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The Death of Conservatism

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  220 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
Sam Tanenhaus’s essay “Conservatism Is Dead” prompted intense discussion and debate when it was published in The New Republic in the first days of Barack Obama’s presidency. Now Tanenhaus, a leading authority on modern politics, has expanded his argument into a sweeping history of the American conservative movement. For seventy-five years, he argues, the Right has been spl ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Random House (first published January 1st 2009)
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Sep 30, 2009 rated it liked it
the world seems to want to order itself bilaterally. nature, that unfeeling uncaring wench, seems to have a thing for it. physically we have two arms, two eyes, two hands, two testicles, two breasts, etc... and we mostly organize ourselves into bilateral groupings: liberal/conservative, republican/democrat, capitalist/communist, etc... there's a mystical component to numbers (albeit, usually overblown by religinuts and new-age morons) just as there's a mystical component to symmetry. and that th ...more
Leonard Woods
Feb 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
This book is a complete waste of time. Like Todd's excellent reviews mentions, it's basically a masturbatory exercise for the literary class on one of their favorite topics - how stupid people who disagree with them are.

The basic argument is that Conservatives abandoned Tanenhaus's interpretation of Edmund Burke, and so modern Conservatives aren't really Conservatives. This is because modern Conservatives (i.e. not of the vein Tanenhaus likes) don't believe government should grow and do too muc
May 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My curiosity about this book stemmed from its pointed, provocative title, and the willingness to give it a chance. I knew or assumed that Tanenhaus could not possibly have been as naive to believe that the election of Obama was a definitive repudiation of conservatism, given the seemingly uphill battle the administration has had almost since beginning office against a Congress that its own party ostensibly dominated for two years. Having first published the book in 2009 (I read a 2010 edition wi ...more
Todd Martin
Sep 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: culture-politics
The Death of Conservatism is what passes for an intellectual effort in some circles. Basically it consists of an endless series of quotes from other sources lightly strung together with some connecting verbiage. Here’s a typical paragraph:

What America needed, Kristol proposed, was a renewed “national purpose” that could overcome “the ideological barrenness of the liberal and conservative creeds”. Later in the decade, Kristol expanded this argument, urging Republicans to give “comprehensive thoug
Anna Murray
Apr 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is surely one of the most ridiculous books that I've read in a long time. It's only redeeming quality was in the few pages it spent reviewing history. Other than that, the whole proposition of the book is silly; to wit, the Conservative party is dead in America unless they become more like the Democrats. Values and visions are not to be maintained, but rather, should flow and change with the desires of the populace, whatever those desires might be. Forget about giving people real choices in ...more
Esteban del Mal
Sep 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Always was a sucker for a good title.
Greg Heaton
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Really falls apart when he gets to Watergate. The detail and texture of 'conservatism's' founding is great, but he just glosses over the 'movement' from 70s to '08 when it was written. Reckoning what 'conservative' populism actually is -- how Buckley became Rush and Rush turned into Fox News -- is as important as how the old Bolshevik's turned into libertarians.

Still, a concise useful resource on how the 'conservative movement' started in opposition to the New Deal and Roosevelt.

Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm still not entirely clear on WHY the author thinks conservatism died, although I think it is something along the lines of the party ceasing to value contemplation about itself and its future. I do understand and agree with his characterization of the party defining itself by what it seems to prevent or destroy rather than what it seeks to preserve.
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review, is well known for his writings on conservative politics. He is the author of "Whittaker Chambers: A Biography" and of an equally-exhaustive forthcoming biography of William Buckley. This book is sandwiched between those. It was first published in 2009, in the wake of Barack Obama's stunning ascendancy of the Presidency; it was updated with an Epilogue from the author in 2010.

This is a brief, concise history of conservatism. Tanenbaus takes
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
The title is a bit misleading. No doubt it was chosen to entice readers after the 2008 election. What the book is actually about is more like the collapse of modern American conservatism's intellectual authority and its seriousness, not its ultimate electoral death. As we saw in 2010, 2014, and now in 2016, the Right is experiencing a resurgence. You can't say a political orientation like conservatism is dead when the Republican Party, which has moved to the right during the Obama era, controls ...more
Lucas Miller
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I purchased the book shortly after reading Christopher Hedges War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. That book had spun my head around pretty good, and I was searching for more information on Hedges. I watched a panel discussion with Hedges, Tanenhaus, and a third panelist whose name I can not recall. This book was intriguing and had a great title.

I pulled it off the shelf of my classroom because I increasingly felt like the conservative character of my teenage students political opinions no lon
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The title of this short, but densely written, book may seem like wishful thinking in the hindsight of last month's election results. I'm always skeptical whenever someone declares a particular movement "dead'. In this case, Tanenhaus covers the history of the conservative movement from the New Deal Era to the present. Skimming through the decades, he describes how movement conservatism went from opposition to the liberalism to dominating the political discourse in the past thirty years. The "dea ...more
Harsha Sekar
Sep 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
Tanenhaus's slender book frequently favors platitudes over substance--he offers very little hard evidence, empirical or qualitative, for why conservatism has "died," but rather frequently and often annoyingly name drops various commentators and introduces arbitrary quotations from the likes of Gary Wills in a confusing attempt to advance his titular claim. I finished this book shortly after the 2008 election, and in hindsight, Tanenhaus's prognosis is of course way off, as movement conservatism ...more
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it
I'd heard about this book from an NPR segment a while back and was quite interested in digging into the fundamental premise. The idea was quite interesting too. In practice though, the book felt too fractured and too detailed. It was a fairly lengthy list of names and influences throughout party history, and tracking who did what and why was far too complicated. The focus on this was meant to illustrate broader themes and trends I think, but in practice it just left me more lost in trying to pul ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A good overview of the history of the larger modern conservative "movements," including the neo-con orthodoxies that have gone so very wrong(hence the "Death"). Generally, the book is analytical, not written from the perspoective of a liberal peering down his nose. The book finishes with an articulate concern that the conservative orthodoxy movements have discredited themselves and removed a critical perspective providing credible dialog on social issues and political policies. Revitalizing the ...more
Nov 16, 2009 rated it liked it
A slim diatribe that took me an embarrassingly long time to get through, The Death of Conservatism makes the semi-convincing case that the abandonment of true Burkean conservative principles has left the New Right, with its hot-air demagoguery, estranged from the American populace. Though the Bill Owens and Doug Hoffman debacle speaks to that very point, Tanenhaus' skeletal outline asserting that revanchist Republicans ignoring the conservative electorate has led to the 'death' of its title is p ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Jun 29, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is an overrated, muddled gesture, widely reviewed and somewhat discussed but practically outdated. Here is Tanenhaus’s picture: there is Classical Conservatism (Edmund Burke, Disraeli) and there is this new-fangled Movement Conservatism (Barry Goldwater to the Tea Party). Classical is moderate and good—exemplified by Eisenhower and, gasp! Bill Clinton; Movement is radical and bad—see Reagan and Palin. The story is too convenient and sweeping to be accurate. He also complicates the pict ...more
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
An excellent short essay tracing the intellectual history of movement conservatism, from its origins as a political philosophy developed by disillusioned ex-Trotskyists (Whitaker Chambers, James Burnham etc.), to the American conservative movement founded by their students (W.F. Buckley, Russell Kirk) to its success in the 70's and 80's as a governing philosophy, and finally to its spectacular implosion during the Bush administration.
This book is important because it shows us how a political m
Oct 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
Very short book, which is actually mostly taken up recounting the rise of conservatism. But this is probably because it is harder for a reader today to understand why conservatism rose at all, than why it has fallen. Tanenhaus eventually says the conservative movement is what has died, and the reason is that America itself has become conservative. So, really, conservatism is somewhat ascendant, and it is merely the conservative movement that is dead.

I think the book gives much too little discuss
Joseph Stieb
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A solid critique of the decline of the conservative movement since the New Deal. Tannenhaus portrays the history of political and intellectual conservatives, dividing the movement into the purist "movement" camp and the "consensus" camp. He pushes for conservatism to stop being a government-destroying, revanchist movement and become a more reasonable opposition movement to liberalism. He looks at Burke and Disraeli, both conservatives who made key corrections and found consensus with more progre ...more
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
A succinct history of the conservative movement from the conservative reaction to the New Deal, all the way to President Obama's election in 2008. The author understands that citizens of the U.S.A. are both liberal and conservative. And the large problem that Conservatism has always faced is the fractures within the party, those hoping to conserve the status quo, versus those attempting to upset the apple cart with ideological purity. The book was written about 6 years before Donald Trump, and t ...more
Josh Zeringue
At first I hated this book because I disagreed with the author's political philosophy and his solutions for the decay of American conservatism.

But upon reflection, I realized there is much of value in the author's criticisms of modern conservatism. It is indeed a movement fundamentally defined by revanchism. This cannot be stressed enough!

The solution, however, is not a Republican Party that looks more like the Democrat Party. The solution is to reject Hannity, Beck, Coulter, Palin, Romney, etc
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, english
A few topics are as interesting to the political historian as the rise of the movement conservative in the U.S. Much like America's middle class, what we now call the conservatism in the U.S. was build artificially, not as a result of any natural historical process. Tanenhaus concentrates his narrative on the founding fathers of conservatism in America: Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley, Jr. He then traces how the movement developed and how, to the chagrin of both founders, the movement ...more
Sep 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot reading this book, though I'm not really sure I buy the argument for any number of reasons. On the other hand, it's kind of a compelling thesis that is sympathetic to the conservative movement despite the author's probable antipathy towards conservationism. I think, despite what's coming in November, the idea that conservatism as we know it is in ruins is pretty compelling. The right might win a lot of seats, but can they govern?

An index would be very handy for this one.
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should probably own a copy of this so that I can take the high ground and note that my taxes aren't paying for recreation. But, I did borrow it from the library - the down side is that it won't likely remain available there for as long as it should - conservatism keeps dying over and over again, and I need to keep up on its latest death spiral. It reads easily, and summarizes a good chunk of relevant political history. I do think at times that far too many people blur the line between conserva ...more
Rachel Weis
This well written little book on the history and current state of conservatism in the US is a timely read. I especially appreciated the non-partisan view points presented with clear accurate facts. Everyone interested in American politics should read this, regardless of ideology. As a matter of fact, this book denounces ideologies in general and promotes working to improve the current state at a fact based level. Very refreshing and unlike the media hype we are fed 24/7.
Feb 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Really a book-length essay collection by a neighbor and fellow journalist colleague, but there's nothing light-weight about it. It really opened my eyes to the "true" conservatism, which has little to do with the reactionary turf you usually associate the label with. A deeply cogent argument about why we need political engagement among those with differing views. Well done, and highly recommended if you want to understand American politics today.
C. Wallace Wallace DeWitt
While his conclusions are no doubt uncongenial to contemporary conservatives, Mr. Tanenhaus has produced a noteworthy critique of the Grand Old Party and, more broadly, the “Conservative Movement.” My full review is available here.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
It doesn't quite prove its title's claim that movement conservatism has died, but Tanenhaus provides a great overview of the ebb and flow of conservatism in America. He especially nails the tension between classical conservatism and movement conservatism. At roughly 120 pages, it's a quick read and certainly worth your time if you're interested in the subject.
Denis Kaufman
Sep 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very good review of American conservatism over the last century, and of the crucial differences between classical conservatism (which is conservative) and "movement" conservatism (which is anything but conservative). Also a fair warning of the dangers that waning (classical) conservatism portends for liberalism in America.
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Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of both The New York Times Book Review and the Week in Review section of the Times. From 1999 to 2004 he was a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he wrote often on politics.

His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications. Tanenhaus’s previous book, Whittaker Chambers: A Biogra
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