(2 of 3)
If that sounds tidy, it's because it's all compressed into one paragraph. In the long run, some of these alliances became quite messy. For example, the individualism nurtured by the Austrian school of free-market economics was a prickly match for Kirk's ideal of ordered, traditional authority. Even the conservative hero Thomas Jefferson, with his capacious mind, had trouble reconciling "Don't tread on me" with "Thy will be done." By 1963, the free-market individualist Willmoore Kendall had made a "declaration of war" on Kirk's movement with his own book, The Conservative Affirmation.
This division endures in the determined fragments of the GOP devoted to the devout Santorum on the one hand and renegade individualist Ron Paul of Texas on the other. Yet for some 40 years, a common enemy welded the strands of conservatism together: Soviet communism. The imperial ambitions of Lenin's descendants posed a mortal threat to Kirk's philosophy and Kendall's too. Communism was radical rather than gradual, central rather than local, utopian rather than humble, atheistic rather than religious, classless rather than ordered, totalitarian rather than free. The longer the Soviet Empire went on, the stronger the conservative movement grew, until ultimately Ronald Reagan became the only President since Roosevelt to not only be re-elected but also pass the office to his chosen successor--a rare feat of political strength in American history.
Since the end of the Cold War, conservatism hasn't enjoyed such unified power. The strands are still out there and going strong, but no one has been able to tie them all together. Despite serving two terms, George W. Bush was by one measure the weakest twice-elected President in history: he alone never managed to win at least 60% of the electoral vote. By the end of his presidency in 2009, the awkward alliances within the conservative movement were badly broken.
Today we have a figure like Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose budget proposal galvanized the right in 2011, extolling author Ayn Rand--whose views were, according to Kirk, "as alien to real American conservatism as is communism."
The split is just as wide over foreign policy. During the early 1970s, the rise of the antiwar movement inside the Democratic Party drove a band of so-called neoconservative hawks into the Republican coalition. As former New Dealers, the neocons never shared the small-government orthodoxy of Kirk or Kendall.
Their influence was enormous during the Bush years. They funneled their leftover anticommunist energies into the war on terrorism, never blinking at Big Government expansions like No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D. By 2006, when the Democrats recaptured Congress, neocon was a dirty word not just on the left but on much of the right as well.
Even the splinters in the conservative base are splintering. According to some polls, young Evangelical Christians are drifting away from the social agenda of their parents, especially over issues like same-sex marriage.