on March 12, 2006
No other book provides such a rich survey of the intellectual history of American conservatism. With almost 1,000 pages of entries written by some of the most prominent American conservatives (people such as Russell Kirk, M. E. Bradford, and Murray Rothbard), this is now the one book that must be read if one wants to understand American conservatism.
This comes at a good time, because American conservatives are wondering about the future of conservatism in America. The current debate over whether President George Bush and his neoconservative supporters have betrayed the conservative movement manifests this new period of conservative self-examination. This book will help conservatives to reconsider their complex history and their possible future.
My judgment might be biased because I was involved in the original launching of this project by Greg Wolfe in 1990. I have five articles in the book--on "Intelligent Design Theory," "The Scopes Trial," "Social Darwinism," "Sociobiology," and "Herbert Spencer." My articles reflect a desire to persuade conservatives that Darwinian science supports conservative social thought. But that is a minority view in this book. The more common conservative scorn for modern science is stated in M. D. Aeschliman's article on "Science and Scientism."
The one clear weakness in this book is that it does not really cover the full history of the American conservative movement. It stresses the intellectual or academic side of conservatism as dominated by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (the publisher of the book) and NATIONAL REVIEW. It gives almost no attention to the most populist elements of the conservative movement. For example, there is not a single reference to Billy James Hargis, to John Stormer's book NONE DARE CARE IT TREASON, or to J. Evett Haley's book A TEXAN LOOKS AT LYNDON. Hargis was a Christian conservative who once broadcast his radio program in the 1960s on over 200 radio stations. Hargis's book A COMMUNIST AMERICA, MUST IT BE? was widely distributed. The books by Stormer and Haley sold millions of copies in 1964, during the Goldwater presidential campaign against LBJ. People like Hargis, Stormer, and Haley were far more popular than William Buckley or Russell Kirk in the 1960s.
I understand, however, that the editors of this enclyclopedia want to make the history of American conservatism intellectually respectable by concentrating on the more purely academic levels of the movement.
In any case, no one can think seriously about the intellectual history of American conservatism without reading this book. And in helping us to understand the past history of conservatism, this book could help us to foresee the future promise of conservatism in America.
on February 6, 2013
This work is a treasure trove of lengthy and informative articles on prominent figures, movements and concepts in American conservatism. It ranges across three centuries, and also includes important foreign figures who have influenced America (such as Margaret Thatcher). Educators, philosophers, religious leaders, economists, novelists, poets, literary critics, journalists, etc., are all represented. Highly recommended.
on July 7, 2006
This is one of my favourite `encyclopedic dictionaries', an underappreciated genre if there ever was one. The "American Conservatism" now stands pride of place along side two worthy peers. Namely Robert Nisbet's superb "Prejudices - A Philosophical Dictionary" and Richard Milner's "Encyclopedia of Evolution", a dictionary style encyclopedia of Darwinism that spans not only the science, but the history, pop and folklore of evolution.
I can see the critics pounding away at their word processors now. They'll say the volume doesn't give sufficient cubic mass to George W Bush and his merry band of Vulcans; or that the neocon movement doesn't get the required number of column inches; or that GOP Republicanism herein seems more a trickle than the mainstream. And why does Eugene McCarthy seem to get more coverage than Tailgunner Joe McCarthy?
I can see their point, and there are a few facets of American conservatism that I would have liked to have seen better represented. For instance, that rare, but tough sub-species, the American monarchists. There are at least two that I can think of. Charles A. Coulombe, a traditionalist defender of throne and altar, who hails from Hollywood, and Hans Herman Hoppe, an anarcho-monarchist libertarian professor from that hive of chivalry, Las Vegas.
Still I think this kind of word processor pounding is misplaced. The book is, after all, a single volume encyclopedia / dictionary. It is meant to be comprehensive in width, not depth. That's what is great about it. It is meant to sacrifice detail for coverage. It is more important that conventional narrative histories dive deeper into the murky depths of the mainstream. The dictionary format, in contrast, gives a Cooks' Tour of the lesser known, but rarely paddled alternative creeks, tributaries and billabongs. And that's what "American Conservatism" does superbly.
The pounders' may as well criticize the Oxford English Dictionary for being full of words most of us never use. That's the point. Dive in and increase your conservative vocabulary.
In this highly interesting and informative book, the reader will be introduced to the main currents in conservative thought, and in a manner that is objective and with only a few exceptions free from an excess of bias. There are many names and ideas associated to American conservatism, and readers may find that they hold much more in common with it than they might have first realized. Its history and content have been tarnished greatly in recent years, due mostly to the popularity of `neoconservatism' (which is discussed in the book), and the current regime in Washington. This book will hopefully assist in putting conservative thought into its proper perspective, and illustrate to the uninitiated reader its great diversity in ideas. The average reader will probably not read every article in the book, but will instead concentrate on those of interest. There is a fair representation of the major (and minor) philosophical trends that have dominated American conservatism, along with those that have or are losing credence.
By far the best article in the book is the one entitled `Liberalism' and written by Peter Augustine Lawler. In spite of its length, it gives a fair and interesting overview of what constitutes liberal thought and some of its intersections with conservative thinking. It is a refreshing alternative to the vituperation that so frequently occurs in discussions of liberal philosophy. The author does refer to `liberalism' as being `elitist' but this is put in the context of its belief that individuals must be liberated from religion, morality, and other traditional beliefs in order to become fully human. In this sense it is `elitist' in that it makes special and frequently exclusive claims to knowledge about what it means to be fully human. Also interesting (and it is fair to say accurate) is the author's statement that American liberalism has been a mixture of conservatism and liberalism. There is fairly good evidence that suggests even more so, namely that liberals have actually switched places with conservatives in recent decades. Both liberals and conservatives will deny this vociferously of course, but the conservative thought of George Will, who is also included in the book, is a good example of this crossover effect, with his notion of "statecraft through soulcraft", which sounds suspiciously like the belief from liberalism that governmental institutions should be used to promote beneficial social change. The next article entitled `Liberalism, Classical' offers more insight into the nature and philosophy of liberalism, and in fact reinforces this `crossover' effect between the liberal and conservative camps, albeit in a much longer time scale (on the order of a few centuries rather than decades).
It is very surprising to see an article on Ayn Rand appear in this book, given that she chose to distance herself from `conservative' thought throughout her lifetime. She also despised `Whittaker Chambers' due to his extremely negative review of one of her novels. But an article on Whittaker Chambers of course appears in this book. The ideological distance between Chambers and Rand is infinite but they find themselves in close proximity in this book, separated only by a little over six hundred pages. They both are no doubt turning over in their graves over this inclusion, but if the truth be told, Rand does qualify as being a conservative, if one thinks of libertarianism as an element of conservative thought (as it is in this book, having an entire article devoted to its elucidation). Rand's atheism is no doubt one of her most annoying features, but ironically, the renowned Sidney Hook, who is also included in this book, and who was mentor to Leonard Piekoff, Rand's designated heir, was also an atheist. His atheism was apparently excused however, due possibly to his strong anti-communist stance (but Rand was strongly anti-communist?). Edward S. Shapiro, who wrote the article on Hook in the book, is careful to note that Hook did not believe in the "goodness of mankind", and it is fair to say that most conservatives consider it naive or misguided to believe otherwise. They stumble greatly here though, since statistically most people throughout history have conducted themselves honorably, even if measured by a conservative yardstick. To believe in the "goodness of mankind" is to accept the overwhelming evidence supporting the belief.
Conservatives though, it might be fair to say, have had some difficulties with empirical reasoning, and this is especially true in the scientific realm. This is brought out to some degree in the article entitled "Science and Scientism" by M.D. Aeschliman. Scientific and technological progress is at odds with most conservative thought, due to the latter's anathema for change. Most of the article concerns the effect of "scientism" on the individual person in that it negates purpose and meaning. C.S. Lewis (who is also written about in the book) is quoted in this article as support for the alienating effects of scientism, and its capacity for the "abolition of man." But interestingly, the area of science that studies human behavior and its connection with the brain, namely neuroscience, seems to support to some degree conservative thought, due to its contention that thought patterns via neuronal processes are heavily influenced by cultural inputs and are difficult to change once they are learned. On the other hand, neuroscience, and science in general, has learned to live without the concept of a soul, and even some research circles in neuroscience have given up even the notion of free will and personal identity. These two notions are hard for conservatives (and liberals) to give up, with the prospect of doing so even considered extremely frightening. The scientific doctrine of evolution is also of great concern to conservatives, as one will notice in the articles in the book, one being on the Scopes trial.
The only troubling omission in the book is an article entitled "War" or one that would shed more light on the conservative philosophy of war. The article on Neoconservativism says a lot, as does their behavior in real life, but one would like to see an article that compares the different schools of conservative thought on war. Many individuals, who refer to themselves as conservatives, and who are popular in the national press, such as George Will and Patrick Buchanan, have come out strongly against the current conflicts.
As this book reveals, sometimes succinctly, conservative thought and liberal thought are intertwined, and to omit any influence of liberalism on conservatism (and vice versa) is to destroy both systems. One cannot view them as two separate dogmas, and both will have to deal with the unique challenges of the twenty-first century. Maybe one could say that conservatives generally view themselves as cautious and pragmatic, while liberals generally view themselves as future pointing and idealistic. But the twenty-first century is about change, extremely drastic change, and conservatives are intimidated by change, even perhaps frightened by it. It is difficult to predict what elements of conservative (and liberal) thought will survive this century, but whatever strands are left will no doubt be chastened by radical technological changes. The technology itself will create its own ideas, its own history, and its own politics, all of which it might indeed classify as being conservative.
on October 31, 2006
~American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia~ is an insightful encyclopedic compendium offering a survey of the American conservative movement and its diverse elements. The publisher Intercollegiate Studies Institute makes it clear that the focus is upon a distinctively American conservative movement, particularly in its postwar mold following the Depression and World War II. This insightful reference book covers a litany of iconic personalities, people, events, organizations, and concepts of major importance to the American conservative movement. One thing ISI does surprisingly well is achieve a balance while allowing for a profile of an older traditional conservative thought. In the twentieth century, the political fortunes of conservatism are too often measured merely by the successes of the Republican Party. This encyclopedic reference, however, points readers to a diverse, broad conservative movement within the United States. To many outsiders, the conservative movement suffers from a crisis of identity as avowed neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, traditionalists, libertarians, and those who simply call themselves "conservatives," cling to the conservative movement. However, as this encyclopedia makes clear, the diversity of the movement is its strength, and the ensuing debates between its varied elements, has contributed to the advancement of the nation. The American conservative movement will perhaps allow for a brighter future for ordered liberty, a renewed culture and a more vibrant civil society. Herein, this volume, the student finds an erudite window into that American conservative movement. Understanding the movement, its history, and its impact, is integral to sustaining its impact on society for the better in the twenty-first century.
This powerful tome features articles from one of my former professors Dr. S.A. Samson as well.