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The Death of Conservatism 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 I m still not entirely clear on WHY the author thinks conservatism died, although I think it is something along the lines of the party ceasing to value contemplation about itself and its future I do understand and agree with his characterization of the party defining itself by what it seems to prevent or destroy rather than what it seeks to preserve. the world seems to want to order itself bilaterally nature, that unfeeling uncaring wench, seems to have a thing for it physically we have two arms, two eyes, two hands, two testicles, two breasts, etc and we mostly organize ourselves into bilateral groupings liberal conservative, republican democrat, capitalist communist, etc there s a mystical component to numbers albeit, usually overblown by religinuts and new age morons just as there s a mystical component to symmetry and that th the world seems to want to order itself bilaterally nature, that unfeeling uncaring wench, seems to have a thing for it physically we have two arms, two eyes, two hands, two testicles, two breasts, etc and we mostly organize ourselves into bilateral groupings liberal conservative, republican democrat, capitalist communist, etc there s a mystical component to numbers albeit, usually overblown by religinuts and new age morons just as there s a mystical component to symmetry and that thought leads to this one one would imagine that the current nuclear bullshit with iran has gotta be somewhat comforting to lots and lots of people, yeah it has recently come out that margaret thatcher, just before the berlin wall fell, told the USSR that we didn t want the wall down, that it wasn t in our interest she had something there sentimental old men concerned with their legacies and limousine liberals may have wanted the USSR in the dustbin of history but, for many, the great dialectic, the USA USSR showdown, really worked for the west politicians, pundits, and the media tried to put all that shit on al qaeda and international terrorism, to supplant one myth with another, but it never really took and so we have a kind of cold war resurgence obama routinely being called a communist, a socialist, a facist, etc communist is a tremendous brand name it nearly always works and it s doubly great b c most american fucktards have no idea what it even means and now iran having nukes it ll never match the great 20th century dialectic, but it definitely locks into the semi mystical bilateral symmetry that has always worked very well for nations it s a start the book well, it lacks the precision of an essay and the in depth analysis of a full length book it functions as a somewhat effective, if too brief, survey of american conservatism.tanenhaus uses Edmund Burke el jefe of conservatism as his starting point and traces the trajectory to Benjamin Disraeli, Michael Oakeshotte, and then on to america from Eisenhower to Buckley Reagan Goldwater, to arrive, finally, at Bush Limbaugh tanenhaus s theory is that american conservativism split in half on one side stand the realists or burkean conservatives Eisenhower, H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and on the other we have the movement conservatives Nixon, Reagan, Bush they differ in that the burkeans believe in government, in stability, and in classical conservative belief the latter are revanchists who see all through a narrow ideological prism government is bad elites and intellectuals spoil the soul of america etc and who put party orthodoxy before stability and consensus.it seems the movement conservatives not really conservatives at all, actually have won but it s a hollow victory, eh rove s prediction of a permanent majority didn t really pan out, did it This book is a complete waste of time Like Todd s excellent reviews mentions, it s basically a masturbatory exercise for the literary class on one of their favorite topics how stupid people who disagree with them are The basic argument is that Conservatives abandoned Tanenhaus s interpretation of Edmund Burke, and so modern Conservatives aren t really Conservatives This is because modern Conservatives i.e not of the vein Tanenhaus likes don t believe government should grow and do too muc This book is a complete waste of time Like Todd s excellent reviews mentions, it s basically a masturbatory exercise for the literary class on one of their favorite topics how stupid people who disagree with them are The basic argument is that Conservatives abandoned Tanenhaus s interpretation of Edmund Burke, and so modern Conservatives aren t really Conservatives This is because modern Conservatives i.e not of the vein Tanenhaus likes don t believe government should grow and do too much for its citizens Therefore, since Conservatives don t accept what Liberals and Tanenhaus believe, they re completely detached from reality, only concerned with ideology, and have nothing to offer America.Seriously The book is then filled in with cherry picked examples of how Liberals are so pragmatic and intelligent in adapting to the times while conservatives are blabbering racists The book offers absolutely nothing of substance to the political debate Tanenhaus doesn t demonstrate even a basic understanding of economic issues or anything except copious quoting and name dropping It s a one sided rewriting of history, and Tanenhaus should be embarassed by the intellectual immaturity on display My curiosity about this book stemmed from its pointed, provocative title, and the willingness to give it a chance I knew or assumed that Tanenhaus could not possibly have been as naive to believe that the election of Obama was a definitive repudiation of conservatism, given the seemingly uphill battle the administration has had almost since beginning office against a Congress that its own party ostensibly dominated for two years Having first published the book in 2009 I read a 2010 edition wi My curiosity about this book stemmed from its pointed, provocative title, and the willingness to give it a chance I knew or assumed that Tanenhaus could not possibly have been as naive to believe that the election of Obama was a definitive repudiation of conservatism, given the seemingly uphill battle the administration has had almost since beginning office against a Congress that its own party ostensibly dominated for two years Having first published the book in 2009 I read a 2010 edition with an added epilogue and perhaps some slight revisions , Tanenhaus indeed anticipates this possibility, recognizing and dismissing the constant, pendulous swing of elections As for the thesis set forth by the title, for most of the book Tanenhaus laments the death of a particular kind of conservatism, which would seem to further clear that up Dubbed the realist, as opposed to revanchist and alternately, movement conservatism , this is a politics that descends from Burke and Disraeli, and from ex Soviet sympathizers like James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers It s a politics of consensus and compromise, of preserving whatever it inherits, even if it might be opposed to the particular status quo of its day It seems hard to believe, of course, that any conservative leader with the authority and power to do otherwise would accept a status quo s he morally or intellectually opposed This is a conservatism marked by modus vivendi, not the familiar M.O of destroying any aspect of civil society that might have government s stamp on it instead, it is theoretically above ideology But ultimately, Tanenhaus tries to have it both ways movement conservatism is now itself dead, according to him, because it killed classical, realist conservatism.There are other such contradictions throughout this little book, such as the fact that he tries to make his case based exclusively on presidents and their contemporary political theorists and public intellectuals, only to suggest plainly in the conclusion that we have had a fixation with the presidency throughout an entire period the 30s 80s for which now obscure master legislators were truly responsible Or that positions held by all of the presidents and conservative icons from Burnham and Chambers to Irving Kristol and William F Buckley he examines evolved or reversed outright at various points throughout their careers by his account, if not these men s own, their positions could be quite fluid I don t know that many people would disagree that movement conservatism dominated from 1968 1992, or even on through GWB s two terms, with the 12 years Carter and Clinton got in there as minor breaks though Tanenhaus casts the former as a conservative Democrat and suggests that the latter, like Obama, owes much to classical conservatism But in the account presented here, each of the presidents excepting GWB is shown to have oscillated between the realist and revanchist positions Nixon campaigned in 60 and 68 as an opponent of the welfare state only to enlarge government throughout his first term although he s remembered by acolytes and enemies alike as an anti government crusader, Reagan apparently disappointed conservatives early on, and while he cut taxes, he increased spending and thereby enlarged the state His engagement with the Soviets, like Nixon s adoption of detente and opening up to China, is cast here in the classical conservative ideal of negotiation and compromise, instead of the movement s impulse for imperialism and liberation a legacy, again, that would be picked up by GWB.Those are but a few of the contradictions that make the argument in this persuasively written tract collapse upon itself The other issue I had with it is Tanenhaus own centrist liberalism The book has been commended for critiquing conservative and liberal movements in equal measure, even though it s clear Tanenhaus is himself liberal and his argument can have no conceivable appeal to movement conservatives, Tea Partiers, moral majority types and so on To address the first part of that, his critique of liberalism, particularly since Reagan, is obviously not as fleshed out, simply by virtue of the fact that that s not the subject here But something in particular toward the end stuck out, and rubbed me the wrong way Even as the nation s political center had shifted, Tanenhaus writes, many on the left remained in thrall to the New Politics of the Vietnam period They confused the programmatic inclusiveness of identity politics with a true majoritarianism, even as large blocs of working class voters deserted the party I feel like this is at most half right, but gets it wrong in that the elected members of the Democratic party have not, for better or worse, represented that strand of the left in ages, if they ever did, as a sizable presence Moreover, while working class voters may well have deserted the party over the years over, among other reasons, social or moral issues, I don t think it s fair to dismiss as identity politics the commitment of the left to equality for women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBT community.Now that I ve registered my complaints, I ll say that I did enjoy the middle parts of this book, despite any internal contradictions these were, after all, devoted to history One doesn t have to accept the author s conclusions to enjoy the richness of the story The book is a sort of gloss on political thought in the postwar period, focused on the right, and it takes as it subject a fascinating piece of our intellectual history Though I emerged as frustrated with the right as I had before entering, I did along the way gain an appreciation for the nuances to conservatism and particular thinkers, even if these same people to say nothing of their latter day followers would later revise, disavow and apparently forget to have ever held such positions

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