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The Death of Conservatism: A Movement and Its Consequences Paperback – October 19, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Tanenhaus' capsule history of American conservatism begins with a nostalgic review of the movement's intellectual forefathers-Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley-and culminates in an analysis of its run off the rails during the George W. Bush administration, when the ideas-driven conservatism of the postwar era was obliterated by a generation of ideological lockstep and inept governance. Alan Sklar's capable and smooth reading gets the material across but is marked by the occasional jarring misnomer (it is William F., not William E., Buckley). Nevertheless, he ably renders dry political battles of the past as high intellectual drama. A Random hardcover (Reviews, Jul. 6).
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.
“Impeccably well-written book insightfully summarizes the highs and lows of American conservatism over the decades.”—Publishers Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Distilled to its essence (hardly needed in that it is a very quick read), Tanenhaus' argument is that the two great pillars of American society are its political institutions and what Tanenhaus would call its patrimonial or traditional social institutions such as schools, churches, corporations, unions, etc. Although liberals and conservatives may disagree on which pillar is more important, the fact is BOTH are required for the county's stability. Tanenhaus goes on to argue that when the conservative movement was most dynamic and effective, it produced great intellectual figures such as Burke or Buckley who could articulate their positions and formulate policies that took into account both these foundational pillars, and pragmatic politicians such as Regan who could work with both their allies and enemies to put these ideas into place. He notes that that this cooperation between the "thinkers" and the "do-ers" wasn't a marriage of convenience, it was absolutely essential to moving the agenda forward...the intellectuals were keen on developing rationales that made sense to the broader public, which paved the way for the politicians to actually implement conservative policies. Tanenhaus goes on to strongly emphasize that the great conservative thinkers and politicians were above all practical, not blindly ideological--Buckley strongly denounced extremists such as the John Birch Society, and Regan made clear he was a fan of the New Deal.
Tanenhaus argues that conservatism is dying today because the right has abandoned this whole apparatus from the ground up: politicians are forced to be ideological instead of practical, they have divorced themselves from rigorous thinkers and locked themselves in a media echo chamber, and scorn the very idea of government institutions as having relevance. Collectively, this has led conservatism to be irrelevant as a political or social force--it does not offer solutions to the problems Americans face. Moreover, it doesn't have the ability to state that there ARE problems Americans face. He notes that in their desperation to hand Obama a defeat on health care reform, conservatives risk marginalizing themselves for a generation as a party of obstructionists with no agenda of their own. He warns that Americans instinctively want both political AND social institutions to thrive and clearly want a strong civil society; the party that delivers these things will be the party in power.
Tanenhaus's remedy is that conservatives need to look back on their history, and rebuild the movement from the ground up if they are to be successful again. For starters, the movement needs to develop and pay attention to a new generation of thinkers--writers outside the echo chamber who once again develop arguments that make sense to non-conservatives. Such thinkers are out there--David Frum, for example or David Brooks--but they are frequently marginalized by ideologues. He also emphasizes the need for pragmatic politicians, noting that Teddy Roosevelt and Nixon both supported health care reform, and Regan passed huge budgets both when he was president and even when he was governor of California... because that was what was required.
And this brings back the question of how folks will react to this book, which throws down the gauntlet for the "practical" Republicans to regain control of their party. Limbaugh, the Teabaggers, and Hannity will probably denounce this book as a sellout, while Joe Scarborough will probably mail copies to everyone on his Christmas card list. I think it's masterful, and brilliantly articulates the dilemma faced by the Republican party. I cannot recommend it enough for every American, on either side of the ideological divide, who has any interest in politics.
To return to its roots (if not its glory days) he suggests the movement in general and Republican Party in particularly returns to the Burkean faction trumpeted by advocates such as W.F. Buckley for more than half of the last century. Sound advice if politicians were interested in principle over power however experience shows us otherwise. The notion that 10s of millions of supporters are going to be turned away by the GOP is simply preposterous. Nice explication of the problem. Absurdly naive solution.
The book was too short. I felt attention should have been paid to thinkers like Leo Strauss, Alan Bloom, the think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and the transformation of New York in the Giuliani administration. Tanenhaus is correct in his assessment of the "noise makers" of today when held in contrast to those who sought to "conserve" social stability and civil society. The Tea Bagging "You lie" conservatives are the polar opposite of Edmund Burke. The Republicans and the right should retreat into the wilderness, read this book and emerge with a stronger vision that is relevant to today's politics. The left and the democrats should read this book to see the value of having a strong opposition to act as a corrective to ideological excess and a disregard of history.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I admit also to not having read the whole book but this is an unserious work by one more...Read more