Conservative Theory in Context

  • Paul Edward Gottfried


One does not require a fixed definition of conservatism to recognize the postwar American movement’s misapplication of that term. So loose was its usage that the meaning of “conservative” continued to change over several decades. As the foregoing review of these changes demonstrates, any attempt to create conservative rallying points by appealing to values independently of social authorities is doomed to one of two outcomes: either being bypassed in a phantasmagoria of competing values or succumbing to pressures or artifices to affirm identifiably Leftist notions as eternal “conservative” truths. This is not because those who engage in these actions necessarily wish to deceive. The neoconservatives who took over the American establishment Right resisted the “conservative” label before eventually having it thrust on them. Throughout the seventies and into the eighties, they made distinctions between themselves as Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson Democrats and Zionists and the older American Right. Although by the present century they had come to consider themselves the only proper conservatives and to treat anyone to their right as an “extremist,” this was not always their attitude. The older generation of neoconservatives had winced at the term “conservative” for its alleged association with the nativist or anti—New Deal Right; only when they were able to impose their dominant values and policies did this initial distaste turn into an eager acceptance of their conferred identity.


Academic Freedom Early Nineteenth Century French Revolution National Review Conservative Theory 
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© Paul Edward Gottfried 2007

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  • Paul Edward Gottfried

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