American conservatism is a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, Republicanism, support for Judeo-Christian values, moral absolutism, free markets and free trade, anti-communism, individualism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from the perceived threats posed by socialism, authoritarianism, and moral relativism.
Liberty for people who conform to Anglo-American values, economic freedom, social conservatism, and promotion of Judaeo-Christian ideals are core beliefs, with a particular emphasis on strengthening the free market, limiting the size and scope of government in the economy, and opposition to high taxes and government or labor union encroachment on the entrepreneur. American conservatives consider individual liberty, within the bounds of conformity to American values, as the fundamental trait of democracy, which contrasts with modern American liberals, who generally place a greater value on equality and social justice.
American conservatism originates from republicanism, which rejected aristocratic and monarchical government based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, which stated that "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". In 1789, the Constitution of United States established a Federal Republic under the rule of law. All major American political parties are based on these two documents. Conservative activists to this day occasionally dress in costumes from the Revolutionary era and celebrate revolutionary episodes such as the Boston Tea Party. Conservative philosophy also has continuity to the classical liberal tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries, which advocated for laissez-faire economics, also called economic freedom and deregulation.
Historians argue that the conservative tradition has played a major role in American politics and culture since 1776. However, they have stressed that an organized conservative movement has played a key role in politics only since the 1950s. The recent movement is based in the Republican Party, though some Democrats were also important figures early in the movement's history.
According to Peter Viereck, American conservatism is distinctive because it was not tied to a monarchy, landed aristocracy, established church, or military elite. Instead American conservatives were firmly rooted in American republicanism, which European conservatives opposed. They are committed, says Seymour Martin Lipset, to the belief in America's "superiority against the cold reactionary monarchical and more rigidly status-bound system of European society."
The history of American conservatism has been marked by tensions and competing ideologies. Fiscal conservatives and libertarians favor small government, laissez-faire economy, low income and corporate taxes, limited regulation, and free enterprise. Social conservatives see traditional social values as threatened by secularism; they tend to support mandatory school prayer and oppose abortion and same sex marriage. The 21st century has seen an increase in conservative support for the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Neoconservatives want to expand American ideals throughout the world. Paleoconservatives advocate restrictions on immigration, non-interventionist foreign policy, and stand in opposition to multiculturalism. Nationwide most factions, except some libertarians, support a unilateral foreign policy, and a strong military. The conservative movement of the 1950s attempted to bring together these divergent strands, stressing the need for unity to prevent the spread of "godless communism."
Among our convictions: It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens' lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side. The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.
Traditional (Burkean) conservatives tend to be anti-ideological, and some would even say anti-philosophical, promoting rather, as Russell Kirk explained, 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 believed that the inherited wisdom of the ages may be a better guide than apparently rational individual judgment.
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 and modernization. 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. Religious conservatives often assert that "America is a Christian nation" and call for laws that enforce Christian morality.
Fiscal conservatives support limited government, low tax, low spending, and a balanced budget. They argue that low taxes produce more jobs and wealth for everyone, and also that, as President Grover Cleveland said, "unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation". A recent movement against the inheritance tax labels such a tax as a death tax. Fiscal conservatives often argue that competition in the free market is more effective than the regulation of industry. Some make exceptions in the case of trusts or monopolies. Others, such as some libertarians and followers of Ludwig von Mises, believe all government intervention in the economy is wasteful, corrupt, and immoral. More moderate fiscal conservatives argue that "free market economics" is the most efficient way to promote economic growth: they support it not based on some moral principle, but pragmatically, because they hold that it just "works."
Many modern American fiscal conservatives accept some social spending programs not specifically delineated in the Constitution. However, some American fiscal conservatives view wider social liberalism as an impetus for increased spending on these programs. As such, fiscal conservatism today exists somewhere between classical liberalism and contemporary consequentialist political philosophies, and is often influenced by coinciding levels of social conservatism.  
Through much of the 20th century, a primary force uniting the varied strands of conservatism, and uniting conservatives with liberals and socialists, 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. Thus it was the British Labour government—which embraced socialism—that pushed the Truman administration in 1945–47 to take a strong stand against Soviet Communism.
Social conservatives tend to strongly identify with American nationalism and patriotism. They often denounce anti-war protesters and support the police and the military. They hold that military institutions embody core values such as honor, duty, courage, loyalty, and a willingness on the part of the individual to make sacrifices for the good of the country.
Fiscal conservatism is the economic and political policy that advocates restraint of progressive taxation and expenditure. 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. A political strategy employed by conservatives to achieve a smaller government is known as starve the beast. Activist Grover Norquist is a well-known proponent of the strategy and has famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." 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 or implement laissez-faire policies. 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.
Historian Kathleen G. Donohue argues that classical liberalism in the 19th century U.S. had distinctive characteristics as opposed to Britain:
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 free market capitalism 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, there is a belief that a bigger role of the government in the economy will make people feel less responsible for the society. These responsibilities would then need to be taken over by the government, requiring higher taxes. In his book Democracy in America, Tocqueville described this as "soft oppression."
While classical liberals and modern conservatives reached free markets through different means historically, in recent years the lines have blurred. Rarely will a conservative 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 Britain and the Ronald Reagan administration in the U.S.—both held the unfettered operation of the market to be the cornerstone of contemporary modern conservatism. To that end, Thatcher privatized industries and public housing and Reagan cut the maximum capital gains tax from 28% to 20%, though in his second term he agreed to raise it back up to 28%. Reagan also cut individual income tax rates, lowering the maximum rate from 70% to 28%. He wanted to increase defense spending and achieved that; liberal Democrats blocked his efforts to cut domestic spending. Reagan did not control the rapid increase in federal government spending, or reduce the deficit, but his record looks better when expressed as a percent of the gross domestic product. Federal revenues as a percent of the GDP fell from 19.6% in 1981 when Reagan took office to 18.3% in 1989 when he left. Federal spending fell slightly from 22.2% of the GDP to 21.2%. This contrasts with statistics from 2004, when government spending was rising more rapidly than it had in decades.
In the United States today, the word "conservative" is often used very differently from the way it is used in Europe and Asia. The Americans after 1776 rejected the core ideals of European conservatism, which were based on the landed aristocracy, the established church, and the powerful, prestigious army.
Conservatism in the United States is not a single school of thought. Barry Goldwater in the 1960s spoke for a "free enterprise" conservatism. Jerry Falwell in the 1980s preached traditional moral and religious social values. It was Reagan's challenge to form these groups into an electable coalition. In the 21st century U.S., some of the groups calling themselves "conservative" include:
In the United States there has never been a national political party called the Conservative Party. All major American political parties support republicanism and the basic classical liberal ideals on which the country was founded in 1776, emphasizing liberty, the rule of law, the consent of the governed, and that all men were created equal. Political divisions inside the United States often seemed minor or trivial to Europeans, where the divide between the Left and the Right led to violent polarization, starting with the French Revolution.
Historian Patrick Allitt expresses the difference between liberal and conservative in terms not of policy but of attitude:
No American party has advocated European ideals of "conservatism" such as a monarchy, an established church, or a hereditary aristocracy. American conservatism is best characterized as a reaction against utopian ideas of progress. Russell Kirk saw the American Revolution itself as "a conservative reaction, in the English political tradition, against royal innovation".
President Ronald Reagan set the conservative standard in the 1980s; in the 2010s the Republican leaders typically claim fealty to it. For example, most of the Republican candidates in 2012 "claimed to be standard bearers of Reagan's ideological legacy." Reagan solidified conservative Republican strength with tax cuts, a greatly increased military budget, continued deregulation, a policy of rollback of Communism (rather than just containing it), and appeals to family values and conservative morality. The 1980s and beyond became known as the "Reagan Era." Typically, conservative politicians and spokesmen in the 21st century proclaim their devotion to Reagan's ideals and policies on most social, economic and foreign policy issues.
Other modern conservative beliefs include skepticism of the theory of man-made global warming and opposition to government action to combat it, which conservatives contend would do severe economic damage, and ultimately more harm than good even if one accepts the premise that human activity is contributing to climate change. They support a strong policy of law and order to control crime, including long jail terms for repeat offenders. Most conservatives support the death penalty for particularly egregious crimes. The "law and order" issue was a major factor weakening liberalism in the 1960s. From 2001 to 2008, Republican President George W. Bush stressed cutting taxes and minimizing regulation of industry and banking, while increasing regulation of education. Conservatives generally advocate the use of American military power to fight terrorists and promote democracy in the Middle East.
According to a 2014 poll, 38% of American voters identify as "conservative" or "very conservative," 34% as "moderate," 24% as "liberal" or "very liberal". These percentages were fairly constant from 1990 to 2009, when conservatism spiked in popularity briefly before reverting to the original trend while liberal views on social issues reached a new high. Although the study does show some distinction between the concentration of moderates and conservatives or liberals between the Republican and Democratic parties. Among Democrats, 44% are self-identified liberals, 19% as conservatives, and 36% as moderates. For Republicans 70% self-identified as conservative, 24% as moderate, and 5% as liberal.
Conservatives generally believe that government action is not the solution to such problems as poverty and inequality. Many believe that government programs that seek to provide services and opportunities for the poor actually encourage dependence and reduce self-reliance. Most conservatives oppose affirmative action policies, that is, policies in employment, education, and other areas that give special advantages to people who belong to groups that have been historically discriminated against. Conservatives believe that the government should not give special benefits to people on the basis of group identity and oppose it as "reverse discrimination".
Conservatives typically hold that the government should play a smaller role in regulating business and managing the economy. They typically oppose high tax rates and programs to redistribute income to assist the poor. Such efforts, they argue, do not properly reward people who have earned their money through hard work. However, conservatives usually place a strong emphasis on the role of private voluntary charitable organizations (especially faith-based charities) in helping the poor.
As conservatives value order and security, they favor a small but strong government role in law enforcement and national defense.
On social issues, many religious conservatives oppose changes in traditional moral standards regarding sexuality and gender roles. They oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws against homosexuals. The libertarian faction tends to ignore these issues, instead focusing on fiscal and monetary policy. Business-oriented conservatives oppose the social conservatives if state laws limiting gay rights threaten to hurt business. The National Review reported in 2016 that, "as evangelical forces have become less unified...the influence of Right-leaning business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce has only grown." In the culture war of recent decades, multiculturalism has been a flashpoint, especially regarding the humanities curriculum. Historian Peter N. Stearns finds a polarization since the 1960s between conservatives, who believe that the humanities express eternal truths that should be taught, and those who think that the humanities curriculum should be tailored to demonstrate diversity. Generally conservatism opposes the "identity politics" associated with multiculturalism, and supports individualism. In campus battles, progressives demand "Cultural diversity" while conservatives denounce efforts to impose "political correctness" and stifle free speech.
Conservatives typically favor a "melting pot" model of assimilation into common English-speaking American culture, as opposed to a "salad bowl" approach that lends legitimacy to many different cultures. In the 21st century, conservatives have warned on the dangers of tolerating radical Islamic elements, of the sort that they say are engaging in large-scale terrorism in Europe.
In the United States, the Republican Party has been the party of conservatism since the 1890s, although there was a strong Eastern liberal wing. Since 1964 the conservatives largely took control. Meanwhile, the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, based in the South and strongly opposed to Civil Rights, grew weaker. The most dramatic realignment took place within the White South, which moved from 3–1 Democratic to 3–1 Republican between 1960 and 2000.
In addition, some American 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. However, many libertarian think-tanks such as the Cato Institute, and libertarian intellectuals such as David Boaz describe libertarianism as being "socially liberal and fiscally conservative." Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul is one of the most well-noted Republicans with a libertarian-leaning philosophy. Espousing a return to a stricter interpretation of the Constitution, an audit of the Federal Reserve System and an end to American Interventionism in other parts of the world, Paul gained a loyal following among libertarians, displaced conservatives in the Republican Party and also made inroads with some Democrats during two failed attempts to gain the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2008 and 2012. Paul, an obstetrician by training, also ran as the 1988 Libertarian Party Presidential nominee.
On the other hand, some conservatives tend to oppose free-market trade policies and support protectionism instead. They want government intervention to support the economy and protect American jobs. They oppose free trade on the ground that it benefits other countries (especially China) at the expense of American workers. However, in spite of their support for protectionism, they tend to support other free-market principles like low taxes, small government and balanced budgets.
The South, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain states, and Alaska are generally conservative strongholds. The Northeast, Great Lakes Region, and West Coast are the main liberal strongholds. Conservatives are strongest in rural America and, to a lesser extent, in the exurbs or suburbs. Voters in the urban cores of large metropolitan areas tend to be more liberal and Democratic. Thus, within each state, there is a division between urban, suburban, exurban, and rural areas. In recent decades, the electoral geography has helped give Republicans control of the House of Representatives, and Democrats a decided edge in the Electoral College which elects the president.
Russell Kirk developed six "canons" of conservatism, which Gerald J. Russello described as follows:
Kirk said that Christianity and Western Civilization are "unimaginable apart from one another" and that "all culture arises out of religion. When religious faith decays, culture must decline, though often seeming to flourish for a space after the religion which has nourished it has sunk into disbelief."
In later works, Kirk expanded this list into his "Ten Principles of Conservatism" which are as follows:
One stream of conservatism exemplified by William Howard Taft extols independent judges as experts in fairness and the final arbiters of the Constitution. In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt broke with most of his lawyer friends and called for popular votes that could overturn unwelcome decisions by state courts. Taft denounced his old friend and rallied conservatives to defeat him for the 1912 GOP nomination. Taft and the conservative Republicans controlled the Supreme Court until the late 1930s.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat, did not attack the Supreme Court directly in 1937, but ignited a firestorm of protest by a proposal to add seven new justices. Conservative Democrats immediately broke with FDR, defeated his proposal, and built up the Conservative Coalition. While the liberals did take over the Court through replacements, they lost control of Congress. That is, the Court no longer overthrew liberal laws passed by Congress, but there were very few such laws that passed in 1937–60.
A recent variant of conservatism condemns "judicial activism"; that is, judges using their decisions to control policy, along the lines of the Warren Court in the 1960s. It came under conservative attack for decisions regarding redistricting, desegregation, and the rights of those accused of crimes. 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.
A more recent variant that emerged in the 1980s 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, the term originalism has been used by Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, former federal judge Robert Bork and some other conservative jurists to explain their beliefs.
In the past, conservatives have supported conservation efforts, from the protection of the Yosemite Valley, to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, more recently, neoconservatives have opposed environmentalism; with environmentalists often ridiculed as "tree huggers". Republican Party leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann advocate the abolition of the EPA, calling it "the job-killing organization of America." 
Conservative think tanks since the 1990s have opposed the concept of man-made global warming; they challenged scientific evidence, publicised what they perceived as beneficial aspects of global warming, and stated their strong beliefs that proposed remedies would do more harm than good. The concept of anthropogenic global warming continues to be an ongoing debate amongst Conservatives in the United States, but the majority reject the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by humans; 73% of Republicans believed humans were uninvolved in causing global warming, according to a 2015 poll by Pew Research.
In recent times, American conservatives have generally supported deregulation of pollution and reduced restrictions on carbon emissions. Similarly, they have advocated increased oil drilling with less regulatory interference, such as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the 2008 election, the phrase, "Drill baby drill" was used to express the Republican position on the subject.
The term "socialist" has been used as a "rhetorical weapon" against the Left by conservatives. David Hinshaw writes that William Allen White, editor of a small-town newspaper in Kansas from 1895, used "socialistic" as "his big gun to blast radical opposition." White set "Americanism" as the alternative, warning, "The election will sustain Americanism or it will plant Socialism." White became famous when Mark Hanna, campaign manager for Republican candidate William McKinley distributed upwards of a million or more copies of one White editorial to rally opposition to William Jennings Bryan, the nominee of both the Democratic and Populist parties.
By the 1950s, the conservative press had discovered that the word 'socialism' "proved to be a successful derogatory epithet rather than a descriptive label for a meaningful political alternative." At the 1952 Republican national convention, former President Herbert Hoover repeated his warnings about two decades of New Deal policies, denouncing, says Gary Best, "The usurpation of power by the federal government, the loss of freedom in America, the poisoning of the American economy with fascism, socialism, and Keynesianism, the enormous growth of the federal bureaucracy." Barry Goldwater in 1960 called for Republican unity against John F. Kennedy and the "blueprint for socialism presented by the Democrats." Goldwater in 1964 attacked central planners like fellow Republican Nelson Rockefeller, implying he was a socialist in a millionaire's garb: "The Democratic party believes in what I call socialism: and if that upsets anybody's stomach, let me remind you that central planning of our economy is socialism." Ronald Reagan often quoted Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist nominee for president in the New Deal era, as saying, "The American people would never knowingly vote for Socialism, but that under the name of liberalism, they would adopt every fragment of the socialist program." In 2010 Newt Gingrich defined "socialism in the broad sense" as "a government-dominated, bureaucratically-controlled, politician-dictated way of life." Gingrich believes Barack Obama is committed to this form of socialism.
Conservatives gained a major new communications medium with the resurgence of talk radio in the late 1980s. This enabled them to spread their message much more effectively to the general public, which had previously been confined to the major Big Three television networks.
Rush Limbaugh proved there was a huge nationwide audience for specific and heated discussions of current events from a conservative viewpoint. Other major hosts who describe themselves as conservative include: Michael Peroutka, Jim Quinn, Dennis Miller, Ben Ferguson, William Bennett, Andrew Wilkow, Lars Larson, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, Laura Ingraham, Mike Church, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Kim Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Michael Reagan, Jason Lewis, Ken Hamblin, and Herman Cain. The Salem Radio Network syndicates a group of religiously oriented Republican activists, including Roman Catholic Hugh Hewitt, and Jewish conservatives Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. One popular Jewish conservative, Laura Schlessinger, offers parental and personal advice, but is outspoken on social and political issues. In 2011, the largest weekly audiences for talk radio were 15 million for Limbaugh and 14 million for Hannity, with about nine million each for Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Mark Levin. The audiences overlap, depending on how many each listener dials into every week.
Fox News features conservative hosts. One such host is Sean Hannity, who also has a talk radio program. One former host is Matt Drudge; prior, and after his time on Fox News, Drudge has operated Drudge Report a news aggregation website and is a self-professed conservative. It is more conservative than other news sources in the United States, such as National Public Radio and CNN. Canadian-American political commentator David Frum has been a critic of this development, and has argued that the influence of conservative talk radio and Fox News has harmed American conservatism, turning it from "a political philosophy into a market segment" for extremism and conflict making "for bad politics but great TV."
Liberal and leftist viewpoints have dominated higher education faculties since the 1970s, according to many studies, whereas conservatives are better represented in policy-oriented think tanks. Data from a survey conducted in 2004 indicated that 72% of full-time faculty identify as liberal, while 9–18% self-identify as conservative. Conservative self-identification is higher in two-year colleges than other categories of higher education but has been declining overall. Those in natural sciences, engineering, and business were less liberal than those in the social sciences and humanities. A 2005 study found that liberal views had increased compared to the older studies. 15% in the survey described themselves as center-right. While the humanities and the social sciences are still the most left leaning, 67% of those in other fields combined described themselves as center-left on the spectrum. In business and engineering, liberals outnumber conservatives by a 2:1 ratio. The study also found that women, practicing Christians, and Republicans taught at lower ranked schools than would be expected from objectively measured professional accomplishments. A study by psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammars, of the Netherlands' Tilburg University, published in September 2012 in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that, in social and personality psychology, about a third of those surveyed say that they would to a small extent favor a liberal point of view over a conservative point of view. A 2007 poll found that 58% of Americans thought that college professors' political bias was a "serious problem". This varied depending on the political views of those asked. 91% of "very conservative" adults agreed compared with only 3% of liberals. That same year a documentary, Indoctrinate U, was released which focuses on the perceived bias within academia.
On the other hand, liberal critic Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times that this phenomenon is more due to personal choice than some kind of discrimination or conspiracy, noting that, for example, vocations such as military officers are much more likely to be filled by conservatives, rather than liberals. Additionally, two studies published in the journal of the American Political Science Association have suggested that the political orientations of college students' professors have little influence or "indoctrination" in terms of students' political belief.
Postmodernism is an approach common in the humanities on campus that greatly troubles conservative intellectuals. The issue is relativism versus absolute truths. Ellen Grigsby says, "Postmodern perspectives contend that any ideology putting forward absolute statements as timeless truths should be viewed with profound skepticism." Kellner says, "Postmodern discourse frequently argues that all discourses and values are socially constructed and laden with interests and biases. Against postmodern and liberal relativism, cultural conservatives have argued for values of universal truth and absolute standards of right and wrong."
Neoconservative historian Gertrude Himmelfarb has energetically rejected postmodern academic approaches:
Here is a representative summary of postmodern literary studies of the sort that antagonize conservatives, written by Jay Stevenson:
Conservative intellectuals have championed a "high conservative modernism" that insists that universal truths exist, and have opposed approaches that deny the existence of universal truths. Many argued that natural law was the repository of timeless truths. Allan Bloom, in his highly influential The Closing of the American Mind (1987) argues that moral degradation results from ignorance of the great classics that shaped Western culture. His book was widely cited by conservative intellectuals for its argument that the classics contained universal truths and timeless values which were being ignored by cultural relativists.
Historians in recent years have agreed that they need to rethink the role of conservatism in recent American history. An important new approach rejects the older consensus that liberalism was the dominant ethos. Labor historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore argue the New Deal was a short-term response to depression and did not mark a permanent commitment to a welfare state, claiming that America has always been too individualistic and too hostile to labor unions to ever embrace liberalism for any extended period of time. This new interpretation argues that conservatism has largely dominated American politics since the 1920s, with the brief exceptions of the New Deal era (1933–38) and the Great Society (1964–66). Historian Julian Zelizer, however, argues that "The coherence of conservatism has been exaggerated. The movement was as fragile as the New Deal coalition that it replaced....Policy change has thus proved to be much more difficult than conservatives hoped for." Zelizer does find four areas where conservatives did make major changes: retrenchment of domestic programs, lowering taxes, deregulation, and opposition to labor unions. He concludes, "The fact is that liberalism survived the rise of conservatism."
American conservatives typically promote American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is inherently different from other nations and has a duty to take the lead in spreading democracy and free markets to the world. Reagan especially articulated this role (and many liberals also agree with it). They see American values emerging from the American Revolution, thereby becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called "the first new nation" and developing a uniquely American ideology, "Americanism", based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, laissez-faire capitalism and Judeo-Christian values.
Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and other American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the U.S. is like the biblical "City upon a Hill"—a phrase evoked by Puritan settlers in Massachusetts as early as 1630—and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.
Scholars have argued that British and European conservatism has little or no relevance to American traditions. According to political scientist 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 "Democratic" parties were conflicts within a liberal framework. In this view, what is called "conservatism" in America is not European conservatism (with its royalty, landowning aristocracy, elite officer corps, and established churches) but rather 19th century classical liberalism with an emphasis on economic freedom and entrepreneurship. This is in contrast to the view that Burkean conservatism has a set of universal principles which can be applied to all societies. Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind argued that the American Revolution was "a conservative reaction, in the English political tradition, against royal innovation". Liberal historian Richard Hofstader criticized modern American conservatives as "pseudo-conservatives", because their negative reaction to the policies of Harry Truman showed "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 leading expert on American political history, published his history of Conservatism in America (1956) and also a summary article on "The Giants Of American Conservatism" in American Heritage. His goal was to identify the "great men who did conservative deeds, thought conservative thoughts, practiced conservative virtues, and stood for conservative principles." To Rossiter, conservatism was defined by the rule of the upper class. He wrote, "The Right of these freewheeling decades was a genuine Right: it was led by the rich and well-placed; it was skeptical of popular government; it was opposed to all parties, unions, leagues, or other movements that sought to invade its positions of power and profit; it was politically, socially, and culturally anti-radical." His "giants of American conservatism" were: John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Elihu Root, and Theodore Roosevelt. He added that Washington and Lincoln transcend the usual categories, but that conservatives "may argue with some conviction that Washington and Lincoln can also be added to his list."
Rossiter went to note the importance of other conservative leaders over the past two centuries. Among the fathers of the Constitution, which he calls "a triumph of conservative statesmanship", Rossiter said conservatives may "take special pride" in James Madison, James Wilson, Roger Sherman, John Dickinson, Gouverneur Morris and the Pinckneys of South Carolina. For the early 19th century, Rossiter said the libertarians and constitutionalists who deserve the conservative spotlight for their fight against Jacksonian democracy include Joseph Story and Josiah Quincy in Massachusetts; Chancellor James Kent in New York; James Madison, James Monroe, and John Randolph of Roanoke in Virginia.
In the decades around 1900, Rossiter finds that Grover Cleveland, Elihu Root, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt "were most successful in shaping the old truths of conservatism to the new facts of industrialism and democracy."
Conservatives have not liked what they see as the 'mushy' and 'confused' morals and the political, sexual and social mores of the American Nation of the last 50 years. They want clarity. They want guidelines based on Judeo-Christian values. They trust God. Most Conservatives believe any sexual activity outside of the marriage contract is wrong. They believe that abortion is equivalent to murder, and they oppose assisted suicide.
To traditional conservatives, there most definitely are moral absolutes and they can most definitely and definitively identify those moral absolutes.
Conservatism generally is associated with pro-business, anti-labor, and strong-national-defense stances, all of which lead to support for free trade principles.
The American conservative system of rugged individualism, free markets, economic competition and deep respect for tradition...
Conservatives had a fear of Communism shared by most Americans. During this time a popular anti-Communist culture emerged in America, evident in movies, television programs, community activities, and grassroots organizations. This popular anti-Communist culture generated patriotic rallies, parades, city resolutions, and an array of anti—Communist groups concerned about Communist influence in the schools, textbooks, churches, labor unions, industry, and universities.
For most conservatives, if there is a common culprit in explaining society's descent into moral chaos, then it is relativism – the notion that there are no absolute values or standards, merely different interpretations and perspectives.
Social conservatives focus on moral or values issues, such as abortion, marriage, school prayer, and judicial appointments.
Against accusations of being pre-modern or even anti-modern in outlook, paleoconservatives press for restrictions on immigration, a rollback of multicultural programmes, the decentralization of the federal polity, the restoration of controls upon free trade, a greater emphasis upon economic nationalism and isolationism in the conduct of American foreign policy, and a generally revanchist outlook upon a social order in need of recovering old lines of distinction and in particular the assignment of roles in accordance with traditional categories of gender, ethnicity, and race.
Modern American conservatism is not, and has never been, monolithic. It is a coalition with many points of origin and diverse tendencies that are not always easy to reconcile.
Conservatives often use the word “socialist” like an epithet, but they don’t realize that neither their audience nor even their political opponents really know what the word even means.
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