There is wide debate within the conservative movement over how differing ideologies can fall under one common category. Certain conservatives may doubt the legitimacy of others, but there are arguments for each view. The following list attempts to clarfy the discussion, focusing on conservative politics in the US. Some may feel the list falls short because conservatives can find themselves divided when attempting to describe themselves using these definitions. Admittedly, categories and definitions are subjective, but these are the most widely accepted.
National Review commentator Rod Dreher first coined the term "crunchy conservative" in 2006 to describe his personal ideology, according to NPR.org. Dreher says "crunchy cons" are conservatives “who stand outside the conservative mainstream,” and tend to focus more on family-oriented, culturally conservative concepts such as being good stewards of the natural world and avoiding materialism in everyday life. Dreher describes crunchy cons as those “who embrace a counter-cultural, yet traditional conservative lifestyle." On his blog
, Dreher says crunchy cons are as mistrutful of big business as they are big government.
Politically, cultural conservatism is often confused with social conservatism. In the US, the term often incorrectly describes members of the religious right because the two share ideologies on social issues. Christian conservatives tend to like being described as cultural conservatives, because it implies that America is a Christian nation. True cultural conservatives worry less about religion in government and more about using politics to prevent fundamental changes to US culture. The goal of cultural conservatives is to preserve and maintain the American way-of-life both at home and abroad.
Libertarians and Constitutionalists are natural fiscal conservatives due to their desire to reduce government spending, pay off the national debt and shrink the size and scope of government. Nevertheless, the Republican Party is most often credited with creating the fiscal conservative ideal, despite the big-spending tendencies of the most recent GOP administrations. Fiscal conservatives seek to deregulate the economy and lower taxes. Fiscal conservative politics has little or nothing to do with social issues, and it is therefore not uncommon for other conservatives to identify themselves as fiscal conservatives.
The neoconservative movement sprouted in the 1960s in response to the counter-culture movement. It was later bolstered by disillusioned liberal intellectuals of the 1970s. Neoconservatives believe in a diplomatic foreign policy, stimulating economic growth by lowering taxes and finding alternative ways to deliver public welfare services. Culturally, neoconservatives tend to identify with traditional conservatives, but stop short of providing guidance on social issues. Irving Kristol, co-founder of Encounter magazine is largely credited with founding the neoconservative movement.
As the name suggests, paleoconservatives emphasize a connection with the past. Like neoconservatives, paleoconservatives tend to be family-oriented, religious-minded and opposed to the vulgarity permeating modern culture. They are also opposed to mass immigration and believe in the complete withdrawal of US military troops from foreign countries. Paleoconservatives claim author Russell Kirk as their own, as well as political ideologues Edmund Burke and William F. Buckley Jr. Paleoconservatives believe they are the true heirs to the US conservative movement and are critical of other "brands" of conservatism.
Social conservatives adhere strictly to a moral ideology based on family-values and religious traditions. For US social conservatives, Christianity -- often Evangelical Christianity -- guides all political positions on social issues. US social conservatives are mostly right-wing and hold firmly to a pro-life, pro-family and pro-religion agenda. Thus, abortion and gay rights are often lightning rod issues for social conservatives. Social conservatives are the most recognized group of conservatives on this list due to their strong ties to the Republican Party.