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Arthur Schlesinger Jr – The continuing subservience of conservatism to corporatism

August 14, 2015

“Conservatism belongs to society as a whole,” Peter Viereck has written in “Conservatism Revisited,” “for its purpose is to conserve the values needed by society as a whole. Conservatism is betrayed when it becomes the exclusive property of a single social or economic minority.” It is precisely this betrayal which has reduced American conservatism to its current fatuity. For the Republican party as an organization has become in recent years so committed to the short-run interests of the business community that it has often tended to ignore what are clearly the long-run interests of the nation. …

[I]n the field of social welfare it is obviously essential, if capitalism is to survive, to hold the loyalty of the masses to the existing economic system. And it is obviously impossible to hold that loyalty if the existing economic system fails to feed, house and clothe all the people; to provide them decent medical care or adequate education. So the dictate of true conservatism would be to bribe the masses into loyalty, if you like, by assuring them the basic decencies of living.

As the British Tory Quintin Hogg has put it, “If you do not give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution.” Yet the Republican party, in proclaiming its crusade against the “welfare state,” is abandoning the working masses to the radicals-and all in the name of a lower tax rate, again the short run triumphs over the long. …

Is American conservatism dead beyond recall? Has it become simply the political reflex of the fears and timidities of the leadership of business? …

It is not too hard to describe the positions a true conservative should take. It must, in the first pale, follow the example of Theodore Roosevelt and dedicate itself to the public interest as against the special interests of any single group This position would have particular potency at a time when many citizens are becoming apprehensive over the power of organized labor. But it is not a position which Republicans can convincingly assume until they have demonstrated that they have liberated themselves from a posture of entire subserviency before the business community. …

[T]he Republicans must remember that conservatism is not the private property of the National Association of Manufacturers. It is not a device for increasing the short-run security of business. It is rather a profound sense of national continuity, stretching deep into the past and forward into the future, and providing a protective membrane for all the people of society.

(excerpted to emphasize the long-term problem of the capture of conservatism by big corporations, from ‘The Need for an Intelligent Opposition,’ New York Times, April 2, 1950)

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