After the conclusion of World War II, the United States began aiding the devastated countries of Western Europe; jump-starting their economies and maintaining the security of their governments. However, back home, certain political groups began to consider the future of our own country. The Conservative Coalition was one of these groups. This movement was founded on the basis of retaining traditional American beliefs, including religious philosophy, and halting the progression of Communism. The creation of the Conservative Coalition would eventually lead to the election of President Ronald Reagan, and its purpose today remains largely similar to that of its conception.
The conservative movement has been associated with the Republican pParty since its official formation in 1955; therefore it aligns with many of their views. Many conservatives have a historical alignment with the “Dixiecrats”, a breakaway faction of southern Democrats that pushed for state’s rights to legislate segregation. This Democratic group dissolved near the end of the war, but many of their members later switched to the Republican Party. When World War II concluded, the beginnings of the Conservative Coalition spread their influence in the United States by promoting family values, as divorce rates rose sharply upon the returns of soldiers from abroad. Later, conservatives also began to advocate for traditional systems of education in America. The Republican policy of being “conservative with money, liberal with human beings” was developed during the term of 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower, further strengthening the ties between Republicans and the Conservative Coalition.
Along with appealing to the traditional values of the American home and educational systems, the Conservative Coalition was also largely based on the largest religion in the United States: Christianity. The beliefs of the movement strongly adhere to the broad concepts of religious faith, including the traits of justice, virtue, fairness, charity, community, and duty. Recently, political scientist Ryan Claasen discussed the “God Gap” with the Washington Post, relating to the fact that the majority of modern conservative Republicans align with the Christian faith. He states that “Christian Right organizations, such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, mobilized religious activists on behalf of the Republican Party.” Evidently, the trend has remained fairly constant from the establishment of the Conservative Coalition onward, and also played a role in the election of 40th President Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s Presbyterian faith played a large role in his political philosophy, as he even stated that “atheist Russia” was waging a “savage, brutal war on religion”.
The final, and possibly most significant purpose of the Conservative Coalition was to halt the advance of Communism. In 1945, significant conservative intellectuals began to speak out about the “dangerous drift of the United States toward socialism”. They advocated for limited government over socialism, self reliance instead of the welfare state, and private entrepreneurship rather than central planning. In the beginning of the Cold War, anti-communists started to believe that liberalism was aiding the spread of communism in the free world. These individuals were concerned about American liberal’s “lack of will” to stand up to the oppressive communist regime. They were also concerned about internal security, mainly infiltration of the United States federal government by communist agents, and these worries only increased after the fall of China to communism. Further supporting the connection between conservatism and the Republican pParty is the fact that throughout the Cold War, Republican candidates used the trope that the Democrats were “soft on communism”, whereas they were not, hoping to gain more support from Americans frightened by the Soviet Union’s threats.
Since the 1950s, many aspects of American politics have changed, but conservatism is not one of them. The irony of conservatism is that, true to its name, it has remained unchanged by time and the progression of the world around it. Modern conservatism can be represented by two different forms of symbolism; the four pillars or the four cities. Each of the four pillars represent a different aspect of the conservative goal, beginning with the first pillar, liberty. The core belief of most Americans is that all people have a right to life, liberty, property, and freedom, and that is equivalently represented in the view of modern conservatism. The second pillar is tradition, or retaining values developed over centuries that have led to an orderly society. Rule of law is the third pillar, relating to a quote by Alfred S. Regnery stating that “a government of laws and not of men is the only way to secure justice.” The fourth and final pillar is belief in God; that there must be a higher authority to man and a moral code. Simply put, the values of conservatism have remained extremely similar throughout the sixty-four years of its existence.
The contrasting way of understanding modern conservatism is presented in the form of the “four cities”; or the four historical locations where the ideas of conservatism originated. The first city, Jerusalem, the “city of God”, represents the understanding that God is the source of truth and justice. Athens, the second city, relates to the social order and ethical treatment of human beings. “The highest form of government, the republic” is discovered in Rome, the third city, which also represents the idea that law is necessary to preserve liberty and order. The last city is London, which uses the idea of the Magna Carta and the “common law” to extend the justice equally between kings and commoners.
Despite the evolution of politics, ideas, and people, the movement of conservatism has remained invariable. Although the purposes of the conservative movement may no longer be exactly the same, its ideas have remained consistent. With the original goals of keeping traditional American values, preaching belief in a higher God, and terminating the spread of communism, the idea of a conservative Republican government was developed, leading eventually to the election of Ronald Reagan. As the years progress, we can be assured that conservatism will remain steadfast, just as it has for over half a century.