In Defense of Paleoconservatism
by Kimo Gandall and Camryn Love
I’m sure you’ve heard the arguments of notoriously conservative candidate Donald Trump. Whether or not you agree with him, you know of him. Last month’s edition of The Bolt featured “Trump for President?” by author Julia Stevens, attempting to destroy the foundations of a traditional train of thought known as paleoconservatism. This notion is specifically trained on Donald Trump, a Republican candidate for the presidential race, a man whom embodies old conservatism, otherwise known as paleoconservatism.
Most individuals have a preconceived notion of paleoconservatism especially after I mention Trump in association with it (I would assume many of you reading this are liberal). Likely, the preconception is founded in one word, as Miss Stevens put it: racism. This reflexive connotation is false, for paleoconservatism is a much more complex idea. The Alabama Policy institute, summarizing Russell Kirk’s 500+ page book The Conservative Mind, describes paleoconservatives as:
“Conservatives [that] are convinced that life is worth living, … and, unlike liberals, do not seek to force sameness upon humanity. Conviction that civilized society needs the rule of law and the middle class, in contrast to the notion of a “classless society.”[Paleoconservatives] believe there are natural distinctions among men, leading to inequalities of condition. [Paleoconservatives] affirm equality before God and the courts; anything more leads to “servitude and boredom.” Freedom and property are linked: without private property, the state is unstoppable. Redistribution of wealth, by taxes or other means, is not economic progress. Men need property to secure their rights, discharge their duties, and limit government. Faith in prescription and distrust of those calculating men who would reconstruct all of society according to their own abstract designs. A [Paleoconservative] believes things are the way they are for a good reason: past generations have passed on customs and conventions that stood the test of time. Customs serve as a check on anarchy and the lust for power. Recognition that change may not be a good thing. Hasty innovation can destroy as well as improve, so conservatives are prudent with their changes and approach reform with caution rather than zeal.”
This definition may initially seem vague, but this philosophy, once implemented, manifests itself in the form of policies against government regulation, free trade and illegal immigration. All of these issues, regardless of your political stance, affect the United States.
Government regulation has been a contentious debate since the formation of America; Alexander Hamilton, founder of the Federalist party in 1789 famously opposed the Jeffersonians, members of the Democratic-Republican party, on the grounds of the constitutionality of a national bank. In modern times, the debate has grown gradually more concept based, with Paleoconservatives opposing rigorous government intervention. There may be good reason for this long held notion based on the account that Federal intervention has, and will continue to be, a serious hamper on the expansion of business and therefore will limit job growth and economic opportunity; in fact, many studies have proven that Federal intervention has not affected the living standards of the poorest 10% of citizens, even though the Federal government spends trillions on ‘improving the conditions of the poor.’ Michael D. Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute explained that “Despite government largesse, 37 million Americans continue to live in poverty, despite nearly $9 trillion in total welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty in 1964.” Essentially, even though the United States Federal Government has consistently worked to eliminate poverty, it has failed each and every time. Furthermore, many paleoconservatives have argued that government regulation and intervention have actually decreased the incentive to work; while this argument may sound like sheer prejudice to a closed mind, there is empirical evidence to support this claim. For instance, Robert Moffitt of Brown University, while conducting a study on the correlation between welfare benefits and workforce participation, found that the work effort of welfare recipients was reduced by as much as 30% while under government programs versus controls who displayed no statistically significant decreases compared to middle class citizens when not exposed to Federal programs. In addition, Tad DeHaven from the Cato institute, 2010, noted that “[an] analysis of interstate variation in labor force participation by economists Richard Vedder, Lowell Gallaway, and Robert Lawson found that [workforce] participation declined as welfare benefits increased.” While there is an argument to be made about economic mobility, it is clear that paleoconservatism is not unfounded, as many would like to believe.
Anti-government regulation arguments extend, for many paleoconservatives, past the “welfare state” and into the effects of regulations on businesses. This is once again empirically proven; John W. Dawson and John J. Seater from the Appalachian State University Department of economics found that “Government regulation restricted [the] growth [which the average] American household receives [by] about $277,000 annually…” which means we should be getting “a median household income of $330,000 instead of the $53,000 we get now.” The researchers further found that “if regulation had remained at the same level as in 1949, current GDP would have been $53.9 trillion instead of $15.1 in 2011. In other words, current U.S. GDP in 2011 was $38.8 trillion less than it might have been.” Basically, the findings of the researchers hold that American growth was deeply restricted by the Federal Government, whom prevented growth by damaging the ability of Corporations to effectively expand, compete, and engage in a globalized world while maintaining American standards. And for debaters out there questioning the methodology behind this article, do note while it could be argued that environmental regulation and import regulation are necessary, this study does not take those into consideration, focusing instead on Federal taxes and Federal regulations on Corporate growth, with Mr. Dawson noting that “The original OECD cross-section data are restricted to product market and employment protection regulation.” Mr. Dawson further notes that “Other types of regulation, such as environmental or occupational health and safety regulation, are ignored.” The article also specifies that the study only accounts for Federal practices, noting that “we restrict attention to federal regulation only, ignoring regulation by the fifty states of the union.” While there are arguments to be made about confounding variables out of the researchers control, the study is relatively sturdy, and a strong case against Federal regulation in the marketplace (*cough cough* minimum wage *cough cough*). In the case any readers are curious, this is the link to the article:
Paleoconservatives, and for this matter many Libertarians, have taken their arguments against the government a step further, marking the fears of a snowball effect. Harry Browne, in his book Why Government Doesn’t Work highlighted this fear:
“The reformers of the Cambodian revolution claimed to be building a better world. Then they used force to regulate every aspect of commercial life. Then they forced office workers and intellectuals to give up their jobs and harvest rice, to round out their education. When people resisted having their lives turned upside down, the reformers had to use more and more force. By the time they were done, they had killed a third of the country’s population…The Soviet leaders used coercion to provide economic security and to build a “New Man”—a human being who would put his fellow man ahead of himself. At least 10 million people died to help build the New Man and the Workers’ Paradise… many Germans gladly traded civil liberties for the economic revival and national pride Adolf Hitler promised them. But like every other grand dream to improve society by force, it ended in a nightmare of devastation and death. Professor R.J. Rummel has calculated that 119 million people have been killed by their own governments in this century. Were these people criminals? No, they were people who simply didn’t fit into the New Order—people who preferred their own dreams to those of the reformers. Every time you allow government to use force to make society better, you move another step closer to the nightmares of Cambodia, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany”
The fear of Big Brother is quite clearly represented in paleoconservatism, which, besides the empirical evidence to prove Federal intervention is ineffective, only adds to the standard conservative dread of any government institution. While, for many readers, it may seem silly, society is often not too far away from such societies; in our own today, we actively permit and allow Federal organizations to spy on every little thing we do, and even after our entire nation received the news that we used “enhanced interrogation” tactics against prisoners of war in illegal foreign prisons such as Guantanamo Bay, many of us choose to do nothing. In 2004, the supreme court case Rumsfeld v. Padilla only served to heighten such worry, with our own courts refusing to listen to the wrongful imprisonment of José Padilla, an American citizen, who was arrested without cause, refused a trial, and held for extended periods of time in military prisons just because our government, without reason, labeled him a “terrorist.” Perhaps, it seems, our society is slowly inching towards the 1984 George Orwell predicted.
Another major contentious issues pursued by paleoconservatives is free trade. Many neoconservatives run the same cliche arguments: more trade is good, because companies reap higher profits from international trade. In 2004, the Heritage Foundation wrote a seemingly convincing article supporting free trade, with their primary proof lying on the fact that free trade nations grew, on average, by 4.89% while nations without free trade, most markedly Russia, grew by only 2.53%. The Heritage Foundation missed a fundamental piece of the puzzle, however, in that they only addressed national economic growth, not national job growth. An academic article published by Trade Watch has found that NAFTA has taken a toll of one million American jobs caused largely by outsourcing. Not only this, but that the Department of Commerce has only been able to attribute the creation of around 1,500 jobs to NAFTA. Over 60,000 American manufacturing facilities were closed after NAFTA was passed.
Paleoconservatives are not, contrary to popular belief, racist. There is a staunch difference between being opposed to illegal immigration and being racist.