The Contradictions Inherent in American Conservatism
By - February 24, 2004
American conservatives are surely a very frustrated group, because
despite their seeming political success, they fail to achieve their
goals. There is a very good reason for this; it's because both the
Republican Party, and their own newfound ideology, are at odds with
their own goals. It is impossible for American conservatives to reach
their goals while supporting the things that they support.
To understand the modern American conservative movement requires
understanding the history of the 20th century, and even the
Prior to the rise of Marxism, Christian groups made up some of the
strongest opponents to laissez-faire capitalism and big business, i.e.
Wealthy businessmen were seen by Christians as immoral and greedy. In
fact there was a significant element of anti-Semitism involved in
Christian criticism of big business as well.
1902 Political Cartoon referring to child labor
A book titled Looking Backward was published in 1888 by
Christian Socialist Edward Bellamy. It became a national best seller and
was the 3rd most popular book of the 19th century overall. Many early
20th century economists called Looking Backward the most
influential American book on economics, despite the fact that it was a
work of fiction.
In Looking Backward the main character wakes up in America
in the year 2000 when America has become a "socialist paradise," where
everyone is an equal share holder in the nation's corporations and
everyone retires at age 45.
The Society of Christian Socialists was organized in Boston in 1889.
The society proclaimed that:
"...economic rights and powers were gifts of God, not for the
receiver's use only, but for the benefit of all. All social,
political and industrial relations should be based on the Fatherhood
of God and the Brotherhood of Man, in the spirit of the teachings of
Jesus Christ. Capitalism was not based on Christian love but on a
Many American Christian groups called for an increased morality to
our economic system and in fact promoted communal economic systems and
supported various forms of Christian based socialism.
The Amish are a classic example of one of the enduring Christian
American groups who followed a strict anti-capitalistic and anti-modern
When America entered the 20th century about 40 percent of
Americans were still farmers and the majority of Americans still lived
in small towns. Christian groups often identified strongly with small
town values and opposed the "fat greedy capitalists of the east coast."
With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 though, something changed.
The Communists had declared war on two things primarily, capitalism
This threat created a common enemy for both big business and
Christians and led to a new and powerful alliance between religion and
high finance, the likes of which had never been seen before in America.
Businessmen began to court Christianity in order to use moral appeals
against "atheistic socialists and communists" as a means to build
support for their interests, and in this process business leaders began
establishing serious relationships with church leaders. Financial
support of the Christian community by wealthy businessmen grew. Both
businessmen and Christians knew that they had a common enemy and they
knew that together they could better meet the challenge of facing that
Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution the Republican Party was in many
ways the most progressive party in America. Lincoln of course was far
more progressive than his Democratic opponents. After the Civil War
northern liberals, such as agnostic Robert Ingersoll, campaigned
strongly for the Republican Party and Teddy Roosevelt ran one of the
most progressive presidencies in American history.
During the Great Depression the Republican Party lost tremendous
ground. Republicans lost major ground politically due to their ties to
big business and what was seen as their contribution to the depression.
As black Americans moved to the Democratic Party during the FDR
administration, and Eleanor Roosevelt promoted liberal social issues
such as a progressive women's agenda and social equality, Republicans
courted "social conservatives", i.e. bigots, to pick up votes.
Emerging from World War II, and with the death of FDR after his 12
years in office, the Republican Party and conservatives began a new
struggle for political power. Prior to the FDR administration most
social conservatives sided with the Democratic Party, but due to FDR's
social progressiveness more and more conservatives changed sides to the
Republican Party, who began courting the South, where racial tensions
were high and conservative Democrats felt betrayed by the Democratic
Party, which had been the traditional Southern Party since the Civil War
when it was Democrats who favored the preservation of slavery. The
Democratic Party had traditionally been the party of the white American
worker, and in the South that meant being the party that most
represented the interests of farmers.
After World War II Republicans were still the party of big business,
and still the party which most represented corporate interests and the
American wealthy elite.
With the rising anti-communist atmosphere in America the cooperation
between religious groups and big business against the common enemy of
godless communism continued to grow strongly again.
United by the common enemy, these strange bedfellows developed
throughout the latter half of the 20th century into one of
the most powerful political forces in the United States, but as we will
see, this alliance is founded on an impossible ideological split and
only occurred because of the threat of a common enemy.
It is impossible that true American conservatives can have their
agenda satisfied by an alliance with big business because big business
is, by definition, anti-conservative. Corporate America has used the
anti-communist sentiment of American conservatives and Christians to
support their own cause and the result has been the deepest corruption
of politics, religious groups and private industry in American history.
What are the things that American conservatives value and want
They favor "small town values." Conservatives are strongest in rural
and suburban areas and are typically unhappy with places like New York
City, Miami, Los Angeles, Hollywood, etc.
American conservatives today are also the "champions" of "free-market
This presents an interesting contradiction though because New York
City can certainly be said to be the "capital of capitalism." New York
City is the poster boy of capitalism, yet ask ten men in an Alabama
barber shop what they think of New York City and I'll bet that you get
ten negative answers, though possibly the new patriotism associated with
New York due to 9/11 may have altered this attitude recently.
Big business and small towns have very little in common. How is it
then that the champions of small town values can be the strongest
supporters of big city business?
Who has been sending American jobs to China and Mexico? Who supported
NAFTA? Its big business, largely with the aid of the Republican Party.
How can people who complain about the loss of small town jobs and the
corruption of big cities ally themselves with the very instruments of
the demise of the way of life that they champion?
Who has supported lax immigration rules to allow more foreign
immigrants into the US, another thing that conservatives typically
oppose? It has been big business and the Republican Party. Corporations
like the cheaper labor provided by immigrants and thus support laws that
Who is supporting factory farming, genetically manufactured foods,
and corporate farms that put family farmers out of business? It's big
business, and it is capitalism itself that is driving these changes.
Meanwhile, as large corporate farms are driving family farms out of
business, the Republican Party has fooled so-called "conservatives" once
again into supporting the repeal of inheritance taxes, called "death
-taxes" by those campaigning against them. They have fabricated stories
about how the so-called "death taxes" put family farms out of business,
while in fact not one single case has ever been documented of this
happening. It is in fact large corporate farms that drive family farms
out of business, and then the Republicans, acting in the interests of
the wealthy elite, shift the blame onto a tax that only impacts the very
wealthiest of Americans, manipulating conservatives, once again, to vote
against their own interests, and against one of the oldest taxes in
American history, as President Teddy Roosevelt made clear:
"…the National Government should impose a graduated inheritance
tax, and, if possible, a graduated income tax. The man of great
wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State, because he derives
special advantages from the mere existence of government. Not only
should he recognize this obligation in the way he leads his daily
life and in the way he earns and spends his money, but it should
also be recognized by the way in which he pays for the protection
the State gives him."
"This object can be attained by making the tax very small on
moderate amounts of property left; because the prime object should
be to put a constantly increasing burden on the inheritance of those
swollen fortunes which it is certainly of no benefit to this country
"This species of tax has again and again been imposed, although
only temporarily, by the National Government. It was first imposed
by the act of July 6, 1797, when the makers of the Constitution were
alive and at the head of affairs. It was a graduated tax; though
small in amount, the rate was increased with the amount left to any
individual, exceptions being made in the case of certain close kin.
A similar tax was again imposed by the act of July 1, 1862; a
minimum sum of one thousand dollars in personal property being
excepted from taxation, the tax then becoming progressive according
to the remoteness of kin. The war-revenue act of June 13, 1898,
provided for an inheritance tax on any sum exceeding the value of
ten thousand dollars, the rate of the tax increasing both in
accordance with the amounts left and in accordance with the
legatee's remoteness of kin."
- President Theodore Roosevelt, 1906
Capitalism by its very nature brings change to society. Change in
American society is driven by capitalism, and yet the strongest
defenders of capitalism are the people who want the least change in
society. This is the irreconcilable difference that makes the alliance
between big business and Christian conservatism impossible to maintain.
Without a "common enemy" this alliance is sure to break apart, the
Republicans and corporations know this, and thus they constantly look
for "new threats." The only reason it has lasted as long as it has is
due to the common enemy of godless communism, and now that that threat
is largely gone new threats have to be pointed out and amplified.
There is nothing truly "conservative" about the Republican Party,
capitalism, or big business.
Capitalism is the vehicle for economic and social change. Capitalism
is, and always has been, the driving force of change in American
society. There was economic conflict between the industrial North and
the agricultural slave South, which led to the South's eventual decision
to break from the liberal and industrial North to "conserve" its old way
It was the Industrial Revolution that caused millions of Americans to
move out of the small towns and into the cities, where prostitution,
gambling, racketeering, and organized crime expanded.
It is currently capitalism and the drive for profits that drives the
permeating commercialism, materialism, and sexuality of American
culture. It is really impossible to defend free-market capitalism and
"conservatism" at the same time. Free-market capitalism is by definition
amoral (not to be confused with immoral). A society that is purely
profit driven is the exemplification of capitalist society. In what way
can Christian conservatives support such a society, which, almost by
definition, would be anti-Christian?
The ultimate example of this is how the Religious Right has adopted
the corporate anti-environmental agenda. In what way can anyone be
"conservative" and against "conservation?"
You can't claim to cherish rural areas and the untouched wilderness
and also be opposed to protecting the environment. In addition, how can
a group of people who claim to cherish the earth as part of God's
creation also support big business and oil companies in their attacks on
natural resources and destruction of habitats? Do Christian
conservatives want all of America to be turned into big cities with
strip malls? In what way is that "conservative?" Where do conservatives
plan to hunt and fish if the woodlands are opened up to logging, and the
fisheries are polluted?
On CNN Christian "Conservative" Jerry Falwell stated:
"The whole [global warming] thing is created to destroy America's
free enterprise system and our economic stability," and later added,
"I urge everyone to go out and buy an SUV today."
Don't Christian conservatives realize that big business is behind the
expansion of chain restaurants and department stores like Wal-Mart, that
have put thousands of small business owners out of business and
literally shut down Main Streets in small towns across America? I don't
understand how this is "conservative."
The recent news about the possible acquisition of Walt Disney Corp.
by Comcast generated interesting responses as well. The LA Times
reported comments from Disney fans such as this:
"Disney represents the cultural fabric of this country. It's more
than just an investment. It established a standard of family
entertainment and quality and a lot of people who evaluate the Disney
performance determined the company had lost its direction, but the
sellout to Comcast would be going from bad to worse... The Walt Disney
Co's an American institution. Selling it would be un-American. Old Walt
must be spinning in his grave today."
This person feels that Walt Disney Corp is "the cultural fabric of
this country," and that selling Disney would be "un-American."
I have no idea if this person is conservative or not, but I find it
interesting that in a predominately Christian nation a company, which
has had from its very inception the goal of providing a secular
alternative to Christian morality, would be seen as the moral backbone
of what many people still call "a Christian nation." Furthermore, Disney
is a corporation, whose goal is profits. Like Coca-Cola, Disney is a
success because it has used a permeating propaganda campaign that
impacts children from the earliest ages to form an "emotional bond" to
the company's "product."
The fact that Americans believe that a company can represent "the
moral fabric of this country" is, in my opinion, a little distressing.
Disney's goal, like every company, is to make profits, not provide moral
direction. Morality play is just another means of building a
relationship with customers; it's all about the money though.
"We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to
make a statement. To make money is our only objective."
- Michael Eisner, CEO Walt Disney Company
The TV station Nickelodeon is another example. Nickelodeon's parent
company is MTV, and this "children's" programming channel seems nothing
more than a means to hook children on consumerism and the same types of
imagery that parent company MTV uses. In other words, Nickelodeon seems
to be designed to transition children to MTV viewership - an excellent
marketing strategy; sublime capitalism.
It is through support of corporate America, and unrestrained
capitalism, that the Religious Right helps to empower companies like
Disney and MTV, and companies that send American jobs to "communist"
China. Check your "I love America" memorabilia, be it a flag,
t-shirt, sticker, or something else, its most likely made in China…
Rather ironic don't you think?
Again and again Christian "conservatives" seem to be coming out in
defense of the most corrupt elements of American society, of widespread
corporate corruption and increasing assaults on the environment and
Here is a clue: abortion is here to stay. Conservatives can vote for
Republicans forever, but abortion is going nowhere. Don't conservatives
realize that Republicans use the abortion issue to string them along to
get votes that are used instead to support corporate corruption and
economic policy that promotes an ever more competitive and exploitive
marketplace, where violent video games, porn, and sexual music continue
to thrive because, guess what, it makes money!
The Christian conservatives are used and abused by corporate America
to get support for its exploitive policies that the rest of the country
refuses to back. The Christian Right shouldn't really want to back these
policies either, but they have been duped into doing so. How can
Christian "conservatives" continue to vote in a way that primarily
supports Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans when according to the
Bible Jesus Christ said that "the meek shall inherit the earth," and "I
tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the
kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom
Furthermore, while people keep talking of the fiscal irresponsibility
of "liberals," it has been Republicans who have been some of the biggest
federal spenders in the past 30 years. The presidencies of Ronald Regan
and George W. Bush have seen the largest expansions of the federal
government since the days of FDR, and the largest deficits since that
time as well.
Key: Green = federal taxes collected;
Red = unemployment rate;
Blue = budget deficit
Christian conservatives are never going to achieve any true political
success in America because they have formed a political and ideological
alliance with a group that stands for the opposite of conservative
goals, and its all about the money. Conservatives oppose social change,
but the group they are allied with is the main group that is causing the
types of social changes that they oppose, so they just continue to get
frustrated and can't figure out why all of this political effort that
they have put in for the past 20 years seems to be going nowhere.
Conservatives may "win issues", they may be successful in getting
various measures passed, but these measures don't have the impact on
society that the conservatives are hoping for.
Its for a very obvious reason, its because the group they are allied
with has ended up working against them at every turn. Sure, they keep
pointing the finger back at "the liberals," but all you have to do is
follow the money trail. The money trail leads straight to corporate
America, who walked off with the piggy bank, while the Christian
"conservatives" stood guard.
For further reading see:
Capitalism Part IV- Capitalism and Culture
Assessing the Vote and the Roots of American Political Divide
GOP Corporate Donors Cash in on Smut