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July 15, 2003

What Happened to Conservatives?


by Rep. Ron Paul

The so-called conservative movement of the last 20 years, starting with the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, followed by the 1994 Gingrich takeover of the House, and culminating in the early 2000s with Republican control of both Congress and the White House, seems a terrible failure today. Republicans have failed utterly to shrink the size of government; instead it is bigger and costlier than ever before. Federal spending spirals out of control, new Great Society social welfare programs have been created, and the national debt is rising by more than a half-trillion dollars per year. Whatever happened to the conservative vision supposedly sweeping the nation?

One thing is certain: those who worked and voted for less government, the very foot soldiers in the conservative revolution, have been deceived. Today, the ideal of limited government has been abandoned by the GOP, and real conservatives find their views no longer matter.

True limited government conservatives have been co-opted by the rise of the neoconservatives in Washington. The neoconservatives – a name they gave themselves – are largely hardworking, talented people who have worked their way into positions of power in Washington. Their views dominate American domestic and foreign policy today, as their ranks include many of the President's closest advisors. They have successfully moved the Republican Party away from the Goldwater-era platform of frugal government at home and nonintervention abroad, toward a big-government, world empire mentality more reminiscent of Herbert Hoover or Woodrow Wilson. In doing so, they have proven that their ideas are neither new nor conservative.

Modern neoconservatives are not necessarily monolithic in their views, but they generally can be described as follows:

  • They agree with Trotsky's idea of a permanent revolution;
  • They identify strongly with the writings of Leo Strauss;
  • They express no opposition to the welfare state, and will expand it to win votes and power;
  • They believe in a powerful federal government;
  • They believe the ends justify the means in politics – that hardball politics is a moral necessity;
  • They believe lying is necessary for the state to survive;
  • They believe certain facts should be known only by the political elite, and withheld from the general public;
  • They believe in preemptive war and the naked use of military force to achieve any desired ends;
  • They openly endorse the idea of an American empire, and hence unapologetically call for imperialism;
  • They are very willing to use force to impose American ideals;
  • They scoff at the Founding Father's belief in neutrality in foreign affairs;
  • They believe 9/11 resulted from a lack of foreign entanglements, not from too many;
  • They are willing to redraw the map of the Middle East by force, while unconditionally supporting Israel and the Likud Party;
  • They view civil liberties with suspicion, as unnecessary restrictions on the federal government;
  • They despise libertarians, and dismiss any arguments based on constitutional grounds.

Those who love liberty, oppose unjustified war, and resent big-brother government must identify the philosophy that is influencing policy today. If the neoconservatives are wrong – and I believe they are – we must demonstrate this to the American people, and offer an alternative philosophy that is both morally superior and produces better results in terms of liberty and prosperity. It is time for true conservatives to retake the conservative movement.


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    Ron Paul is a Republican Congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President.

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