- Paperback: 660 pages
- Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 30th anniversary edition (October 31, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1933859121
- ISBN-13: 978-1933859125
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 30th anniversary Edition
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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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Nash, likewise, traces the formation of the conservative movement in America from its antecedent roots in the scattered musings of former Jeffersonian liberals turned anti-Jacksonian reactionaries (Randolph of Roanoke and John C. Calhoun most importantly), but the heart of his book rests post-1945 with three major groups that emerged: the libertarians, traditionalist conservatives, and the slow drift of a contingent group of anti-communist liberals who became weary about the rise of the New Left (we call these former Democrats, liberals, and even in some cases anti-Stalinist socialists the “neoconservatives” today).
Nash argues that these three groups are not actually aligned with each other but merged together in a mutual alliance during the Cold War (this might explain why the “conservative” movement and the Republican Party has been slowly fracturing ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union between these three major groups). He first starts with the libertarians, who, as he notes, actually didn’t embrace any American philosophy but a European philosophy—Austrianism (Austrian economics and a mixed attitude towards the New Deal). These libertarians were displeased with the increasing social welfarism promoted in Europe, first by European conservatives, then by European liberals, and then by European social democrats. They flocked to the English-speaking world, which was always more liberal than the rest of Europe, but found themselves disappointed that Anglo-American liberals were building a welfare state of their own. The libertarians, Nash argues, were fighting a (losing) war to roll back the regulatory systems and policies of the New Deal.
He then moves to the traditionalists, whom we might call “social conservatives” today. These traditionalists are, unlike the libertarians and anti-communist liberals turned neoconservatives, actual conservatives (libertarians and the anti-communist liberals turned neoconservatives have very little in common with anything that historically has been considered conservative thinking). The traditionalists “rediscovered” religion in the wake of horrors of World War I and World War II. These traditionalists argued that man’s depraved nature, mixed with demagogic politics and the mass mobilization of society to achieve a literal “heaven on earth” caused the terror, destruction, and carnage of the twentieth century. Moreover, they revolted against the old Enlightenment liberal metanarrative of progress: reason, capitalism, industrialization, democratic politics, and science were all leading to happier, healthier, longer, and more peaceful lives. The traditionalists rejected all, “rediscovered religion”, and promoted “traditional values” to safeguard against the march to destruction, war, and totalitarianism. This is why social conservatives are obsessed with notions like the nuclear family, (institutional) religion, and “traditional” morality—these are the bulwarks against chaos, immorality, terror, and demagoguery that led to the totalitarian movements of fascism and communism, two world wars, and a naïve optimism that technology, rationality, and economic development can be substituted for “salvation” on earth.
Lastly, Nash deals with the anti-communist liberals, whom some might erroneously call conservatives today, but back in the 1940s and 1950s, were liberal-minded people. Most supported the New Deal, some even embraced Civil Rights and LBJ’s Great Society. These anti-communist liberals, long the bedrock of the modern Democratic Party starting with Woodrow Wilson, suddenly turned about-face in the wake of the Counter Cultural Revolution of the 1960s—which was not, as often promoted, a rebellion against conservative values as much as it was a rebellion against bourgeois values (liberal values: reason, capitalism—money—, anti-communist foreign policy, and internationalism). These anti-communist liberals where aghast when George McGovern, a favorite among the New Left “hippies” and “soft on communism” leftists captured the Democratic Party nomination (to prevent this from happening again, the Democrats established the “Super Delegate” system to prevent a leftwing candidate from ever being nominated again). These anti-communist liberals morphed into the neoconservatives, some remained Democrats until they died (like Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington State), many others however joined the Republican Party after Reagan was elected in 1980 on a hardline anti-communist position.
Nash also deals a lot of time with William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review, the magazine he established post-war to channel conservative thought. Buckley and the National Review editors carefully managed to bring all three groups into an alliance. Buckley and NR convinced the libertarians that the New Deal State was a necessary evil to defeat the Soviet Union, afterward, dismantling the New Deal State could commence (but only after victory in the Cold War). And the libertarians accepted this because the "big-government" welfare state of the New Deal was a better alternative than the totalitarian Stalinist system promoted by Moscow. NR also brought in social conservative views, many of the editors and writers (Buckley among them) were fairly religious individuals (not like the show-off Evangelicals of today) and they often wrote passionately and favorably about religion (while not “thumping a Bible” to make a point or two). The traditionalists, whom were actually favorable toward the New Deal for economic reasons (many came from rural and poor backgrounds), became convinced the Cold War was a cosmic theological drama between the forces of Christian religion (the United States and Western Europe) against the forces of Satanic communism and atheism (the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc). Lastly, NR provided an outlet for disgruntled anti-communist liberals about the “pro-communist/pro-Moscow” left making in-roads in the Democratic Party (in reality, more-or-less anti-war leftists protesting Vietnam moreover than having an affinity with the Soviet Union). It’s very obvious that Nash shares much sympathy for Buckley, “Fusionism” (the attempt to combine all these ‘conservative’ views together), and NR in his work. Thus, through Buckley, all three movements formed an alliance (even though they had their own divisions: the traditionalists were not pro-free market capitalist like the libertarians, whom didn't really care about religion and "traditional" values like the traditionalists, whom were viewed as being silly reactionaries by the pro-New Deal anti-communist liberals) due to a mutual enemy found in the Soviet Union. [This mutual enemy is something American conservatives have desperately trying to replace ever since 1991 and have seemed to, more-or-less, gather around Islam as the new common enemy--just my opinion]
Nash eruditely shows how these three movements came into fruition after WWII, where they differed, how they became aligned (all were mutually allied against the Soviet Union in the Cold War), and highlights how this rag-tag collection of various movements and people became the “Movement Conservatives” who tried to establish some sense of a conservative tradition in an otherwise very liberal (in the Enlightenment sense) nation whose liberal traditions go back further than 1776, but all the way to the original settlers and colonists. Moreover Nash includes decent commentary on important political philosophers like Leo Strauss (who has been demonized by Ron Paul and his followers) and Willmore Kendall (a friend of Buckley and co-founder of NR) and their contributions to conservatism in America.
Nash has been criticized, however, for not mentioning much on the issue of race in the formation of conservative thought. Here, I have to agree with Nash. Racism is not a “conservative” phenomenon—although it is true that some conservatives do hold to xenophobic and racist views. Racism has historically been promoted by liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, romantics, progressives, and everyone in between. It is equally true that liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, romantics, progressives and everyone else in between have opposed racism and promoted civil rights—some more than others who wrongly get all the credit.
For anyone who considered himself, or herself, a conservative, this is a much needed work to understand why conservatism is actually a rather new movement in American history, and where conservatism in America draws its inspiration from. For those interested in an honest discussion, history, and evolution of conservatism in America (like I am), then this is also an important book to own rather than read some cheap anti-conservative dribble spewed by certain people in the media and larger American Academy. But here, I will take Nash to task.
Nash’s Conservative Intellectual Movement since 1945 mostly deals with conservatism after 1945, but I find it curious that he never deals with the issue of federalism and Alexander Hamilton like he does (albeit briefly) with Randolph or Calhoun (whom were chosen as the arbiters of a conservative tradition in America). Many historians and political scientists consider the Federalist Party of Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, and George Washington (not a member, but very sympathetic toward) as the foundation for “conservatism” in America. (It is true that these men and Hamilton’s philosophy can also be viewed as having been liberal, after all, they were all Enlightenment men—but in comparison to Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton was “less liberal” and more pseudo-aristocratic therefore many have dubbed his movement “conservative” just to juxtapose against Jeffersonian liberalism.) I am of the view, with the majority of political philosophers and historians, that Hamilton and his philosophy of federalism (while not being conservatism in the same tradition of conservatism in Europe) is the closest reflection to a conservative tradition in America. While Nash highlights what we call “modern conservatism” coming into existence after 1945, I’m at a loss why he doesn’t at least deal spend a little time discussing why these Movement Conservatives passed Hamilton (and they passed Jefferson too, remember) in favor of Randolph and Calhoun. Having read Russell Kirk (whom Nash mentions a lot in this book), I have my own theories as to why Randolph and Calhoun have loomed large for modern conservatives at the expense of Hamilton (whom has now become a favorite of many liberals at the expense of the more liberal Thomas Jefferson—the great ironies and paradoxes of American culture!).
Nevertheless, Nash’s book is about as solid (and unbiased, even if Nash himself was /is a “Movement Conservative”) read on American conservatism as one can find. In the end, however, students of philosophy may find Nash’s work less than satisfying since he strays from conventional philosophical understandings of conservatism and lumps, in particular, two non-conservative philosophies (libertarianism and anti-communist liberalism) into the conservative mold with the traditionalists (who are conservative in every sense of the word). Students who really want to look at where “conservatism” comes from, however, need to include this on their reading list.
There are some significant limitations. Despite Nash's serious effort to give a broad view of the conservative movement, this is something of a National Review version of the conservative movement. There is no treatment of fundamentalist conservatism or its theological underpinnings. Also symptomatic of the limitations of Nash's approach is the treatment of Ayn Rand. The latter is discussed only in the context of the reception of her writings by figures that Nash considers central to the movement. Rand may not have had very good ideas (one critic, cruelly but accurately referred to her as a pseudo-philosopher) but she did have ideas and has been influential. Its likely that more people have come to the libertarian version of conservatism via the Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged than through the pages of the National Review. Nash's view of the mainstream of the movement tends to ignore popular but important figures like Rand.
Another problem with Nash's narration is that he often fails to provide context for the writings under discussion. Nash is generally sympathetic to the conservative movement and many of the writers he discusses. This is generally good because he takes them seriously and writes insightfully about their work. There are times, however, when some critical distance would be useful. For example, it would be worth mentioning that the Spanish "christian social order" much admired by L. Brent Bozell was Franco's regime, or that J. James Kilpatrick's "able polemic" of 1957 was an effort to defend Jim Crow, or that the influential Richard Weaver's inspirational view of the antebellum American South was a romantic delusion.
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.