A couple of days ago, one of my commenters correctly mentioned that conservatives want a smaller government and that conservatives have no desire to eliminate government. I can agree with both of these statements. The problem is that conservatives have no desire for government to look out for the people, whereas I believe that liberals see government as a counterbalance to the excesses of business.
The good news is that we can follow conservative philosophy for nearly 100 years. Conservatives like to write. The 1935 book, Our Enemy, the State, written by Albert Nock, is an excellent example of conservatism at its best. The things he writes seem almost exactly like Ronald Reagan. “Wherever the state is, there is a felony.” This is right out of Reagan-speak. He wailed against the New Deal as a “coup d’etat.” He talked about the people ripping off the hard-working few — rich businessmen.
We can even go back to the 1880s and 1890s to see an example of conservatism at its best. Look at the combination of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. (The trend may have started earlier, but I cannot find any specific documentation of this.) Richard Olney was a staunch conservative and railroad lawyer who was appointed to be Attorney General. He made his name by attacking the Sherman Antitrust Act. Now he’s been placed in a position where he can actually appoint people either to enforce or not enforce the law. He chose the latter. The essence of conservatism, as I see it, is summed up in the famous letter he wrote to his old railroad boss.
“The Commission, as it functions have now been limited by the courts, is, or can be made, of great use to the railroads. It satisfies the popular clamor for government supervision of the railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost merely nominal. Further, the older such a commission gets to be, the more inclined it will be found to take the business and railroad view of things. It does becomes a sort of barrier between the railroad corporations and the people and the sort of protection against nasty and crude legislation hostile to railroad interests… the part of wisdom is not to destroy the Commission, but to utilize it.” – From Thomas Frank’s The Wrecking Crew
Therefore, over the last 30 years, we’ve seen examples of this throughout Republican administrations. James Watt was an attorney who made his living attacking environmental protections and touting the EPA as being unconstitutional. Reagan appointed him Secretary of the Interior (the EPA is under the Department of the Interior). Although James Watt was the most egregious example, there are literally hundreds of examples throughout the Reagan and Bush administrations. The Securities and Exchange Commission was headed by somebody who did not believe in regulating Wall Street. The agency was packed with like-minded individuals. The Justice Department filled the Civil Rights division with lawyers who did not believe the 1964 Civil Rights Act was constitutional. The Justice Department actually decreased the funding to this department while Bush was in office.
The examples of conservatives using the government as a tool for business and de-funding agencies which would not align with the conservative vision of the function of government are simply too numerous to name. The one thing that modern conservatives like Grover Norquist have done is make government work for them, make government work for business. The quickest way to become a millionaire during the Bush administration (2001-2008), besides winning the lottery, was winning a government contract. Privatization was the way to go. The brilliance of this conservative strategy was to sell privatization to the American people. The sales pitch was that government was inherently inefficient and that business was efficient. Therefore, if we could get the government to work more like a private business then everything would be great. The only thing that would be better would be to privatize portions of the government. This is what happened during the Bush administration.
So, in conclusion, my commenter was 100% right when he said that conservatives do not want to eliminate government totally. Conservatives simply want government to work for big business who is happy to reward compliant politicians with large campaign donations.