The response to violence is, I think, at the core of today's conservative divide. A reader writes:
A reflexive abhorrence of violence of all kinds (war, torture, even the death penalty and abortion) is inherently conservative part of any meaningful definition of conservatism. War may be a necessary evil, but a real conservative gives that idea more than lip service he or she feels the abhorrence in the bones (a feeling that let us down and gave way to excitement for too many of us in the lead up to Iraq).
But all conservatives (and more than just the neocons) obviously wouldn’t agree with that definition. Part of the confusion, at least superficially, is that military spending during the cold war was one of the defining issues of the Reagan conservative revolution. Far from being a pro-war position, though, the whole point of buying so many weapons was to never actually use them. That’s all changed.
I think of Reagan as a conservative of non-violence. I know that's a contestable statement - Grenada, Libya, the contras, etc. - but a conservatism of nonviolence need not be pacifist or unaware of the prudent use of force. But deep down, a conservative wants peace and is content only with peace. Reagan proved this in his second term. He hated nuclear weapons. Once there was a crack in the Soviet empire, he leaped to take advantage of it. He dreamed of a world at peace. This was his vision of the future of mankind.
It is not the dream of some neconservatives, for whom war is the only state of being that brings out public virtu. And constant war to advance what is seen as the good - and stiffen domestic sinews - is something devoutly to be wished. Cheney is a conservative of this stripe. Eisenhower was the opposite. McCain is a warrior; Ron Paul is a conservative of non-violence. At some deep philosophical level, this is the dividing line between Oakeshott and Strauss, as well. (And one has to ponder how Zionism may have contributed to this divide.)
I stand with Oakeshott and Eisenhower. Somehow, we have to recover the prudent, non-pacifist conservatism of non-violence and freedom. If not in America, where?