August 3, 2008
FROM THE ARCHIVES: EIGHTEEN SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL "START OF THE COMMON ERA" DAY:Modern Tomes: The best conservative writing of the last 20 years. (George H. Nash, July/August 1997, Policy Review)
A number of years ago, the writers Malcolm Cowley and Bernard Smith invited a group of American intellectuals to identify the nonfiction books of recent decades that had most impressed them and had to some extent influenced their thinking. The result was an intriguing volume entitled Books That Changed Our Minds. In it, 11 contributors analyzed such classics as The Education of Henry Adams and Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West.
The Cowley-Smith anthology came to mind recently when the editors of Policy Review asked me to compile a list of the most important and influential works advancing conservative ideas in the past 20 years. At first the task seemed simple, as obvious candidates sprang quickly to consciousness. Then it became more daunting, as the sheer scope of conservative literature since 1977 came into view. How to extract from this vast and specialized cornucopia a mere 10 or 15 titles? Moreover, many conservative books of the last two decades have been intellectually important and richly deserving of recognition but not, alas, as influential as they ought to be. Many other conservative writings in this period have been primarily of intramural significance-applauded inside the movement but unfortunately little noticed outside it.
How, then, should we navigate the rapids? It is here that the Cowley-Smith volume of years ago suggests a decisive criterion: Which writings of a conservative character in the past 20 years can be said to have changed minds? Which have discernably altered America's public conversation and (in some cases) its public policy?
What follows, then, is neither an exhaustive canon of recent conservative "great books" nor a mechanical compendium of bestsellers. It is, rather, a chronological list of 12 books, two articles, and two speeches that, at least as much as many others, have given the intellectual climate of our time a conservative cast.
Happily enough, three of these are actually on-line, including the Solzhenitsyn address, which I personally consider to be the best speech of modern times:
-SPEECH: A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered At Harvard University (Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, June 8, 1978)
-SPEECH: Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (Ronald Reagan, Orlando, Florida, March 8, 1983)
-ESSAY: Dan Quayle Was Right: The social-science evidence is in: though it may benefit the adults involved, the dissolution of intact two-parent families is harmful to large numbers of children. Moreover, the author argues, family diversity in the form of increasing numbers of single-parent and stepparent families does not strengthen the social fabric but, rather, dramatically weakens and undermines society (Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, April 1993, Atlantic Monthly)
[originally posted: 2002-12-07] Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2008 3:34 PM