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The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 Paperback – October 31, 2006
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When this book was first published in 1976, Ronald Reagan was a governor and Newt Gingrich a college professor. Today, it is the single best source of information on the intellectuals who built modern American conservatism. A new epilogue tries to bridge the gap of two decades, but this contemporary classic's real value lies in its thoughtful account of what happened in the 30 years following World War II. By combining history and political theory, it tells how a diverse group of thinkers that included William F. Buckley, Jr., Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Irving Kristol, Leo Strauss and others laid the philosophical groundwork for Reagan's presidency and Gingrich's speakership. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book is not strictly chronological in its discussion. Nash begins with one chapter apiece on each of the three principal strands of American conservatism post World War II: libertarianism, traditionalism, and anti-communism. Each strand is discussed chronologically and in terms of its principal proponents, leading works, publications, organizations, roots and, of course, theory.
Subsequent chapters discuss the efforts of these three groups to cooperate and to consolidate, the efforts to find specifically American roots for conservative ideas, and the growth of the conservative movement in the thirty years or so following 1945. An Epilogue written for the 1996 edition discusses subsequent changes in American conservatism, including neoconservatism and the religious right.
The title correctly identifies the subject matter of the book -- it is a history of an intellectual movement, and only secondarily a political history. Certain watershed events in contemporary conservatism (the McCarthy investigations, the election campaign of Barry Goldwater, and similar) are touched upon, but principally as phenomena to which conservatives react or by which they are shaped.
I have to make one thing quite clear, as the author does in the Introduction: This is a book about intellectuals, not about politicians and campaigns. It's a book about the academic roots of modern American Conservatism, not to be confused with so-called neo-Conservatism or Evangelicalism. No, no, this is not a book about religion.
Nash proposes that modern American Conservatism comes from the gradual convergence of three important, critical analyses of American society after World War 2. First, the Libertarians reacted against what they believed was encroaching state control (i.e. FDR's New Deal) on personal freedom. Second, the Southern Agrarians believed that industrial society's ultimate goal was banal, mindless consumerism, and that traditional, hierarchical models of society should be preserved to protect what is sublime, honorable and sacred. Third, the anti-Communists reacted directly to the threat posed by new authoritarian regimes on legal [particularly property] rights. The author believes that Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and William F. Buckley led those schools of thought, respectively. Nash suggests that the excesses of the McCarthy era (on the Right) and the late 1960s (on the Left) encouraged these great minds to come together, on common ground, to debate the fundamental issue: What's worth saving?
How Nash tracks the debates and intellectual cross-connecting of these ideas is masterful and exhilarating work. Though originally published in 1976, the third edition includes a new final chapter, a new introduction, and extension of the original thesis into the 21st century. This is required reading for anyone wishing to better understand what it means to be American... Left, Right or Center.