Visitors to my library will notice three things. First, in addition to books on nutrition, finance, and Satanism, readers will find scores of historical tomes. Second, upon closer examination, visitors will identify the bulk of these as political history texts. Lastly, they will realize that about a hundred of those are about the American Conservative Movement—a hundred more books on the subject than the average twenty-three year old gay man keeps in his second floor stack.
Am I one of those fabled gay conservatives? Maybe. In order to know, you’d have to define conservatism first, which, as the scholarship has shown, is no easy task. But if conservatism’s definition remains ambiguous, the moment of its descent is not. Leading scholars of the modern conservative movement including George Nash and Donald Critchlow argue that the ideology did not crystallize until after the end of World War II. I on the other hand place the birth of modern conservatism closer to the election of 1933.
Arguing that modern conservative was born in 1945 situates the ideology within a Cold War context—one which emphasizes Judeo-Christian values and a muscular, interventionist foreign policy while minimizing individualism for the sake of a united front against godless, wicked Communism. I hold a contrary opinion. My research—my senior thesis is currently under consideration at the North Carolina Historical Review—argues that the formation of modern conservatism dates back to 1935 when libertarians and business progressives, who accepted early New Deal provisions, coalesced to reverse reforms and push back against the emerging Second New Deal. Declaring 1935 as the beginning point of modern conservatism is important because it identifies the movement’s ideological cornerstone as being limited government and fiscal restraint rather than social fundamentalism and internationalism as 1945 would suggest. This definitional dilemma has and will continue to dominate the intellectual and political debates held by the scholars and practitioners of conservatism for some time to come.
So how did my interests in the movement develop? Well, I grew up in a Republican-voting household and was surrounded by conservative people of every stripe through my religious high school and workplace. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since first grade, and have enjoyed public policy since I was old enough to comprehend it. I considered a political career, and pre-majored in political science to prepare for law school, but ultimately decided against that path after realizing just how little I enjoyed kissing ass (and babies).
Then I considered being a political scientist, but I loathe math and despise even more political science’s zombified drift towards quantitative methods. After transferring to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from a local community college, I tagged on a major in history and eventually sought disciplinary honors in the subject. While at UNCG I realized the rebirth of political or policy history and believed that my career and intellectual interests laid within its boundaries. After graduating in May 2013, I relocated to East Tennessee where I currently am plotting my entry into graduate school.
Readers can expect most of my blog posts to cover American politics and its political history. Current issues I am mulling over for future posts include North Carolina’s rightward turn and the free market charitable apparatus which libertarian writer & activist Richard Cornuelle referred to as the “Independent Sector.” I also hope to interact with my blogging colleagues under the assumption that our differing academic backgrounds, opinions, and methodologies will provide readers—and ourselves—with an intellectually enriching and, yes, entertaining reading experience that forces all of us to second guess, reformulate, and better defend our own perspectives.
So glad you are on board, Joseph! It’s so great to have your experiences and interests represented. I also find your thesis about the conservative movement very interesting and important. It has me thinking. I think the more we can “push back” the start of things as historians the better because we see how deep and connected everything is.