5 icons who shaped modern conservatism

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

It’s hard to deny the impact modern conservatism has had on the United States of America.

For sure, its importance seems to change from government to government. Mandates on masks and vaccinations, as well as continual government intervention, can feel like modern conservatism is on the decline.

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But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to these five modern conservative icons, Americans can enjoy the personal and financial freedoms we cherish in 2024.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

The 40th President of the United States is undoubtedly one of the icons of modern conservatism. The once-actor turned politician played a pivotal role in shaping the U.S., and he is still praised by many to this day.

Reagan faced an uphill battle upon assuming the presidency in 1981. The U.S. was in a state of economic turmoil, and tensions with the Soviet Union were reaching all-time highs.

However, through his charm, humor and likable personality, Reagan initiated a number of economic policies collectively known as Reaganomics. An emphasis on free-market principles and tax cuts led to an economic boom that lasted throughout his presidency, while his focus on defense promoted a strong America and arguably played a role in the collapse of the USSR.

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008)

Buckley’s role in shaping modern conservatism can never be underestimated.

The conservative intellectual founded National Review in 1955, defining conservative principles to be shared across the nation. Just over a decade later, Buckley’s dulcet tones graced television sets when he hosted Firing Line, a role he held for 33 years. Following his death in 2008 at the age of 82, then-House Minority Whip Roy Blunt described him as “the indisputable leader of the conservative movement that laid the groundwork for the Reagan Revolution”.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

Goldwater may be considered a surprise addition to the list given his defeat at the 1964 presidential election to Lyndon B. Johnson. However, his campaign inspired many young conservatives to pursue their political ambitions.

In his book “The Conscience of a Conservative”, Goldwater outlined his belief on the importance of limiting government intervention and preserving individual liberties. A staunch anti-communist, Goldwater emphasized the importance of a strong national defense. Despite losing to LBJ, Goldwater’s campaign acted as a springboard for the conservative resurgence just over a decade later.

Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016)

Schlafly was the leading force for mobilizing conservative women throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

A firm believer in traditional values and social conservatism, Schlafly ardently opposed the Equal Rights Amendment believing it would take away privileges enjoyed by women such as separate restrooms for females and exemption from the draft.

In 1972, she founded the Eagle Forum as a platform for conservative women to engage in political and social debate, while her activism increased the political power of the Religious Right.

Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

Although primarily an economist, Friedman’s ideas had a profound influence on modern conservative economic thought. He was an advocate for free market capitalism, believing that government should seldom interfere with market forces while promoting the importance of individual liberty.

Despite never running for political power, Friedman’s prophecies were so well received that he served as an advisor to Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during their respective tenures in office.

Did we miss someone? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.