Friday, July 22, 2011

Ascendance of American Conservatism

Several years ago I came across a book that reinforced and guided my studies. I actually started keeping a record of my reading following this book, back in 2008. Over a hundred books later, I continue to be uplifted by the positive attitude of this book. It is Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism, by Alfred S. Regnery, son of Henry Regnery, one of the founders of Regnery Press, publisher of a long list of very fine conservative books, as well as The American Spectator. 

I thought it might be useful today to offer a few views from the book. First is a list of books as recommended reading. (I’ve read or am working my way through those I have found, but also many others this list has led me to. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was paradigm shifting—a good place to start.): 

 The Road to Serfdom—Frederick Hayek, 1944
Human Action—Ludwig von Misses, 1949
Wealth of Nations—Adam Smith
The Conservative Mind—Russell Kirk, 1953
            A Program for Conservatives—Kirk
            Academic Freedom—Kirk
            The American Cause—Kirk
Ideas Have Consequences—Richard Weaver, 1948
The Quest for Community—Robert Nisbet, 1953, Oxford Press
God and Man at Yale—William F. Buckley
The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft—Russell Kirk & James McClellan
Economics in One Lesson—Henry Hazlett
McCarthy and His Enemies—William F. Buckley & L. Brent Bozell
The Conscience of a Conservative—Barry Goldwater (L. Brent Bozell)
The Heavenly City—Edward Banfield, 1970 (against urban planning)
Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendement, Raoul Berger (senior fellow Harvard Law School), 1977.
The Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition, M. Stanton Evans, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1994) 

Below are quotes from the book on a variety of conservative ideas. I hope these snippets will encourage you to read the whole book. 

On Universal Truth
“The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably . . . the denial of truth.”—Richard M.  Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 3-4, quoted in Upstream, p. 48. 

On the Interrelationships of Politics, Economics, and Civilization [The Spherical Model]
“Nisbet was a devastating critic of the politicization of everyday life, of the way family, friendship, and community have been suborned by the state. He anticipated, by nearly half a century, much of the current talk about family, neighborhood bonds, and reducing the size of government. And many of the answers he gave, starting with his 1953 book The Quest for Community, are more sophisticated and certainly more culturally learned than the ones we’re stumbling upon today.”—David Brooks, “Robert Nisbet’s Quest,” AEI Online (January 1, 2000). 

On American Exceptionalism
“[Senator Robert] Taft was a strong American exceptionalist—he was convinced that the United States was based on certain noble ideas that placed this nation well above any other. Of these, individual liberty was the most important; he proclaimed early and often that the “principal purpose of the foreign policy of the United States is to maintain the liberty of our people.” The three fundamental requirements to maintain such liberty, he believed, were an economic system based on free enterprise, a political system based on democracy and national independence and sovereignty. All three, he feared, might be destroyed in a war, or even by extensive preparations for war.”—Regnery, Upstream, citing John Moser, “Principles Without Program: Robert A. Taft and American Foreign Policy,” Ohio History 108 (1000_, 177-197. Reprinted in the Ashbrook Center’s Dialogues, at 

On Reason to Have Hope for Conservative Ideas
“We are not born with ideas,” [Frank] Chodorov wrote, “we learn them. If socialism has come to America because it was implanted in the minds of past generations, there is no reason for assuming that the contrary idea cannot be taught to a new generation.”—quoted in Regnery, Upstream, p. 71, citing Lee Edward, Educating for Liberty: The First Half-Century of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Washington: Regnery, 2003) p. 4. 

On Liberal Tactical History We’re Still Facing
“As the popular antiwar movement became more vocal it degenerated into contempt for every sort of authority. Leftist activists began shouting obscenities at anybody who disagreed with them, drowning out school administrators, representatives of the Johnson administration, military speakers, and conservatives. They provoked conflicts with the authorities to gain the ready attention of a fawning media. At Columbia University in the spring of 1968, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) took over administration buildings for several days not so much to air their stated grievances, but to undermine “the system,” and the Columbia administration caved in, setting a pattern for others. Later that summer the SDS, led by the radical Weathermen [Ayers, colleague of Obama, was one of these terrorists], marched in Chicago in the “Days of Rage,” but this time they were met by the police and beaten back. But even before Chicago, the New Left had begun to come apart. Black nationalists, Indian nationalists, Hispanic activists, feminists, and homosexual liberationists competed for victim status, joining the chorus of oppressed minorities. Their competition and their zeal for grabbing headlines left them with little to unify them. Once they added division over tactics to divisions over ideology, they lost all coherence as a movement.”—Regnery, Upstream, pp. 130-131. 

On Deterioration of the Black Family Resulting from Social Programs
“[Daniel Patrick] Moynihan emerged from the shadows during 1965 as a research in LBJ’s Labor Department when he wrote a report on black family stability, pointing out that illegitimacy in the black family was escalating (it was then at 25 percent) and that the deterioration of the family in the black community would undermine urban tranquility. Shortly after leaving the Labor Department Moynihan wrote an article for Commentary in which he claimed that the “conceptual difficulties” of the War on Poverty “were a result of the work of intellectuals” who had gathered in Washington in the Kennedy administration and wished to radicalize American society. The poverty programs that these intellectuals had designed had deliberately left out traditional assistance for the poor in lieu of community action programs. As a result, the poor became yet more disgruntled, which led to urban violence.”—Regnery, Upstream, p. 149-150, citing Herbert Stein, Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), p. 139. 

On Obligations In Hand with Freedom
According to Milwaukee author John Gurda, if there is a single lesson in everything the Bradley Foundation does, it is that “Freedom is a difficult discipline, imposing on its adherents an obligation to nurture, in belief and in practice, the principles that give a free society its particular vibrancy.”—Regnery, p. 199, quoting John Miller, Strategic Investment in Ideas: How Two Foundations Re-shaped America (Washington, D.C.: Philanthorpy Roundtable, 2003), pp. 35-58. 

On Freedom of Religion
Conservatives all but stumbled over examples of officially sanctioned exercises of faith that defied the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment. M. Stanton Evans, in his incisive 1994 book The Theme Is Freedom, asks how it is possible to reconcile the Supreme Court’s reading of the First Amendment with the historical record. Evans states, “The First Amendment depicted by Black and other liberal jurists is a fabrication. The Court’s alleged history is a complete misrepresentation of the record—a prime example of picking and choosing elements from the past to suit the ideological fashions of the present.” –Regnery, p. 229, M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1994) p. 275. 

On Judicial Activism
Warren’s legacy would be most evident in the expansion of what he termed “social justice.” But perhaps an even greater legacy was his opening the floodgates of judicial activism and the lack of “judicial restraint.” He elicited a conservative war cry heard thirty-five years after Warren’s retirement, one that begat a new activism and a new area of conservative intellectual endeavor. Warren’s notion of a “living Constitution,” his idea that judges “must draw [the Constitution’s] meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” (Eugene Methvin, “Up from Activism: A New Court?” American Spectator (May 2006)) would allow, as Eugene Methvin put it, “every judge with an itch for political power to set himself up as a high priest free to impose his vision of ‘evolving standards of decency’ on the rest of America.” –Regnery, p. 234, Methvin, Up from Activism”

“As conservatives watched what many Republican-appointed judges were doing, it became apparent that naming loyal Republican lawyers to the courts without understanding their philosophical principles was not only fruitless but dangerous. Many had no idea what the framers had in mind, and no understanding of the structure of the Constitution or how to interpret it They relied solely on precedents set by the liberal judges who preceded them. Law schools still taught constitutional law, but students did not read the Constitution, they read Supreme Court cases about the Constitution. Originalism was a word without meaning to most lawyers, law professors, and judges, as was the concept of original intent. As for the Federalist Papers, they were mentioned occasionally, but rarely cited.” –Regnery p. 239 

“The Constitution was virtually never taught in the law schools; the required course in constitutional law was based on what the Supreme Court said about the founding document. Natural law found no place in the law schools and was rarely even mentioned. Although the left was not wholly united in its legal philosophy, liberals generally believed that the Constitution was obsolete and needed revision, that it should be construed to provide a more liberal, socially permissive, and egalitarian world, and that federalism had outlived its usefulness. Some advocated writing new rights into the Constitution, such as the right to welfare, sexual freedom, and free medical care. The Constitution was, in short, an impediment to the liberals’ ambitions for social reform—recall that Russell Kirk had called the Constitution the most successful conservative device in history—and the left was determined to emasculate it one way or another.” Regnery, p. 251 

Unexpected Result of Roe Decision
Following the Roe decision, roughly 1.6 million abortions were being performed per year across the country, and by 2004 approximately 40 million pregnancies had been terminated. The numbers were appalling; the right-to-life movement refers to the period as the new holocaust. But what many people did not realize was just who it was that was being aborted. (Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: Harper-Perennial, 1999), p. 964) The American Spectator concluded, in a piece published in June 2004 by demographer Larry Eastland, that the women having abortions were more likely to be liberals than conservatives (by 30 percent), and more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. The implication, the Spectator concluded, could be devastating. “Liberals have been remarkably blind to the fact that every day the abortions they advocate dramatically decrease their power to do so. Imagine the number of followers that their abortion policies eliminate who, over the next several decades, would have emerged as the new liberal thinkers, voters, adherents, fundraisers, and workers for their cause.”—Regnery p. 238, Larry L. Eastland, “The Empty Cradle Will Rock,” American Spectator (June 2004).

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