Sam Tanenhaus’s essay “ Conservatism Is Dead ” prompted intense discussion and debate when it was published in The New Republic in the first days of Barack Obama’s presidency. Now Tanenhaus, a leading authority on modern politics, has expanded his argument into a sweeping history of the American conservative movement. For seventy-five years, he argues, the Right has been split between two factions: consensus-driven “realists” who believe in the virtue of government and its power to adjust to changing conditions, and movement “revanchists” who distrust government and society–and often find themselves at war with America itself.
Eventually, Tanenhaus writes, the revanchists prevailed, and the result is the decadent “movement conservatism” of today, a defunct ideology that is “profoundly and defiantly unconservative–in its arguments and ideas, its tactics and strategies, above all in its vision.”
But there is hope for conservatism. It resides in the examples of pragmatic leaders like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan and thinkers like Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley, Jr. Each came to understand that the true role of conservatism is not to advance a narrow ideological agenda but to engage in a serious dialogue with liberalism and join with it in upholding “the politics of stability.”
Conservatives today need to rediscover the roots of this honorable tradition. It is their only route back to the center of American politics.
At once succinct and detailed, penetrating and nuanced, The Death of Conservatism is a must-read for Americans of any political persuasion.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Death of Conservatism|
|Release Date: 09-01-2009|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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The Death of Conservatism
American history is the record, we’re often told, of beginnings— dating back to the first settlements planted on the “fresh, green breast of the new world,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, his classic tale of self-reinvention. The aura of newness was not merely a sentiment but also a statement of purpose inscribed in our republic’s founding documents and asserted in the legend novus ordo seclorum, “the new order of the ages,” stamped on the Great Seal of the United States.
This ideal has been repeated in an almost unbroken series of rededications of political purpose: Lincoln’s “new nation, conceived in Liberty,” Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism,” Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom,” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” and—circling back to the Great Seal’s inscription— George H. W. Bush’s “New World Order.”
Through all this reinvention runs the theme of American exceptionalism, of a people liberated from the dragging chains of the past.
But of course history is also about endings, and so it has been in America, too. Our cherished myth of continual forward motion rests on dramatic breaks with what came before, whether the suppressions of a state church and the injustices of distant monarchy or our own discarded legacies of slavery and willful isolation from the outside world with its imposition of “entangling alliances.”
This cycle of beginnings-in-ends is being repeated again today. We stand on the threshold of a new era ...