Q&A Friday #35: The Different Schools Of Conservatism

Question: “We discuss many positions of liberals and conservatives on this blog in terms of Dem vs. Rep. However, within the political spectrum there are many different kins of conservative, as well as liberals and those who are a combination of both.

What are the descriptions of those many kinds?

It would seem to me that would give us all a better understanding when we make certain generalizations.” — D-Vega

Answer: That can be a very complex question depending on how deeply you want to dig into it and I look at this issue differently from most conservatives, but let me give it a shot.

To begin with, some of the ideological divisions in conservatism that people talk about are just non-existent. For example, in my opinion, there may be people who call themselves, “Crunchy Conservatives,” or, “Neoconservatives,” but there are really no significant differences ideologically between them and just run-of-the-mill conservatives.

Furthermore, a lot of people play up the differences between, “social conservatives,” and,”fiscal conservatives.” But, let me tell you a little secret: while it’s certainly true that there are some conservatives who are primarily animated by economics, deficit reduction, reducing the size of government, etc., and there are other conservatives who get all fired up about stopping pornography and sticking up for religious freedom, their views are basically the same on most issues. In other words, Larry Kudlow, Walter Williams, and Thomas Sowell would probably agree with James Dobson, William Bennett, and Ralph Reed on 9 issues out of 10, although they might not get as hot and bothered about exactly the same things.

That’s not to say that there are no truly separate groups of conservatives. There are Paleocons, who can basically be defined as conservative isolationists. Then there are the people from the “realist” school of foreign policy, who believe in promoting stability and containment as opposed to our current policy of pushing Democracy and pre-emption. They’re also distinctive enough to be thought of as a totally different group, at least on foreign policy, even though the — ehr, “post realists?” — were almost all believers in the realist school of foreign policy during the Reagan years.

Also, let me add I don’t want to imply that there are no disagreements between conservatives. There are different schools of thought on various social issues, illegal immigration, and foreign policy, among other issues. But, in my view, unless you’re talking about a really large split (like on Isolationism vs. engaging the world and free trade), it doesn’t really merit being described as a whole new strain of conservatism.

So, is everything clear as mud now? =D

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