Who are Conservatives and Republicans

US Republicans: Beyond Law and Order


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“What will happen to the Republicans?” The writer Jelani Cobb recently asked im new Yorker and recalled that not a few parties have perished in US history. in the Atlantic the word "GOPerdämmerung" was already mentioned. Without a doubt, the Grand Old Party is in an existential crisis. Following the takeover by Donald Trump and its transformation into a right-wing extremist fighting alliance, "principled" conservatives are calling for the party either to be won back or a new center-right party to be founded. Your chances are bad. So far, US majority voting has kept third parties small. Meanwhile, Trump has the Republicans firmly under control and is claiming conservatism for himself, as he did recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Manfred Berg

is Professor of American History at Heidelberg University.

Liberal critics have limited sympathy for the "Never Trumpers". The Republican elite, wrote the Nobel Prize in Economics and New York Times-Columnist Paul Krugman after the "storm on the Capitol" had for decades secured majorities for his "plutocratic agenda" - deregulation and tax cuts for the rich - with "racist appeals" to the white working class, thus paving the way for the "fascist" Trump. Krugman is not entirely wrong: In fact, the plight of the Grand Old Party has deeper causes. But warmed-up theories of fascism do not do justice to the story of the rise and fall of American conservatism since World War II.

By the middle of the 20th century, the US Conservatives saw themselves shrunk to a small, oppressed minority. The Great Depression of the 1930s, the social reforms of the New Deal under the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Second World War had profoundly shaken their principles: the belief in the free market, the ideal of local self-government and self-imposed foreign policy isolation were also to a large extent discredited the Republican Party. The conservative historian Clinton Rossiter spoke of conservatism as an "ungrateful conviction", while his liberal colleague Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. self-confidently decreed: "American political tradition is essentially based on a liberal consensus." Classical European conservatism, with its appreciation for tradition and authority and its skepticism towards mass culture and democracy, argued the leading intellectuals of the post-war period, could never gain a foothold in the USA. Since America has never experienced feudalism or class struggle, it has always been a society of equality, freedom and progress. There is basically no such thing as American conservatism.



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What did not fit into this picture was explained as confusing. In his influential book on the "paranoid style of American politics," the historian Richard Hofstadter, for example, characterized the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era as a "pseudo-conservative revolt," which reflected fear of status and conspiracy-theoretical worldviews, but not a philosophy to be taken seriously. From a political point of view, that was a mistake: McCarthyism in particular demonstrated the enormous potential of a populist conservatism that mobilized patriotic, godly America against the liberal elites in politics and culture.

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American conservatism was also by no means insubstantial in spirit. An intellectual circle around the magazine founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley National Review worked on a "fusion" of religious and moral traditionalism with the radical individualism of the libertarians. Buckley sharply criticized the willingness to adapt of the Republicans, who under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961) had made their peace with the welfare and intervention state of the New Deal. The editor of the National Review demanded, however, that conservatives must uncompromisingly advocate individual autonomy, free markets, the rights of the federal states and the preservation of national sovereignty against the pretensions of the United Nations.

The problem facing the US Conservatives was that libertarians who advocated unlimited personal and economic freedom had little in common with religious traditionalists who wanted to dictate virtue and morality to people. American conservatism was not a contradiction in terms, but it was in itself full of contradictions. The enemy image of communism, which threatened individual freedom, Christianity and the security of the USA, offered itself as a bracket. And for all their differences, libertarian and religious conservatives shared the belief that it is not state welfare but rather individual virtue and hard work that are the basis of happiness for both the individual and the community.

The contours of this movement were already apparent in the 1950s. Their strongholds were in the south, where many whites opposed the abolition of racial segregation, and in the growing suburbs of the prosperous "sun belt" from Florida to California. The local backbone was made up of housewives and mothers who looked after the family. And even before the student New Left organized itself, it lifted National ReviewFounder Buckley founded the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in 1960, whose following at many universities exceeded that of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society.