David Giffin in his latest article poses an interesting question worthy of thoughtful consideration. In it he asks “do we need to rethink what republican in name only (RINO) means?”
Consider Giffin’s main point. Traditionally a Republican–in the ideological sense–is thought of as a member of the Republican party and a political conservative. Contrariwise, a RINO is part of the Republican party but not politically conservative. However, as Giffin notes, Trump’s unexpected rise appears to be changing what it means to be a both a Republican and a conservative. This then leads to a pressing question.
What, then, is a RINO?
On the surface it seems reasonable to assume a RINO rejects conservatism. After all, conservatism is essential to the Republican Party’s ideology, with its vigorous insistence on traditional values. Given the popularity and prevalence of this understanding of conservatism, we might even think of conservatives–in the mold of Russell Kirk–as the vanguard of the one “true” American tradition.
However, a review of the honest American facts reveal there is no unifying tradition in America’s political history. The Founders never intended as much in terms of religion or political logistics. They never introduced a national deity into the Constitution, nor did they ever intend to. Further, logistically speaking, America is divided into 50 different political traditions within each state. Each state has its own competing regional interests, as well. This is, in fact, multi-traditional, and this multi-traditionalism was expanded to include a national government. This forms the basis of our republic, in which there is no single mono-tradition as a conservative is inclined to think or wish.
Hence, contrary to the assumption seemingly made by Giffin, conservatism is at odds with republican philosophy. In fact, being a “conservative” is antithetical to republicanism on other grounds. Republicanism — or small “r” republicanism — celebrates and encourages change. Small “r” republicanism celebrates change. But what is change? As Marx would cheerfully note, change is synonymous with capitalism, which eliminated all previous class distinctions except that of the dominant capitalist class.
Why are small “r” republicans so fond of change? Because change creates new industries, new forms of art, and people with a number of different interests. Capitalism, for instance, is responsible for the creation of different types of industries like electronics, auto-mechanics, and neurochemistry. Moreover capitalism created the movie — the development of cinema required strong manufacturing, a large economy, and a large body of engineering knowledge. But most importantly these different interests represent a special significance to our republic — by creating such a wide number of industries and interests capitalistic change helps prevent the emergence of tyranny. In short, republicans love change because change prevents dictatorships and central government.
Conservatism does not have the same affection toward change. Conservatism, as Burke defines it, refers to a gradualist approach to all social and political change. Alternatively, as Oakeshott defines it, the conservative disposition “is averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation.”
Accordingly, it isn’t difficult to imagine what a conservative political regime would look like with its insistence on debilitating or limit the forces of change. Thus it becomes apparent a conservative would be supportive of a regime that suppresses capitalism to a politically manageable level. Such regimes include monarchies, aristocracy, and socialism. Under these regimes, change is incrementally set by pious bureaucrats and other ruling class elites from a political center.
Therefore, contrary to what Giffin surmises, a RINO is actually a conservative in the Republican party who opposes the two fundamental tenets of republican philosophy. For one, the conservative rejects the multi-traditionalism of republican governance. Second, a conservative rejects unmitigated capitalism because of its capacity to bring unwanted change. For conservatives such changes are a form of deprivation. Thus what makes a RINO a RINO is their big “R” republicanism — namely their unwillingness to embrace the spirit of the small “r” republican political philosophy.
And with that being said let us now ask: are we conservatives, or are we republicans? Whatever your answer, the fate of America’s future depends upon it.