In our continuing quest to define conservatism, we'll take a a stab at defining a paleoconservative.  If you haven't had the opportunity to read parts 1 and 2, please do, just click the following links!

  1. Defining Conservatism (Introduction)
  2. Conservative: What is a Neocon?

Anyone who studies the history of the conservative movement, will quickly learn it's not a movement of ideological purity.  Conservatives have always come in a variety of different flavors, and each flavor has had much at odds with each other from the start. In other words, the infighting that beltway-types claim to be a problem, has perhaps, been the movement's greatest strength!

Once again ... This post is not meant to be an opinion piece, so we'll be relying on the "nerdiest" definitions I can find. This way, we can achieve the most accurate definition, and the best insight into our own beliefs as a result.

What is a Paleoconservative?

Conservapedia Definition of Paleoconservative:

Paleoconservative is a term that describes an academic or scholarly conservative who emphasizes religious heritage, national and Western identity, tradition, civil society and classical federalism, the importance of demographics, and an anti-interventionist policy of Robert Taft. Paleoconservatives oppose immigration, communism, authoritarianism, social democracy and entitlement programs.

Many paleoconservatives identify themselves as "classical conservatives" and trace their philosophy to the Old Right Republicans of the interwar period, which helped keep the U.S. out of the League of Nations, reduce immigration with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, and oppose Franklin Roosevelt.

The term paleoconservative was first used by paleoconservative historians Thomas Fleming or Paul Gottfried, with the "paleo" prefix meaning "old" in opposition to the "neo", or "new", conservatives. The term is now routinely used by both its proponents and its detractors.

Gottfried wrote in his entry to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia: "Paleoconservative" becomes a conceptual and political counterpoint to "neoconservative" in "The Conservative Movement" by Thomas Fleming and Paul Gottfried (1988). Here the term no longer refers merely to conservative traditionalists of the 1950s and 1960s, e.g., Southern Agrarians, Catholic anticommunists associated with "National Review", and Taft Republicans who rallied to the Cold War. Instead, the term is now applied to embattled conservatives who opposed the growing influence of anticommunist New Deal Democrats on the Reagan presidency and on the conservative movement on the 1980s."


Unlike most conservatives today, paleoconservatives are against the Iraq War. They are highly critical of the Bush administration and the mainstream conservative movement. Paleoconservatism vocally distinguishes itself in its opposition to neoconservatism. However, what really sets them apart from other conservatives is much deeper than just policy: they generally reject the Enlightenment in whole or in part; they reject Lockean "contract theory" and the concept of "natural rights" outright. Dr. Donald Livingston, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University, has argued that natural rights are a "philosophical superstition," and that "Whatever they might be, natural rights are universal and apply to all men. Further, they are known by reason, independent of any inherited moral tradition... It follows, therefore, that the doctrine of natural rights must be in a condition of permanent hostility to all inherited moral traditions. Any such tradition, no matter how noble the goods of excellence cultivated in it, can always be seen as violating someone's natural rights under some interpretation or another."

Paleos agree with mainstream conservatives on issues like opposition to secularism, abortion on demand and gay marriage, while supporting capital punishment, handgun ownership and an original intent reading of the U.S. Constitution. Paleocons also often argue that modern managerial society is a threat to stable families.

Paleos strongly oppose American membership in the United Nations. They also seek to limit the power of the Federal Government, while strongly supporting State's Rights. Paleos believe America was founded as a Constitutional Republic and support this form of government in favor of pure democracy.

Paleoconservatives are Conservative Christians, like Protestant Fundamentalists and Traditionalist Catholics. They oppose religious pluralism and support orthodoxy of the doctrine within the respective denominations. They stress the importance of the need of America to return to its Christian Heritage.

Paleoconservatives support free market capitalism, but many are ardent opponents of free trade, citing disintegration of America's manufacturing base, and American dependance on imports as adverse effects of free trade. They strongly oppose all forms of socialism or communism. They seek to replace Federal Reserve System with a Constitutional monetary system. They are deeply concerned with the United States' loans of large amounts of money from the World Bank and the huge trade deficit the country is experiencing. Unlike mainstream conservatives, paleos oppose the continuing US financial support of Israel. Like other conservatives, they emphasize the importance of creating jobs for the working class and the slashing of taxes and spending.

ECONOMIC expert Definition of Paleoconservative:

The term paleoconservative (sometimes shortened to paleo or paleocon when the context is clear) refers to an American branch of conservative Old Right thought that stands against both the mainstream tradition of the National Review magazine and the neoconservatives. Many paleoconservatives readily identify themselves as "classical conservatives," because the former term carries a rather sterile sound in political discourse. They trace themselves to the Old Right Republicans of the interwar period who successfully kept America out of the League of Nations and cut down non-European immigration in 1924, and not so successfully opposed the New Deal.

Some historians, such as Paul V. Murphy and Isaiah Berlin, see the paleoconservatives' intellectual ancestors as those anti-modern writers who defended hierarchy, localism, ultramontanism, monarchy, and aristocracy. European precursors to paleoconservatives include Joseph de Maistre and Pope Pius X. Likewise, the continental conservative Jacques Barzun has a mode of thought and criticism esteemed by paleoconservatives.

Paleoconservatives esteem the principles of subsidiarity and localism in recognizing that one must surely be an Ohioan, Texan or Virginian as they are an American. They embrace federalism within a framework of nationalism and are typically staunch supporters of states' rights. They are also more critical of the welfare state than the neoconservatives tend to be. They tend to be more critical of overreaching national power usurping state and local authority. They are more willing to question free trade, harshly critical of further immigration and tend to embrace an isolationist foreign policy. Paleoconservatives often esteem their America First principles as being commensurate with those of the Founding Fathers as embodied in the Neutrality Act. John Quincy Adams avowed, "America does not go abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

The phraseology "paleoconservative" ("old conservatism") was a rejoinder issued in the 1980s to differentiate itself from "neoconservatism". The rift is often traced back to a dispute over the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities by the incoming Reagan Administration. The preferred candidate was professor Mel Bradford and he was replaced after an effective media and lobbying effort (focussing on his dislike of Abraham Lincoln) by William Bennett. The trends preceding that pronounced schism go back as far as the 1950s.

Since the end of the Cold War, a rift has developed within the conservative movement between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives. Although the demarcation line is often indistinct and shifting, harsh words have of late been exchanged between David Frum of National Review and Patrick Buchanan of The American Conservative. Frum charged that paleocons, in their sometimes harsh criticism of President George W. Bush and the war on terror, have become unpatriotic supporters of America's enemies and, at times, anti-Semitic. Buchanan and others have retorted that "neocons" run the U.S. government in pursuit of global empire and for the benefit of Israel and corporations with whom they have close ties; in doing so, paleoconservatives charged, they violate conservative principles of sovereignty while creating new enemies and fomenting Anti-Americanism abroad.

Intellectual Conservative's Definition of Paleoconservative:

So what the heck is a paleoconservative and where do they belong in this grand scheme? Many paleos, whose beliefs coincide largely with the Kirk-style traditionalists, would gripe that they were really a barely tolerated part of the coalition from the beginning, but there was at least a general civility. The late paleocon, Sam Francis, claimed that the neocons were at first welcomed into the movement as useful allies, but tensions between the traditionalists and the newly grafted neocons soon rose. The traditionalists charged that the neocons were still unrepentant leftists. The neocons charged that the traditionalists were backwards looking reactionaries.

Things really came to a head at the start of the Reagan administration, as the spoils were being divvied up. Traditionalists, who had been a part of the [modern conservative movement] from its inception, expected a piece of the pie. The Johnny-come-lately neos were accused of trying to get all the spoils for themselves. Things really got ugly concerning the appointment of Mel Bradford to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mel Bradford was a traditionalist extraordinaire. He was also a proud Southerner. One aspect of the traditionalist element has been respect for the inherent conservatism of the Southern tradition. Russell Kirk recognized it, Richard Weaver recognized it, and Mel Bradford recognized it. The Southern Agrarians, who had been an element of the Old Right, had eloquently articulated it in their book I’ll Take My Stand. These men recognized that the South had always served as a traditionalist brake on the grand designs of Northern progressives. The neos did not want Dr. Bradford to get the job. To them he was hopelessly behind the times. Their choice was William Bennett, so they set out in a rather nasty way to tarnish Bradford’s reputation. They especially focused on his veneration of the South and his traditional Southern view of the merits or lack thereof of Lincoln. Of course accusations of racism were hurled, and this was an early harbinger of things to come. (Note the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction of the neocons to Trent Lott’s Strom Thurmond remark.) This incident among others confirmed to the traditionalists that their suspicions had been right from the beginning; the neocons really were a type of leftist instead of a type of conservative, since free and easy accusations of racism are too often the first recourse of the left.

The paleoconservative movement as we know it today synthesized and galvanized around opposition to the first Gulf War. For the paleos, that war was not our fight. American foreign policy should focus on safeguarding America and protecting American’s vital national interests, not punishing acts of aggression around the world.

The most prominent paleoconservative public face was Pat Buchanan. He articulated for the masses the three areas where paleos are most commonly recognized as differing from “regular conservatives.” They were early strong opponents of immigration, a position which is now becoming in vogue. They were skeptical of the benefits of free-trade, and favored a policy of “economic nationalism.” They were particularly weary of free-trade deals that they believed sacrificed our national sovereignty such as NAFTA and GATT. And of course, they opposed most foreign intervention.

You can see how paleoconservatism came to be largely defined by its positions on issues where it was at variance with the neocons and the rest of the conservative movement and the GOP, especially on the triad of issues mentioned above. The paleocons believe the conservative movement has been nearly entirely co-opted by neocon ideology or “neoconized,” if you will. The less flattering characterization that is often used is that the movement had been “hi-jacked” by the recent interlopers. As far as the “official position” of the conservative movement, they are correct, although many grass-roots conservatives support the paleoconservative positions. They just lack an organized or effective voice. This is especially true on immigration, where the Establishment’s support of “comprehensive” (read “guest workers”) immigration reform and reluctance to support an enforcement only policy, is very much at odds with the conservative base.

Prominent Paleoconservatives:

Patrick Buchanan, Robert Novak, Chuck Baldwin, Peter Brimelow, Thomas Fleming, Samuel Francis, Peter Hitchens, William S. Lind, Scott McConnell, Charley Reese, Paul Craig Roberts, Jack Hunter.

  • smitty

    It's sadly amusing to observe all the thumb wrestling about terms.
    Sadder still to raise concrete issues like the Constitution and Federalism and receive blank stares.

  • theCL

    Federalism and the Constitution? C'mon now! According to the Beltway-pundits and our Washington Overlords, these are not "issues" to concern ourselves with ...

    Sad indeed.

    There's certainly a lot of thumb wrestling over terms, but I don't think very many people even know what these terms mean! Heck, I don't even know what I am anymore!

    Well ... a classical liberal ... but I can you first hand, that sure doesn't get me very far ... I've been attacked on other conservative blogs for being a liberal! Why? Because I named my blog The Classic Liberal. Gasp!

  • Jeremiah Whitmoore

    A fine introduction to paleoconservatism.