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The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times [Paperback]

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Item description for The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times by Jeffrey Peter Hart...

The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times by Jeffrey Hart

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Item Specifications...

Pages   410
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 6.5" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 30, 2006
Publisher   Intercollegiate Studies Institute
ISBN  193385913X  
ISBN13  9781933859132  

Availability  0 units.

More About Jeffrey Peter Hart

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Jeffrey Hart, Professor Emeritus of English at Dartmouth College, holds a BA and PhD from Columbia University and served in U.S. Naval Intelligence during the Korean War. A longtime senior editor at "National Review," he is the author of nine books, including "Acts of Recovery: Essays on Culture and Politics "and "Smiling through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education."

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > History & Theory
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Media Studies

Reviews - What do customers think about The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times?

Not Buckley's mind  May 21, 2008
Mr. Hart makes in this book a literate excersize in subjectivism. Over the years he has created his own version of the Conservative Movement. And it doesn't resemble the thought and mind of William F. Buckley or National Review. I could cite many examples of this but it is not worth my time. I just threw this book away and suggest to any NR or Buckley's fan to save the money and the time.
Excellent on many levels  Jan 28, 2007
While it is unlikely that Jeffrey Hart will succeed in writing George W. Bush out of conservatism as Whittaker Chambers did Ayn Rand, he certainly tries. Overall, his survey of National Review's half century is an excellent account of the magazine and its personalities, of the major conservative intellectual trends, and of their application to and commentary on history as it developed over the past fifty years. There exists an uneasy tension between Hart the NR editor, Hart the historian and Hart the political commentator and the author's tendency towards editorializing about contemporary issues that historians are unlikely to deem particularly important will probably prevent what is otherwise one of the better books about American conservatism from standing independent of the place and time of its publication. That said, it is eminently readable and well worth the price.
More Excellent, Readable History From Jeffrey Hart  Aug 18, 2006
Jeffrey Hart, a distinguished professor of English at Dartmouth, has a sideline of writing some really absorbing histories of American culture. His latest is this thoroughly absorbing work, which is part memoir, part chronicle of the shifting currents of politcal thought over the past fifty years as reflected by the conservative magazine "National Review". The hero of this book is William F. Buckley, Jr., who was arguably the most influential journalist of his times. He almost single-handedly reshaped American conservativism into an intellectually powerful and emotionally appealing movement, and made possible the emergence of Ronald Reagan, who really did change the world.

Hart profiles the motley band of ex-communists and former radicals who became major figures at "NR". There are fascinating profiles of the acidic Wilmoore Kendall; the brilliant book editor Frank Meyer; James Burnham, the global strategist and inspiration to Orwell; and Whittaker Chambers (of course). The book also benefits from Hart's personal knowledge of two of the dominant Republican presidents of the era, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In Hart's view, Nixon had the opportunity to forge a center-right majority years before Reagan, but blew it because of his personal demons which lead to criminal misdeeds. It took Reagan's sunnier nature to eventually triumph.

Hart doesn't let "NR" off the hook for its missteps. Their antagonism towards Eisenhower was misdirected (that president is now pretty much universally regarded as great.) Their stupid late defence of Joe McCarthy cost them the opportunity to publish something by T.S. Eliot, who objected to McCarthy's presence in the magazine. Hart suggests the editors blew it with race relations in the 1960's. And Hart has harshly critical words for George W. Bush and his supporters at the magazine.

But these things have to be balanced against the good things: the expulsion of the extremist John Birch Society from the conservative movement. The wit, irreverence, and sheer fun of the writing. And the laying of the intellectual groundwork that would create the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that would help heal a desperate America after the traumas of the '60's and '70's. Hart does a terrific job of retelling the story. (I'm penalizing the book one star for snobbery against the South and West, and members of "eccentric churches like Mormonism.")
What he saw at the revolution  Jul 10, 2006
This is a excellent book, and also an incomplete one. The excellence is captured in its subtitle, "'National Review' and Its Times." Where it is incomplete -- where it overreaches somewhat -- is in the assumption of its title, "The Making of the American Conservative Mind." The reader would have been better served if title and subtitle had been reversed before publication.

Jeffery Hart was part of the "National Review" story more or less from the beginning, and so this is a fascinating memoir. His depictions of key players (particularly the ones portrayed on the cover, Buckley, Burnham, Kirk, Kendall, and Meyer; oddly, though Whittaker Chambers is pictured as well, his is not a major presence in the book: William Rusher would have been a better choice) are quite good. So too are Hart's evocations of Goldwater, Eisenhower, and Reagan. He has a novelist's eye for interpersonal dynamics and the tensions created by egos and approaches in conflict.

I almost wrote "ideologies" or "philosophies" in place of "approaches" in the previous sentence. But another area where Hart is quite good is in explicating what he sees as NR's crucial frame of reference over the decades, a focus on "strategic, prudential, and therefore gradualist conservatism" (p. 241). Planted by Burke and fed and watered by Burnham and Kirk, this conservatism lives in the real world (it says) and rejects absolutes, ideologies, and utopias. Therefore, Hart criticizes a later generation of NR writers who "on the grounds that lower taxes meant less government, always supported tax cuts. But in the real world, Americans wanted such programs as Medicare and Social Security, and these had to be paid for" (p. 335). Hart makes it clear that Buckley, in particular, was never a revolutionary or (in the word's original meaning) a "radical." He wanted to reform the Establishment, not tear it down, and his goal (and Burnham's) was to make NR the voice of that Establishment. Not for them Garrison's warning that "Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice."

As implied in the last paragraph, one of the parts of this book I found most fascinating was Hart's evident disappointment in the direction NR has taken in the last decade or two. More in sadness than in anger, Hart says the magazine has become too "topical" -- more of a conservative news magazine, less of an intellectual forum. The founding generation, so to speak, were university professors, philosophers, and other intellectuals of a high order. In contrast, today's NR contributors are, by and large, journalists. While he speaks highly of current editor Rich Lowry's biography of Bill Clinton, it's clear Hart sees no one in the Manhattan or DC offices who can pick up the colors laid down by Kirk, Kendall, and Meyer. The corresponding decline of NR as the agora where varying modes of conservatism are weighed and measured seems, not without merit, deeply disappointing to Hart.

If all that makes for a very interesting book, there are also certain clear, perhaps deliberate, shortcomings here. A key part of NR's campaign to be that voice of the Establishment was to "help define by exclusion views that were beyond the pale" of respectable opinion (p. 70). Hence the drumming-out, for good reasons or bad, of the Birchers, the Randians, the Rothbardians, the Buchananites and (more significantly) the reinforcement of the myth that modern American conservatism was born in the alliance of Buckley and Burnham some time in the early 1950s. Other books by NR alums, like Rusher's The Rise of the Right (1984), do this too.

But interestingly, I heard a tape recording of some National Review banquet back in the late 70s or early 80s where a speaker (Rusher? Allard Lowenstein?) introduced Buckley as "America's leading spokesman for conservatism ... of a sort." Meant mostly in jest, it's actually a pretty good classification. Despite NR's attempt to corral conservatism within its own preferred limits, there's actually quite a bit more to it. I'd therefore recommend other books to read alongside this one: perhaps The Conservative Movement (Social Movements Past and Present) by Paul Gottfried, Revolt from the Heartland: The Struggle for an Authentic Conservatism by Joseph Scotchie, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (Background: Essential Texts for the Conservative Mind) by Justin Raimondo, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, and of course, The Betrayal of the American Right by Murray Rothbard.

Over the years, "National Review" has tried to shape the American mind, and has been vastly influential in molding several generations of thinkers and activists. Jeffrey Hart has given us a very good view of the magazine's history and relevance, though there is yet more still to tell.
A Must Read on American Culture and Politics  Mar 30, 2006
This book is one of the seminally important works for understanding American politics in the last half of the twentieth century. The great unreported story of modern American politics and culture is how a small band of intellectuals working under the banner of National Review nearly single handedly changed the terms of the American political debate (but alas could not change the culture)both through the magazine and through the people and organizations that it bred. Hart provides an insider's reportage of that story. He masterfully describes the personalities who were most influential and how they competed and cooperated to state the basis of the new American conservatism. But he also has the deep intellect to understand and distill the essence of the ideas propounded. He gently critiques those ideas and the magazine without losing crediblity as a historian of the modern conservative movement.

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