George Hawley teaches political science at the University of Alabama. This book, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, is about right-wing movements that are outside of mainstream American conservatism. They include:
—localists, who believe that people should be rooted and grounded in a local community rather than having mobility; they are critical of big government and big business;
—conservatives who are atheists;
—libertarians, both mainstream and radical;
—paleoconservatives, who are non-interventionist on American foreign policy, are critical of immigration, and are culturally conservative;
—the “New Right” in Europe, which supports racial and ethnic homogeneity, yet some of its adherents are willing to form alliances with Islam to resist Western cultural influence; it is critical of capitalism and of American interventionism;
—the radical right, specifically white nationalists.
Hawley provides historical background about conservatism in general and American conservatism in particular. He seeks to arrive at a definition of conservatism, finding many of the proposed definitions to be problematic. The definition on which he settles distinguishes conservatism from liberalism by saying that liberalism prioritizes equality, whereas conservatism has other priorities. These priorities differ, depending on the conservative. Some stress the free market, and some prioritize culture, community, tradition, or ethnic homogeneity.
Throughout the book, Hawley profiles the ideas, figures, and success (or lack thereof) of these conservative movements. The paleoconservatives, for example, have a lot of Ph.Ds, but they lack numbers and funding. They have also lost historic battles with neoconservatives for influence within the conservative movement. Pat Buchanan was a significant paleoconservative figure, and his candidacies had the potential to unite paleoconservatives with paleolibertarians; instead, he alienated the libertarians by emphasizing his support for trade protectionism.
The white nationalist movement is gaining more influence through the Internet, yet the KKK has very few members.
At the end of the book, Hawley offers a thoughtful discussion about the future of American conservatism. On the one hand, he sees indications that its influence will dwindle. America is becoming more racially diverse, and conservatism, overall, has not appealed to racial and ethnic minorities. Marriage and religion are declining, and those who marry or who are religious tend to be conservatives. Popular conservative books are more numerous than conservative intellectual books, so Hawley concludes that modern conservatism lacks intellectual heft. At the same time, Hawley does not pronounce conservatism dead. People have pronounced conservatism dead in the past, yet it keeps on existing. The concentration of liberals in the cities and the presence of conservatives in the numerous rural areas will ensure that conservatives receive a sizeable representation in government. There is also a possibility that conservatism will appeal to racial and ethnic minorities. Hawley mentions conservatives who have embraced criminal justice reform, but another factor is that, as ethnic minorities become more prosperous, they may become more conservative.
Here are some items:
- The book sensitized me to how serious expulsion from the mainstream conservative movement could be prior to the advent of the Internet. William F. Buckley had the primary influential conservative publication, National Review. If conservatives could not write for that, their influence declined dramatically. They may have had their own small publications, but it is costly to produce a publication and to circulate it. Nowadays, the situation is different. One reason is the Internet: marginal conservatives can create websites that look just as polished as mainstream sites. Another consideration is that, with the death of Buckley, there is no uniting, overarching leader of the conservative movement. As Hawley notes, Ann Coulter was banned from National Review, yet that has not hurt her writing and speaking career.
- A recurring question that I had in reading this book was “What about Trump?” This book was obviously written before Trump became an electoral phenomenon. Hawley even raises the possibility that Rand Paul might win primaries in the 2016 Presidential election, and we know that didn’t happen! Hawley mentions the possibility of writing an update to this book, and, if that happens, I am sure that it will talk about Trump. What is ironic is that Trump won as he embraced paleoconservative positions (i.e., anti-immigration, anti-war, perhaps protectionism), even though paleoconservatism is the most marginal conservative movement, in Hawley’s telling.
- Hawley raises interesting points as he tells the stories of conservative thinkers. He says that many conservatives today look back at the 1950’s as the ideal time, but then he refers to a conservative thinker who saw medieval times as the ideal! While there are libertarians who support open borders, there are also libertarians who advocate the opposite of open borders: if people have property, and there are not many publicly funded roads, that clamps down on the ability of immigrants to come here and settle! Although Murray Rothbard eventually became more of a white nationalist, there was a time when he was reaching out to the anti-war and the Black Power movements, thinking he could find common conservative ground with them. Hawley quotes someone who states that, on race, the way to determine someone’s virtue is by looking at his or her stances when they are unpopular. Is a person for equality when racial equality is unpopular (i.e., the Jim Crow south)? That person, not the person who gives expected PC answers, is the virtuous one. Is a person a racist when racial equality is the mainstream position? That person has moral problems. Hawley refers to a thinker who thought that capitalism was inconsistent with cultural conservatism. I thought of a biography of Jerry Falwell that I read (Michael Sean Winters’ God’s Right Hand Man: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right), which noted the irony that Falwell was a strong advocate of free market capitalism, even though the things that he criticized, such as pornography, are the products and beneficiaries of capitalism.