The Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America

Course Overview: The Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America

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The growth of conservatism is arguably the most significant development in American political life in the past half century. In 1953, the famous Columbia critic Lionel Trilling proclaimed, “In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. . . . The conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not . . . express themselves in ideas but only . . . in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” But already change was stirring. That same year Russell Kirk published The Conservative Mind, the first of many books by many thinkers that would shape an intellectual movement. That intellectual movement would, in turn, inspire a broader political movement that has fundamentally altered the contours of American life—and even, in the final confrontation with Soviet communism which brought that great tyranny to an end, the life of the whole world.

For the most part, none of this is reflected in the course offerings available to American university students. Courses in the liberal tradition are the bread and butter of academic political theory, and in some cases entire departments have been spawned to examine and advance the intellectual foundations of “the” alternative—which is to say, the social-democratic tradition, even further to the left. But you will search long and hard to find the handful of fitfully offered courses in conservative thought.

Because of this, ISI is pleased to partner with the Citadel to make available, online, the high-quality course “The Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America.” Thanks to the efforts of Mallory Factor, the John C. West Professor of International Politics and American Government at the Citadel, the course features lectures by many of the leaders who have contributed to the growth of conservatism—figures such as former attorney general Edwin Meese; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld; lawyer, activist, and author Phyllis Schlafly; National Rifle Association president and former American Conservative Union chairman David Keene; former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed; Senator Rand Paul (R-KY); and publisher Alfred Regnery. This is an unparalleled opportunity to learn from those who helped make the history they are interpreting.

The course proceeds largely chronologically. Although the American conservative movement began to coalesce only after the Second World War, conservatism as such has its roots in the thought of the Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke and the English jurist William Blackstone. Gathering up the best fruits of Western civilization into a durable political order, America’s own Founding can be seen as a conservative triumph and our Founders as models of prudent conservative statesmanship. In the twentieth century, conservatives struggled with antagonists on multiple fronts. The Progressive movement and the New Deal aggrandized federal government power; central planning threatened to eclipse economic liberty and put us on the road to serfdom. Soviet communism endangered the whole world with its ideological lies and nuclear weapons. And collapsing cultural and moral norms after the 1960s unraveled the very fabric of our social order. In the course of these conflicts, however, conservatives became ever more aware of the substantial unity and intellectual power of their commitments.

Every intellectual tradition is a tradition of arguments, both external and internal, with many disagreements. In any living tradition, even many fundamental questions remain open to continuous debate. And so it is with American conservatism. How can it be that the American Founding can be understood as conservative when it was itself the fruit of a revolution? How can the dynamism of free-market capitalism be squared with a commitment to settled ways of life? How can individual liberty be reconciled with the need for morally authoritative community? These are only some of the basic questions raised in this course. Conservatism is not an ideology; it is not a closed system of abstractions with pat answers to dispense. Rather, it an intellectually powerful political perspective grounded in the realities of human nature and human community. It is ever evolving, even as it remains faithful to first principles. American conservatism is among the most important political phenomena of our time, and its intellectual foundations deserve the careful attention to which this course pays them.

Getting the Most from the Course

All intellectual inquiry is best pursued in community—which is why we have schools and universities. Although this course may be followed by individuals, you should consider getting a group of friends together to “take” the course, with time set aside on a regular basis for discussing the themes in common. Your discussions will significantly enhance your grasp of the material. All the course lectures will be available on video. They are fascinating—but inevitably they are not comprehensive. To really get the most from the course, therefore, it is important to “do the reading.” It is in the readings that you will encounter the real depth and breadth of conservative insight.

Course Facilitator:

Mallory Factor
John C. West Professor of International Politics and American Government at the Citadel

Section One: Introduction

Alfred S. Regnery
Session 1: Introduction to the Conservative Intellectual Tradition
Publisher Alfred S. Regnery

Section Two: The Foundations of American Conservatism

David Armstrong Norcross
Session 2: Edmund Burke and the Origins of Modern Conservatism
David Armstrong Norcross
Newt Gingrich
Session 3: The Conservative Tradition and the American Experiment
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich
Michael Barone
Session 4: The Fragility of Ordered Liberty: Tocqueville and Conservative Conceptions of Liberty, Equality, and Community
Political Commentator Michael Barone

Section Three: The 20th Century and the Recovery of a Conservative Tradition

Burton W. Folsom
Session 5: New Deal Progressivism, the Jeffersonian Revival, and the Agrarian Tradition
American Historian Burton W. Folsom, Jr.
Yaron Brook
Session 6: The Emergence of Libertarianism
Ayn Rand Institute Director Yaron Brook
David A. Keene
Session 7: William F. Buckley Jr., Fusionism, and the Three-Legged Stool of Conservatism
National Rifle Association President David A. Keene
Douglas J. Feith
Session 8: The Cold War, Anti-Communism, and Neo-Conservatism
Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith

Section Four: Conservative Triumph, Consensus, and Crisis

Edwin Meese
Session 9: The Reagan Revolution
Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese
Daniel J. Mitchell
Session 10: The End of Big Government as We Know It
Economist Daniel J. Mitchell
Phyllis Schlafly
Session 11: Cultural Conservatism and the Religious Right
Political Activist Phyllis Schlafly
Donald Henry Rumsfeld
Session 12: The Bush Doctrine, Compassionate Conservatism, and the War on Terror
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld
James Woolsey
Session 13: The Future of the Conservative Movement
Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Eugene Reed, Jr., and Former CIA Director James Woolsey

Course Overview

Section One: Introduction
Section Two: The Foundations of American Conservatism
Section Three: The 20th Century and the Recovery of a Conservative Tradition
Section Four: Conservative Triumph, Consensus, and Crisis