Conservatism of the Heart: Pat Buchanan and the Politics of Authoritarianism

Known as a maverick in conservative circles, Pat Buchanan is one of today's most divisive political figures. Appealing to both the socially-conservative core of the Republican party and the disenfranchised middle-class, his message is an odd mixture of economic populism and reactionary social revisionism. While embracing a strict conservative ideology in most respects, Buchanan does differ from his fellow ideologues in his authoritarian tendencies, his economic populism and his blatant hypocrisy.

Having worn many hats over the years, Buchanan has a strong record of public activity: he has been a Presidential speech writer, a newspaper columnist, and a television commentator. He even became a candidate himself, running for President in 1992 and 1996. After years of public activity, he has maintained the image of a strong and active conservative.

Like Buchanan, conservative Republicans today hold many principles in common. In general, they prefer individualism over collectivism, competition over cooperation, merit over equality, Christianity over secular humanism, faith over science, tradition over change, realism over idealism, natural law over conventional law, the private sector over the public sector, and procedural equality over social democracy.

Conservatives also stress the need for economic deregulation and lower taxes, which they believe would serve to free private industry from the shackles of big government. However, they do see the need for increasingly strong social regulation of abortion, sex, pornography, drugs, gambling, crime, immigration, etc.

Buchanan's ideology is undeniably conservative, in that his beliefs are very similar to those of the right wing of the Republican party. He supports lower and flatter taxation, state's fights, free and loose gun control laws, and many other traditional conservative issues (see Appendix A). For traditional American companies, he also believes in the need for an open economy, free from government intervention.

Buchanan also finds great value in Christianity and the traditional social order. In this realm, he is on the forefront of conservative leadership in America.

Arguing that the excesses of liberal orthodoxy have destroyed the foundations of American society, Buchanan's harshest words are reserved for abortionists:

"Many of you grew up, as I did, in the '40s and '50s. Many of you may not remember those days. But America was a peaceful county then. We didn't have the kind of violence that we have today ... I believe the correlation between the violence in our society, and what has happened to 30 million unborn children, is absolute.1

This correlation between abortion and social violence is very typical of modem conservative orthodoxy, which tends to blame liberals for dismissing the importance of traditional values and morals.

This reaction against liberalism extends far beyond abortion:

"The altruists who launched the Great Society visited more social damage on black America than did segregation or the Depression."2

The Great Society is a source of evil, in that it robbed people of their work ethic and their self-sufficiency. By creating dependency on the government, the largess of the public dole has created moral and social harm.

Besides his strident stands on social issues, Buchanan is also one of the strongest defenders of the Republican party's conservative values. He regularly criticizes its leadership when they stray from the party's fundamental ideals. In 1992, Buchanan ran against the soft-sell conservatism of vice-president George Bush. Criticizing Bush for raising taxes and betraying the deals of the "Reagan Revolution"3, Buchanan set himself up as the ideologically pure alternative.

In the 1996 election, his tactics were very similar. Running against Bob Dole's embrace of moderation, Buchanan wrote:

"Dole meekly went along with President Clinton's rash and foolish commitment of the U.S. army to police the truce in Bosnia's bloody civil war... Now Sen. Dole appears to be sliding away from the conservative position on a balanced budget... Resentment of Sen. Dole's return to the politics of the deal is rising not only in the Republican House, it is rising at the Republican grass-roots."4

Dole's moderate position on these critical issues, along with his willingness to compromise, marks him as a prime target for Buchanan. By attacking Dole, Buchanan is defending the values of the "Republican grass roots."

His targets are not limited to those with whom he is competing with, however. Buchanan has also made it clear that he does not approve of Newt Gingrich's recent willingness to compromise with President Clinton.

These attacks on weak-willed conservativtism have not gained him many allies in the Republican party. Phil Gramm has accused Buchanan of being "mean-spirited", while Newt Gingrich has called him "irresponsible."5 Others, particularly pro-choice women, have referred to him as "frightening."6

Buchanan has a tendency to create strong feelings on both the right and the left. Any diversion from the fundamental tenets of conservatism has the potential to raise Buchanan's ire, which makes him a very divisive figure.

One Internet author described Buchanan's philosophy this way:

"(Buchanan's) vision of the ideal America is White and Christian, bristling with weapons, strictly regimented, DEFFNITELY Drug-Free (except for cigarettes probably), English only, with prayer, biblical teaching and 'creationism' (cretinism) in the schools, and no abortions ever, for any reason. People who did not agree with these rules (in his dream world) would be deleted somehow, all Blacks, Mexicans, Jews, freaks and oddballs just edited out."7

While not entirely fair, this author does hook onto one of Buchanan's most fascinating quirks - his tendencies towards authoritarianism. In his views on power and democracy, Buchanan parts company with mainstream conservative thought and begins to slide towards authoritarianism and fascism.

This trend towards authoritarianism seems to have its roots in Buchanan's childhood:

"My father's religious beliefs, inculcated in Catholic schools, permeated everything. In my father's household, whatever Mother Church taught, that was it; there was no more debate."8

This home, stripped of "debate" and filled with the voice and one of Catholic ideology, was a strong influence on Buchanan's later political leanings. To this day, he continues to stress the need to teach strong morals and values to our nation's chil dren:

"We have a crisis in American education because educators have lost sight of their goal ... to produce moral men and women ... That is the goal of a Catholic education: The inculcation of values, the shaping of conscience, the development of character, the formation of souls..."9

Catholic education is meant to teach children moral lessons, not basic skills like math and reading. These skills are secondary to the goal of "produc(ing) moral men and women."

While it might be unusual for an individual to place the importance of biblical lessons and values over basic educational skills, it is certainly not authoritarian. But Buchanan goes farther - he wants to bring these moral lessons into the public schools.

Speaking of the need to improve education, Buchanan stated:

"[H]ow can we ever again succeed in educating children to become moral men and women if, in America's public schools, we consciously deny them all religious instruction, and deny them access to that primary source of morality, God's own word."10

On other occasions, Buchanan is more overt about his belief that the teachings of the bible must be brought into the public sphere:

"We would not deny children the healthiest and most nutritious foods, lest their growth be stunted, and permanent damage be done. Yet, by court order, we starve them of a diet of the greatest truths ever taught ... Because reaching them the truth would violate their rights."11

The boundaries between church and state have begun to blur. To improve public education, Buchanan advocates that educators use the moral lessons of the bible. The bible is essential, because its teachings are such an invaluable and powerful tool, ab le to shape and mold young minds and create strong and moral citizens.

This "truth" that Buchanan speaks of, the light of revealed wisdom contained in the Christian Bible, is a universal morality which all Americans should embrace and willingly indoctrinate their children into. Those who object to "the greatest moral co de ever put down on paper" are dismissed as multiculturalists and moral relativists, working to bring America down and destroy its cultural strength and unity.

Dismissing boundaries between church and state in such a flagrant manner is symptomatic of a larger problem-. Buchanan appears to have little regard for our current form of Democracy. William Bennet, for one, has accused Buchanan of "flirting with fascism".12

Attacking the "democratist temptation, the worship of democracy as a form of governance," Buchanan writes:

"Like all idolatries, democratism substitutes a false god for the real, a love of process for a love of country"13

This process that Buchanan decries is the process of Constitutionalism: the republican system of checks and balances, and the protection of minority populations from the whims of the majority. In particular, the banishment of Christian symbols and icons from the public sphere drives Buchanan into fits of rage.

Writing on the despotism of the Federal courts, Buchanan stated that:

"The American people were never consulted on whether they wanted school prayer, Bible study, or the Ten Commandments out of their schools and all expressions of religious belief expelled from public life. The edict was handed down, without precedent in law, by a court acting as arbitrarily as a Communist commissar."14

The true destroyers of democracy, to Buchanan, are the Federal courts. These courts have forced racial desegregation, removed prayer from the schools and legitimized pornography - all against the will of the people. These judges have overstepped their bounds by acting in an arbitrary manner, counter, to the intent of the Constitution and its framers, and therefore must be removed from office.

Advocating the direct election of Federal judges, Buchanan's drive is to remove the barriers that are in place in our system which serve to protect minority peoples and viewpoints from the whims of the majority. For without a strong and independent judiciary, the nation's cultural majority would once again be free to use the nation's public institutions to spread their values and beliefs.

If this appeal to the prejudices of the majority appears to be somewhat fascist, that should come as no surprise - Buchanan has praised the vision of several fascist leaders, including Adolf Hitler.

Writing about the glories of the German fascist state in his 1977 column, Buchanan offered praise for Hitler and his brave (if genocidal) leadership:

"(Hitler was) an individual of great courage ... Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."15

A leader who understands his enemies is a man to be reckoned with, to be sure. Yet it is a rare man who can appreciate the "extraordinary gifts" of Adolf Hitler.

This admiration for Hitler is only the most shocking of Buchanan's statements. On other occasions, he has praised the successes of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and communist witch-hunter Joseph McCarthy. Buchanan has also made a habit of defend ing accused Nazi collaborators, including Kurt Waldheim and John Demanjuk.16

Buchanan not only admires the achievements of these authoritarian figures, he also sees the need for that type of strong leadership today:

"Like Lincoln's army before Gen. Grant came east, the GOP has brave soldiers but timid generals ... If the leadership does not pull itself together soon and lay out a battle plan to rally, its discontented, disaffected troops, it is going to face a na sty insurgency in its own ranks. Vacuums never remain unfilled, and vacuous leadership is soon replaced."17

According to Buchanan, the party's weak and moderate leaders are a bane to the Republican cause, tearing the party apart. For the weak leadership that Buchanan sees in Dole and Gingrich is not only ideologically impure, it is also harmful for party unity.

When Buchanan attacks their failings, he is not only defending Republican ideals and values - he is working to fill the "power vacuum" himself and lead the army of the GOP to victory. Having run for President twice in recent years, he has shown his eagerness to lead the GOP's "brave soldiers" into battle.

But as much strength as Buchanan sees in the ranks of the Republican party, he also recognizes that to build a true majority one needs a broader base of support. As far back as 1970, Buchanan understood the need to build a broad political coalition:

"We should aim our strategy primarily at disaffected Democrats, at blue-collar workers, and at working-class ethnics. We should set out to capture the vote of the 47-year-old Dayton housewife."18

These "disaffected democrats" are the key to building a new political coalition - a coalition built on an ideologically pure message and led by strong and active leaders.

Appealing to the pocketbooks and patriotism of the "blue-collar worker", Buchanan regularly attacks the international treaties and multinational corporations which eliminate American jobs and destroy American sovereignty. Though he parts ways with his fellow conservative Republicans on this issue", his populist message carries great weight with the disaffected middle-class voter.

Attacking the corporations which export American jobs overseas, Buchanan writes:

"How did America's companies become the most competitive? By ceasing to be so American; by becoming global companies ... The success of the new transnational companies has been paid for by the shrinkage of the U.S. manufacturing labor force..."20

By seeking profit over patriotism, and by shrinking the U.S. manufacturing workforce, these once-proud corporations are no longer American institutions - they are global behemoths, sucking the lifeblood from the American economy.

Disgusted by their lack of patriotism and unvarnished greed, Buchanan vows to play hardball with these new global corporations:

"As for multinational-corporations, whose loyalty is only to the bottom line on a balance sheet, inform these amoral behemoths they are welcome to bring in their capital and build their plants. But if they shut down factories here to open overseas, t hey will pay a price for the readmission of their goods into America's market... who, after all, is the American economy for, if not Americans?"21

Freed from their moorings by international treaties like NAFTA and GATT, these corporations are no longer American entities - they are global pirates, moving from one city to the next in search of quick profits. Believing that the interests of corporate America no longer align with those of the middle-class, Buchanan targets these "amoral behemoths" and their lack of any morals or patriotic spirit.

Parting ways with many members of his own party, Buchanan heaps scorn on those with complicity in this corporate sellout:

"Is there anything Republicans will not grab off the shelf, if it can be fitted into a container labeled 'free trade?'"22

Favoring isolationism over free trade, Buchanan preaches the need for a three-pronged test to weigh all future trade treaties against:

"Rather than making 'global free trade' a golden calf which we all bow down to, and worship, all trade deals should be judged by whether: a) they maintain U.S. sovereignty, b) they protect vital economic interests and c) they ensure a rising standard of living for all our workers."23

By attacking this "golden calf", Buchanan is playing into the sentiments of the disenfranchised middle-class, many of whom have lost their livelihood to the demands of the new global economy.

Buchanan's appeal to the middle-class serves a living example of the "prestige interests"24 which Max Weber describes in his writings. These "prestige interests" are emotional appeals to the disenfranchised.

By appealing to America's disenfranchised middle-class (a group lacking in power and the ability to improve their own positions), Buchanan is emulating Weber's model in his speeches and writings. Lacking in prestige, these workers can be hooked and engaged by an appeal to their "prestige interests" - an appeal to their pride and pocketbook.

By building a coalition of these workers, along with his traditional conservative constituency, Buchanan is striving to create a strong and vibrant movement based on the principles of naive patriotism and Christian culture. The goal of this coalition is a vision of economic security, free from assaults on their traditional values and institutions.

Though he is rather overt in his intentions, one has to question whether Buchanan is truly sincere in his appeal to the insecurities of the middle-class voter. Unlike many conservative Republicans, Buchanan has a strong record of hypocrisy - his highest credo seems to be his own aggrandizement, rather than any higher or nobler purpose.

His most frequent and blatantly hypocritical acts arise from his criticism of President Clinton. Buchanan frequently attacks the President's patriotism, gleefully playing up stories like "Filegate" and "Whitewater" in his columns and speeches.

During the 1992 Republican National Convention, he had this to say about Clinton's war record:

"When Bill Clinton's turn came in Vietnam, he sat up in a dormitory in Oxford, England, and figured out how to dodge the draft."25

By sneaking off to England to evade the draft, Clinton was guilty of more than cowardice - he was guilty of unpatriotic acts against the nation.

The problem with this logic, however, is that it comes from the lips of Pat Buchanan who has never served in the armed forces, in war or in peace. Despite his rough-and-tumble patriotic style, and though he was of age during the Vietnam War, Buchanan managed to evade service. The reason generally given is that he suffered from some sort of medical condition, but there has been no firm confirmation on this one way or the other.26

Besides questioning Clinton's patriotism, Buchanan also attacks his scandal-plagued administration:

"America may be about to witness yet another broken presidency ... This week's startling confession by the vice president that he ran a boiler-room operation out of the West Wing may have started the rock slide that buries the Clinton presidency ... Last time anyone looked, giving government favors for campaign contributions was also a federal crime. Comparisons with Watergate are eerie."27

Odd that Buchanan should bring up Watergate, the scandal which brought down President Nixon - a scandal with which he was intimately involved:

"(Buchanan) recommended that Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign hire a political "prankster" to bedevil Democratic rivals ... wrote a White House memo recommending that Nixon burn the tapes of Oval Office conversations about the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate complex... (and) advocated using the Internal Revenue Service against 'leftist' institutions."28

As one of Nixon's inner circle of advisors, Buchanan's role in the Watergate scandal and coverup was very intimate. For a man with this kind of background to criticize Clinton for complicity in an unproven scandal, particularly one in which it appears that the Republicans are as guilty as the Democrats, is the height of arrogance.

These kind of situational ethics are not uncommon for Buchanan. Even his strongest beliefs, such as his patriotic economic populism, are subject to debate when they conflict with his pocketbook:

"Buchanan has thousands of dollars invested in (companies) ... which have laid off workers to boost profits or 'invested heavily in building plants outside the United States ... Stocks are a major component of the millionaire commentator's personal wealth."29

According to USA Today, Buchanan profits directly from these same companies which he decries for being unpatriotic and un-American; he profits from the decline of the working-class, the very group which he claims to have so much sympathy for.

Buchanan does have core beliefs - he just doesn't let them get in the way of his larger goals, whether they are money or power or societal change. A patriot to the end, Buchanan is neither scared of conflict nor militancy:

"Every great movement--social, political, or religious--in its infancy, is marked by militancy. Its faithful shine," Ith a spirit of sacrifice, a willingness to accept defeat and humiliation rather than compromise principal. Its True Believers are impatient, to the point of intolerance, with the half-hearted and the half-committed. He who is not with us is against us. That is the way we were."30

These days of his youth, riding high on the banner of ideologically pure conservatism, hold great appeal for Buchanan. In a fundamental sense, he strives to return to these salad days, when a fine moral man could make his way through life free from social turmoil. Unafraid of conflict, Buchanan is striving to create another great movement - impatient, socially pure and militant to the core.

Relegated to the fringe by prominent members of his own party, Buchanan has nonetheless refused to bolt or buckle. He remains a faithful Republican, working from within the system to force his party to embrace the whole of their conservative ideals. Attacking the evils of compromise and moderation, his role within the party is not as leader, but as ideological policeman - punishing those who betray the ideals of the party with his wit and fervor.

In many ways, Buchanan is an stereotypical conservative. He values smaller government, strong Christian values and the dismantling of the social welfare state. However, when it comes to his embrace of authoritarianism, his blatant hypocrisy and his economic populism, Buchanan parts company with his conservative brethren and charts his own path. Embracing the twin pillars of populism and social conservatism, Buchanan strives to create a coalition of patriots led by strong and vibrant men of character. This coalition's goal is to create a nation of loyal American-borne corporations, a nation of schools bristling with the joy of Christian comraderie and worship, and a nation where traditional values are unhampered by the blight of tyrannical constitutionalism.

Appendix A: "Pat Buchanan on the Issues"

America First - "We need a new foreign policy that ends foreign aid, and pulls up all the trip wires laid down abroad to involve American soldiers in wars that are none of America's business. And we need to demand that rich allies begin paying the fu ll cost of their owns defense."

Social Security - "... Congress has an obligation to totally zero-out foreign aid, and cancel the $20 billion Mexican bailout, before it takes one penny out of the pockets of retired Americans who have paid Social Security taxes their entire lives."

Defense - "I will maintain a military for the United States that is first on the land, first on the seas, first in the air, first in space, and I will not ask any nation's permission before I build a missile defense for the United States of America."

Free Trade - "Rather than making 'global free trade' a golden calf which we all bow down to, and worship, all trade deals should be judged by whether: a) they maintain U.S. sovereignty, b) they protect vital economic interests and c) they ensure a rising standard of living for all our workers. We must stop sacrificing American jobs on the altars of transnational corporations whose sole loyalty is to the bottom line."

Jobs - "...Our American workers are the most productive in the world; our technology is the finest. Yet, the real incomes of American workers have fallen 20 percent in 20 years... we have a government that is frozen in the ice of its own indifference, a government that does not listen anymore to the forgotten men and women who work in the forges and factories and plants and businesses of this country."

Taxes - "American society is over-regulated, overtaxed, over-burdened - by government. We need tax cuts across the board, and an end to the bias in the tax code against investment and saving. The IRS needs to be down-sized. And any Balance Budget Amendment must have a tax limitation provision so politicians cannot use it to raise the government's share of the people's income."

Judicial Reform - "Supreme Court Justices and federal judges have grabbed more power, far more, than the Constitution intended. We should strip that power away through judicial term limits, voter recall of renegade federal jurists, and reconfirmation of Supreme Court Justices every eight years."

Reverse discrimination - " [A]ffirmative action (is) un-American. We need to outlaw the federal classification of American citizens by race or ethnicity and end all discrimination and all preferential treatment."

The Culture War - "All federally funded institutions, from the Smithsonian to the National Endowment for the Arts, will manifest a respect for America's history and values; and all monuments, battlefields, and symbols of America's glorious, if sometimes tragic, history will be protected."

Education - "Parents everywhere are fighting for the hearts and minds of their own children. We must shut down the Department of Education and return authority to the states and to the people."

Abortion - "In the 22 years since Roe v. Wade, the technology has developed to dramatically demonstrate the humanity of the child originating in the womb. Our Republican Congress must hold hearings, using this technology, and calling on biologists, doctors and ethicists, to teach America the truth that every abortion stops a beating heart."

Heritage -"Eternal truths that do not change from the Old and New Testament have been expelled from our public schools, and our children are being indoctrinated in moral relativism, and the propaganda of an anti-Western ideology."

Immigration Control - "Illegal immigration must be halted, and no illegal alien given welfare. We need a nationwide Proposition 187, a closing of the Southwest border to illegals (with the National Guard, if necessary) and a new immigration law where we Americans decide who comes, and when. Our first concern must be the peace, stability and unity of our own country."

Second Amendment - "As President, Bill Clinton has repeatedly attacked the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms through both the Brady Act and the ban on certain semiautomatic guns... The Brady Act violates not only the Second Amendment, but the Tenth by imposing an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement agencies. The Republican Congress should repeal both laws and challenge Mr. Clinton's veto threats."

Sovereignty - [T]oday, our birthright of sovereignty, purchased with the blood of patriots, is being traded away for foreign money, handed over to faceless foreign bureaucrats at places like the INE, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the U.N.

Source: Excerpts from "Pat Buchanan on the Issues" (

Works Cited

1. Buchanan, Pat. "A Contract With the Unborn." Web Source

2. Buchanan, Pat. "The Voice in the Desert." Web Source

3. Foster's Daily Democrat. "Buchanan Making His Mark." Web Source

4. Buchanan, Pat. "Buchanan Rakes Dole." Web Source

5. Newsday Direct. "A 'Savage God' Scares Republicans in N.H." Web Source

6. Foster's Daily Democrat. "Buchanan." Web Source

7. Alpha Digital Graphics. "Pat Buchanan--Wolf in Pit Bull's Clothing." Web Source

8. Buchanan, Pat. "Commencement Address for Christendom College." Web Source

9. Ibid

10. Ibid

11. Buchanan, Pat. "Of Truth and Tolerance .... at Easter." Web Source

12. Bennett, William. "If I said what I meant, I'm sorry", Time, April 3, 1995, p 17.

13. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. "Buchanan: In His Own Words." Web Source

14. Buchanan, Pat. "Defying The Despotism Of An Oligarchy." Web Source

15. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. "Buchanan: In His Own Words." Web Source

16. Weisberg, Jacob. "The Heresies of Pat Buchanan." The New Republic, Oct. 22, 1990, p22.

17. Buchanan, Pat. "Where Have You Gone, Ronald Reagan?" Web Source

18. CQ's American Voter. "Buchanan Campaign Profile." Web Source

19. Buchanan, Pat. "Revolt Brewing Among the Middle-Americans." Web Source

20. Buchanan, Pat. "Is the Trade Issue Still Up for Grabs?" Web Source

21. Buchanan, Pat. "An American Economy for Americans." Web Source

22. Buchanan, Pat. "Pat Buchanan on the Issues." Web Source

23. Madden, Patrick. "Media, political leaders unfairly bash Buchanan" Web Source

24. Weber, Max. "The Nation," in Nationalism, ed. Hutchinson, John and Smith, Anthony D. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. 21-25.

25. Buchanan, Pat. "Text of Patrick J. Buchanan's Speech at the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas." Web Source

26. Walls, Jeanette. "A Protectionist Without Protection." Esquire Magazine, May 1996, 16.

27. Buchanan, Pat. "Another Broken President?" Web Source

28. Foster's Daily Democrat. "Buchanan's Call For Campaign Reform Contrasts With His Watergate Testimony." Web Source

29. USA Today Online. "Buchanan's Investments Called Into Question." Web Source

30. Buchanan, Pat. "The Voice in the Desert." Web Source