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IC's Top 25 Philosophical and Ideological Conservative Books
No. 20 - Gregory L. Schneider: Conservatism in America since 1930: A Reader
by Dr. Enrico Peppe
03 February 2004Conservatism in America

Gregory Schneider's collection of essays is a must read principally for its emphasis on past and present diversity within the conservative movement.


There are many essay collections dealing with the American conservative tradition (William Buckley's 1970 Bobbs Merrill compilation stands out as one of the best).

But none can match the excellence of Schneider's production. The book is a must read for IC readers and deserves a spot on its "best of..." list principally for its emphasis on past and present diversity within the movement. The search for conservative identity signaled by Nash is replete in Schneider's selections. His introductions to each section of landmark readings can stand alone as instructional monographs. His objectivity is astounding, his scholarship, immense.

Dr. Schneider is an associate professor of history at Emporia State University. His advanced degree is in history through the University of Illinois at Chicago (1996). His research interests include politics, diplomacy, ideological movements and intellectual history. He is currently working on a manuscript entitled, Nemesis of Democracy: The Construction of American Conservatism.

Each section and selection within each defines its own brand of conservatism. A summary of sections and a brief explication of striking selections follows:

Section I - THE OLD RIGHT:

In the 30's, 40's and early 50's, sundry individuals inveighed against the excesses of the anti-depression methods of FDR and what was seemingly becoming mass-democratic, populist fervor amongst the citizenry. It appeared that the Jeffersonian Republic
was morphing toward socialism and empire, and that the "barbarians," visualized by Ortega, would totally ascend to power.

Two distributist-ruralist-elitist pieces, one by the Agrarians, one by Seward Collins, are early indications of what would years later influence the Paleo-Libertarian movements of Sam Francis and Lew Rockwell. The selection from Nock (a close confidante of WFB I and II) is puzzlingly entertaining.

The section concludes with a proposal statement by Felix Morley, in which he conceptualizes what would become the Human Events Journal. (1944) In its pre-Neo, Pre-Ann Coulter form, the publication would attempt to preserve and develop human, rather than national, "aggrandizement." It warns against
America becoming implicated "in unauthorized, unpredictable, and unlimited military commitments in every quarter of the globe."

II - Classical Liberalism:

The Great Depression and World War II, under the goal-tending governance of the Brain Trust, saw a galloping insurgence of government control, most especially in economic matters. Two selections, by Hayek and Friedman, discuss the threat posed by state planning. The Keynesian influence, it was felt, by both, would soon lead to losses of freedom in social as well as economic transactions. Schneider does not parse the subtle differences between the two. But the point made stands firm: The conservative movement was obtaining a face.

The Mont Pelerin Statement is rightfully included by the editor. After 10 days of discussion concluding on April, 1947, the "Statement of Aims" was published. Under the probable leadership of Hayek and with the help of other economists, journalists, and philosophasters, the group would hold that,

"(dangerous developments)...have been fostered by the growth of a view of history which denies all absolute moral standards...(the)...desirability of the rule of law...(and)...the decline of belief in private property and the competitive market."

The seeds of the later Libertarian and Paleo movements were planted.

III - Traditionalism:

World War II led to a stronger Federalism. It also led, said some, to a worldwide madness. Herbert Spencer's idea of progress has not only been based on pseudo-science -- it never existed. Yet, politicians and academics still held its maxims catechetical. Two great thinkers, Richard M. Weaver (See my IC review, #21) and Russell Kirk almost singlehandedly influenced a contemporary group of conservative intellectuals (among them, Bozell, and a hesitant WFB, Jr). They would in varying degree embrace "Traditionalism," an anti-progressive philosophy (proudly so) in which sound morality, within a Judeo-Christian framework, would save the West from ruin. Two seminal pieces by the above geniuses are included in the section. Schneider cleverly includes a piece by Frank Meyer (See my IC review #24) wherein the NR principal fusses over what he sees as too much reliance on order, and too little of such on individual freedom, by these "new conservatives."

Meyer had not yet bought into the Fusion Thing. The excerpt from Kirk's "The Conservative Mind," includes the famous "six canons." In abridged form, these are:

1. A belief in divine intent coupled with conscience, wherein politics is conceived as an appendage of Justice;
2. An affection for the mystery of tradition, as opposed to slavish glorification for the sterility of the Utilitarians;
3. A conviction that civilization requires order and an intellectual class;
4. A belief that property and freedom are connected.
5. A distrust of man's innate anarchic predisposition;
and,
6. A recognition that change and reform are not synonymous notions.

Kirk's Canons are landmark. These influenced one of the directions of the conservative movement. These also clarified the traditionalist stance so that the classical liberals could refine their positions.

The divisiveness within the Right would begin to take on speed.

IV - Anticommunism:

The Cold War unified the movement of the right somewhat (Morley and his Old Rightists still held out for a non-involved republicanism). The perceived evil nature of the Soviet Union and China found great dialectic fodder for the Traditionalists (the destruction of the order of the commonweal) and the Classical Liberals (the demise of individual freedom).

Out of this evolved an attenuated group of anticommunist journalists, politicians (Joe McCarthy, for example) and scholars, some from the secular free-enterprise school, some from the quasi-religious "eternal verities" school. A significant number of these individuals had been believers in and/or members of the Communist Party (notables include Burnham, John Dos Passos and the atheist, Max Eastman).

Most had a connection with the nascent anticommunist journal, National Review. All had a relationship with the young William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder, benefactor, and steward of the weekly.

Schneider beautifully juxtaposes the macabre Chambers in a piece from Witness, the introspective Gerhart Niemeyer, probing the communist mind and the young WFB, in a well-thought-out attack on the 1959 Khrushchev-Eisenhower meeting. Buckley argued forcefully that the captive nations had been brutally deceived.

That there was to be no talk of coexistence is shown dramatically by the last selection, "The Hungary Pledge." With a little over 90 words, the antipathy set forth is worth a full recitation:

The Soviet regime having by the Hungarian massacre demonstrated once again its isolation from the moral community, I pledge that until all Soviet troops and police are withdrawn from Hungary, I will enter into no economic, social, political, or cultural relations with that regime, or any of its domestic adherents or institutions, or with any Soviet citizens abroad (since these must act whether voluntarily or not as representatives of the regime), or with any persons or institutions freely condoning the Hungarian massacre, except for the sole purpose of persuading such individuals to defect.

The NR editors signed the pledge. The reviewer fondly remembers marching with the Freedom Fighters in New York City at about the time of the pledge. It seems so long ago (and not necessarily in time-span).

V - Fusion:

The conservative meld created to fend communism was at best, tactical. The primacy of order versus the variegated immediacy of the free market as a priori underpinnings would prove too potent a dialectic for theoretical synthesis.

But Frank Meyer tried for unification.

Steeped as he was in the classical liberal mode, he nevertheless, tried to find good in traditional "communitas" (See my IC review #24 for a full discussion of the book from which Schneider made his selection).

WFB's proposal for the creation of NR is included as a piece. As Schneider reports,  "The document gives a clear indication of Buckley's thinking concerning the need for a new magazine that could represent the conservative viewpoint. It also shows his willingness to embrace various positions and bridge the gap between the classical liberals and traditionalists."

A fascinating selection from Hayek is included, not because he was a fusion advocate, but for precisely the opposite. Hayek would not be trucking with the Right (though the Right would consistently embrace him). In the selection, "Why I am not a Conservative," Hayek likens conservatives to socialists. Writing as a classical liberal, he says,

(The) "fear of trusting uncontrolled social forces is closely related to two...characteristics of conservatism: its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces...A commitment to principles presupposes an understanding of the general forces by which the efforts of society are coordinated, but it is such a theory of society and especially of the economic mechanism that conservatism conspicuously lacks."

Prefix "Neo" to "conservatism" in the above and you have a smidgen of Lew Rockwell on Bill Kristol.

VI - The Plunge into Politics:

With the great Robert A. Taft dead and Joseph McCarthy censured, it appeared likely that success in practical politics was a long way off for the conservative movement. And it was. The Reagan revolution was 20 years away.

In the interim, however, there was excitement. As Schneider puts it, "The answer (to the void) came like a hot blast from the Arizona desert. Barry Morris Goldwater...proved to be the rising star of conservatism."

Though the 1964 presidential election was an unmitigated disaster for the conservatives, the defeat was in the realpolitical realm, not in the theoretical.

Out of this period came policy. Schneider brilliantly includes an excerpt from The Conscience of a Conservative, as well as the 1964 National Presidential Acceptance Address. Interspersed are pieces from YAF (Schneider is a YAF authority) and the famous Sharon (fusionist) statement. Policy would soon lead to national organizations of conservatives. There emerged a clear-cut conservative thinking.

Clearest of all is the no-nonsense stance of the venerable Phyllis Schlafly. In her A Choice, Not an Echo, she posits reasons why the obvious presidential nominee of 1964 had to be Senator Goldwater, and in so doing, outlines pure rightwing thought. Why hasn't the Steinem camp embraced such a woman?

VII - Libertarianism:

Goldwater had been soundly defeated. The Great Society emerged. The costliest government programs for the alleviation of social problems ever coupled with the war in Vietnam led to an angst-ridden era -- the 60's.

While the conservatives retreated to the journals and academe in order to think and write against the new socialism, the sentiment for the war was certainly coincident with the Johnson war machine.

However, there appeared a growing movement spirited by the ghost of Felix Morley. The Old Right was to be reborn. The late Murray Rothbard (who had written Morley praising him for his non-support of Goldwater) would, in a few short years, mobilize "individualists, classical liberals, Ayn Rand objectivists, and anarchists." Near-forgotten Old Rightists like John T. Flynn, Rose Wilder Lane, and Collins and Morley would ascend as spiritual godparents (Justin Raimondo's The Reclaiming Of The American Right is an excellent exposition of the ideas of the aforementioned). The success of the war protest can easily be attributed to the Libertarians.

With the birth of the Journal, "Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought," the movement became spectrum-free. The Ludwig Von Mises Institute (See my IC Review #22 on Mises), the Cato Institute, and the Libertarian Party all became instrumental in defining a distinct conservative position.

Schneider includes two pristine pieces by Rothbard in this section. What can one say about Rothbard? He was an American genius! A piece by Meyer lamenting the libertarian acceptance of the Left (he called it "libertinism") is, in the reviewer's mind, a portent of his turn toward Catholicism.

Schneider continues his use of credenda. The "Editorial Statement of the Libertarian Review" is featured. Part of it says, (We believe)..."that the present-day categories of 'left' and 'right' have become misleading and obsolete...(a) creative approach to liberty must transcend the confines of contemporary political shibboleths."

The LewRockwell.com website follows the above declaration completely.

VIII - New Rights:

If there is such a concept as Better Than Terrific (BTT), then this reviewer must apply this accurate redundancy to the "New Rights" section of the anthology.

Schneider, in his introduction, and in his selection of only three pieces, is able to do what has not been codified thus far -- he has outlined the origins and carefully presented the subtle innards of the current divisiveness facing the conservative movement of the present.

He uses William Rusher, Sam Francis and Irving Kristol.

Rusher saw the need for a larger conservative constituency (possibly a party) following his disappointment with Nixon. Realizing that Ivy-educated rightists and ex-communists (essentially the NR cadre) would not be influential enough for success, he prompted for an enlargement -- an enlargement whose voters would be found in many living rooms across the country at about 6:30 PM, news time. Disgusted and bewildered by Leftist ideology reflected in social areas like abortion, crime, and education, these
average citizens would constitute the hub of a new force.

Rusher and his notion of a "majority party" failed. But the idea prevailed.

Homo Americanus had power. It was now a question of where the strength of such would ply. The Democrat Party (full of Leftists)? The Republican Party (recoiling from Nixon's destruction)?

The question was not answered. Two things became clear, however: there was a populist element in conservatism (See my "Third Way" website) and there appeared Leftist intellectuals who noted that the dogmas of the Left were running rampant. The need to influence policy, whereby excess might be tempered, was imperative.

The piece by paleoconservative Sam Francis is splendid. He discusses the "New Right" in a way hitherto not explicated. This group and its social movement has a definable temperament and attitude, though there are visible demographics: In Francis' terms,

In the mid-70's, (the group) had a family income of three to thirteen thousand dollars. There (is) a strong presence among them of northern European ethnics, although Italians tended to account for more...than other groups...(They)...are twice as common in the South as in the north-central states. They tend to have completed high school but not to have attended college. They (are) more common among Catholics and Jews than among Protestants and among Mormons and Baptists than among other Protestant sects...

The affective features of these "Middle American Radicals" -- MARs, turned into characteristics, become part of a new and potent social movement. Francis:

...(the) New Right is not a conservative force but a radical or revolutionary one. It seeks the displacement of the entrenched elite, the discarding of its liberalism and cosmopolitanism, and its own victory as a new governing class...(the)...New Right is able to aspire to these ambitions because, unlike the Old Right, it has a viable social base...(in its adherents)...and in the dynamic economy of the Sunbelt.

(There is no better wordsmith than Francis. If only he had not spoken at that conference).

The piece by Neoconservative Irving Kristol defends corporate capitalism from attacks by both the Right and Left. Written in 1975, Kristol had not yet fully articulated his "two cheers for capitalism" stance (George Will had not yet discovered "soulcraft").

The piece according the Schneider is, "...pure and simple, an articulation of the economic themes developed by the conservative movement since World War II.."

But its immense importance is not necessarily found in its text; rather, it is found by examining who wrote it. Godfather Kristol is seen rightly as a representative of a group of liberal intellectuals, some, former communists, many Jewish, most raised in New York City, whose ideas, for the most part, came to resemble those of the Religious Right (sans the incarnation thing).

These brilliant people were soon to have a profound influence on the Great Communicator.

IX - The Reagan Era:

The election of 1980 and the subsequent Reagan era saw the influence of the Neoconservative ideology full-force. A revolution in government practice and economic machinations had begun -- and succeeded. Even the Democrats (albeit with some McGovern atavism) had moved to the center. Bill Clinton's election in 1992 was sure evidence.

Schneider's five selections, three speeches by the great Reagan, a Gipper retrospective by Hamiltonian conservative George Will, a cautionary cry asking conservatives not to be too pro tempore, a salient piece by Stephen J. Tonsor (Watch for Schneider's ISI book on this brilliant man!), and a Neocon apologetic by Dan Himmelfarb capture the elan vital of the period.

And it's especially relevant today.

The Tonsor chapter, "Why I Am Not a Neoconservative," widely read and circulated, in many ways, opened the debate between the Paleos and Neos (the anticommunist faction veering toward one or the other). From Tonsor, "If neoconservatives wish us to take their conservatism seriously, they must return to the religious roots, beliefs, and values of our common heritage. They cannot dither in the halfway house of modernity and offer us technical solutions that touch the symptoms but never deal with the causes of contemporary disorder."

The counterpoint article by Himmelfarb is splendid. The book under review could be purchased just for such a read
(he's kind to Gottfried and Fleming, but understands their motivation).

X -- Conservatism after Reagan:

Schneider's introduction examines the Current Fracture. IC readers will be more than up to speed on this topic since IC editor Rachel Alexander has made it a point to publish pieces that offer context to the current battledore.

Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis, Newt Gingrich, and Paul Weyrich all offer striking variations.

The last selection, from Policy Review, warns the conservative movement not to go the way of the Liberal experience: "Liberalism would surely have been better off had some substantial number of its most talented adherents been able or willing to take a step back from their ideological certainty and re-examine their premises in the light of real-world results."

Dr. Gregory L. Schneider set out to offer essays that would help in defining the Movement.

That he did is tautology.

Conservatism in America is available on Amazon.com.

Other books in the series

#21. Richard Weaver -- Ideas Have Consequences
#22. Ludwig von Mises -- Method, Money, and the Market

#23. Eric Voegelin -- Science, Politics and Gnosticism
#24. Frank Meyer -- In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo
#25. Leo Strauss -- Natural Right & History

Dr. Enrico Peppe is a retired educator who runs the website The Third Way. A widower with too much time on his hands, he spends most of his time reading and thinking about the conservative movement, studying Catholic theology, working on his "Third Way" website, listening to Sinatra and Miles Davis, and admiring Ann Coulter.

Email Dr. Peppe

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