James Kurth on American Conservatism
Professor of Political Science Emeritus
Senior Research Scholar at Swarthmore College
Member, Board of Editors - Orbis
I regularly receive emails from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), with which my old 'paleoconservative' history professor at Berkeley, Walter A. McDougall, is associated, and a recent missive was penned by the man pictured above, James Kurth, one of the editors of the FPRI journal, Orbis, and a senior fellow at the FPRI's Center for the Study of America and the West.
The missive referred to is titled "The Crisis of American Conservatism: Inherent Contradictions and the End of the Road," which sounds like it would be self-consciously a swan song, and indeed it is, for it looks directly at the stark facts confronting American conservatism . . . though Kurth holds out hope that some reinvention of conservatism can be achieved and prove successful.
His article's main focus, however, is on the incompatible ideologies grouped together in America under the label "conservatism":
In recent decades, political analysts have found it useful to interpret American political movements by distinguishing between different policy dimensions or arenas. Thus, conservatives have been divided into (1) those who are most concerned about economic or fiscal issues, i.e., pro-business or "free-enterprise" conservatives; (2) those most concerned with religious or social issues, i.e., pro-church or "traditional-values" conservatives; and (3) those most concerned with national-security or defense issues, i.e., pro-military or "patriotic" conservatives.As Kurth acknowledges, there's nothing new about this, but he proceeds to make some interesting points, noting -- for example -- that the free-enterprise ideology of Milton Friedman, which has dominated the Republican Party's pro-business conservatives is, in one sense, not conservative:
Although Friedman and his followers were always talking about the virtues of the free market and of conservatism in economic affairs, their approach was not truly a free-market or traditional-conservative one at all. Instead, they advocated a controlled market in matters of money, credit and finance, while advocating a free market with respect to almost everything else. And the market in money, credit, and finance was to be controlled by an oligopoly of the major banks, implemented through the Federal Reserve System (whose name made it sound like some kind of government agency, but whose reality made it more a cartel of profit-making banks).This monetarist policy worked well enough for about thirty years, but it planted the seeds of its failure by deregulating banks and supporting the risky investments that resulted in the crash of 2007, which caused the current Great Recession. Kurth goes on to show the problems of Neo-Conservatism (i.e., the dominant patriotic conservatives), basically a military doctrine advocating American intervention abroad in troubled places such as the Middle East and the Islamic world generally. He also shows the weakness of the traditional values conservatives, primarily, that this collection of groups has no "big money" backing it, and that it is undermined by the pro-business conservatives in their support for cheap immigrant labor, but readers will need to see the article for details on this and other 'contradictions.'
I thus won't summarize everything, but I encourage readers -- regardless of political position -- to peruse the article for a rational, intelligent, authoritative analysis of the current state of American conservatism and how it reached this state.