Academic journal article American Studies

CREATING CONSERVATISM: Postwar Words That Made an American Movement

Academic journal article American Studies

CREATING CONSERVATISM: Postwar Words That Made an American Movement

Article excerpt

CREATING CONSERVATISM: Postwar Words that Made an American Movement. By Michael J. Lee. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. 2014.

Michael J. Lee has written one of the most important books about the creation of the conservative movement in the United States to date. Creating Conservatism is a work that seeks to understand conservatism from the perspective of the canonical texts that defined it. In order to accomplish this task the author unpacks the profundity of key books that influenced conservatives from the Second World War until the 1960s. Lee's most valuable contribution to the growing literature on conservative intellectuals is the recognition of the significance of print culture to the vitality of the American Right.

In order to connect the importance of print culture to conservatism, Lee conceptualizes what he calls the canonical jeremiad that argued for the implementation of "past principles" in the present (33-34). However, these canonical jeremiads were different in kind because of the shibboleths each writer saw as the evil destroying modern society.

At his best, Lee is prodigious at revealing how competing conservative dialects conflicted regarding their views on the sins plaguing the West. In the second chapter, Lee covers the traditionalist dialect found in the works of historian/theoretician Eric Voegelin and conservative culture critic Richard Weaver. Weaver and Voegelin began their jeremiads in different places in Western history. Weaver found his source of cul- tural decline in the empiricist nominalism of medieval thinker, William of Ockham, and Voegelin (a frequent conversant with Leo Strauss) in Gnosticism (60-61). Lee's revelations about the uneasy pairing of libertarians with the traditionalist wing of conservatism are located in chapters three and four. In this regard, the author shows the difficulties of including the likes of Friedrich Hayek, Barry Goldwater, and Brent Bozell (the ghostwriter of The Conscience of a Conservative), along with the religious conservatives such as Russell Kirk, because they disagreed on key philosophical assumptions. …

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