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The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right Paperback – October 9, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
As editor of the New Republic and on his blog The Daily Dish, Sullivan has been a major conservative voice in U.S. politics for 15 years. Now, he attempts "to account for what one individual person means by conservatism"—not repudiating his former political beliefs but trying to "rescue" modern U.S. political conservatism from "the current [Christian] fundamentalist supremacy" that now dominates it. Sullivan (Love Undetectable) has a breezy, readable style that allows him to address such diverse issues as religious fundamentalism's reliance on "the literal words of the Bible," the "excessive witch-hunt" surrounding Clinton, and the secular Enlightenment foundations of the Constitution. He's most approachable when he writes autobiographically through a critical lens—"Looking back I see this phase of my faith life as a temporary and neurotic reaction to a new and bewildering school environment." But that reflection is not as readily apparent when he makes sweeping pronouncements on politics ("post-modern discourse... opposed basic notions of Western freedom: of speech, of trade, of religion"). Much of the book is a meditation on his own evolving faith as a devout Catholic and will appeal most to readers interested in personal religious evolution. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Andrew Sullivan is one of today's most provocative social and political commentators. An essayist for Time magazine, a columnist for The Sunday Times of London, and a senior editor at The New Republic, he is also the editor of "The Daily Dish," one of the most widely read political blogs on the Web. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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The second half of The Conservative Soul deals with a philosophical examination of conservatism and I think that the second half of the book is much more interesting and thought-provoking.
The conservatism that he remembers - this book is a philosophical memoir -from the Thatcher years is no longer recognizable in the policies of the present-day Republican Party, neither in Congress nor at the White House. The GOP is now the party of deficit spending, big government, bribery, corruption, sex scandals, foreign wars, nation building, and more federal involvement in healthcare and education. The direction of the Republican Party has alienated many of the traditional conservatives that I have previously reviewed in this space such as Kevin Phillips and Francis Fukuyama. Even though Sullivan supported the war in Iraq, he now feels that it has become something he can no longer support.
Sullivan argues that the conservative movement - if you can call it that - has been hijacked by religious fundamentalists. When I reviewed Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy," I felt that Philips was overstating the threat of fundamentalism. I thought fundamentalists were pandered to during election years and forgotten in between. However, after reading this book, I can see how the fundamentalist mindset has taken hold and is leading this country in the wrong direction.
The category of fundamentalism, as Sullivan uses the term, is a very broad one. A fundamentalist is someone who sees only one truth - his or her own - and will not tolerate any dissent or political pluralism. With this definition he lumps together Communists, Nazis, Islamic jihadists as well as extremist Jews and Christians. Religious fundamentalists reject not only liberal democracy but the very notion that religion should be relegated to the private sphere. Admittedly there are many shades of extremism, but this is the virus that is now afflicting the Republican Party.
In this book Sullivan argues for a more modest and temperate brand of conservatism, one that is more open-minded, sceptical, and tolerant of political diversity. This conservatism of doubt borrows heavily from Michael Oakeshott, a British Philosopher who was the subject of Sullivan's doctoral dissertation at Harvard. According to Sullivan, "the defining characteristic of the conservative is that he knows what he doesn't know." (Not to be mistaken with Rumsfeld's known unknowns, they were empirical unknowns rather than metaphysical.) Think of the conservatism of William F Buckley or George F Will, both of whom feel very secure in what they don't know. Conservatives don't know what change or reform will bring so they are against it. (To "stand athwart history" as Buckley would say.) A conservatism of doubt believes that there are few things the government can correctly, therefore things are better left to the private sphere. Minding one's own business, is a very modest philosophy.
With the results of the midterm elections, I think the Republican Party will rediscover the modesty and the open-mindedness that Sullivan is arguing for. I hope that the Democrats also retain some of these values that they should have learned during their 12 years in the wilderness. So far they are not yet your parents' Democrats.
As an estranged moderate Republican who believes in a balanced budget, smaller government, and minimalist interference in state, local, and individual rights not assigned to the federal government by the Constitution (and also the elimination of central banks that are NOT authorized by the Constitution), I found provocation, solace, and humor in this book (the discussion of the role of the penis and its eternal sperm, in relation to fundamentalist strictures and fears, is alone worth the price of the book).
Gifted turns of phrases as well as erudite references to both ancient and modern philosopher-kings abound. I especially likes "Immoral decisions, in other words, are like environmental pollutants" (page 125), and on page 209, "In this nonfundamentalists understanding of faith, practice is more imporant than theory, love more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle."
The author's real life as a gay man who has survived AIDS no doubt infuriates the fundamentalists and the less hypocritical evangelists, but this is part and parcel of his qualifications--he completely trashes both the incumbent President and the Christian extremist fundamentalists that have substituted dogma for dialog.
This is a personal essay. It is neither a summary nor a substitute for the many other books I have reviewed on both the left and the right, and so I end by saying that the book gets five stars for its extra leavening of philosophical reasoning, but I urge those who find favor in this book to throw a wider net, or at least read my reviews of the last 25 books on ideology, religion, faith, Iraq, and the impeachable offenses of Bush-Cheney.
he became disenchanted with what he calls the fundamentalist wing of the
current Republican party. His brand of conservatism is Burkean; he considers that the prevailing ideology of the current administration is
not conservative at all, but springs from a tradition of literal evangelism. Some chapters are better than others. The chapter
on sexuality seems labored and occupies more of the book than it should. On the whole, it is an honest and thoughtful book and would be useful reading for people who shared Sullivan's early enthusiasms for the Rovian revolution.