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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly broad brushstrokes of history, August 14, 2008
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This review is from: White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (Hardcover)
I've been curious for many years. We can talk about various economic or political systems as if they're acceptable. But one about which we cannot speak without being treated like we've used inappropriate language is "Communism." It struck me that the "conservatives" must have a pretty powerful platform since we can't even talk about that concept except negatively.

This volume I read not long after completing Alan Dawley's "Struggles for Justice," while listening to David Halberstram's "The Coldest Winter: American and the Korean War," and while reading a fine article by Thomas Frank in "Harper's" magazine about the neo-cons in today's government. Combined, they paint a fairly clear picture of the "evolution" of American conservatism.

The book is set up both chronologically and thematically; one can see the "evolution" (thought some might think of is as devolution) of America's right wing throughout the years. And that mix made the book compelling.

The book's first chapter is entitled "The Birth of the Modern Right: 1920 - 1928." Conventional wisdom seems to attribute the beginning of the "modern right" to the era of Goldwater, but Lichtman thinks it took place quite a bit earlier. This was the post-WWI era. During that war, Americans had to be stimulated by the Creel Commission, or Committee on Public Information to despise the heathen Huns (Germans). After the war, that zeal went against the bomb-throwing Bolsheviks. And this was the era of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

What the "right" feared later took place when Franklin Roosevelt was elected. Lichtman seems to make clear--as have other authors--that Roosevelt wasn't some red-flag waving socialist. (Indeed, years ago I researched an article on Social Security in which I learned that Roosevelt used that and other economic benefits to sustain the system, not destroy it!) But by the time of Roosevelt's election, the anti-Communist fervor had been thoroughly institutionalized. So it was, indeed, used by many on the "right" to discredit the New Deal.

Subsequent to that experiment were born institutions like the John Birch Society and other far-right organizations which had credibility for a while.

Interestingly, by the way, when the book covers the Goldwater era, the author suggests that after Goldwater's defeat was when the right decided to regroup and rethink its strategy.

A name that came up many, many times in the book was J. Howard Pew. His foundation helped to fund many a right wing cause throughout much of the 20th century. (Indeed, without that foundation, many of such causes wouldn't have been able to survive). And the theme structure of the book led into later in the century, I think it was during the 70s, that many more foundations became the backbone of the right. Two that come to mind are Scaife and Bradley.

Another "theme" that evolved was the right's use of "think tanks." The American Enterprise Institute had been somewhat of a think tank earlier in the century. But, Lichtman points out, AEI was "pluralist." Later right wing think tanks included Heritage Foundation, which wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for great grants from foundations like the ones to which I referred. And they were anti-pluralist.

Another even more disturbing theme was that social science research was traditionally, like that of the "hard" sciences, scholarly. In other words, journals were peer reviewed, studied by others, and found to be credible. As the "right" became more institutionalized in the 1980s and 90s, some of that academic rigor disappeared. And then you had documents such as Hernstein and Murray's "Bell Curve"--and countless others-- which had not undergone any rigorous evaluation but appeared to have some credence because of the institution from which it came.

A subject of which I was unaware until I read this book is that Reagan was seen by many a conservative as being too liberal. Indeed, what appeared a little disconcerting about the text is that Lichtman seemed to justify some of Reagan's actions because of their apparent "success." Only later in the text did he list the consequences, e.g., the widened gap between the rich and poor, and the massive federal deficit.

The book finally got to our present state of affairs in which we have a fairly far right presidency, which, while claiming to be conservative, is really quite statist in more ways than many would like. Indeed, that section kind of summarized what had been repeated many times throughout the book: that while "conservatives" insist on rugged individualism and laissez fair economics, when they can get a piece of the action, they'll be the first ones in line to take it. And that's the depth of the hypocrisy of the allegedly conservative.

In any case, two words that I noticed were repeated again and again:

1) "anti-pluralist" I guess that's where the "Protestant" theme came from in the title. The conservatives struggled against Jews, Catholics, anyone representing any deviation from a pretty small segment of humanity. (Yes, there were occasional accessions to Catholics, on issues such as abortion, for example. But by and large they were rejected.).

2) Authority. Any time the prevailing, conservative movement was threatened, they appealed to "tradition" and its overwhelming theme "authority." It's interesting to see how such a concept can be used!

Now, I must confess that it's difficult to review this volume well without having taken extensive notes while reading it. There's a lot of material there. There are names I didn't cover in here, e.g., Sun Myung Moon, whose influence was referred to, and many others. Fortunately, as I've said, it's well written, and hard to put down. I cannot do it adequate justice in the space I'm allowed for a review. But it will grace my shelf as a reference book when I read similarly themed volumes in the future.
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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 15, 2008 12:22:25 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 28, 2008 1:45:00 PM PDT]

Posted on Sep 1, 2008 8:09:24 AM PDT
Interesting. A comment: I would emphasize that the conservatives have extensively used so-called 'think tanks' to their great advantage to influence media coverage of issues from A to Z. They were way ahead of liberals and even seem to have taken over the once liberal Brookings Institution. Follow the money. Example, Exxon funds think tanks that question climate change science.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2008 8:41:31 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 17, 2011 11:46:12 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2008 5:48:15 PM PDT
Good review, Timothy. Good enough that I wish you HAD taken notes and written more completely.
You wrote..."...while "conservatives" insist on rugged individualism and laissez fair economics, when they can get a piece of the action, they'll be the first ones in line to take it. And that's the depth of the hypocrisy of the allegedly conservative." Yup. What's the definition of a neo-conservative? ..(..a libertarian once he's in office.)
"Never trust a libertarian hungry for power."

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 1, 2008 3:37:47 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2008 10:56:30 AM PDT
Guys, the depth and breadth of your understanding of conservative thought and ideals is stunning. If not for it's utter lack of a third dimension, I would call this missive on conservatism a tall tale. I have no doubt that Tim read this book well, but not sure he's read any others on the subject (those not written by Al Franken or some other hack of his same stripe anyway). "The Conservative Bookshelf", Buckley Jr., Ayn Rand, Garrett, Locke, Burke, Waugh and lastly, just to make you all mad ... Coulter!!! ;-) Couldn't resist ... before your heads explode, she's a polemicist, and not my favorite "conservative". It is funny how she gives you libs and guys like Franken and the foot-in-mouth club on the Hill screamin fits though. Still, she's a little shrill for my taste ... ya'll have fun with the reading, and when you're tired of whining about how nobody ever lets liberals finish first, just have a virtual tour of John "Cheats on Dying Wife" Edward's multi-million dollar home. Maybe reconcile your first notion above with the fact that Pat Buchanan IS Catholic ... Roman Catholic. Now, ask yourself ... is Pat Buchanan one of your storied "conservatives"? (Note, this *might* be a trick question!)

I say, "Never trust a liberal with the power of taxation." You see, I agree with G. Gordon Liddy ... "A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man; a debt he proposes to pay off with your money." The idea of socialism applies to Obama the same as it applied to FDR and a few before him as well as many after. There are clues all around ... "Social" Security is an excellent example. Government housing is another. Not only do these represent socialist entitlements alive and well in a supposedly free economy, but they also illustrate (by their utterly hopeless failure) why socialism (no matter how many intelligentia eggheads think it'd be great!) is destined to fail, anywhere and anytime it is tried on this planet. Human nature won't allow it to succeed. Perhaps in a different race of beings, where we can stop calling each other names over something as silly as starting two world wars! As a man of German heritage, I resent being called a Hun in such modern times as these! ;-)

Incidentally, Hernstein/Murray were right. There exists a "Bell Curve" phenomenon in this country, and likely the world. I don't expect you to like it, nor would I endeavor to prove it. I will say only this. After 4 generations of teachers in the family, you've had an opportunity to see genetics theories proven out in the field. As that book states, there are very few surprises in this matter. IQ is largely heriditary, and I wish it weren't so ... I wish everyone really was dead-stock equal at birth, but we aren't. I wish some of the commentary of Jimmy The Greek and later Chris Rock weren't true, but it simply is ... (referencing : "10% of the US, and 90% of the NCAA is black"). Genetic code determines soooo much ... in fact, all of you guys probably have stark-raving liberals for parents, don't ya? :-) I'll bet none of you sat by while your Dad cheered McCarthy on to victory (he was right, btw, there were spies in the State Dept. ... and McCarthy was never on the HUAC ... having never served in the House ...).

No? Well, c'mon and give it a try! You'll suddenly have the luxury of preaching laissez faire economics until you can get in on the action, then jump line to take your share first ... then, when the inflated dollar fizzles, causing uproar in the financial markets, as well as the real estate markets, you can watch home values plunge. Once that happens, morgage-backed securities will tank, and you're left with a whole economy on the brink of a major meltdown. Then, (as new conservatives, with your days of wetting your beaks in the profits and prosperity over and behind you), you can join the rest of us in thanking the Clinton administration and their 'Fairness in Lending' crap and "Liar's Loans" (socialism, resource reallocation, field-leveling, whatever you want to call it), and settle in to a rousing chorus of "The World Would be Better If". The fact is, liberals represent many things that are good and righteous in the world, and I admire your idealism. Concurrently, someone has to run the world, try to ensure prosperity both TOMORROW as well as today, and basically keep you guys from running around with scissors all the time. "Careful with that Marxism, Timmy! You'll fall and hurt yourself!"

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2008 12:48:37 PM PDT
Tim ain't a Marxist. He's not that exciting.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 15, 2008 5:09:06 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 17, 2011 11:46:22 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 15, 2008 5:30:42 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 17, 2011 11:46:22 AM PDT]

Posted on Oct 17, 2008 7:06:31 AM PDT
Stop being so touchy Tim. By the way, you said your wife was a nun? Depending on what she looks like, that could be hot. Pardon me for being ever so bold but do you and her ever do roleplaying or fantasy with that? Like, does she still have any of her nun outfits? (Just a Q not trying to start nothing)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2008 8:05:26 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 17, 2011 11:46:23 AM PDT]
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