Broad Liberalism and Red Republicans

I noticed two things about my thinking.

First, I focus quite a bit on the topic of liberalism more than on the topic of conservatism. This makes sense. I am, after all, a liberal… or at least I usually identify as a liberal. I’ve struggled with liberalism and have come to an uneasy truce with it.

The second thing could be seen as harder to explain. I focus more on the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Yet I have never voted Republican nor do I have any personal investment in the GOP. Maybe I care more about it, for the simple reason that my parents are Republicans. Then again, my parents are also conservatives, but that doesn’t alter my heavy emphasis on liberalism.

So, why is this?

I have a theory. There is a commonality between liberalism and the Republican Party, as contrasted to conservatism and the Democratic Party. To my curious mind, they are simply more interesting.

Liberalism is more interesting than conservatism for a number of reasons. It is a broader category, more inclusive and diverse. It is a more ambiguous label. A conservative can identify as a classical liberal, but a liberal cannot identify as a classical conservative. As such, liberalism as a political tradition includes modern conservatism.

This is exaggerated even further in the United States that lacks much of a tradition of traditionalism. This country was founded on liberal values of the Enlightenment. The ancien regime never dominated and ruled in this territory to any significant extent. American conservatism is distinct from European traditionalism. Because of this, American conservatism is unrooted in the deep soils of the past. It is forced, instead, to be permanently in reactionary mode to liberalism and hence defined by liberalism.

The Republican Party is more interesting than The Democratic Party for one major reason. It is a younger party that is fully American. The Democratic Party is old, oldest in the world, and is rooted more in English political traditions from the founding generation of this country. The Democrats have always been a mainstream party, always been one of the two major parties. The Republicans began as a radical third party that arose to power alongside the heightening conflict that led to the Civil War.

I know the history of the Democratic Party. Most Americans who are reasonably well-educated know the history of the Democratic Party. But fewer Americans know about the history of the Republican Party, despite it being a shorter history. I’m constantly surprised how few Republicans know of the party’s radical beginnings. Those early third party activists were called Red Republicans for a good reason, and yet few people today stop to think why Republicans are associated with the color red. The Republican Party has become mainstream and respectable. The very notion of ‘republicanism’ has for many become identified with a conservative status quo. But when the Republican Party came on the scene it threatened to tear our country apart with its radical politics, so radical that during the Civil War it garnered the support of the likes of Marx.

There ya go. That is the best explanation I can offer for why I spend so much time contemplating such things. At one point, both liberalism and the Republican Party were extremely radical, completely altering the world around them. I find that interesting.

One thought on “Broad Liberalism and Red Republicans

  1. The Republican Party has demonstrated its ability to constantly reinvent itself over its short history. Almost every new generation finds an entirely new group in control of the GOP with an entirely new political vision and agenda.

    Bush Republicans would be unrecognizable to the Goldwater Republicans. Bush Republicans and Goldwater Republicans would be unrecognizable to Eisenhower Republicans. Bush Republicans, Goldwater Republicans, and Eisenhower Republicans would all be unrecognizable to those early Red Republicans.

    How can a single party be so many things to so many people in a period of time that is only around a century and a half?

    Most people think of the GOP as the party of Lincoln. That is understandable for that is when the party came to power. Lincoln also offers a connection point between the early Republican Party and what it became in the first half of the 20th century. Lincoln personally knew the Red Republicans for he ran in social circles that included many radicals, from abolitionists to free soilers, from feminists to socialists. At the same time, Lincoln guided the GOP into the the position of actually governing the country.

    I suspect Lincoln could have understood a moderate like Eisenhower and a progressive conservative like Theodore Roosevelt. But I doubt Lincoln could have predicted what the GOP would later become. The party of Goldwater, Reagan, and the Bush dynasty is not the party of Lincoln, except in name.

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