Traditional Conservatism vs Modern Conservatism & Neo-Conservatism

Traditional Conservatism is based on the belief in a limited role for the federal government, traditional values such as religion and morality, and the implementation of gradual as opposed to radical changes within the confines of society. Edmund Burke is widely considered to be the founder of modern conservative thought. The concept of conservatism and conservative thought originated in part to the rise of radical left-wing movements during the late 18th Century such as Jacobinism in France, a revolutionary political organization that emerged to oppose the French monarchy and establish a strong, yet liberal government. Conservatism emerged as a reaction to such political ideas and emphasized a reverence for traditions in society and opposition to abrupt change in society.

Supporters of Traditional Conservatism promote the belief that the traditions established by society over the past few centuries have created a stable society and allowed mankind to progress. For a traditional Conservative, order signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights within a community. In order to preserve societal stability, Traditional Conservatives argue that past traditions need to be continually upheld. If traditions are rejected by society collectively, a degree of disorder will emerge and society will thus be weakened at its core.

For Traditional Conservatives, the main foundation of the state and civil society is based on religious tradition. Therefore, religion is one of the main values that defines a society. Incremental reform is also another key part of Classical Conservatism. Incrementalism holds that society needed to solve problems on a step-by-step basis as opposed to solving problems all at once. For example, a proponent of Classical Conservatism would argue that the best way to solve the problems with the access to healthcare would be to go over each part of the problem incrementally, as opposed to attempting to solve it in one step (which is what legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the American Healthcare Act both seek to do).

If traditions are rejected by society collectively, a degree of disorder will emerge and society will thus be weakened at its core.

Traditional Conservative theory also promotes the principle of localism. As opposed to regionalism and a centralized governmental role, localism supports the ideas of local control of government and policy decisions and the promoting of a local political identity. With a combination of limited government, localism, and a free market economic system, Traditional Conservatives feel that the proper type of society will emerge and that the major issues facing society will ultimately be solved.

Traditional Conservative theory argues that free will is a force that can be either destructive or beneficial and that its value depends on its used in a particular society. Traditional Conservatism holds the belief that there are no abstract rights possessed by all people and that rights are always concrete and never universal (relativism). The idea of a right to liberty is considered to be too abstract to be a fundamental right under Traditional Conservative thought. Furthermore, Traditional Conservatism promotes the idea that the rights of people vary between each and every society and between different individuals within each society.

Milton Freidman was one of the major figures behind Modern Conservative political theory and felt that the role of government in society needed to be limited.

Milton Freidman was one of the major figures behind Modern Conservative political theory and felt that the role of government in society needed to be limited.

Modern Conservatism, as exemplified by Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, is similar to Classical Conservatism, but is more reactionary in some ways. A Modern Conservative often takes the position that government often is too inefficient to handle societal problems and should not be relied upon in society. While no Modern Conservative would argue that government should be entirely be eliminated and take the position that there should be a basic social safety net, they argue that government should not get overly involved in societal problems and that the private sector should take a larger role in society.

Neo-Conservatism is a political movement born in the United States during the late 1970s among conservative-leaning Democrats who became disenchanted with the party’s foreign policy in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the rise of the “New Left” movements within the Democratic Party establishment beginning in the early 1970s. Neoconservatives peaked in influence during the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump and have played a major role in determining US policy towards the Soviet Union, and countries in the Middle East such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria, and Yemen.

Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) is considered to be one of the originators of Neo-Conservative political thought.

Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) is considered to be one of the originators of Neo-Conservative political thought.

One of the major figures behind Neo-Conservative political thought was Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, a member of the Democratic Party in the mold of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. Jackson served in the House of Representatives from 1940-1952 and as US Senator from 1952 until his death in 1983 in addition to being a candidate in the Democratic Presidential primaries in 1972 and 1976. ┬áDuring his time in Congress, Jackson earned the reputation as one of the most liberal members of Congress in terms of domestic policy issues (for example, Jackson boasted one of the strongest records in favor of civil rights during the civil rights movement and was the author of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970) and as a staunch anti-communist and proponent of a strong American presence on the world stage. Jackson was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, opposed detente with the Soviet Union as promoted by Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, strongly supported the defense spending increases by the Reagan Administration during the early 1980s (arguing that such policies would allow the US to successfully contain and roll-back communism worldwide) and was a major supporter of political Zionism and the State of Israel (Jackson went as far as to call for US-intervention against Iran during the early years of the Iran-Iraq War as a way to ensure Israel’s survival as a nation). Over the next few decades, many of Jackson’s followers such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz would gain a high level of influence in Republican Administrations and seek to apply the ideas of Neo-Conservatism to American foreign policy.

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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