Conservatism has been among the most dynamic fields in history. Conservatives have ideas and beliefs that they protect. In early1930s, conservatives were against change and opposed innovation. They rejected the view that human beings could be improved through social and political change. They assumed that passions and desires drive human beings, and therefore, they are prone to be violent, selfish, and irrational. According to conservatives, the society was too complicated. Consequently, it was difficult to predict the connection between what governments promise to do, and what takes place. Therefore, governments should not interfere with economic and social life. Since society is too complex to be improved through social approaches, they believe that people in a society are made from the skills, morality, manners, and cultural resources they inherit from their ancestors. Generally, conservatives had different ideas and faced various issues throughout history. The core ideas and issues behind conservatism have undergone a series of transformation from the 1930s through the 1980s.
In the 1930s, conservatism meant reaction against ideas of progress. The conservatives were against the New Deal. The New Deal was the program of the newly elected president, in which he had promised to solve the problems that had been posed by the great depression. By 1932, Americans were ready for change. They elected a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Immediately after his inauguration as president, Roosevelt carried out reforms in the banking and finance sector. There had been a lot of failure in the industry, which resulted in many citizens losing faith in the banking system. The reforms aimed at bringing change in the banking systems and restoring the confidence of customers. They then had faith that banks were a great financial shape (Conservatism 490). Additionally, he implemented programs to help the American people according to the promises of the new deal. In 1933, the conservatives opposed the new deal. They argued that the president was using the new deal policies to socialize and control the economy as well as business.
In the 1940s, conservatism was concerned about capitalism. The conservatives believed the government took away the self-respect of the people. They were involved in the relationship between society, economy, and religion. By the time, liberals of the new deal insisted that there was a need for further disciplining market relations. They argued that the latter would promote social, economic, and political equality. However, conservatives insisted that morality, individual rights, and American prosperity were based on economic liberty (Farber 3). In an attempt to protect economic liberty, the conservatives were willing to sacrifice other liberties. The conservatives believed the society needed conformity. Without the conformity, society would be vulnerable to forces of consumer demand other undisciplined forces. In the1940s, Robert Taft was against Roosevelt’s policies and wanted to take him on. He believed that as a conservative, he could give Americans the chance to choose between the older ways and a bigger government (Farber 28). There was nothing wrong with his anti- New Deal opinion, and he still had support from many people. However, he lost the Republican’s Party nominations and lost to a more liberal champion, Wendell Willkie.
In the 1950s, conservatism was on the low ebb, with its only supporters being business activists. Liberalism had become dominant, and it dismissed conservatism as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas” (Kirk 476). Conservatism was craven by businesspeople that opposed labor unions and financed political forums like the American Enterprise Institute. The period was post-war, and businesspeople presented their ideas in support of the conservatives. Primarily they were concerned with economic matters and political economy. The business conservatives used many resources to support conservative movements. Historian David Chappell claimed that money had a role in building politics of conservatism. The conservatives used the money to explore different angles of attack. Moreover, they could breed attackers and develop movements (Phillips-Fein 194). The roots of business conservatism could be traced in the1930s after the launch of the new deal. Many businesspeople were against the new deal. In the 1950s, they then formed sophisticated groups to influence intellectual culture and ideas of the free market. In addition, conservatives were against the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, which was passed after president general Dwight D. Eisenhower came to power. They argued that the roads bypassed smaller towns and the up veal of economy.
Conservatism in the 1960s was concerned with the dangers of communism. The latter was after Goldwater published The Conscience of a Conservative, reconciling the differences between the liberals and the conservatives (Dallek par. 13). The ideas of Goldwater reignited the conservatism movement, which aimed at taking control of the GOP. The conservatives were against the GOP nominee, Richard Nixon who had struck a deal with the liberals. Notably, Nixon lost the election to liberal democrat. The conservatives founded the American Conservative Union in 1964, which was the oldest conservative movement. Conservatives were leaning towards becoming isolationists as liberals referred them. The liberals called them isolationist because they were skeptical of joining with the excuse of being democrats. In the same year, Goldwater, who was the leader of the conservatives then, rejected isolationism. Conservatism gained power in the late 1960s after Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. Furthermore, in the 1960s, conservatism opposed the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement aimed at bringing change regarding civil rights, which meant a big move for society. Most conservatives, especially Democrats, were against the amendment.
The 1970s was a period of a new turn for conservatism. The reason for the latter is that in the 1970s, liberalism declined. Liberalism failed because of several reasons. For instance, administration of Kennedy could not convince the USSR against constructing the Berlin wall. During Johnson’s administration, most Democrats left the movement because they claimed it had an association with the civil rights legislation (Woodward 294). They had many issues concerning race and Vietnam. In 1973, Young Americans formed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for Freedom and the American Conservative Union. They referred themselves to as dedicated conservatives. In the late 1970s, conservative women took charge and coordinated their organization. They formed Concerned Women for America (CWA) in which they address conservatives’ issues from a social perspective.
In the 1980s, conservatism was under the reign of President Reagan. The period saw the rise of the Reagan Revolution, who had been nominated by the conservative women. Reagan had support from conservative voters who were in favor of his policies. They included his Democrats, business people, Southerners, and Westerns. George Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president, was committed to conservative ideas of morality (Conservatism 838). The rule of Reagan and Bush was the beginning of a new rule for conservatism. In1973, abortion had been legalized by the Supreme Court. In 1989, new restrictions were imposed on abortion, which varied in different states. The new administration fought against drugs with moves to prosecute drug dealers and users. Women conservatives were fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment. They managed to obtain 35 out of the38 ratifications they needed to win against ERA. Following the win, women organizations began electing women into public offices. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was elected as the vice-president candidate for the Democratic Party. The move was meant to eradicate inequality, which contributed to “feminization of poverty.” Conservatives had a lot of power during the rule of President Reagan and Bush.
As seen above, conservatism was characterized by many changes over the decades. The conservatives had different ideas and faced various issues between the 1930s and 1980s. In the 1930s, conservatism was mostly concerned with opposition of ideas, especially after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took over power. They were against his New Deal policies throughout the decade. As time progressed, they claimed that the government had robbed people of their self-respect. They wanted economic liberalism, which they perceived as the solution to America’s problems. By the 1980s, when Reagan and Bush were in power, conservatism had won over liberalism. Reagan and Bush were conservatives, and they had won elections through the support of the democrats and conservatives. They made changes in their administration, in favor of conservatism. During the era, women also got opportunities to participate in administration matters through holding positions in public offices. Conservatism was more powerful than liberalism as opposed to the past decades.
Conservatism: The Conservative Tide.
Dallek, Matthew. ““The Conservative 1960s:” From the perspective of the 1990s, it’s the big political story of the era.” The Atlantic. Accessed June 20, 2019 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1995/12/the-conservative-1960s/376506/
Farber, David. The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History. Princeton University Press, 2012.
Kirk, Russell. “The conservative mind, from Burke to Santayana.” (1953).
Phillips-Fein, Kim. ““If Business And The Country Will Be Run Right:” The Business Challenge To The Liberal Consensus, 1945–1964.” International Labor and Working-Class History, vol 72, no. 1, 2007, pp. 192-215. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.1017/s0147547907000610.
Woodward, Ralph Lee. “The Rise and Decline of Liberalism in Central America: Historical Perspectives on the Contemporary Crisis.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs26.3 (1984): 291-312.