Comprehensive overview of the history and future of American conservatism.
Lichtman (History/American Univ.; The Keys to the White House: A Surefire Guide to Predicting the Next President, 1996, etc.) begins his impressive survey by discussing the years following World War I, when social unrest, nationalism and revulsion at an increasingly permissive and pluralistic culture gave rise to a uniquely modern conservative movement. Although conservative issues have evolved with the time—rooting out communist “subversives” in the 1930s, “massive resistance” to racial integration in the 1950s, the “culture wars” of the 1980s—the movement’s fundamental values, Lichtman asserts, have remained the same. For conservatives, he writes, “the driving forces of American history” have always been “Christianity and private enterprise, not secular reason and social engineering.” With an extraordinary breadth of vision and an impressive grasp of the forces that shape political history, the author examines the many forces underlying modern conservatism and lays out some of the challenges it faces. Although most Americans believe in free enterprise and individual rights, Lichtman argues that they also expect the government to take care of its citizens, which is one reason that conservative efforts to dismantle government programs like Social Security and laws like the Civil Rights Acts have been unsuccessful. And although Republicans have established a virtual lock on middle- and upper-income white Protestant voters, the nation’s increasing diversity has prevented the GOP from dominating American political life. Heading into the 21st century, Lichtman writes, a devoutly conservative Republican Party has an edge on its liberal challengers in political organizing and mobilization. But without a clear direction for the post-Bush future, conservatism could face an internal implosion with lasting implications.
An important examination of the political, moral and economic forces that continue to shape the movement.