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The Future of Conservatism by M. Stanton Evans
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's review
Oct 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: political-history

First published in 1968 and revised in 1969, this book provides a snapshot from within the thick of those controversial times which according to Evans the demise of Liberalism occurs. Conservatism is not the bailiwick of the GOP but the GOP is a place where conservatism can more fully develop its roots. Stanton defines those roots (pp. 3) as unifying themes: “insistence on the primacy of the individual, a resulting desire for effective restraints on the exercise of political power, and a consequent antagonism to the overblown establishment in Washington.” He then summarizes these themes as a resistance to “the extension of Federal power.”

The advantage of reading Evans today is that it affords one the benefit of the outcome of history by which to judge his words. In particular, his view of the support for the war in Vietnam (pp. 85-86) seems to be a litmus test of conservatism. The conservative’s point of view was that support for our involvement was standing up to the global threat of communism but this seems to be at odds with the overreaching definition of conservatism given above. In retrospect, history judges American involvement in Vietnam, whether liberal or conservative, as misguided.

One important aspect of Evans’ writing is his commitment to ideas communicated by the written and spoken word. He believes that the conservative abounds in these talents whereas the liberal, vies a vie the bearded campus rebel, lacks the focus necessary to convince the public at large. One very interesting point that Evans mentions in passing are a few of the then conservative theoreticians such as, Forrest McDonald, Russell Kirk, etc. but the emphasis of his work is on the nuts and bolts of moving the conservative ideology into the mainstream of American politics. His analysis of the Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign in capturing the GOP nomination to the surprise of the liberal wing of the party by making inroads to Southern conservatism is quite persuasive and further; had JFK not been assassinated, Goldwater may well have been elected.

The GOP’s appeal to Southern conservatism i.e. the “Southern Strategy” as coined by Kevin Phillips in his 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority is still much in debate today. This debate centers around the underlying factors, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the rising socio-economic status of Southern whites post WW-II that were in play at the time, that made the strategy successful. Evan’s deals with Goldwater’s appeal to Southern whites (pp. 152-154) visa vie Goldwater’s vote against the Act as being consistent with the principles of conservatism rather than an alleged appeal to segregationist as liberals would have tarred him with. Scholars today, such as Byron Shafer and Richard Johnston in the recent book The End of Southern Exceptionalism, believe that they have statistically factored out the aforementioned factors and can show that race was only a secondary factor while others such as Dan T. Carter, the author of The Politics of Rage, argue otherwise. This is an entirely a new avenue of thought worth exploring.

Lastly, Evans offers a perspective in Chapter 17; The Power of Negative Thinking, which seems to address the liberal's concern: i.e. conservatism’s lack of ideas and their “resentments against the burgeoning costs of the welfare state.” His response (pp. 204) to the liberal wing of the GOP is that “The proper course for those who believe such things are wrong is to oppose them, not to invent some half-wrong to put in their place.”

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