On the Old Right and Neo-Conservatism

My latest article on Strike the Root discusses the philosophical roots of the two warring factions in the GOP. The point is not to make an in-depth analysis of the real opinions expressed by the proponents of each side, but rather to analyze the fundamental moral conviction of the so-called Old Right, on the one hand, and the “neocons,” on the other.

What is interesting about the GOP is that these two factions are so different, yet both of them seem to feel they belong in the republican party. As I write in the article:

A political party based on a certain kind of ideology shouldn’t be able to attract people with views fundamentally contradictory to the ones expressed in the party program. So we should be able to assume that the Old Right and Neo-conservative factions of the party must agree on a majority of the fundamental points, however not necessarily on the political agenda, the priorities, perhaps not even the end goals.

This should be the assumption people tend to make; it is the assumption that is closest at hand when discussing one single political party – the political party currently enjoying the presidency – since a party has a common set of values and a common program. Politics in some kind of democracy, after all, is a quest for enough of the people’s support to gain power and realize the political program.

This should mean that if you have ideas that are fundamentally contradictory to the ones proposed by the party in its program and by its leaders, then what are you doing in this party? Yet people tend to stick around – this has been the case in the GOP for the last three decades, as well as for the last decade or so in British New Labour, and for only a few years in the Swedish conservative party Moderaterna.

In the three parties mentioned the fundamental ideas championed by the party apparatus has changed. The GOP and Moderaterna have accepted an accepting, efficiency-seeking pragmatic view of politics. The republican party after Ronald Reagan has become “neocon,” which essentially means they have adopted a completely new way of seeing the State and the individual – and the inherent conflict arising between them.

Moderaterna has done the exact same thing, even though it is a process that started some 25 years later. Sweden, of course, is not a super power and therefore imperialistic waging of wars is not on the agenda. But ideologically the party, under Fredrik Reinfeldt, has accepted the legacy of the hegemonic Social Democratic party and thereby erased most of the individualist values previously cherished. The new government under Reinfeldt consists solely (almost) of apparatchiks following whatever orders are issued by headquarters. The old ideology and set of values that created and united the party have suddenly evaporated.

The New Labour has made a journey in the opposite direction if we accept the left-right dimensions of party politics – from the left to the right. In their case, the situation was to some degree the same as it had been for the Swedish Moderaterna. The conservative party of the UK had had power for a very long time, and the conflict-laden Labour party simply didn’t have power within reach. Something needed to be done.

I am not sure to what degree this scenario of political futility experienced in a situation where the greatest competitor is a hegemonic power is applicable on the GOP. But something has made the neocons rise after the rather successful presidency of Ronald Reagan. Or it could simply be the evil legacy of the presidents Bush…?

These three parties are great examples of how warring factions within a political party seeking power of government tend to stay in the party long after the battle would reasonably seem lost. The libertarians in Moderaterna, the socialists in New Labour, and the Old Right in the GOP all share the same fate: they quickly became minorities and approached extinction, at least as far as representation in the party goes.

Ron Paul, previously discussed on this blog here and here, has managed to in some sense awaken the people of the Old Right in the GOP, and that makes it a very interesting situation. If he is successful he might very well create a renaissance for the old-style conservatism of people like Albert J. Nock, just like Gösta Bohman was able to successfully make somewhat libertarian ideas and ideals a natural part of Moderaterna in the 1970s.

Perhaps charismatic people like Bohman and Paul are able to create ideological tipping points within parties. This is a very interesting issue to study, at least if one is interested in organizations and institutions in society. What makes it so extraordinarily interesting is the fact that these tipping points, if they exist and are generated, seem to be “tipping” the core values of a political party from one end to another.

As is discussed in the article mentioned above, the difference between the Old Rightism and Neo-Conservatism – as well as between the factions in both New Labour and Moderaterna – is fundamental. As I summarize the differences in the article:

The Old Right is a conservatism that begins and ends with the individual – from this follows that whatever government “needed” is a necessary evil to protect the individual’s rights. Neo-conservatism claims universalist principles and subjects the means as well as the individual to what is necessary to get there.

The differences in real politics might not be as great as I describe them here, but that is a matter of inconsistency among the champions of both sets of values. The “old righters” might be able to get along with the “neocons” in most issues, but that is simply an effect of people generally being ignorant of the values they cherish – and what they really mean.

From a moral-philosophical point of view there is no common ground on which the people of the Old Right can accept the Neo-conservatives, and vice versa. The former have a deontological worldview which supplies them with arguments for the individual and against the State. From their point of view it isn’t conceivable to wage war in order to spread an ideal, since that would necessarily violate individual rights of both the attacked and the attackers.

From the neocon perspective, the goal is of greater value than the means and thus it is not only possible – but desirable – to enforce their superior way of life. At the barrel of a gun, if necessary.

Read the article here.