This work was "a manifesto, akin in impact to what C. Wright Mill's The Power of Elite was for left-wing students." Buckley, in attacking the "atheism and collectivism" in his religion and economic courses at Yale, drew national attention to the conservative intellectual movement of the 1950's.
William Rusher played a similar role in the development of the conservative intellectual movement. As publisher of National Review and first president of Harvard's Young President's Club, Rusher was further able to bring attention to the principles of the conservative movement. However, in contrast with Buckley, who had been deeply rooted in conservative ideals since childhood, Rusher claimed that, "the atmosphere of the Cold War and particularly the Korean War brought about his transformation to staunch anti-communism."
The emergence and rise of the conservative movement of the 1950's, in combination with the emphasized roles of William F. Buckley and William Rusher begs a fundamental question: What compelled young intellectuals - Buckley and Rusher - to "represent the first wave of youth revolt in favor of conservative principles, anti-communism, and growing state power (Cadres for Conservatism, Schneider)" in American during the 1950's? In addition, what triggered this movement and what were its effects?
Defining Conservatism and Liberalism
Having evaluated thee social setting of the 1930's through 1950's, it is necessary to define liberalism and conservatism in context before further examining the causes and effects of the conservative intellectual movement.
Liberalism signified the broad series of reformist, interventionist, collectivist, and redistributionist impulses, to be implemented within the free-enterprise system, and managed by the federal government, that were associated with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
Conservatism can be defined by the shared belief that The individual has strong innate desires to favor his own interests, and the individual is the one best able to work toward his own best interests. Policies that strengthen the individual in the pursuit of his goals are in the best interest of the individual, and the society which relies on the individual for it's collective identity. A corillary to this is that strong families provide a reliable and lasting form of social insurance, and policies that support strong families are policies that support the society. Policies that erode the strength or necessity of family bonds will ultimately weaken the society.
Under this broad definition, there were three groups which articulated the conservative position: the "classical liberals" or "libertarians," those associated with the "new conservatism" or "traditionalism," and finally a militant, evangelistic anti-Communism group. Each group dealt with its own particular aspect of ideals behind conservatism, which were individualism, traditionalism and anti-communism. Each of these groups found their strength in that they were speaking against a particular trend in the American culture that a significant number of citizens opposed.
The "classical liberals" were most concerned with "resisting the threat of the ever expanding State to liberty, private enterprise, and individualism. These conservatives correctly identified the underlying motivation of the federal government's expanding its roll in the private sector. Those politicians in power wanted to stay in power, and were slowly training the citizenry like Pavlog's dogs, to jump to the government's feeding trough every time the bell of personal need rang. These conservatives correctly identified that the inevitable result of such policies would be a burgeoning government, and a populous that could no longer be self-reliant.
Those associated with "new conservatism" "urged a return to traditional religious and ethical absolutes." The social changes of the American landscape during the economic expansion of the 50's put new strains on the family. The industrial revolution had shifted the focus of family life out of the home, to the work place, and groups of friends that existed apart from home. With these changed came relaxed religious views, and the idea that my right and wrong may not be yours, and neither may be absolute. While it is customary for the adults in the family to be calling for maintaining the traditional religious and ethical values, the young conservatives caught the attention of many because they articulated this same cause, as a means for social strength, and economic advancement.
The third group was most concerned the Soviet threat.
This group was obviously influenced by the war, and the ongoing articulated Cold War. Each of these groups had a particular impact on initiating or establishing the intellectual framework for the conservative intellectual movement of the 1950's.
The Specific Arguments of Conservatism
The beliefs and works of a particular group of intellectuals - Friedrich Hayek, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and Albert J. Nock - were essential in sowing the intellectual seeds of the conservative movement that developed in the 1950's. These individuals, each representing a different wing of the conservative movement, had a profound impact on establishing the groundwork for William Buckley and William Rusher.
Traditionalist Richard Weaver
Among the three strands of conservatism that emerged from World War II, the traditionalist branch of the conservative intellectual movement represented "a return to traditional religious ethical absolutes and a rejection of "relativism" which had allegedly corroded Western values and produced an intolerable vacuum that was filled by demonic ideologies (introduction, xvi, Nash)." In particular, Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk served as influential figures in fostering the development of the conservative intellectual movement in America during the 1950's.
As an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky in 1927, Richard M. Weaver became convinced that "the future was with science, liberalism, and equalitarianism... (Nash, 38)." By his graduation in 1932, he had joined Norman Thomas' Socialist Party of America. However, by the early 1940's Weaver's beliefs and his works would become a foundation for the traditional branch of the conservative movement - "I began to perceive that many traditional positions in our world had suffered not so much because of inherent defect as because of stupidity, ineptness, and intellectual sloth of those who for one reason or another were presumed to have their defense in charge (Nash, 38)." By 1939, in the mind of Weaver, liberalism had lost its meaning.
In 1948, Richard Weaver released Ideas Have Consequences - referred to during its time as the "the fons et origo [source and origin] of the contemporary American conservative movement (page 39 Nash)." As George Nash points out, "The subject of Weaver's book was nothing less than the dissolution of the West (Nash, 38)."
Weavers book addressed, and attacked much of the public policy that had become law in the post New Deal economy. Weaver states, "The denial of everything transcending experience, means inevitably... The denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of "man is the measure of all things."
Richard Weaver, in illustrating, had provided the basis for the principles behind traditional conservative movement. Weaver insisted that policy ideas in the political and social realm were tied to, and ultimately affected moral and ethical principals. When social and political policies were made which violated man's innate moral rights, the result was the abrogation of truth itself. Therefore, the solution was to return to an unchanging view of moral and ethical truth, and let public policy decisions be made in light of these unchanging maxims.
One example of this elongated attachment between social and moral rights was Weaver's defense of man's role to own, and defend private property - "the last remaining metaphysical right (Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences)"
Weaver mirrored Hayek's portrayal of private property as the "last refuge from the encroaching state (Nash, 41)." Weaver's "metaphysical right" is the same as Hayek's "last refuge"? Richard Weaver and Friedrich Hayek - in proposing similar criticisms to the ideals of the Left, namely the growing role of the state - perceived the same phenomenon, that "the decline of the West as a result of the triumph of pernicious ideas (Nash, 55)."
Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences, in questioning the fundamental values of Western society, brought much controversy to the traditionalism. Weaver had launched a credible and justified attack on liberal ideals, while providing legitimacy and credibility to traditionalists. He also bolstered the strength of the conservative intellectual cause. Among those who praised Weaver's work, Willmoore Kendall, a conservative Yale political scientist, nominated him for "the capitaincy of the Anti-Liberal team (page 41, Nash)," while anti-naturalist philosopher Eliseo Vivas labeled Richard Weaver "an inspired naturalist."
However, liberals from the Chicago University Press met Weaver's work with much displeasure - it was labeled "a pompous fraud, essentially evil, and notorious (Nash, 42)."
Despite the negative acclaim brought about by his work, Weaver's piece served as perhaps one of the most influential works in conservative literature during the 1940's. Not only had Weaver dared to defy the obvious liberal ideological dominance of the time in braving to write Ideas Have Consequences, but he was able to catapult the conservative intellectual movement into the national spotlight. Credibility and a newfound sense of legitimacy had been established within the traditionalist wing…