Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Death of Conservatism - Sam Tanenhaus

Sam Tanenhaus' book The Death of Conservatism was highlighted on the September 18, 2009 episode of Bill Moyers' Journal. According to the PBS web site:
Tanenhaus suggested that today’s conservatism is mostly bereft of substantive ideas and instead consists of extreme reactions against the liberal social and policy agenda. He said:

“These radical people on the right – and they include intellectuals and the kinds of personalities we’re seeing on television and radio and also to some extent people marching in the streets – think America has gotten away from them. Theirs is a politics of reclamation and restoration... If you are a free-marketeer, or an evangelical, or a social conservative, or even an authoritarian conservative, you can all agree on one thing: you hate the liberals that are out to destroy us. That’s a very useful form of political organization. I’m not sure it contributes much to our government and society, but it’s politically useful and we’re seeing it again today... The paradox of conservatism is that it gives the overt signs of energy and vitality, but the rigor mortis I described is still there. As a philosophy, as a system of government that all of us can learn from as a means of evaluating ourselves, our social responsibilities, [and] our personal obligations and responsibilities, it has – right now – nothing to offer.”

Reviewing Tanenhaus’ book in THE NEW CRITERION magazine, Manhattan Institute senior fellow James Piereson argued that Tanenhaus ignores much conservative thought while castigating conservatives for failings that are also common among liberals. He wrote:

“Tanenhaus does not inquire seriously into the reasons why conservatives are uneasy with the welfare state, why some see in it a threat to liberty and others an encouragement to the breakdown of the family and self-government... He acknowledges that there is an important role for conservatism, but it must be a ‘genuine’ conservatism that preserves but does not seek to overturn liberal gains... Many of the sins Tanenhaus attributes to conservatives – overly zealous attachment to principle or ideology, unwillingness to adapt to change, impatience with popular opinion – are on display as much or more among liberals. If Tanenhaus or anyone else wishes to see liberalism in action, he might venture on to an elite college campus where only liberal and leftist views are permitted peaceful expression, or out to Sacramento or up to Albany where liberal Democrats, long in control, have spent their states into near bankruptcy... If conservatism is dead, in short, then so is liberalism, and much else besides.”

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