Crisis of Conservatism? The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement and American Politics after Bush

By Joel D. Aberbach; Gillian Peele | Go to book overview

3
The Future of the American Right
Evidence and Questions from the Bush Years

JOEL D. ABERBACH


Contemporary American Conservatism
Prior to George W. Bush

The contemporary conservative movement in the United States has been a vibrant force in American politics. That said, there is hardly consensus about what it means to be a conservative. George Nash, perhaps the premier conservative historian of conservatism, refuses even to define the term:

I doubt that there is any satisfactory, all-encompassing definition of the
complex phenomenon called conservatism, the content of which varies
enormously with time and place.1

Instead of a precise definition, which he regards as a hopeless exercise in finding the elusive “true’ conservatism,” Nash provides a list of often competing tendencies that make up “conservative consciousness” in the United States. These include, in the early period covered by his study, the post–Second World War period: (1) “classical liberals” or, more commonly in the United States, libertarians (those resisting statism in favor of “liberty, private enterprise, and individualism”), (2) adherents of the “new conservatism,” often called “traditionalism” (people urging “a return to traditional religions and ethical absolutes”), and (3) “militant, evangelistic” anticommunists. Nash expands his list for the contemporary period to include (4) neoconservatism (which he often terms “right-wing liberalism”) and (5) the Religious Right (conservatives who are mainly motivated by “social issues” such as abortion, school prayer, and the like).2 Adherents of the various strands of conservatism were often at odds—they were “no monolith,” in Nash’s words—but came together in the atmosphere of the 1960s to form a common front (“fusionism”) against the changes that were roiling American society at the time.3

-40-

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