I offer the following definitions to navigate through the swamps of terminology. Back in the late 1950s, most of the conservative movement could and did meet for lunch in the company dining room of Bill Buckley's family oil business on East 37th St. in Manhattan. They were devout Cold Warriors and, in domestic affairs, were generally opposed to the steady growth of government. On both counts, they opposed the policies of the liberals, who ran the country. They called themselves, simply, "conservatives." No one rose to protest the term.
From the start, the conservatives recognized the existence of a group of country cousins who called themselves "libertarians." The libertarians had been around for a while. Their big obsession was government, which they wanted to keep as small as possible. The conservatives had considerable sympathy for this view, but thought there was more to conservatism than just that. Moreover, the libertarians' antagonism to government action kept them from endorsing wholeheartedly government measures needed to win the Cold War.
Things rocked along this way until the mid-1960s, when a small but influential group of liberals and leftists -- mostly New Yorkers -- got fed up with liberal acquiescence in the antics of the noisy New Left (especially in opposing the Cold War) and broke with liberalism altogether. This group, led by Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, long resisted being called conservatives, but eventually agreed to be described as "neoconservatives."
In the early 1970s, a group of young conservatives -- led by Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips -- began arguing that a large number of formerly Democratic blue-collar workers were ripe for recruitment by the conservatives on the basis of their social values (the family, etc.), which were under heavy attack from the left. They were labeled the "New Right," and their analysis was correct: In 1980, millions of former Democrats backed Reagan. Meanwhile, in 1978 a liberal move (subsequently abandoned) to eliminate the tax deductibility of religious schools so alarmed politically quiescent Christians that they organized themselves for political action. Thus was born the "Religious Right."
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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