Conservatism, Paleoconservatism, and Neoconservatism

by Fred Elbel


Conservatism is a political approach which promotes retaining social institutions in the context of civilization and culture. Quintin Hogg, chairman of the British Conservative Party in 1959, "Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself."1

Conservatism has different meanings and traditions in different countries. Conservative political parties vary from country to country depending on their goals and objectives, and often define themselves by their opposition to liberal agendas.

Conservatism in the United States is rooted in the American Revolution and its commitment to sovereignty of the people, republicanism, and individual rights and liberties. Most European conservatives consider American conservatism to be a variety of liberalism and do not think of it as genuine conservatism.1

Conservatism can take many forms, including the traditional forms of:
  • Liberal conservatism: combines conservative values and policies with classical liberal positions.
  • Conservative liberalism: combines liberal values and policies with conservative positions.
  • Libertarian conservatism: in the United States, combine libertarian economic issues with other aspects of conservatism.
  • Fiscal conservatism: economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt.
  • National and traditional conservatism: in Europe, concentrates more on national interests.
  • Cultural and social conservatism: preserving the heritage of a nation or a shared culture.
  • Religious conservatism: seeks to apply the teachings of particular religions to politics.
  • Progressive conservatism: stresses the importance of a social safety net and supports limited redistribution of wealth along with government regulation.1
Environmentalism can also be considered a form of conservatism, since it derives from the objectives of conservation and preserving the natural environment. It differs from traditional conservatism in that it does not encompass social issues.


In the United States, Paleoconservatism stresses tradition, limited government, civil society, along with religious, national, and regional Western identity. Paleoconservatives disagree with neoconservatives, on issues such as illegal immigration, high rates of legal immigration, multiculturalism, affirmative action, foreign aid, and free trade. They also criticize social democracy and social welfare, referring to it as the "welfare-warfare state"2 As such, they may be considered "classical conservatives."

Paleocons typically take the "long view" toward US conservatism. Samuel T. Francis observed that:

What paleoconservatism tries to tell Americans is that the dominant forces in their society are no longer committed to conserving the traditions, institutions, and values that created and formed it, and, therefore, that those who are really conservative in any serious sense and wish to live under those traditions, institutions, and values need to oppose the dominant forces and form new ones...

We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character... We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies.2

Paleoconservatives contend that human nature is finite and limited. Attempts to engineer a man-made utopia are fraught with pitfalls. Paleoconservatives prefer tradition, family, classical learning, and religious institutions to provide guidance. They tend to believe that we have lost touch with our Western heritage and indeed may be in danger of losing our civilization.2


The Neoconservatism movement originated in the 1960s with Democrats who were disillusioned with the party's foreign and domestic policies. Since that time, Noconservative ideology has continued to influence American foreign policy. Neoconservatives typically advocate for promotion of democracy and of American interests in international affairs, including by use of military force. Neocons disdain communism and political radicalism. They do, however, endorse some social welfare programs that are rejected by Paleoconservatives.3

In a 2004 article, Michael Lind wrote:

Neoconservatism ... originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ('Scoop') Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves 'paleoliberals.' [After the end of the Cold War] ... many 'paleoliberals' drifted back to the Democratic center ... Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition. Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists.3

Former Nebraska Republican U.S. senator and Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, was critical of the Bush administration's adoption of neoconservative ideology. He wrote in his book America: Our Next Chapter:

So why did we invade Iraq? I believe it was the triumph of the so-called neo-conservative ideology, as well as Bush administration arrogance and incompetence that took America into this war of choice. . . . They obviously made a convincing case to a president with very limited national security and foreign policy experience, who keenly felt the burden of leading the nation in the wake of the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil.3


Paleoconservatives tend to be traditionalist, isolationist, and America first. Their socially conservative ideology is rooted in fundamentalist Protestantism. They generally oppose social legislation and welfare programs.

Neoconservatives support an engaged and activist foreign policy. They believe in American exceptionalism, and are concerned about the "clash of civilizations" implicit in threats such Communism and Islam. They are less motivated by religion than Paleoconservatives.4

Paleoconservatives and Neoconservatives disagree on issues including immigration, foreign wars, and Middle East policy. Neocons espouse strong support for Israel and believe that America should help ensure the security of the Jewish state.5 Paleo historian Thomas Woods elaborated:

The conservative’s traditional sympathy for the American South and its people and heritage, evident in the works of such great American conservatives as Richard M. Weaver and Russell Kirk, began to disappear... [T]he neocons are heavily influenced by Woodrow Wilson, with perhaps a hint of Theodore Roosevelt. ... They believe in an aggressive U.S. presence practically everywhere, and in the spread of democracy around the world, by force if necessary. ... Neoconservatives tend to want more efficient government agencies; paleoconservatives want fewer government agencies. [Neoconservatives] generally admire President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his heavily interventionist New Deal policies. Neoconservatives have not exactly been known for their budget consciousness, and you won't hear them talking about making any serious inroads into the federal apparatus.5

From the article 3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism:

  1. Neoconservatives believe the GOP should be converted to embrace a "modern democracy," aka a welfare state in the mold of FDR and the Great Society. Neoconservatives don't want to disassemble the federal government in order to rebalance divided powers between federal, state, and local governments; they just think they can pilot Leviathan better than the Democrats.
  2. Neoconservatives are largely secular intellectuals who ally with Bible-based people out of cynical pragmatism, not a genuine, shared love for the God of Israel.
  3. Neoconservatives naively think they can democratize the Muslim world with American military power.7

Three Dimensions of Ideology: "Conservatives View Things Along A Civilized/Barbaric Axis…", by John Derbyshire, 20 January 2013:

Conservatives view things along a civilized/barbaric axis, liberals along an oppressed/oppressor axis, and libertarians along a freedom/coercion axis. Conservatives will thus favor things that correlate well with (in particular, Western) civilization, while opposing things that correlate with poorly civilized societies or that would directly contradict salient features of civilization. Progressives, on the other hand, don't care about civilization - they care about defending the oppressed and opposing the oppressors. The "civilized" side can be the wrong side if it's taking on the role of an oppressor. And Libertarians don't see civilization or oppressors - they only want to know if someone is being coerced to do something - that's the wrong side.


1. Modern conservatism in different countries, Wikipedia.

2. Paleoconservatism, Wikipedia.

3. Neoconservatism, Wikipedia.

4. What's the difference between Paleo-Conservatives and Neoconservatives?,

5. Neoconservatism and paleoconservatism, Wikipedia.

6. Paleoconservatism vs. Neoconservatism, Jack Kerwick,

7. 3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism, Dave Swindle, PJ Media, December 27, 2013.

8. Paleoconservatism Vs. Neoconservatism: A Primer, Superblinky.

9. Conservatism's Hidden History, by Daniel Pipes, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 2018.