In addition to neoconservatism, there is another branch of conservativism, sometimes called paleoconservatism. This is more in line with traditional conservative ideas and beliefs: limited government with a focus on liberty. There is an emphasis on that which conserves culture, tradition, values, beliefs, etc.
Many of these traditional conservatives trace their philosophical lineage back to American thinkers like Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk rather than Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Jr. and Irving Kristol (or even some liberal Presidents such as FDR, JFK, and Harry Truman), as many neocons would. If you go way back, you have thinkers like Edmund Burke who shaped conservative thought and ideas around the time of the American Revolution.
In the 1930s, when FDR started up The New Deal, which was a huge expanse in government at the time, many stood in opposition to his actions and policies. There were also many in support of his policies: after all, it was The Great Depression, and we had to do something, right? Something is better than nothing, right? (So the mainstream liberal logic goes.)
Those that stood united against The New Deal constituted a wide coalition known then as the Old Right. It was then part of the GOP. (Before then, and before Woodrow Wilson, most classical liberals found a home in the Democratic party. That was the home of laissez-faire economics, personal liberty, and limited government as compared to the then more-interventionist Republicans. But I digress.)
The Old Right was a home for libertarians and conservatives. All were opposed to The New Deal, to the huge increase in government spending and dependency that resulted from it, and to the concomitant contraction in personal liberty. They were also opposed to a foreign policy of interventionism, instead favoring non-intervention. This is sometimes incorrectly called isolationism.
Traditional conservatives of the Old Right ilk and libertarians agree on many nuts and bolts issues, or at least have many overlapping concerns. Generally this is expressed as a concern about or opposition towards domestic and foreign intervention. Some practical implications:
1. We should avoid foreign wars in foreign lands. This would include WWI and WWII, at least to some adherents.
2. Our government should be much much smaller. Some individuals were opposed to old school agencies like the FDA and the SEC even.
3. Budgets should be balanced. It sounds silly that this is an actual political belief, as it should simply be common sense, but our patterns today are so different from common sense in so many ways (at least to my common sense).
4. We should have a sound monetary policy. There was an opposition to the loose, inflationary monetary policies often associated with war financing. What had once been used only in times of exigent circumstances (namely war) become the common monetary policy of the time: we print money when we need it. Oh, and we print money without government supervision, at the discretion of a quasi-government and very secretive entity known as the Federal Reserve System. Few talk about this today, of course, except a few anomalies like myself. But they used to. The most agreed upon way to have a sound monetary policy among the Old Right was to return to the gold standard, where the money we carry in our pocket is actually redeemable for something of value, namely, gold or silver, as specified in the Constitution. Instead, today, the money in our pocket is redeemable for nothing, except the good warm feelings associated with an exchange of cold cash. If cash reserves were commodity-backed, this limits the amount of money the government can print. There are all sorts of problems with inflation that I should not get into here. Suffice it to say there used to be much more opposition to it than there is today, where it is considered a fact of life for the most part.
All of these areas I would agree with, and others besides. But the common thread was a support of liberty, and an opposition towards government intervention, both domestic and foreign.
After WWII, the Cold War changed the conservative movement, where a permanent bureaucracy was accepted in order to fight and oppose communism. Interesting that we used central economic planning to oppose a country that used central economic planning (the USSR). Hence, a large, strong, engaged and international military presence and even a permanent military-industrial complex was seen as helpful or even necessary to combat the Soviet menace.
After the Cold War was over, many traditional conservatives wanted to scale things back. What was the need for such a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, for instance, and troops scattered across the globe? Let’s step down as superpower now that the Soviet threat vanished.
It turns out that this philosophy (more conservative in my opinion) was rejected in favor of a much more aggressive and interventionist foreign policy. We not only kept our military strong, but we wanted to maintain our presence and monopoly as the world’s sole superpower. We would make sure another country would not challenge us for this role. Sounds a little too imperialistic for my tastes. But by and large, the masses have swallowed this. Even in discussions about Iraq, nearly no one is talking about re-thinking our interventionist foreign policy. Instead, we need to get more involved in other regions and conflicts (i.e. Darfur for the Democrats and Iran for the Republicans) than we are today. As I have said before, I am staunchly opposed to this aggressive, arrogant, militant attitude many mistake for patriotism.
In any case, there are paleoconservatives out there I agree with on many issues; examples include Pat Buchanan, Clyde Wilson, Tom Fleming, and Paul Craig Roberts. While I may not agree with the vitriol used (especially in Dr. Wilson’s and Mr. Roberts’ articles) there is definitely compatibility with certain subjects and ideas about the role of government.