The diversity of American conservatism would astound those pundits, politicians and critics who believe conservatism is a rigid ideology aimed at privileging the wealthy (and the white). Peter Kolozi’s new book Conservatives Against Capitalism: From the Industrial Revolution to Globalization showcases a conservatism uncomfortable with free market capitalism.
There is no doubt that capitalism is a disrupting force in human history. It rips apart culture, tradition and localism in pursuit of profit and maximum individual freedom. It has been a liberating force in human history but certainly not a system based on egalitarian distribution or favorable to mass democracy. Why would conservatives come to embrace so readily a destructive force like capitalism?
Kolozi rightfully traces the influence of Trump and his call for an America First, nationalist agenda to the capitalist criticisms of paleoconservatives like Samuel Francis and Pat Buchanan. It is doubtful that Trump was influenced directly by either man, but their delineation of an anti-corporate capitalism and their propagation of the virtues and values of a Middle American radicalism has given the paleoconservative disposition the rightful claim of being the intellectual progenitor of Trumpism. But Kolozi notices the appeal of racial nationalism, as paleocons blame the immigrant for the decline of American working-class virtues. White middle-class Americans are privileged in the paleoconservative argument and that appeal won out in Trump’s call for America First–styled populism as well.
Kolozi’s book is an extraordinary achievement in looking at the longue durée of hostility to capitalism on the Right. It is well written, insightful and breezy (196 pages of text). Kolozi is not the first scholar to recognize the anti-capitalist disposition. However, he is the first to place it in context and to extrapolate from it a rooted connection to a conservatism that disdains the free market and has the tendency, at this moment, to reorient the conservative movement away from free-market fundamentalism.
This essay was adapted from a recent Acton Institute commentary.