June 15, 2006


American Conservatism: an interview (Paul J Cella, 6/14/06, Red State)

Earlier this year, the venerable Intercollegiate Studies Institute published a volume of the first importance: an encyclopedia of American Conservatism. There can be little question of the shaping influence of Conservatism on the history of this country since the Second World War. The irony is, of course, that Conservatism in America only acquired (or discovered) a sense of its own identity — its nature and destiny — after its more instinctual grounding in the American political tradition was shaken and displaced by the dissolution of the twentieth century: by war, socialism, brassbound and bloody error, and revolution. In other words, Conservatism only discovered its identity in defeat. This is not so surprising, for part of the essence of Conservatism is that alarm a man feels, and the reaction it provokes in him, when something dear to him is threatened. Many a Conservative did not even recognize himself as such until the machinations of some mad malcontent menaced his home, his family, his community, his creed. So it was defeat that gave form and identity to Conservatism as an organized political movement. It is fair to say, I think, that some important losses have since been recovered; but others have been so consolidated by the other side that many of our own no longer even realize they were lost. This fact is made abundantly clear throughout American Conservatism: an Encyclopedia. The unprepared reader, thinking the conservatism prominent in the public square today the only viable variety, will be stopped short; will be, in the highest sense, forced to think anew. This, I trust we can agree, is all for the good; and it is one of the abiding merits of this fine book that most any reader who fancies his own Conservatism the “true” one, will — if he reads with a probing intellect — find his fancy rebuked. Diversity is among the most brutalized of words in our day; yet in Conservatism we find a diversity deep and humane and exhilarating. We find, in short, a solid rock of opposition to that “narrowing uniformity” which is the mark of modernity.

I recently interviewed two of the editors of American Conservatism: an Encyclopedia via email. Jeremy Beer is the Publications Director and Editor in Chief at ISI Books. He has written about educational and cultural matters for First Things, Crisis, Utne Reader, and the Intercollegiate Review, among other periodicals. Bruce Frohnen is Associate Professor of Law at the Ave Maria School of Law. His books include Virtue and the Promise of Conservatism: The Legacy of Burke and Tocqueville, The American Republic: Primary Sources, and The Anti-Federalists: Writings and Speeches. A former Visiting Scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, he is incoming Editor of the Political Science Reviewer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 15, 2006 8:35 PM

Not an ideology, but the absence of ideology--practiced by the true progressives, for whom history is progress.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 15, 2006 10:40 PM

I have a copy of this and it is a great reference work. I've only read a limited number of essays but the ones I've come across are excellent so far. The editors allowed the writers to express their points of view within certain tolerable boundaries. This leads to a few egregious entries, like that on the Iraq War by the staunch war opponent John Zmirak, in which he compares defenders of the Iraq war to the folks who pilloried Dreyfus (Zmirak has written hilarious stuff about the French Revolution and perhaps should've been chosen to write that entry instead).

For the most part, however, the tolerance of diverging viewpoints mirrors the differing political emphasis of various factions of the American right, and this is a welcome departure from other reference works.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 16, 2006 12:28 AM
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