I am a conservative.
I am a conservative by way of three phenomena that have linked together American conservatives since about 1920: (1) anti-Communism; (2) free market economics; (3) conservative social theory.
I regard the most important world figure of the 20th century as Vladimir Lenin. Had it not been for the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, there would not have been World War I. Had there not been World War I, the German government would not have shipped Lenin by train back to Russia in 1917. Had Lenin not been successful in his revolution in October, he would never have come to power. That would have meant that Adolf Hitler would never have come to power, for Lenin and the Communists provided the model for Hitler’s revolution.
Let us not forget this rarely mentioned fact: of all the 19th-century social revolutionaries, only one man ever came to power by means of a revolution he personally designed, and then maintained power long enough to implement it. That man was Lenin.
Free-market economics has been with us ever since the Spanish school of Salamanca in the early 16th century. It has been improved on repeatedly, culminating in the Austrian school of economics. We date the Austrian school of economics with the book by Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics, which was published in 1871. The modern formulation of it came in a series of books by Ludwig von Mises, beginning in 1912.
There was also a British school of economics that was free market, which we obviously date with Adam Smith in 1776, although David Hume’s anti-mercantile essays on free trade in 1752 came earlier. Smith’s tradition was extended over the next 114 years, culminating with the classic textbook by Alfred Marshall in 1890. In between was William Stanley Jevons, who died young, who was one of three men who developed what we call the marginal or subjective school of economics in the early 1870’s. Menger was one of them. The third was an economist in Switzerland, Leon Walras. Walras’ mathematical approach has grown in influence in academia. It is incoherent both methodologically and operationally. It cannot deal with two crucial facts: man’s lack of omniscience and historical change.
Then there is the political legacy of Edmund Burke. He was a follower of Adam Smith, and Adam Smith was a follower of Burke. Burke believed in slow, evolutionary social and political change. He was a social evolutionist, as was Smith. He opposed centralized political revolution as a way to increase liberty. His classic book, published in late 1790, was critical of the French Revolution. It became the rallying exposition of the conservative position in Western Europe from that time on. He did not believe in great theoretical systems. He complemented Adam Smith, who devised the dominant theoretical defense of free market economics. It was a strange alliance.
The enemy of free market economics is obviously socialism and communism in general, but also the statist extension of mercantilism that is represented in the United States by Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, both of the Roosevelts, and the followers of John Maynard Keynes. In other words, the mixed economy is the other enemy. It is the dominant enemy today.
There is of course the other strain of thought in the West, Christianity. It is dominated either by Roman Catholicism or by Protestantism, but both of them have proven impotent to resist the spread of the Social Gospel and liberation theology. The present Pope is a liberation theologian. In the United States, most denominational leaders and most seminaries, if they preach anything about economics, preach some version of the mixed economy, either in the form of the Social Gospel or a more radical form of liberation theology. That is to say, neither the Catholic hierarchy nor the Protestant establishment has been able to offer a theological challenge to either Keynes or Lenin. Most of the truly radical Central American liberation theologians were shot by government troops in the 1980s, and the collapse of communism in 1991 and the Soviet Union ended any appeal of Western communism in Latin American Catholic circles. Only a handful of Maoists still operate, but not extensively. Their last stronghold was in Peru.
So, conservatism in America is a mixture. It is mainly dominated by the Hamiltonian’s. They are the defenders of the mixed economy. They are the defenders of Empire. Their Trinity in American history is made up of Hamilton, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Their acolyte was Henry Clay. They were all defenders of a strong national government. They were all advocates of central banking.
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