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American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party Hardcover – July 19, 2011
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Guest Reviewer: John Calvin Batchelor on American Individualism by Margaret Hoover
In American Individualism, Margaret Hoover focuses on what we know so far of the Millennial generation of 20- and 30-somethings who voted 2 to 1 for Barack Obama in 2008. The Millennials welcomed the campaigning Obama's theme of hope and change; yet today they often feel ignored and helpless in the Great Recession and the stagnant Obama administration recovery. Margaret Hoover argues that the Millennials are now open to either of the major parties--or to no politics at all--and that the Republicans can gain the loyalty of the next generation of leaders by emphasizing tolerance, certainty and common sense. Margaret Hoover opens her quest with an anecdote from the 2004 election of George W. Bush, when she realized that the Republicans were deaf to the ambitions and assumptions of the youngest voters with issues as critical as same-sex marriage, immigration, and abortion, and she turned to this extended essay to correct the errors. Margaret Hoover is the great-granddaughter of President Herbert Hoover; she speaks carefully of Hebert Hoover's essay by the same title as this book, "American Individualism," which Hoover published in 1922 while he served the Harding administration as Secretary of Commerce. Herbert Hoover meant "American individualism" as a superior form of governance in competition with Communism, socialism, syndicalism, capitalism and autocracy. Margaret Hoover argues that her great-grandfather was an enthusiastic globalist who presented American individualism as an antidote to what he called "will-o'-the wisp of all breeds of socialism" that preaches altruism while it practices a cynical leveling that leaves bosses in charge.
Margaret Hoover emphasizes a reawakening of American individualism to counter the cynicism of the Federal government. Also, she joins her great-grandfather in seeing that American individualism is under assault not only by the dictator powers and the European Utopians but also by American politicians who aggrandize themselves with pious preaching of shared sacrifices, by which they mean higher taxes and fees on the so-called rich. Margaret Hoover is not uniformly rosy about the future: the Great Recession has frightened the young voters, the Millennials, into alienation and drift. Margaret Hoover does lay out a plan for attracting the Millennials with what she calls "competence over ideology." American Individualism is an edgily critical look at what the GOP is not doing or saying to attract the next generation. The elders of the GOP--I am one--will not welcome a change of music, but then growing old and moving on are not easy to accept. American Individualism is an earnest, often contrary, impatient measure of the GOP at the edge of another national election in which it can listen to the voice of Herbert Hoover through his great-granddaughter or it can lose the future electorate to Barack Obama and the Utopians.
“It is not her great grandfather’s Republican party anymore. And Margaret Hoover has written a book that old Herbert would enjoy. Sassy, opinionated, and smart, Ms. Hoover shakes up conventional GOP wisdom.”
—Bill O’Reilly, Anchor, Fox News Channel
“Margaret Hoover, a fresh and brilliant young voice in the Republican Party, is bent on connecting the GOP to rising generations of the young. She has something to say to their elders, too. They'd best hear her.”
—Peggy Noonan, columnist, Wall Street Journal
“Margaret Hoover's American Individualism is a must read for every member of the Republican party—elected or otherwise—as a new generation of Republicans try to shine new light on who exactly we should be.”
—Meghan McCain, author of Dirty Sexy Politics
“An insightful and important book”
“Hoover is an engaging personality with timely advice for Republicans. Her book and her message…are helpful guides to candidates and political operatives. And frankly, the Republican Party of New York…might do well to get her on the ballot somewhere in 2012.”
– Washington Post
“The 2012 Republican nominee would do well to take a page from Hoover’s book — a lot of pages.”
– Chicago Sun Times
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Top customer reviews
Margaret Hoover is probably the only writer on the planet who would begin an appeal to twenty-something voters by defending the record and beliefs of Herbert Hoover. But, she is his great granddaughter, and she deserves a little leniency to make her case for the rehabilitation of his image. Although it seems a little out of place it's an interesting chapter and she makes an admirable attempt to connect his conservative beliefs to the approach she believes can unite modern conservatives. (The title of her book is taken from an essay he wrote in 1922.)
Chapter two is a very interesting brief overview of all the conservative "tribes". It's an enlightening quick read on the history of conservative thought and how all the different brands of conservatism came to attach themselves to the Republican Party.
Chapter three is the best chapter in the book. It is a detailed introduction to the Millenial generation and their life experiences and attitudes. It is an eye-opening look at a generation that looks at the world completely differently than their parents' and grandparents' and even the Gen-x'ers just ahead of them. Even the most traditional social conservatives have to take notice of the obvious fact that the Republican Party is not going to win the votes of this generation by preaching to them about gay-marriage, abortion, and immigration, or by ridiculing protection of the environment and even evolution.
Where Ms. Hoover believes the party can appeal to the Millenials is by appealing to their strong belief in individual liberty and by emphasizing to them that current economic policies amount to "generational theft" (chapter four). The Millenials in a nutshell are economic conservatives and social libertarians - a combination that Ms. Hoover believes should form the tent under which conservatives of all stripes can gather. The remaining chapters of the twelve in her book cover individual issues and how she believes the Republican Party can appeal to Millenials and still stay true to the bedrock principles of limited government, free market capitalism, individual liberty, and individual responsibility. She covers gay rights, education reform, women's rights, the pro-choice/pro-life debate, environmentalism, immigration, national security - and how conservatives can take principled stands on these issues and still appeal to the Millenials.
She closes with a chapter on American Exceptionalism - which she believes in - and how Millenials can be convinced to believe in it, also (they mostly don't, now). This is a very well written book and a good read - that explores an approach to the Millenial generation that the Republicans ignore at their peril. It's easy to disagree with some of Margaret Hoover's views on individual issues. But, if her characterization of a generation of fifty million is accurate - I believe it is - it's hard to see how the Republican Party can win elections much farther into the future by failing to win over this generation of voters. She calls for a big tent that will hold all the tribes of conservatism united on the principle of individual liberty - American individualism. It's a book worth reading and an idea worth considering.
I've given Ms. Hoover four stars mainly for political innovativeness. Unfortunately, the missing fifth star is a huge one - her failure to uphold individualism as a moral ideal. Instead, her central principle is "rugged individualism imbued with a community spirit:" "imbued," that is, with "responsibility to serve his or her community ... and country." Although she herself doesn't use the term, given her acknowledged inspiration it's clear that Hoover is speaking here of altruism. In his 1922 book, Herbert Hoover explicitly upholds the "ideal" of altruism as a part of individualism. Ms. Hoover greatly weakens her case for freedom by emulating her great grandfather in this regard; justifying individualism through altruistic "tempering", which she calls "community spirit." But individualism and altruism are antipodes.
Individualism recognizes each individual as the owner of his/her own life, with the pursuit of his own goals, values, purposes, welfare, and happiness by his own independent mind and efforts, as his moral right. Altruism holds the good of others, not oneself, as every individual's moral obligation and purpose. Individualism requires and leads to individual rights, free markets, and limited, rights-protecting government. Altruism leads to group supremacy and omnipotent, redistributionist government. By attempting to reconcile these two premises, Ms. Hoover fractures her case, pulling it apart in opposite directions like a tug-of-war. On the one hand, she upholds essential elements of a free society, such as the "individual[`s] freedom ... to make moral choices on his or her own behalf; ...to make the best use of his or her creative spark, and to enjoy the benefits of hard work and special talents; ... [and to accept] responsibility ... for the choices he or she makes." At the same time, she upholds the validity of the "principles that the New Deal and Great Society programs introduced;" principles that statists advance in the name of "social welfare" or the "common good" and that deny the individual freedom in such important personal realms as retirement planning (Social Security), healthcare (Medicare and by extension ObamaCare), and charity (Medicaid, and later SCHIP)." Hoover's unfortunate contradiction awards statists a potent weapon - the moral high ground.
Given individualism's inherently egoistic nature, Republicans would do better to fuse "American Individualism" with the ethics of rational self-interest advanced in the groundbreaking moral theories of philosopher Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged), whom Hoover credits as a "leading light" of modern conservatism only in the narrow category of "economic libertarianism." But Rand, who rejected "libertarianism," was about much more than free markets: She was a moral revolutionary, and in this regard has much to offer pro-freedom elements of American conservatism and liberty advocates generally. Among her major philosophic contributions is a badly needed systematic moral defense of individualism, free market capitalism, and the Founding Fathers' revolutionary political ideals.
Despite the serious ethical contradiction inherent in her central thesis, however, Hoover is a political innovator who seeks to point the GOP in the right direction, and deserves strong - albeit qualified - support from liberty lovers. Both within the GOP and in the nation at large, her proposal could reorient America's political debate around the central conflict - individualism vs. collectivism. It could infuse our politics with a broad, vital debate on ethics, the rights of the individual, the proper role of government, and the fundamental nature of individualism itself. By calling on the GOP to be a principled, consistent advocate of individualism - even a significantly flawed conception of it - we may finally get "a choice not an echo" against the Obama Democrats' crusading collectivism. Should the GOP be serious and farsighted enough to adopt Hoover's basic strategy, we may begin to turn America's political tide away from the approaching abyss of totalitarian socialism.