Jan 25, 2018 in Research

book Conservative Intellectuals and Reagan Ascendancy

In the 1980s, some conservative thinkers disassociated themselves with Reagan ideology while several conservatives, are referred to as the “Old Right”, expressed insightful reservations about what had become popularly known as “neo-conservatism”. Many differences have arisen between these two factions that share totally different ideological stances.

One is that neo-conservatism is against the subsequent expressions of utilitarianism, empiricism and pragmatism that it believes follows from the demise of a transcendent realm of being as a cognitive reality in human understanding. Secondly, neo-conservatism develops from the opposition to the French Revolution. This new conservatism appeals to certain traditional practices and history as emotional and moral restraints on the prevailing whim of the moment and would render conservatism as a certain quality of imagination. Thirdly, neo-conservatism is derived from the reaction against the industrial revolution unlike the “Old Right” that developed under the umbrella of largely political spectrum. According to Russell Kirk and Carlyle, this development has from time to time accorded conservatism some peculiar qualities including: agrarian sympathies; a romantic medievalism; certain forms of estheticism; and recoil from the mechanization of life. Additionally, neo-conservatism provided some clear aversions to capitalism that was largely synonymous with the industrial revolution, unlike the “Old Right” era that had not completely adopted the capitalist system.          

Several debates have been sparked with the view of understanding the differences between the liberals and the conservatives. One historian holds that liberals tend to be more participative on activism because they are more of optimists as compared to conservatives. They are more optimistic because they are considered more rational than the rest. Additionally, unlike conservatives, liberals tend to derive values and norms either from historical tradition or from revelation. Unlike in the form of neo-conservatism, historical tradition is immune from critical reconstruction in the future. Liberalism was also considered a great secular character unlike conservatism that was regarded largely religious based.

Over the years, the liberals who were opposed to redemptive liberalism were often referred to as neo-conservatives. However, in the 1970s and 80s something new was developing. Although, elements of neo-conservatism seemed to be predominant at the time, the leader of the free world seemed to be incorporating the conservative language of topics that included moderation and self-discipline. Additionally, the President seemed to be advocating for traditional moral and religious values.

Reagan took advantage of these new ethics and used them to form what is referred to in some quarters as the ‘Reagan ideology’. Supporting both conservative and liberal ideas and incorporating it in his governance ensured the mix of the two ideologies.

Reagan celebrated an American conviction in an unhindered future of technological and economic progress. Whenever the subject of human limitations arose in conservative ideas, they seemed to be reserved to the public sector. However, this message also provided a very traditional morality- of community, religion and family. What President Reagan conveyed through coupling moral nostalgia with economic dynamism was the essence of his career, from his sports journalism days to his presidency.

The points of continuity in conservatism have also been its greatest points of tension. For instance, some of the “Old Right” will notice that neo-conservatism represents a popular strand that threatens the conservatisms’ traditional position as a fervent and eloquent balk from a leveling democratic culture in which most people descend to meet. Additionally, the animadversions of the conservative have too often been sought to force a religious test for conservative membership. If the excesses of the New Left do happen again, of if the Old Right of the Reagan ideology has indeed led to an era of narcissistic materialism, the conservatives will have far more challenges to counter than the divisive intramural wrangles.    


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