The Encyclopedia of American Conservatism

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Today the New York Times published this article about the new Encyclopedia of American Conservatism. The weighty 997 page tome has been 16 years in the making, but hits books shelves at a time when American conservatism is at a cross roads. This new book stakes out some territorial claims – detailing the intellectual roots of the movement while side stepping prominent contemporary conservatives like Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, even George H.W. Bush. Earlier today we spoke with editor Jeff Nelson, who happens to be the son-in-law of conservative giant Russell Kirk, and he explained why he felt it was important to assemble the collection of essays and articles that make up the Encyclopedia.

There’s a tension now, one might think of it as a midlife crisis…an identity crisis. Some of that is natural when you have achieved political power. You make accommodations with the present, and the particular hustle and bustle in Washington. But the drift in DC and the popular expression of conservatism is oriented in maintaining a hold on presidential authority, or holding onto Congress.

Really one of the big differences in contemporary conservatism as it has developed in America is the increasing polarization of the conservative movement. Sort of almost devolving from ideas and discourse and debate to where it’s an ideological crusade. [Conservatism] has always been a way of life, a habit of thinking, with certain fundamental perspectives among them, like the importance of the transcendent or religions, government operating best at the localist level and being the least obstructive…[But] we’ve become more a shouting class than a thinking class.

Jeff Nelson, in a conversation with Open Source, 6/21/06

With Jeff Nelson and others, we’d like to talk about the broad picture of conservatism painted by this volume and the rest of the national conversation. How do the ideological roots differ from the contemporary political manifestations? And what is its future direction?

Jeff Nelson

Editor, American Conservatism: An EncyclopediaISI Senior Vice President of Educational Programs

Publisher of ISI Books

Bruce Bartlett

Domestic policy adviser to President Reagan, Treasury official under President George H.W. BushAuthor, Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy

John Fund

Editorial writer, Wall Street Journal

Paul Mirengoff

Blogger, Power LineAttorney, Akin Gump

Extra Credit Reading
Jeffrey O. Nelson, ed. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, ISI Books, 2006.Jason DeParle, An A-to-Z Book of Conservatism Now Weighs In, The New York Times, June 21, 2006.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, The Right Book, National Review Online, April 20, 2006.

Irving Kristol, American Conservatism 1945-1995, Public Interest, Fall 1995.

Edward Feser, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, Right Reason, April 20, 2006.

Larry Arnhart, ISI’s Encyclopedia of American Conservatism, Darwinian Conservatism, March 13, 2006.

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  • Thomas Prislac Jr.

    This is a very interesting topic for me mostly due to the fact that I voted for Bush in 2000 after having caved to pressure from my fairly conservative Parents. Being my first presidential election, I will always have regrets. I digress…. My parents were staunch conservatives who believed in Newt’s Contract and were still smarting after two terms of Clinton. How ironic that they feel the exact way about Bush II. After only six years of absolute control, the actions of the neo-conservatives have managed to stray so far from conventional GOP ideology that my parents, being republican for nearly two decades, have abandoned the GOP and lost faith in US politics as a whole. In fact, my father told me recently that he wouldn’t mind having the Democrats taking back control of the House and Senate. He and I believe that if you can’t have a viable third party, at least have the parties in opposition to keep the extremists from ruining it for the “Silent Majority”.

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  • This reminds me of the lyrics from a song “Armageddon Days Are Here” by the band The The.

    But God didn’t build himself that throne

    God doesn’t live in Israel or Rome

    God doesn’t belong to the yankee dollar

    God doesn’t plant the bombs for Hezbollah

    God doesn’t even go to church

    And God won’t send us down to Allah to burn

    God will remind us what we already know

    That the human race is about to reap what it’s sown

    Islam is rising

    The Christians mobilizing

    The world is on its elbows and knees

    It’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds

  • scribe5

    “This new book stakes out some territorial claims – detailing the intellectual roots of the movement while side stepping prominent contemporary conservatives like Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, even George H.W. Bush.”

    Does anyone think that the people mentioned above are serioius thinkers?

    They no more belong in a ‘”conservative encyclopedia” than would Jimmy Carter, Dan Rather, and Al Franken in a “liberal one.”

  • wholesome

    The problem with the neoconservative cabal currently in power in America is the degree to which Cheney, Rumsfield and Wolfowitz were influenced during their decade with the Project for the New American Century. That group has its roots with Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. He believed that an elite, in the know group, should lead by lying to the public, that the American people can not possibly analyze world events and formulate foreign policy with enough depth of understanding. The failure of the Bush Administration is its obvious distrust of American concensus opionion. We see out, they say in, we say blue, they say red.

  • jdyer

    Richard Pipes recenlty published a history of Russian conservatism which is a fascinating study of the dichotomy in the Russian mind between openess to the world and a desire to close onself off from it.

    “Russian Conservatism and Its Critics : A Study in Political Culture”

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0300112882/sr=1-3/qid=1151017411/ref=sr_1_3/002-1534685-2851216?%5Fencoding=UTF8&s=books

    I wish someone would do a similar study of our own tendency to want to liberalize and democratize the world on the one hand and the opposite pull to circle the wagons.

  • jdyer

    “The problem with the neoconservative cabal currently in power in America is the degree to which Cheney, Rumsfield and Wolfowitz were influenced during their decade with the Project for the New American Century. That group has its roots with Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. He believed that an elite, in the know group, should lead by lying to the public, that the American people can not possibly analyze world events and formulate foreign policy with enough depth of understanding. The failure of the Bush Administration is its obvious distrust of American concensus opionion. We see out, they say in, we say blue, they say red.”

    The so called neo conservative hold on American power is highly exaggerated. Moreover, as the forthcoming review by Alter in this sunday’s Times book review section makes clear Strauss was anything but a neo conservative.

    The man for crying out loud voted for Adlai Stevenson twice.

    Check out Reading Leo Strauss : Politics, Philosophy, Judaism

    by Steven B. Smith

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226764028/qid=1151018002/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-1534685-2851216?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

    The book reviewed by Robert Alter.

  • scribe5

    The idea that conservatism is supposed to merely aportion out a certain amount of “freedom” which is available to any given society makes very little sense to me.

    I noticed that one of the speakers equated freedom with income which in itself is very ironic since a Bill Gates for example who is supposed to be the richest man in the world is hardly the most free since he is has been the life long custodian and servant of his wealth.

  • wholesome

    John Fund, Editorial writer, Wall Street Journal. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Congress voted on the Iraq war based on gross distortions and lies from the Bush leadership. John Kerry has come clean, saying his vote was wrong. He also says his vote was based on those lies & distortions. The GOP wants to spread the much around, hoping some will stick to the face of the Democratic party.

  • ReKen

    What about the similarities of Leo Strauss and that of Sayyed Qutb and their reaction to social liberalism. As Sayyed Qutb travelled around the county of the United States, Qutb became increasingly disgusted by what he felt was the selfish and materialistic nature of American life. A strange parallel to that of the Neo- Conservative movement.

  • wholesome

    In the new Millenium, has Conservatism not become blurred with Corporatism and have neoConservatives not sold their souls to the military-corporate-financial-media hegemony?

  • wholesome

    “The so called neo conservative hold on American power is highly exaggerated. Moreover, as the forthcoming review by Alter in this sunday’s Times book review section makes clear Strauss was anything but a neo conservative.”

    Leo Strauss was a conservative – his progeny now in office are the neoconservatives and their hold on power is not at all exaggerated. If the electorate votes in some balance to Congress in 2006, then yes, I’ll concede. Right now, they continue to blunder through the world with failed policies.

  • Yark

    CONservativism????????

    From budget Surplus to 9TRILlion in debt???

    Constutution DUBYA: A (goddamn) PIECE OF PAPER????????

    CONservative, DEF: (Your Choice) 1. HORSESHIT 2. THIEF

  • Wholesome, don’t forget to add corporate Chrisitianity.

  • scribe5

    “What about the similarities of Leo Strauss and that of Sayyed Qutb”

    There few if any similarities, Ken.

    From the way you describe it the similarities would be rather to Herbert Marcuse and other left wing thinkers.

    I am being ironic since Marcuse, Strauss, the Frankfurt school all had a dialctical point of view which is sorely lacking in Qutb.

  • scribe5

    “Leo Strauss was a conservative – his progeny now in office are the neoconservatives and their hold on power is not at all exaggerated….”

    You obviously haven’t read any Strauss, have you “Wholesome?”

  • ReKen

    Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, also came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Like Qutb, Strauss believed that individual freedoms threatened to tear apart the values which held society together. He taught his students that politicians should assert powerful and inspiring myths – like religion or the myth of the nation – that everyone could believe in.

    A group of young students, including Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol studied Strauss’ ideas and formed a loose group in Washington which became known as the neo-conservatives. They set out to create a myth of America as a unique nation whose destiny was to battle against evil in the world.

    Both Qutb and Strauss were idealists whose ideas were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay.

  • I just heard the term “intellectual conservatismâ€?, oxymoron?

  • Conservatism should be a movement towards the more fundamental, more permanent, more essential; thus the emphasis on local community, transendental being, founding fathers myths, ethnic-nationalism, the “traditional” family, and the likes. It’s stange and contradictory bed-fellow in the American version is Capitalism, which is a creative-destructive force unlike the world has ever seen and which turns Conservatism into its own worst enemy: Neo-liberalism.

  • elowin

    Listening to all the bloviating hypocritical blather that eminates from “conservatives” is, even after all these years, still disturbing. The conservative “movement” has stood for one thing and one thing only..plutocracy. The growing darkness in this nation, beginning with Nixon’s southern strategy, has been fueled by an alliance amongst flat earthers, neo-fascists like Cheney and Rumsfeld, economic royalists, religious fanatics, and the kind of propagandists who equate liberty with the unrestricted accumulation of great wealth to the detriment of all others. I cannot fathom what was so wonderful about the McKinley administration that the conservatives wish us to return to it. The middle class, the great bulwark of democracy in any nation, is in rapid decline. Where once a single income could support a family, now it takes two. Students who once benefited from grants now graduate burdened with enormous debt via student loans. Our medical establishment is ranked 37th by the WHO, our urban emergency rooms are on the brink of collapse, our press has been cowed and we have a regime which has twice stolen the White House. CEO’s earn 252 times what the average corporate employee does. We have the greatest inequity in income of any developed country and a national debt which will literally destroy our future. Congratulations, conservatives.

    I have a modest proposal. Let us festoon every lamppost on Pennsylvania Avenue with the remains of prominent conservatives and celebrate the decorations with a national day of thanksgiving.

  • scribe5

    “Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, also came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Like Qutb, Strauss believed that individual freedoms threatened to tear apart the values which held society together. He taught his students that politicians should assert powerful and inspiring myths – like religion or the myth of the nation – that everyone could believe in.”

    You are just repeating what you said before.

    Can you show were Strauss believed that individual freedom ” threatened to tear apart the values which held society together?”

    Do you have an actual quotation from a book or article where he says what you think he said?

    “A group of young students, including Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol studied Strauss’ ideas and formed a loose group in Washington which became known as the neo-conservatives.”

    Fukuyama was also a “student” of the Russian French philospher Kojeve who also inspired many left intellectuals in France. People like Sartre, for example.

  • scribe5

    “I just heard the term “intellectual conservatismâ€?, oxymoron?”

    Tell that to Burke, Coleridge, Disraeli, Hegel, etc.

    What is true is that contemporary leftist liberals are not intellectuals at all. They just play with ideas they half understand.

  • Potter

    After shouting at the radio for the hour I went to read the David Brooks piece and for the life of me I could not identify with one or the other of his new categories

    Are you a prog-glob or a pop-nat? Or is this BS, pop sociology?

    I usually skip right over him……..

    David Brooks Does it Again with Strange Bedfellows”

  • scribe5

    Some people who complain that they feel manipulated should read first the actual source material and not depend on other reader’s interpretations.

    David Brooks own words might make more sense that Kos’s reinterpretation of them. The Kos piece reads like a parody of his views.

  • Potter

    Scribe 5 some people who advise others to read David Brooks should read my post which says:

    After shouting at the radio for the hour I went to read the David Brooks piece and for the life of me I could not identify with one or the other of his new categories

    I linked Kos because David Brooks piece is behind a firewall and the Kos piece matched my reaction.

  • onevoice

    The problem I have with “conservatism” and with “liberalism” is the way issues are misconceived. Fundamental errors are covered over with banalities and abstractions which totally obscure the complexities of the problems. To cite one example: Bruce Bartlett began his explanation of conservatism by talking about taxes. He compared paying taxes to a form of slavery. When challenged, (although, in my opinion, not vigorously enought) he ducked the important point by saying he was “speaking theoretically.” We cannot have a meaningful dialogue about society, solidarity, and our obligations to ourselves and to one another until such fruitless and insidious tactics of discourse are overcome. Paying taxes is an expression of our commitment to a shared fate. Taxes are moral acts. Fairnes and obligation proportional to one’s means lies at the heart of any enlightened moral society.

  • scribe5

    “We cannot have a meaningful dialogue about society, solidarity, and our obligations to ourselves and to one another until such fruitless and insidious tactics of discourse are overcome. Paying taxes is an expression of our commitment to a shared fate. Taxes are moral acts. Fairnes and obligation proportional to one’s means lies at the heart of any enlightened moral society.”

    Yes, and the best commentators of social life have always used a dialectical approach and didn’t bother to call themselves either “conservative” or “liberal.”

    They left it to other lesser minds to categorize their views.

  • joshua hendrickson

    Scribe 5 says,

    I just heard the term “intellectual conservatism�, oxymoron?�

    Tell that to Burke, Coleridge, Disraeli, Hegel, etc.

    What is true is that contemporary leftist liberals are not intellectuals at all. They just play with ideas they half understand.

    You are right to condemn those leftists who claim there is no intellectual weight on the side of conservatism, though you might have chosen somewhat more contemporary figures to illustrate your point. However, you are wrong to throw the same accusation back at the left. I don’t think JK Galbraith only “half” understood his intellectual positions, for example.

    And I agree with onevoice: taxes are a moral act. They are not slavery. I just cannot understand the position of those people who really don’t think those less fortunate deserve to be helped out.

    Sidenote: I always loved those lyrics from “Armageddon Days Are Here Again.” I put them in the category of “Getting Truer Every Day.”

  • Potter

    Onevoice– I focussed on that passage too. That’s one of the things I was screaming about. Bartlett decried big government and when Chris asked him to elaborate, the first things that came out of his mouth were social programs. Chris had to bring up the war. The comparison of paying taxes to slavery is primary evidence of the bankrupcy of his “theories”… He retreated by saying it was theory. Shameful– on a day when I hear Edward Kennnedy yelling through the airwaves vis the Senate about a minimum wage that is a little over $5.

    I did not hear one word about the poor, the sick, the underprivileged, about social problems like health care ( except to complain about the RX drug benefit). But Bartlett did mention being prepared to “defend” the country.

    What was left out of the conversation was very telling.

    BTW I think David Brooks descriptions/categories, if valid, are perhaps more representative of the split within the Republicans/Conservatives.

    This must be unnerving for a party that likes to be in lock step…”talking points” and all the rest.

  • scribe5

    “You are right to condemn those leftists who claim there is no intellectual weight on the side of conservatism, though you might have chosen somewhat more contemporary figures to illustrate your point.”

    Yes I could have but I eas tyring to consider founding members of modern conservatism to make the point that it wasn’t exaclty created yesterday.

    “However, you are wrong to throw the same accusation back at the left.”

    I was focusing on people who post here and not on academics.

    “I don’t think JK Galbraith only “halfâ€? understood his intellectual positions, for

    example.”

    Of course, Galbraith like Alan Greenspan to cite his conservative opposite know what they are talking about. Again, I was focusing on people who post here who for the most part don’t are just mouthing cliches.

  • scribe5

    “And I agree with onevoice: taxes are a moral act. They are not slavery.”

    I agree that they are not slavery, though I wouldn’t call them a moral act.

    Taxation is the price we pay for belonging to a polity; for being memebers of a community. This is one area of social policy with which I totally disagree with many conservatives. Too often they write and act as if taxation were the worst evil in the world.

  • scribe5

    From the NY Times Sunday book review:

    ‘Reading Leo Strauss,’ by Steven B. Smith

    Neocon or Not?

    E-MailPrint Save

    Review by ROBERT ALTER

    Published: June 25, 2006

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/books/review/25alter.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

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