Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I. An Overview of the Modern Conservative Movement in America: Key Players and Prominent Voices

1. The Conservative Movement
Within the continuum of conservative thought throughout history, the middle of the twentieth century has been considered to be a revival of conservative ideas and of their implementation in society. This period has come to be called the “modern American conservative movement,” for during a span of five years between 1948 and 1953, a series of books, pamphlets, journals, and organizations came together in one voice to revive the ideals of limited government, higher law thinking, human dignity, faith, and community as they have been understood within the context of Western history and tradition. Among these influential books, we can highlight Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (1948); Reinold Niebuhr’s The Children of the Light and the Children of Darkness (1949); William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale (1951); Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (1953); and Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community (1953). Several other books that later hit the market would continue to promote the ideas of conservatism that were then being revived. Among these are Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), which sold 3.5 million copies throughout America.

Among the organizations and journals that were key to the movement, we can highlight the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which was founded in 1953 by Frank Chodorov as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. William Buckley served as the first president of the ISI from 1953-54. In 1955, Buckley founded the political magazine National Review, which Russell Kirk was involved in throughout his career. Several other key organizations to the conservative movement were formed shortly thereafter, including the Fund for American Studies (1967) and the Heritage Foundation (1973). These organizations promoted and propagated the ideas being generated in America’s conservative revival.

In 1974, Russell Kirk published his classic The Roots of American Order, to celebrate the American bi-centennial. The book offered a history of the ideas that came together from Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, and London, to Philadelphia to form the American Republic. Many consider Russell Kirk to be the mind behind the modern conservative movement, with William Buckley as the movement’s organizer and engineer.

2. Neo-Conservatism and Second Generation Conservatism
Within the context of the conservative revival, a second, more modern conservative movement materialized. In the 1960s, a series of disillusioned leftist thinkers known as “neo-conservatives” shifted to the right. Most prominent among these, and considered by many to be the “godfather” neoconservatism, was Irving Kristol, a former 1960s liberal who turned conservative. Also serving as a leader in the neoconservative movement was Irving Kristol’s son, William Kristol, who founded and currently edits the Weekly Standard, the preeminent journal of neoconservatism.

In 1986, Richard John Neuhaus published his seminal book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, which argued that America’s values and traditions cannot be sustained without religion in the public square. Neuhaus went on to found the Institute on Religion and Public Life as well as its ecumenical journal First Things, whose purpose is to “advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”

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