By William B. Edmonds
If you ask any person what Conservatism is, you would get a different answer every single time. The reason being, Conservatism has changed in meaning many times over the past 200 years (American Conservatism especially). My attempt today is to give a brief history of Conservatism in the US and to actually redefine it’s practices to today’s political landscape.
There is much debate on where Conservatism started, but we can credit liberal thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke. Conservatism itself is linked with the ideology of Liberalism, or rather a school of thought if you will. The concept of nation, God, and autonomy are the tenets of basic Conservatism. The Founding Fathers in my opinion were liberal thinkers of the Conservative persuasion. The belief in individualism, not only the core of Liberalism, but of Conservatism, has been a steady institution in the American idea of Conservatism.
We begin our journey in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. A member of the new Republican Party, which split from the Whig Party. Republicans were progressive for their time, being as they were abolitionists in the case of slavery, pro-Union, pro-tariff, pro-industrial, and believed in the ideas that all men had rights given by the Constitution, and God. The Republican Party of Lincoln carried on after his assassination, even into the days of Theodore Roosevelt, who was very much a progressive for his time.
Jump to 1953, after the election of Dwight Eisenhower. A General who served his Nation in World War ll, Eisenhower would bring the Republican Party into a state of militarism and moderation. Strong forces at home, and rebuilding American infrastructure after the War. It was at this time, the Republicans begin to shape themselves as the Conservative party of the US. Socially, Republicans embraced functionalism and the ideas of institutions. Campaigning on ideas of the family, church, God, and traditional values. Republicans oversaw one of the greatest times in American history.
In 1980, after a very stagnant Carter administration, Ronald Reagan would win a landslide victory and forever change the idea of American Conservatism. Reagan, an outspoken Hollywood actor and former Governor of California implemented massive economic policy on a global scale. Low taxes, more freedom, anti-communism, Reagan was the leader that most Americans longed for after economic collapse. The Republicans became more socially conservative, and economically fiscal. Ronald Reagan will always be a Conservative figure in American politics.
In 2001 after the election of George W. Bush, tragedy struck. September 11th, 2001 will forever be a mark on history. Al-Qaeda crashed planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. This gave birth to Neoconservatism. Pro-war, pro-security, Conservatism had now made a turn towards interventionism and less liberty. This era of the Republican Party and Conservatism was defined by war abroad, and discontent at home.
2016. The political earthquake. Against all odds, and at war with his own party, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Promising to undermine the Obama legacy that preceded him, Trump promised economic nationalism and populism. Anti-immigration, pro-tariff, America First economic policy, Trump is redefining what it means to be Conservative.
Today’s Conservative is no longer “guns, God, and Merica.” Nationalism over globalism, freedom of speech and anti-political correctness, intellectualism over stubbornness, a call to peace through strength. Conservatism is really the counter-culture of American society now.