Modern political history offers no more astonishing story than the account of how the American conservative movement emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, in the early 1950s, trounced the regnant liberals, and established itself as the dominant political force in the United States. Professional historians have been slow to take up the task, no doubt because so many of them are liberals themselves and find the story positively painful to recount.
But in recent years the bookshelves have begun filling with accounts written by people who were themselves participants in the movement. And one that has just been published deserves the attention not only of conservatives eager to learn the origins and history of their cause, but of liberals genuinely interested to know how it all came about. The book is " Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism" by Alfred S. Regnery (Threshold Editions), and it can be recommended unreservedly.
Regnery is the son of the late Henry Regnery, who made a career of publishing conservative books that would otherwise never have seen the light of day, and is himself the publisher of The American Spectator, a well-regarded journal of conservative opinion. He gives us a clear chronological account of the birth and growth of the conservative movement, and then supplements this with extensive descriptions of the interface between the movement and such important aspects of our culture as the law, the economy and religion, among others.
It was in the early 1950s that Lionel Trilling made his famous observation that "In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation." The observation was accurate, but on the ragged edge of obsolescence. In the mid-1950s, the late William F. Buckley Jr. assembled a varied group of conservative intellectuals under the banner of his magazine National Review and launched a full-scale counterattack on the liberals -- denouncing their appetite for Big Government, calling for a return to the values of the Western Christian tradition, and demanding staunch resistance to world communism. Later in the decade, Russell Kirk launched his quarterly, Modern Age, on much the same principles, and by 1960 a whole new intellectual movement was under way.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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