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The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America Hardcover – May 24, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the introduction to this engaging study of American conservatism, Micklethwait and Wooldridge of the Economist disclaim any allegiance to America's "two great political tribes." It is this Tocquevillian quality of informed impartiality that makes their book so effective at conveying how profoundly the right has reshaped the American political landscape over the past half century. The authors trace the history of the conservative movement from the McCarthy era, when "conservatism was a fringe idea," to the second Bush administration and the "victory of the right." They dissect the new "conservative establishment," which combines the intellectual force of think tanks, business interest groups and sympathetic media outlets with the "brawn" of "footsoldiers" from the populist social conservative wing of the GOP, and argue that continuing Republican hegemony is likely. Democratic optimists who point to favorable demographic trends are exaggerating the liberalism of Latino and professional voters, say the authors, while other factors, such as suburbanization and terrorism, will tend to promote Republican values. Still, the right should be worried about its own "capacity for extremism and intolerance" and about holding together its unlikely alliance of religious moralists and small-government activists. Even so, say the authors, conservative ideas are now so pervasive in American society that even a Kerry administration could do little to divert the country's long-term rightward drift. This epochal political transformation is rarely analyzed with the degree of dispassionate clarity that Micklethwait and Wooldridge bring to their penetrating analysis.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Somewhere the triumphal ghost of Barry Goldwater must be explaining to the perplexed shade of Edmund Burke why American conservatism has far surpassed--and curiously defied--its European antecedents. Readers of this study of modern American politics may indeed feel that they are eavesdropping on such a spectral colloquy. For in exploring the American politics of the Right, Micklethwait and Wooldridge analyze a phenomenon that owes much to European traditions yet has unexpectedly transformed and even subverted others. Thus in probing the forces that, in recent decades, have given Republicans control of both the White House and Congress, the authors highlight both a widespread American distrust of government that most British Tories can well understand and a conjoined American individualism that utterly mystifies those same Tories. American conservatives owe some of their recent success to liberal overreach (Johnson's Great Society programs, the Clintons' national health-care proposal). However, the authors limn a powerful dynamic within American conservatism itself, a dynamic that unites the brainpower of Right-leaning think tanks with the moral passion of religious activists, the monomania of gun enthusiasts, and the entrepreneurial energy of small-business owners. Whether that explosive fusion will blow away remaining liberal and leftist opposition or will disintegrate amid its own internal contradictions remains to be seen (and both scenarios receive scrutiny). But no one who wants to understand the possible political trajectories for a country that befuddles--and not infrequently enrages--its European allies can ignore this book. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (May 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200203
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200205
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,601,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is fascinating, but it's also frustrating in many ways. Micklethwaite and Wooldridge are two Oxford-educated Brits who have done a lot of traveling and work (they are writers for The Economist) in the States. The book bills itself as a primer for explaining the conservative movement and its ascendancy to a European audience, so the criticisms from some reviews here that the book doesn't seem to know what it wants to be or that it will seem simplistic to Americans are off-base: the book is not structured as an in-depth scholarly treatment of the history of US conservative politics.

The main political and historical points that the authors make, including a concise and informative summary of the movement's history and several well-considered theories about why conservatism has become the winning argument in the US, are strong, although they tend toward an overreliance on already-established work done by the likes of Seymour Martin Lipset. On the other hand, culturally, the authors tend to be somewhat typically British in their condescension. They profess to love the friendliness and bonhomie of the fly-over states, but they never hesitate to poke fun at the "fact" that there are so many fat people living in them (and so many thin ones in the blue states). The final section of the book starts out with a grandiose contrast between "Hastertland" -- the Speaker of the House's Congressional district in northern Illinois -- and "Pelosiland" -- basically all of San Francisco -- that is so stereotypical and inaccurate that it borders on the asinine. All told, the book is well worth reading, because it has a lot of value to say about why conservatism, contrary to the views of numerous mainstream poitical pundits, is not a passing fad, but it's also got some significant flaws.
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Format: Hardcover
I walked through the current-events section of a brick-and-mortar bookstore recently and was amazed by the mass of anti-Bush books on the shelves. They're everywhere. A cottage industry. If the Clinton-haters dialed into talk radio, the Bush-haters are all hunched over their keyboards, pouring their spleen onto the page.
It's a little discouraging, then, that this great book -- "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America" -- should come out in the midst of all this noise. My fear is that people will see it as just one more "exposé" of the evil right-wingers and their malevolent influence on the country.
If that's what you're looking for, you're bound to be disappointed. This is, in fact, a thoroughly researched and marvelously fair look at the rise of conservatism as a political force in America. More than that, it's a fascinating look at why America is a fundamentally conservative place, and why even liberal Democrats -- on the far Left by U.S. standards -- would be centrists, or even conservatives themselves, in Europe. While this last may be an unpleasant idea for the American Left to have to entertain, even readers on that side of the political spectrum will find a lot in here to recommend it.
Especially useful, I thought, was the authors' discussion of the true role and influence of the much-maligned neo-conservatives. Far from their alleged role as the dark masterminds behind unilateralism, preemption, and other Bad Things in American foreign policy, Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that (a) the neo-cons are less influential than popularly imagined, and (b) that Bush's decisions and policies are consistent with the broad range of conservative opinion, not the product of an obscure Straussian corner of it.
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Format: Hardcover
An avid reader and student of American politics, particularly the conservative movement, I was excited to see this book and hesitate to give it a negative review, since it is so very fair to its subject. But I found it limited and superficial.
First, some good points. The book treats conservatism and conservatives very objectively--without any kind of arrogance or condescension or venom. They approach conservatism seriously and treat it as a legitimate political philosophy held by intelligent people. Neither are they uncritical. Flaws and errors are outlined, and the authors are particularly harsh on John Ashcroft. The book's main arguments are especially interesting: that conservatism is what makes American unique; that the process works the other way and American exceptionalism gives American conservatism its distinctive character (and sharply distinguishes it from European conservatism); that conservatism triumphed mainly through demography (specifically the shift west and south), intellectuals/think tanks, and foot soldiers/grassroots; and that the US is and will remain an essentially conservative nation, no matter who is elected in 2004.
Ultimately, though, the book is superficial. The best part of the book is its first section that chronicles the roots of the conservative movement in the 1950s. Not only highly readable, it gives a very nice summary of that period, touching on the key names (like Kirk, Hayek, Rand, and Buckley) and providing some colorful anecdotes (like Albert Jay Nock's penchant for capes).
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