How many kind of "conservatives" are there in America?

In the U.S., we use the words “liberal” and “conservative” to lump together several very different schools of political thought. This is probably because our two-party systems forces several different kinds of “liberals” or “conservatives” to huddle together under the big tent of one of the major parties. We really should be more precise. We need to develop a clearer picture of the whole range of political opinions.

In my view, the words “right” or “conservative” in American political discourse can refer to any of the following ideologies or groupings:

  1. Religious-social traditionalist conversatism – “family values,” the Christian Coalition, and all that. This group has really good grass-roots organization and enjoys influence in the Republican Party out of proportion to its numbers. But people in this groups are mostly poor or working-class, which gives them very different material interests than the business conservatives (below).

  2. Racist, anti-semitic, white-supremacist conservatism – a declining force but still very real, being rooted as it is in the native political traditions of the American South, and having achieved national expression in certain (actually, most) branches of the “citizens’ militia” and “common-law courts” movements. Despite superficial resemblance, NOT a form of fascism, or militarist-authoritarian-nationalist conservatism, like they have in Europe. The American Nazis do belong in this grouping but they’re a small minority of a minority. Most American white supremacists are also very supportive of “states’ rights” or local-communal autonomy, and very hostile to any kind of national dictatorship or even a strong federal government – presenting a real problem to any would-be American Hitler. In some ways this grouping shades over into libertarianism or anarchism, the law no longer being on their side as it once was.

  3. Nativist, isolationist, anti-immigrant, populist conservatism – a more moderate form of the above. Best represented, at present, by Pat Buchanan and his America First Party. These people are in the tradition of the old Populist Party and the interwar America First! movement. They hate Wall Street as much as they hate the New World Order. Unlike the overt racists, they probably will not admit to hating Wall Street because there’s all those Jews in it. (Which doesn’t mean that isn’t on their minds.) This grouping is what people usually mean when they talk of “paleoconservatism.”

  4. Foreign-policy neo-conservatism – an updated name for imperialism. Dedicated to the proposition that the United States should expand its military power and global influence by any means necessary. This is an important faction as it’s pretty much running the country right now, in tandem with the pro-business conservatives, below.

  5. Pro-business conservatism – what’s good for General Motors is good for the country, etc. Corporate welfare, union-busting, all good. Military intervention abroad also good, so long as it helps business.

  6. Libertarianism, or classical liberalism – pro-market, which is not the same thing as pro-business. Opposed to welfare for poor people; opposed, for the same ideological reasons, to government bailouts of troubled businesses; opposed to American military intervention abroad.

  7. Respectable elitist conservatism – best exemplified by aristocratic intellectuals such as William Buckley. Combines elements of several of the above, as the occasion requires, while honoring the Old World Tory tradition of Edmund Burke. In fact, I’m going out on a limb classifying this group separately from the business conservatives – but, in principle, their tradition is much older.

Obviously there’s a lot of overlap between these groupings and a given “conservative” might identify with several of them. But no rational person could identify with all of them. And for any given “conservative,” there’s probably one of the above groupings that represents his or her politics better than any of the others.

What do you guys think? Is this a complete picture? Have I drawn any erroneous distinctions, identified any groupings that are not really separate groupings? Are there other kinds of conservatives I haven’t listed?

Didn’t you already do this a month or so ago? Reading your OP, I noticed a “glitch in the Matrix”.

A month ago I proposed a more general question: “What is the best system for mapping/classifying political ideologies?” In this thread (and a concurrent thread: "How many kinds of ‘liberals’ or ‘leftists’ are there in America) I am trying to focus more closely on identifying and characterizing the specific elements that make up our “political nation.” When we have a more accurate picture of that, perhaps I’ll resurrect the earlier thread, having more and better information to get started with. Can’t draw a map without scouting the territory!

For reference and comparison, here are links to some related GD threads I have started:

How many kinds of “liberals” or “leftists” are there in America? –

“What is the best system for mapping/classifying political ideologies?” –

“Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan voting systems?” –

With the exception of Social conservatives (which is not original) your classification sucks.

I don’t fit in any of those and none of my conservative friends fit in any of those. You seem to have excluded the majority, and your categorizations appear to me to be more an attempt at an Ad hominem attack on conservatives in genereal rather than a sincere effort at understanding.

Posted by Scylla:

Nevertheless, Scylla, I am making a sincere effort at understanding. If you think my categorizations are faulty, please explain why! In great detail! And if you have an alternative set of categories, please tell me about it! What are the beliefs and attitudes and demographics of the “majority” of conservatives I have apparently excluded? I think I made clear enough that the categories I identified are only a starting point. I want to develop a more accurate model, with other dopers’ help.

I agree with Scylla. It’s only the last 2 that you describe objectively. Try re-writing the others according to their beliefs, and not what you think about them.

Splitting one older thread into two threads with basically the same wording is not necessary on this board.

How many types of conservatives are there? The short answer:

As many types as there are conservatives.

The long answer:

It depends on how, exactly, you wish to classify them. Probably the best way is by general philosophy, which generates a list something like the following:

Social Conservatives:
These folks are generally in support of “traditional values”, however you wish to define that. They tend to be pro-life, anti-gay-marriage, anti-pornography, and such. Generally, they view the family (particularly with regards to children) as a sacrosanct structure that should be protected by the government.

Fiscal Conservatives:
These are the small-government, free-market types. They tend to oppose excessive regulation of businesses and the market in general, and believe that a smaller government is a better government. They generally consider the NEA as the ultimate expression of big-government silliness.

These are the folks who typically provide liberals with the stereotype of all Republicans being evil racists. They tend towards isolationism in foreign policy, closed borders, and are often still bitter about the demise of segregationism. These folks are tiny in number, with Pat Buchanon being the only really prominent one left. Certainly not all (or even most) Paleos are racist, but the isolationism is pretty much a pre-req.

Originally, neo-cons were simply ex-communist supporters who saw the light and started fighting against Communism. They were dubbed this by Conservatives of the time (who saw the neo-cons as not “true” conservatives), and took it as their banner. I guess kinda like gay folk adopted the word “queer”. The neo-con movement quickly became a bastion for ex-liberals in general, and were notable for supporting classically conservative notions using the language of the left. For instance, a neo-con would say, “Based upon my research of numerous studies, I have come to see that two-parent families are superior to single parent families”, to which a classical conservative would say, “Well, duh.”

Nowadays, though, “Neo-Conservative” doesn’t mean much of anything. Typical modern-day definitions related somehow to an interventionist foreign policy, typically in support of Israel. Not really imperialist or expansionist, since those dubbed neo-cons have no desire to expand our borders, just to secure them. When used by liberals (for instance, Maureen Dowd), the term “neo-con” can be taken to mean “someone I don’t like”, or, alternately, “evil Republican”, or sometimes “Jew”.

This may or may not be a legitimate classification of conservative, depending on who you talk to. It basically refers to conservatives with strong environmentalist streak. Sometimes they’re called “Granola Conservatives”.

Libertarians frequently hate to be classified as conservatives, and I really don’t think they fit the mold, though libertarians and other conservatives often share the same opinions on certain matters. Notably, Libertarians tend towards fiscal conservatism, though typically in an extreme fashion. Basically, Libertarians think of government as a necessary evil, and feel the state should keep its nose out of others’ business unless absolutely necessary. Unlike most other conservatives, Libertarians consider the means to be more important than the ends. While other conservatives maintain their positions based on a belief that they will lead to the best outcome, Libs believe what they do in spite of the outcome - the principle is what’s important.
And of course, a conservative can possess many of the above traits, which is why it’s so difficult to classify the different flavors of conservatism. In a nutshell, conservatism represents the absence of ideology. Conservatives support the positions they do because they’ve seen them work before. We don’t support a generally free market because of some ideological fascination with it, we support a free market because of all the economies we’ve seen, that’s the one that seems to work best overall. We don’t support military intervention because of a desire to save the world, we support military intervention in cases where we believe it will lead to a generally more secure United States.

Of course, this isn’t to say that conservatives have no principles or ideologies, only that their ideologies don’t stem from their conservatism. If we for some reason believed that murder of children was best for society, I doubt you’d see a bug conservative push for legalized kiddie killing, because it would conflict with personal principles, even if it didn’t conflict with conservative principles.

And, of course, all of the above is a big, giant, swath of gross generalization, so take that for what it’s worth.

They’re wrong because they are just arbitrary and made up generalizations that reveal your personal feelings but bear little resemblance to that which you’re describing.

It would be like if you were to start a thread describing the different types of black people and itemized it like this:

  1. You got your lazy

  2. You got your shifty

  3. You got your untrustworthy

Such a list would tell me nothing about black people but it would tell me a lot about you.

You’re doing the exact same thing with conservatism. Before you go telling us what we are what we think and what we do, and deign to put us into categories you need to understand mainstream conservatism.

Scylla: You cracked me up with that one!!!:slight_smile:

Nice Scylla.

Oh, and don’t forget your log cabin conservatives, BrainGlutton.

Well done.

I vaguely recall an article WFB wrote several years ago in NR that attempted to define the various conservative philosophies & put them into neat little catagories. If memory serves me, he had the John Bircher’s in their own seperate “branch”. (How much they really differ from paleo-cons I don’t know).

In the article, Buckley went on to use the example of lighthouses.
Being an avid sailor, he used his own personal bias in an attempt to justify gov’t construction and maintentance of lighthouses. Citing commerce and other factors, he attempted to prove the need for such expenditures while mocking those (libertarians) who believe those who use lighthouses should be the ones who have to pay for them.

If this was a “How Many Types of Republicans Are There?” thread, I would add RINO’s, such as Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada

Posted by John Mace:

In this instance, John, it is necessary, or at least worthwhile. Just look at the completely new and different set of results I’m getting from this thread! This is exciting! This is worth doing!

Posted by Debaser:

The Log Cabin Republicans are an association of homosexual Republicans, right? I don’t think they really merit listing as a separate category – the only things they have in common are that they are (1) homosexual and (2) Republican. An individual Log Cabiner would not be a religious-social conservative, but otherwise his views could be practically anywhere on the right side of the political map.

Posted by Scylla:

Believe it or not, Scylla, I got a very similar reaction to my OP in the “How many kinds of ‘liberals’ or ‘leftists’ are there in America?” thread. I’m a democratic socialist myself, but apparently I failed to make that clear. One poster assumed I was a conservative and started the thread to mock and excoriate liberals; and he posted a lengthy apologia for liberalism, in which I found very little with which to disagree. But if I do take this opportunity to deride certain political camps on both sides, what’s wrong with that? It is not the primary intention of the thread, it’s just my way of having a little fun with it. You will notice I do not have disparaging or dismissive things to say about every group I have identified. Mainly because there was a limit to what I could think of at the time. But what I’m doing here is primarily an intellectual enterprise – and a most worthy one, even if I am not going about it in the best possible way.

And the initial divisions I came up with, Scylla, are not arbitrary generalizations based on my personal feelings; they are what seem to me to be identifiable, distinct, and, sometimes, antagonistic camps under the Republican big tent. This analysis is something about which I have been thinking very seriously for a long time.

Posted by ElJeffe:

Could you tell me more about these crunchy-cons? I know there is an organization called the Nature Conservancy which exists to protect undeveloped land from development by means acceptable to any conservative: They buy the land and then don’t do anything with it, nor allow anyone else to do anything with it. Is this who you’re talking about?

Also posted by ElJeffe:

Please expand on this. You also listed the Libertarians as a separate category. What is the difference between Libertarians and fiscal conservatives?
Let me say it again. I am trying to formulate a clear picture of all the ideological groupings of the American “political nation” (that minority of the general populace who take some active role, beyond voting, in politics and public affairs). A month ago I started a GD thread – “What is the best system for mapping/classifying political ideologies?” – That kind of petered out, and I got to thinking maybe I didn’t have a clear and accurate enough picture of the territory I propose to map, so I’m breaking the problem down into more manageable components. So I started this thread, and a concurrent thread about the categories of liberals and leftists.

Why am I so interested in all this? Because I want to live in a politically pluralistic, multipartisan America! That’s why I support such reforms as instant runoff voting, proportional representation, and anything else that gives third parties a leg up, anything that might help to break the back of the two-party system! In a still earlier GD thread I “asked”: “Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan voting systems?” –

And, as I support these things, I think it is very important to try to predict exactly what new partisan groupings would emerge in American politics if the system were reformed to make that possible. That is why I started this thread and all the threads mentioned above.


It’s no worse nor no better than if you were going to use the opportunity to deride other groups such as blacks or gays. By being derisive you invalidate the intellectual exercise you are engaging in. Again, it would be as if you were studying inner city youth and called them “junglebunnies.” It is just ignorant.

If bashing groups you know little about is your idea of fun, I have an issue with it.

I see little consolation in the idea that you lack total ignorance.

So you say. What is so worthy about ineptly pigeonholing groups according to your arbitrary and prejudicial standards?

I don’t care how long you’ve been thinking about it. The issue isn’t how long. The issue is how well.

Your divisions are arbitrary and dismissive and show both prejudice and ignorance regarding your subject matter. They reflect on you, but they are so inept that they shed no light on your subject matter.

It is not my job here to educate you on the tenets of conservatism It is a different thing than being Republican though you seem to use the terms interchangeabley.

I mean you no offense though you’ve given me some, but what you are doing is no more useful than when my three year old attempts to give me driving directions from the backseat.

She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Neither do you. Dismissive and ignorant is a crappy combination.

If you want to know about conservatism, ask.

You are still dodging the issue, Scylla. If you think the groupings I have identified do not really exist as such, then please explain what the real subgroupings within conservatism are. Because I am quite sure it is not the case that conservatism is for all practical purposes a homogeneous mass. There are subgroupings, they have sometimes parallel but very different agendas, and sometimes they fight each other. Look at what Pat Buchanan’s doing right now with his America First party ( Right now, he is a fiercer enemy of the Bush administration than any Democrat! That is an extremely important development! Are you going to try to tell me the “isolationist conservative” camp does not really exist?

[Fixed vB tag. – MEB]

Scylla, are you bringing in some baggage from another thread? I think BrainGlutton is making a sincere attempt to discuss conservative idealogy and the more bashing is being directed towards him than is coming from anything he’s written. If you disagree with his opinions, state your own in response.

As you are misrepresenting conservatism so are you misrepresenting my argument. I am not saying Conservatives cannot be grouped, I am saying that you have done a poor, ignorant and prejudiced job of grouping them.

Seeing as conservatism is a philosophy and not a political party it does not particularly lend itself to systematic grouping.

A conservative is one who identifies with conservative philosophy.

Liberals may identify with conservative philosophy.

For example, Collounsbury to my mind tends to be liberal from a political standpoint, progressive from a social standpoint, and conservative from an economic standpoint.

I tend to to be socially progressive and politically and economically conservative.

Since conservatism is a viewpoint or perspective rather than a grouping you are putting the cart before the horse when you attempt to take people that hold different viewpoints from different perspectives and pigeonhole them.

Pat Buchanan’s group is a poor starting point since it’s stupid to define your terms by the extremes. However, if you must use them as an example, I would classify them as extremists and radicals with a socially conservative bent.

“Conservative” is a characteristic of a group, not the group itself.

What you are doing is as if you were trying to label the subsets of Hot and cold. These are aspects of a thing, not the thing itself.

“Boiling liquids” are not a subset of the group “hot.”

“Hot” describes some (but not all) of the group of things we might characterize as “boiling liquids.”

Liberalism and conservatism are like hot and cold. They are qualities, not things. They describe. They do not define.

I am not dodging the issue. You don’t have one. It is nonsensical as you’ve defined it.

If you feel that I am mistaken than apply your system to hot, and list for the groups and subgroups of “hot.”

I disagree, Little Nemo. This OP deserves every bit of venom that Scylla is spitting at him/her.

BrainGlutton, by bringing up the Log Cabin Republicans I was attempting to point out the absurdity of your attempt at categorization of conservatives.

You’ve taken some conservative traits. Pro business, Pro Military, Relgious, etc. and divided them into these imaginary extreme groups that simply don’t exist at all.

For instance, it’s true that conservatives tend to be pro-business. They would probably rather have the private sector providing a service than the public sector in most cases. However, you twist this into a group that is “union busting”, likes corportate welfare, even military intervention abroad to promote business.

I am conservative on lots of issues and consider myself pro-business. However, none of these things are true about me. I’d be impressed if you could actually find a single person anywhere that has these views you ascribe to “pro-business” conservatives.

Hard-headed Conservatives believe in basing policies on how the real world actully works, rather than what they see a unrealistic theories. This type of conservative is apt to favor focusing the results of government policy, rather than its goals.

Is that really a type of conservativism, or more just the pragmatism that’s pretty common in America? I’d think most people, regardless of political philosophy, want to focus on what works.