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Liberalism Defined

In broad term liberalism can be defined as a concept which has its emphasis on

individual rights and equal opportunities for every one. The basic principles of the

concept are freedom of thought, speech and expression; curtailment in the

government’s authorities; the rule of law; one's right to hold private property; concept

of free markets and a transparent style and system of government. The United States

of America has the honor of being the first state founded on the principles of modern

liberalism when Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence "all men

are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable

rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to insure

these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from

the consent of the governed."

Conservatism Defined

On the other hand, Conservatism is a political term which supports the status

quo and/or the status quo ante.

In his edited book “The Conservative Tradition” R.J. White described the

concept as "To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the

atmosphere … The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is

less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living."
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Russell Kirk in his book “The Politics of Prudence” considered it as "the negation of



The loss of John F. Kennedy was a grieve matter for the whole nation. “Conceivably

the liberal ethos of the early sixties might have died with Kennedy. And yet, the zenith of

American liberalism occurred during the presidency of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon

Johnson.” (Brundage, Fitzhugh. The Zenith of Postwar Liberalism: John F. Kennedy and

Lyndon B. Johnson.) Johnson managed to accomplish far more than his predecessor and

some argue that more than all the presidents of the 20th century. But it was also Johnson who

was the reason behind the collapse of the liberalism as his failures as a president weakened

liberalism to such an extent that since then it has been on the defensive.

Johnson's success was the result of two natural and independent circumstances. First,

Kennedy's untimely martyrdom provided Johnson a façade to befool the nation to fulfill

Kennedy's dream. With little effort Johnson changed Kennedy vision into his own. Johnson

realized that liberalism could be perfect match for the nation's mood.

The second of the circumstances was the nation's increasing prosperity. As a

repercussion of tax reductions and increments in federal spending the country’s economy

touched new heights of growth. In the period between 1960-1964 the GNP increased by 24%;

the increase was 7% in 1965 alone. The unemployment rate in 1965 fell below 4%. This

prosperity provided Johnson the required opportunity to gallop beyond the wild dreams of

Truman and Kennedy. These two elements Johnson claimed could have assist Americans in

realizing their dream of an equitable society without any fuss.

After winning the election Johnson moved more than 200 laws in the Congress. In

1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with federally sponsored recreation
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programs; urban mass transit and the most importantly Economic Opportunity Act. This was

only a preview of the Great Society programs Johnson had in his mind.

In 1965, Johnson moved through Congress the Medicare and Medicaid programs for

people over the age of 65 and for the deprived ones. The next step was the extension of

federal funds to schools, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which removed the

barriers against black voting) and the Housing Act of 1965 creating the Department of

Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Congress also passed legislation to provide federal

funds for model cities projects this was followed by legislation of a federal safety standard

intended for the auto industry, creation of new cabinet department i.e. Transportation

legislation dealing immigration act along with consumer protection laws were some other

notable works by Johnson.

Although Johnson was adamant to admit but it was impossible for the nation to fight

on two fronts i.e. Vietnam and poverty without increasing taxes. As Johnson resisted hoisting

up taxes the result was a rise in the rate of inflation. The war caused sharp increase in GNP

and helped the economy but only temporarily but unfortunately the Great Society programs

did equal to nothing to redistribute wealth.

The supporters of the liberalism have accomplishment like Medicaid, Medicare, and

Head Start to show for their success but, in reality the failures are equally undeniable and in

the long run, have contributed to a cynicism about the liberalism.

Despite the aim to curtail poverty and to achieve equality, Great Society supporters

always opposed the notion of redistribution of wealth, income and political power. Their

reliance on the preexisting political machinery for the purpose smelled much like

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Johnson’s term as the president of United States was blemished with, along with his

personality and notoriety, Vietnam War and the Great Society legislation. But still the

impression he has left on the sands of time is one of the most remarkable ones.

Ronald Reagan was the longest-serving conservative president of the last century. He

had managed to unite various distinct conservative schools of thought and build a political

movement out of them. Originally in the 1950s, there were three distinct schools of thoughts

by the name of traditionalists, capitalists, and anticommunists.

William F. Buckley’s foundation of National Review in November 1955 is considered

as the force which managed to pull together the three schools of thought and made one i.e.

conservatism. These different groups had some common ideas but at the same time were

harboring significant differences.

Reagan saw essential elements of the American cause in conservatism. He became an

active conservationist during late 1950s and started working to transform conservatism into a

political movement. His speech "A Time for Choosing" was the turning point in his political

career although the Republican Party lost the election but they found the most compelling

voice in American conservatism. In 1980 when the country had witnessed riots, Vietnam,

Watergate, energy crises, stagflation and the hostage crisis he ran for president. During his

campaign he managed to join together all the major strands of conservatism and transformed

them into a movement able to win at the ballot box. He won by a landslide, and the bond he

created between conservatives stood for the next decade until the end of the Cold War.

Reagan appropriated selectively the principles of classical conservatism and classical

liberalism into a new amalgamation. He took transcendent moral order, the legitimacy of old

institutions, respect for Western civilization, property rights and a well defined foreign policy

from the classical conservatism and individual freedom, the rule of law, equality of

opportunity, constitutional government along with lower taxes and lesser regulation of
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business from classical liberalism. At the same time Reagan rejected the pessimism from the

traditionalist school and embraced a sunny stance toward the future. He truly believed in the

boundless good the American people could do if opportunities are provided.

Some critics argue that today the best known brand of American post-war

conservatism is neither neo-conservatism nor traditionalism, but Reaganism. It was

Reaganism which has helped in shaping and defining the Republican Party and contributed

much to the Democratic Party as well. It is still remembered by many that when Reagan left

office, Democratic Leadership Council of President Bill Clinton adopted many of the ideas

originally belonged to Reagan. Not only on federal level but Reaganism has had a great deal

of influence on the state level as well and it has inspired a whole breed of Republican

governors since then. It was the primary reason why in 1994 Congressional elections the

Republicans claimed the 104th Congress. Interestingly, in 2000, when George Bush Jr. ran

for president, both he and his challenger Senator John McCain proclaimed to be the true heir

to Ronald Reagan.

In Short we can conclude by saying that it was Reaganism that helped in shaping the

domestic and foreign policy of the 1980s and 1990s. And it was Reaganism again that

inspired the Republican Party to become the majority party from a minority. Reaganism’s

followers have i.e. the Republicans have controlled the White House, Capitol Hill and many

of governorships and state houses since 1980.

Why Reaganism has survived the tests of time? Because it now runs in the veins of

American culture and has drilled its way into many deepest sentiments in an average

American’s life such as religiosity, individualism, capitalism, patriotism, optimism. For these

reasons Ronald Reagan is considered as the most important conservative of the 20th century

in America.
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Works Cited

Brundage, Fitzhugh. The Zenith of Postwar Liberalism: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B.

Johnson. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from


Ikenberry, G. John. Creating America’s World: The Sources of Postwar Liberal

Internationalism. 2005. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from



Ikenberry, G. John. Power and liberal order: America’s postwar world order in transition.

International Relations of the Asia Pacific. Volume 5, Number 2, p. 133–152. Oxford

University Press and the Japan Association of International Relations. 2005.

Mariano, Marco. Schlesinger: The ‘Humble’ Liberal (Review). 49th Parallel. Issue 22,

Autumn 2008. <>

Mehan, G. Tracy III. William F. Buckley Jr.: catalyst for conservatism. Human Life Review.

Winter 2008. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from


Ronald Reagan and the Conservative Movement. The Hauenstein Center

for Presidential Studies. Grand Valley State University. Retrieved

December 15, 2008 from <


Sommer, Robert. One Brief Shining Moment. The New York Observer. July 25, 2008.

Retrieved December 15, 2008 from <

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This is no Way to Organize Chaos: The Case Against Conservatism. (2007).

Retrieved December 15, 2008 from