The Conservative Tradition in America

By Charles W. Dunn; J. David Woodard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Historical Development of
American Conservatism

The future, as always, is veiled from our vision. But for the
moment the conservative intellectual movement in
America,
born in the wilderness a generation ago, has undeniably
achieved an unprecedented level of influence and importance
... to understand this intellectual movement and its
aspirations, one must understand history.

GEORGE H. NASH1

"The United States," writes Seymour Martin Lipset, "may properly claim the title of the first new nation." This designation means that it was the first country to successfully develop an industrial economy with an integrated social structure and a stable democratic polity without disintegrating in the process. 2 But the nation did not spring from virgin soil without a value system rooted in years of toil and experience. There is a type of spiritual history, what Eric Voegelin calls "paradigmatic" history, which traces the intellectual and cultural development of a nation. 3 Every person loves something, and these attachments structure existence in some way. To understand America is first to comprehend the values which guided the formation of its institutions in the early republic. Conservatives focus on a set of values which defined the "good life" in America at the time of its founding. The American economy owed its success to hard, continuous work, frugality, self-disciplined living, and individual initiative. Such values came from across the Atlantic, from notions of individual honesty that grew out of the Reformation and would later be known as the Protestant work ethic. More immediately, the political system owed its genesis to the English Revolution of 1640 and the subsequent transfer of power to Parliament institutionalized by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In England, parlia

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