited government conservatism — Limited government conservatives look for a decreased role of the federal government. They follow Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their suspicion of a powerful federal government.
Paleoconservatism — Arising in the 1980s in reaction to neoconservatism, stresses tradition, especially Christian tradition and the importance to society of the traditional family. Some, Samuel P. Huntington for example, argue that multiracial, multi-ethnic, and egalitarian states are inherently unstable. Paleoconservatives are generally isolationist, and suspicious of foreign influence. The magazines Chronicles and The American Conservative are generally considered to be paleoconservative in nature.
Libertarian conservatism or Fusionism— Emphasizes a strict interpretation of the Constitution, particularly with regard to federal power. Libertarian conservatism is constituted by a broad, sometimes conflicted, coalition including pro-business social moderates, those favoring classic states' rights, individual liberty activists, and many of those who place their socially liberal ideology ahead of their fiscal beliefs. This mode of thinking tends to espouse laissez-faire economics and a critical view of the Federal Government. Libertarian conservatives' emphasis on personal freedom often leads them to have social positions contrary to those of Christian conservatives. The libertarian branch of conservatism may have similar disputes that isolationist paleoconservatives would with neoconservatives. However libertarian conservatives may be more militarily interventionist or support a greater degree of military strength than other libertarians. Contrarily strong preference for local government puts libertarian conservatives in frequent opposition to international government.
Classical conservatives tend to be anti-ideological, and some would even say anti-philosophical, promoting rather, as Russell Kirk explains, a steady flow of "prescription and prejudice." Kirk's use of the word "prejudice" here is not intended to carry its contemporary pejorative connotation: a conservative himself, he believes that the inherited wisdom of the ages may be a better guide than apparently rational individual judgment.
In contrast to classical conservatism, social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are concerned with consequences as well as means.
There are two overlapping subgroups of social conservatives—the traditional and the religious. Traditional conservatives strongly support traditional codes of conduct, especially those they feel are threatened by social change. For example, traditional conservatives may oppose the use of female soldiers in combat. Religious conservatives focus on conducting society as prescribed by a religious authority or code. In the United States this translates into taking hard-line stances on moral issues, such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Some religious conservatives go so far as to support the use of government institutions to promote religiosity in public life.
Fiscal conservatives support limited government, limited taxation, and a balanced budget. Some admit the necessity of taxes, but hold that taxes should be low. A recent movement against the inheritance tax labels such a tax a death tax. Fiscal conservatives often argue that competition in the free market is more effective than the regulation of industry, with the exception of industries that exhibit market dominance or monopoly powers. For some this is a matter of principle, as it is for the libertarians and others influenced by thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, who believed that government intervention in the economy is inevitably wasteful and inherently corrupt and immoral. For others, "free market economics" simply represents the most efficient way to promote economic growth: they support it not based on some moral principle, but pragmatically, because it "works."
Most modern American fiscal conservatives accept some social spending programs not specifically delineated in the Constitution. As such, fiscal conservatism today exists somewhere between classical conservatism and contemporary consequentialist political philosophies.
Throughout much of the 20th century, one of the primary forces uniting the occasionally disparate strands of conservatism, and uniting conservatives with their liberal and socialist opponents, was opposition to communism, which was seen not only as an enemy of the traditional order, but also the enemy of western freedom and democracy. For example, in the 1980s, the United States government spent billions of dollars arming and supporting Islamic terrorists, because these terrorists were fighting communists.
Social conservatism is generally dominated by defense of traditional social norms and values, of local customs and of societal evolution, rather than social upheaval, though the distinction is not absolute. Often based upon religion, modern cultural conservatives, in contrast to "small-government" conservatives and "states-rights" advocates, increasingly turn to the federal government to overrule the states in order to preserve educational and moral standards.
Social conservatives emphasize traditional views of social units such as the family, church, or locale. Social conservatives would typically define family in terms of local histories and tastes. To the Protestant or Catholic, social conservatism may entail support for defining marriage as between a man and a woman (thereby banning gay marriage) and laws placing restrictions on abortion.
Fundamentalist Protestants, rejecting Darwinism, often advocate the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools, and believe that the theory of a God-created universe should be presented as a legitimate explanation for the world's creation.
Conservatives tend to strongly identify with American nationalism and patriotism. They denounce anti-war protesters and hail the police and the military. Conservatives hold that military institutions embody admirable values like honor, duty, courage, and loyalty. Military institutions are independent sources of tradition and ritual pageantry that conservatives tend to admire.
Some conservatives want to use federal power to block state actions they disapprove of. Thus in the 21st century came support for the "No Child Left Behind" program, support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, support for federal laws overruling states that attempt to legalize marijuana or assisted suicide or use eminent domain to take private property. The willingness to use federal power to intervene in state affairs is the negation of the old state's rights position.
Anti-intellectualism has been common among conservatives.  In the 1920s, Fundamentalists like William Bell Riley led the battle against Darwinism and evolution, a battle which still goes on in some conservative circles today. More recently the anti-intellecualism has taken the form of attacks on elites, experts, scientists, public schools and universities.
Fiscal conservatism is the economic and political policy that advocates restraint of governmental taxation and expenditures. Fiscal conservatives since the 19th century have argued that debt is a device to corrupt politics; they argue that big spending ruins the morals of the people, and that a national debt creates a dangerous class of speculators. The argument in favor of balanced budgets is often coupled with a belief that government welfare programs should be narrowly tailored and that tax rates should be low, which implies relatively small government institutions.
This belief in small government combines with fiscal conservatism to produce a broader economic liberalism, which wishes to minimize government intervention in the economy. This amounts to support for laissez-faire economics. This economic liberalism borrows from two schools of thought: the classical liberals' pragmatism and the libertarian's notion of "rights." The classical liberal maintains that free markets work best, while the libertarian contends that free markets are the only ethical markets.
The economic philosophy of conservatives in the United States tends to be more liberal allowing for more economic freedom. Economic liberalism can go well beyond fiscal conservatism's concern for fiscal prudence, to a belief or principle that it is not prudent for governments to intervene in markets. It is also, sometimes, extended to a broader "small government" philosophy. Economic liberalism is associated with free-market, or laissez-faire economics.
Classical liberals and libertarians support free markets on moral, ideological grounds: principles of individual liberty morally dictate support for free markets. Supporters of the moral grounds for free markets include Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. The liberal tradition is suspicious of government authority, and prefers individual choice, and hence tends to see capitalist economics as the preferable means of achieving economic ends.
Modern conservatives, on the other hand, derive support for free markets from practical grounds. Free markets, they argue, are the most productive markets. Thus the modern conservative supports free markets not out of necessity, but out of expedience. The support is not moral or ideological, but driven on the Burkean notion of prescription: what works best is what is right.
Another reason why conservatives support a smaller role for the government in the economy is the belief in the importance of the civil society. As noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, a bigger role of the government in the economy will make people feel less responsible for the society. The responsibilities must then be taken over by the government, requiring higher taxes. In his book Democracy in America, De Tocqueville describes this as "soft oppression."
It must be noted that while classical liberals and modern conservatives reached free markets through different means historically, to-date the lines have blurred. Rarely will a politician claim that free markets are "simply more productive" or "simply the right thing to do" but a combination of both. This blurring is very much a product of the merging of the classical liberal and modern conservative positions under the "umbrella" of the conservative movement.
The archetypal free-market conservative administrations of the late 20th century—the Margaret Thatcher government in the UK and the Ronald Reagan government in the U.S. -- both held the unfettered operation of the market to be the cornerstone of contemporary modern conservatism (this philosophy is sometimes called neoliberalism). To that end, Thatcher privatized industries and Reagan cut the maximum capital gains tax from 98% to 20%, though in his second term he raised it back up to 28%. Contrary to the neoliberal ideal, Reagan increased government spending from about 700 billion in his first year in office to about 900 billion in his last year.
In the United States, the Republican Party is generally considered to be the party of conservatism. This has been the case since the 1960s, when the conservative wing of that party consolidated its hold, causing it to shift permanently to the right of the Democratic Party. The most dramatic realignment was the white South, which moved from 3-1 Democratic to 3-1 Republican between 1960 and 2000.
In addition, some United States libertarians, in the Libertarian Party and even some in the Republican Party, see themselves as conservative, even though they advocate significant economic and social changes – for instance, further dismantling the welfare system or liberalizing drug policy. They see these as conservative policies because they conform to the spirit of individual liberty that they consider to be a traditional American value.
On the other end of the scale, some Americans see themselves as conservative while not being supporters of free market policies. These people generally favor protectionist trade policies and government intervention in the market to preserve American jobs. Many of these conservatives were originally supporters of neoliberalism who changed their stance after perceiving that countries such as China were benefiting from that system at the expense of American production. However, despite their support for protectionism, they still tend to favor other elements of free market philosophy, such as low taxes, limited government and balanced budgets.
Geographically the South, the Frontier Strip, the Rocky Mountain states, and Alaska are conservative strongholds. However, this is primarily because of the higher proportion of rural and exurban areas in those states. The majority of people who live in rural areas and a smaller majority of those living in the "exurbs" or suburbs of a metropolitan area, tend to be conservative and vote Republican. People who live in the urban cores of large metropolitan areas tend to be liberal and vote Democratic. Thus, within each state, there is a division between urban, suburban, exurban, and rural areas.
Conservatism in the so-called blue states are found in inland areas or "red counties" such as the Inland Empire (Washington), Inland Empire (California), the Central Valley (California), Southern Oregon, Little Egypt or the Ohio River Valley of Illinois, Upper Michigan Peninsula, North Florida or the Florida Panhandle, Upstate New York, and suburban parts of New Hampshire with the rural "Allagash" and Aroostook County, Maine tend to be more conservative than all of the Northeast US.
In western Europe conservatism is generally associated with the following views, as noted by the conservative author Russell Kirk in his 1953 book, The Conservative Mind, and (during the late 18th century) by the British political philosopher Edmund Burke:
One stream of conservatism exemplified by William Howard Taft extols independent judges as experts in fairness and the final arbiters of the Constitution. However, another more critical variant of conservatism condemns "judicial activism: that is, judges using their decisions to control policy. This position goes back to Jefferson's vehement attacks on federal judges and to Abraham Lincoln's attacks on the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt broke with most of his lawyer friends and called for popular votes that could overturn unwelcome decisions by state courts. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not attack the Supreme Court directly in 1937, but ignited a firestorm of protest by a proposal to add seven new justices. The Warren Court of the 1960s came under conservative attack for decisions regarding redistricting, desegregation, and the rights of those accused of crimes.
A more recent variant that emerged in the 1970s is "originalism", the assertion that the United States Constitution should be interpreted to the maximum extent possible in the light of what it meant when it was adopted. Originalism should not be confused with a similar conservative ideology, strict constructionism, which deals with the interpretation of the Constitution as written, but not necessarily within the context of the time when it was adopted. In modern times, originalism has been advocated by U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, former U.S. federal judge Robert Bork and other conservative jurists.
In the late 20th century conservatives found new ways to use language and the media to support their goals and to shape the vocabulary of political discourse. Thus the use of "Democrat" as an adjective, as in "Democrat Party" was used first in the 1930s by Republicans to criticize large urban Democratic machines. Republican leader Harold Stassen stated in 1940, "I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly Nash in Chicago should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat party.'" [Safire 1994]
In 1947 Senator Robert A. Taft said, "Nor can we expect any other policy from any Democrat Party or any Democrat President under present day conditions. They cannot possibly win an election solely through the support of the solid South, and yet their political strategists believe the Southern Democrat Party will not break away no matter how radical the allies imposed upon it." [Taft Papers 3:313]. The use of "Democrat" as an adjective is standard practice in Republican national platforms (since 1948), and was a standard practice in the White House in 2001–2008, for press releases and speeches.
Conservatives gained a major new communications medium with the resurgence of talk radio in the late-1980s. Rush Limbaugh proved there was a huge nationwide audience for specific and heated discussions of current events from a conservative viewpoint. Major hosts who describe themselves as either conservative or libertarian include: Glenn Beck, Michael Peroutka, Jim Quinn, Dennis Miller, Ben Ferguson, Lars Larson, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, Laura Ingraham, Mike Church, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Larry Elder, Kim Peterson, Neal Boortz, Michael Reagan, Jason Lewis and Ken Hamblin. The Salem Radio Network syndicates a group of religiously-oriented Republican activists, including Evangelical Christian Hugh Hewitt, and Jewish conservatives Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. One popular Jewish conservative, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, offers parental and personal advice, but is an outspoken critic of social and political issues.
Libertarians such as Neal Boortz (based in Atlanta), and Mark Davis (based in Ft. Worth and Dallas, Texas) reach large local audiences. Art Bell held some Libertarian views before his talk show adapted a new paranormal format. Many of these hosts also publish books, write newspaper columns, appear on television, and give public lectures (Limbaugh was a pioneer of this model of multi-media punditry). At a rarer level, University of Chicago psychology professor Milt Rosenberg has been hosting a talk show "Extension 720" on WGN radio in Chicago since the 1970s.
Talk radio provided an immediacy and a high degree of emotionalism that seldom is reached on television or in magazines. Pew researchers found in 2004 that 17% of the public regularly listens to talk radio. This audience is mostly male, middle-aged, well-educated and conservative. Among those who regularly listen to talk radio, 41% are Republicans and 28% are Democrats. Moreover, 45% describe themselves as conservatives, compared with 18% who say they are liberal.
Academic discussion of conservatism in the United States has been dominated by American exceptionalism, the theory that British conservatism has little or no relevance to American traditions. This is in contrast to the view that Burkean conservatism has a set of universal principals which can be applied all societies. According to Louis Hartz, because the United States skipped the feudal stage of history, the American community was united by liberal principles, and the conflict between the "Whig" and "democrat" traditions were conflicts within a liberal framework. In this view, what is called conservatism in America is not European conservatism but rather classical liberalism. A differing view is found in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. Kirk wrote that the American Revolution was "a conservative reaction, in the English political tradition, against royal innovation". Kirk's theories were severely criticized by M. Morton Auerbach in The Conservative Illusion. Theodore Adorno and Richard Hofstader referred to modern American conservatives as "pseudo-conservatives", because of their "dissatisfaction with American life, traditions and institutions" and because they had "little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism".
Clinton Rossiter, a Cornell professor, claimed in 1955 that the following American politicians "loom above all other men of their age as models of conservative statesmanship and wellsprings of conservative thought."
Other notable figures in the history of conservatism in the United States, according to the standard reference books are:
Intellectuals and economists
Popular writers, activists, and commentators
Magazines and publications