As Moldbug pointed out in some criticism of Auster, a conservative today would have been a liberal in the 50’s. In that spirit I would like to review how I see the divisions that have generated over the last 80 years.
The New Deal state essentially wiped out everything before. The old-style conservatism became irrelevant. Even the old-style liberalism of the big city machines was thoroughly transformed, from something controlled by neighborhood politicians who may not have graduated from high school to professionals such as lawyers, bureaucrats and technocrats.
My grasp of American history is not that great, being a graduate (or at least attendee) of American public schools, but I think Thomas Dewey was the last example of an old-style Republican. Famous for prosecuting mobsters, he would have represented the small-town distaste for big-city corruption. Eisenhower was a life-long Army man and as a big cheese in WWII (not to mention a Kansas farm boy) so he would have been a solid member of the New Deal establishment.
By the 50’s the New Deal state was an accepted fact of life, and it was only divided into roughly right and left halves. The left half, as we know, was formally allied with the Soviet Union and working for an American version of permanent revolution. The right half accepted that the government now had a much larger role in controlling society, but didn’t think this role was unlimited and expected some reasonable balance of power. Ronald Reagan, already advanced in years and semi-retired from acting, was a Democrat and had been all his life; only his disgust with Communist activism in Hollywood caused him to see things were out of hand and limits had to be set.
So we now have a right New Dealer as a leading conservative. The patrician liberal Republican tendency, which wasn’t really interested in limiting government, just controlling it themselves, was strong in these times. As much as Richard Nixon was identified with the lower middle-class he was probably closest to this kind of thinking.
And yet another faction arose at this time, a libertarian faction that could still remember when the government didn’t control everything, saw how it had used the Depression and WWII to take control, and figured it was time to dismantle it. Considering the fact that both these historical events were long over, it doesn’t seem to qualify as ridiculous, but Barry Goldwater was portrayed as a crank and went down in a hail of gunfire. Whatever else you can say about the man at least he died with his boots on, metaphorically.
The struggle we see then beginning in the 60’s and continuing to this day is between a group that accepts that the federal government will largely control the economy and involve itself in many aspects of life, and tax significantly to support programs that benefit society at large, but doesn’t want it to get too personal or provide a lot of benefits to badly-behaved poor people, and the Popular Front faction of permanent revolution. Almost everybody who is a Republican now would have been a conservative Democrat back in the old days, myself included.
Some of the legislation of the New Deal seems ridiculous today- a large part of the commerce controls were overturned in a Supreme Court case involving the sale of individual live chickens in butcher shops in New York. But the larger principle was conserved- the government can involve itself in anything where some worthy party- a Democratic activist in the form of a liberal lawyer, a member of a minority rights group, a concerned congressman, or some other such person- believes there is a need.
The System accepts no limitation on itself and is slowed only by the need to follow some formal process in establishing its authority- sometimes the passing of legislation, sometimes the decision of some court or panel, sometimes the long process of shaping the minds of the public. It grows slower or faster but it is never reversed or changed, except in odd circumstances. One was welfare reform; the right side of the New Deal had been disgusted with this for 30 years, and in a brief moment of power was able to amend the program. The other was the Reagan Doctrine, a fairly significant departure from the strategy of containment.
As Kansas told us back in the 70’s, “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” The end of the New Deal State is on the horizon. The current administration has doubled down; their bet is that the economy will recover and they can cut military spending and get things under control before it collapses. But simple arithmetic intrudes; trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see cannot be sustained n any imaginable way.
Anyone preparing for the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 70’s would have been thought mad. And yet many must have seen it coming- the people running it were not stupid, indeed they were as they had to be quite cunning. Any Soviet official working overseas used the opportunity to make as much money as possible; much of that money went home, but much must have gone into Swiss bank accounts as well. Maybe the rise of the oligarchy of the FSU shouldn’t be such a surprise after all.
And who knows, maybe the same thing is going on in the Obama White House. They also are not stupid, and as the lawyer said in the musical, “That’s Chicago.”