How Anticommonism "Cemented" the American Conservative Movement in a Liberal Age of Conformity, 1945-64

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WITH THE END OF WWII in 1945 the United States looked forward to a future that promised prosperity and peace for all Americans. Liberals predicted the coming of a new era of freedom in American politics and society based on the principles of New Deal policies. They believed that the lessons of successful government intervention in the economy during the Great Depression, and the bureaucratic controls that had built the industrial war machine that won the 'Good War,' could be applied in post-WWII America. Liberals assumed there was a consensus among Americans supporting their view that the state should become more involved in resolving problems in domestic and foreign affairs. Largely unnoticed, however, a growing opposition to this liberal consensus emerged in the early Cold War years; which by the presidential election of 1964, at least in terms of recognition by the American media, had evolved into a coherent adversarial political ideology known as conservatism. But within this American Right no such coherency of vision or principles existed. It consisted of disparate--sometimes contradictory--modes of thought, usually defined as libertarianism and traditionalism. Yet, the fact remains that both groups shared enough common ground to distinguish themselves from liberals, begging the question what values were, and are, intrinsic to being a conservative. Historians of early Cold War conservatism have tended to use anticommunism as the 'cement' that bonded traditionalists and libertarians into one recognizable intellectual movement. But they have overstated the importance of the transitory phenomenon, and perceived threat, of communism at the expense of other norms of conservatism that united thinkers as different as Richard Weaver and Frank Chodorov.

Instead, three other 'impulses' have a greater claim to be the 'cement' of conservatism in America between 1945 and 1964, when Goldwater's nomination as the Republican presidential candidate marked, in Murray Rothbard's term, a 'transformation of the American Right'; three sentiments that still provide a lodestone for conservative intellectuals. First is the support for an 'original intent' interpretation of the constitution, a position that can be characterized as constitutionalism. The second is an overwhelming scepticism with the aims and purposes of the United Nations. Third is a disdain for the levelling and collectivist policies of liberals or socialists, an instinctual loathing that can be summed up in a somewhat clumsy neologism as 'anticommonism.' The use of 'experts' by liberals to engineer a better society infuriated conservatives because it denied the unique god-given nature of every individual, and sought to impose on Americans, for the good of society, certain common or shared secular values. Liberals attempted to achieve this 'commonization' of American society primarily through federal control of public education. Conservatives looked on aghast as Classical learning in schools and universities was discarded in favour of a curriculum based on the 'pragmatic' program of John Dewey. But they were also stricken by the growth of a mass media and mass entertainment industry that appealed to the common, in the British 'snob' sense of the word, interests of a population interested more in sensationalism and entertainment than humane learning. They viewed with icy hostility the vulgarization of arts and manners, and were appalled at the expansion of the role of government in the economy, with the related use of the federal spending power, to homogenize Americans into one common mass. And conservatives did not just sense this dislocation; a small band of the 'new' social scientists confirmed their fears with studies that illustrated the modern psychology of conformity. Conservatives argued, indeed, that the schools, Hollywood, 'I Love Lucy,' Superman and Batman, the welfare state and Levittowns, had destroyed American individuality and replaced it with a citizenry striving to conform to the prevailing 'common' norms, with a corresponding acceptance of the mediocre and the mundane. …