Posted by Tod Lindberg on 10th August 2009
August 10, 2009
The Conservatives: Ideas & Personalities Throughout American History, by Patrick Allitt (Yale, 336 pp., $35)
In numerous books over the years, conservatives have offered historical perspectives on conservatism, liberals on liberalism, and each on the other, crowding bestseller lists and remainder piles alike. The common denominator is usually a polemical zest that is a product of the sense that major issues are at stake in our politics right now. The past is chiefly a storehouse from which to select what’s useful to the debate at the moment.
Patrick Allitt is a professor of history at Emory University, and whatever political opinions he may hold, he keeps them to himself in The Conservatives. His wideranging, briskly written survey of the American Right from the founding era through the end of the 20th century is no conservative history of conservatism in the sense of an attempt to vindicate a conservative viewpoint against others, nor is it a liberal debunking exercise. Rather, it is a descriptive account, situated at the crossroads of intellectual and political history, that seeks to allow the various strains of conservative thought in America to emerge in the context of the political debate of their time.