The United States started as an experiment. Many people mistakenly believe that this experiment was about Democracy – to see if Democracy would work.
Instead, the experiment was about Liberty. The Founders wanted to see if they could design a government that would protect, instead of invade, liberty.
The New Deal, I think, was an attempt to answer the Founder’s question, in the negative. The reformers argued that liberty was ugly. It led to some nasty consequences. Businesses were the most powerful institutions (not that they were anywhere near as powerful as today’s governments are), nothing was planned, people had hard lives, etc. New ideas came to the US from other countries that excited these intellectuals. Other countries were planning things and their citizens were cooperating. Sure, liberty had to be destroyed to make these things happen, but think of all that we could gain.
I believe that new histories of the New Deal have shown that the reformers’ replacement for liberty was not better. I also believe that the Conservative movement was the major force making this point in the US, until recently.
Generally the Conservative Movement is divided into 3 groups, religious/traditional conservatives, libertarian/economic conservatives and anti-communists. However, it’s too often not made clear that each of the groups reacted against the New Deal. The religious groups and traditionalists saw the New Deal as State made Supreme. The state was supplanting roles previously left to the churches and communities. Further, the state was turning us all into adolescents and thereby destroying virtue. Libertarians saw the New Deal as a major threat to liberty. Anti-communists saw the US moving down the Road to Serfdom. The Soviet Union provided an obvious target for the anti-communists, but even after it fell, our government didn’t let us stop marching down the road.
Since the Soviet Union fell, the Conservative Movement has changed. Many people lost the desire to fight on after the fall. But this confuses the enemy for a specific embodiment of the enemy. The enemy is still there and still needs fighting, the enemy was the New Deal and its philosophical underpinnings.
Rush Limbaugh has said the Conservative Movement will die if Huckabee or McCain win the nomination. I think that’s nearly perfectly backwards. The death of the Conservative is happening before our eyes, as the only anti-New Deal candidate, Ron Paul, is considered outside the movement. The movements’ chosen one, Mitt Romney, couldn’t be more comfortable with the New Deal (ok, maybe Huckabee is more comfortable).
To revive the Movement, Conservatives must stop identifying success with the electoral success of the Republican Party. The point is respond to the original experiment of the Founders’. To the question of whether or not it’s possible to have a government that will protect liberty, the answer should be “yes.” That answer is in direct conflict with the New Deal’s resounding “no.”