- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alfred S. Regnery grew up with the American conservative movement.

It even affected a family vacation one year when his father, conservative book publisher Henry Regnery, reviewed a manuscript of “The Conservative Mind,” a 1953 book by Russell Kirk, one of the early leaders in the conservative movement.

“My brother, sisters and I could not extract him from the chair because he’s reading this manuscript. He was so enthralled with it, and we would have liked to have had him come out with us and gone swimming and climb mountains,” Mr. Regnery recalled in an interview.

Mr. Kirk’s book bolstered a fledgling conservative movement facing the dominant political philosophy of liberalism, which emerged in the first half of the 20th century, Mr. Regnery says in his new book about the history of the conservative movement. In “Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism,” Mr. Regnery chronicles the movement from its formative years in the 1940s and ‘50s all the way to the presidency of George W. Bush.

Many intellectuals, politicians, activists and writers built the movement to fight liberalism, Mr. Regnery says in his book. The Republican Party, the movement’s dominant political wing, has failed to win and might lose again, but the philosophical wing always lives on, he said.

President Wilson ignited the political force of liberalism in the 1910s with his policies of expansive government, followed by Presidents Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Regnery notes.

The government’s fight against the Great Depression and the success of the government-run World War II operation led to liberalism’s dominance, Mr. Regnery said.

“So in the view of most people, both the Great Depression and World War II had been won by big government,” he writes.

Conservatism worked against liberalism with the combined efforts of libertarian, traditionalist and anti-communist conservatives, he says in his book. The philosophical movement began with writers like Mr. Kirk, a conservative philosopher, and William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review, a biweekly conservative magazine that claimed a circulation of 155,000 in 2004.

Anti-communists such as Whittaker Chambers also played a major role in the conservative movement, along with Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Mr. Regnery said.

Mr. Goldwater’s 1964 presidential bid marked the first time that a conservative candidate received Republican Party approval, Mr. Regnery writes.

“With Goldwater came the idea that conservatism was more than an academic exercise. It was actually politics as well,” Mr. Regnery said.

In 1980, Mr. Reagan became the first conservative elected president and then showed that conservatives can govern successfully on their principles, Mr. Regnery said.

Mr. Reagan’s presidency also signaled the movement’s maturity, Mr. Regnery asserts in his book.

“It’s, I think, a fair statement to say that Reagan-style conservatism has been the dominant political ideology of the United States for the last generation,” said Donald F. Kettl, director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank.

These five conservatives — Mr. Reagan, Mr. Goldwater, Mr. Chambers, Mr. Buckley and Mr. Kirk — most influenced the movement, Mr. Regnery said.

A general top three would be Mr. Reagan, Mr. Goldwater and Mr. Buckley, said Mr. Kettl. People might debate the other two, he added.

The intellectual wing of the conservative movement perseveres despite the fate of the Republican Party, said Mr. Regnery, citing the growth of the conservative movement during the 1960s and ‘70s, before Mr. Reagan became president.

Societal trends in family structure and race favor Democrats, a consensus of scholars said at a recent symposium on election demographics co-hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. Mr. Regnery refused to concede ultimate defeat for the Republican Party, saying that “politics is cyclical” and that “there are a great many factors which determine the way people vote and whether they vote.”

Mr. Regnery cited the 1976 election as an example of the cyclical nature of politics. Republicans held less than 40 percent of the seats in Congress and lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter, the former Georgia governor.

“And people, again, were saying, ‘This party is done. There’s no way it can come back.’ And people were actually advocating abolishing the Republican Party, burning down the headquarters and starting over. Four years later, Ronald Reagan wins with a landslide,” Mr. Regnery said.

He said the ideological wing of conservatism “is doing just fine,” but the political wing lacks an outstanding leader like Mr. Reagan or Mr. Goldwater. Such a leader, whoever it might be, will emerge eventually, Mr. Regnery said.

“People say the conservative movement is deteriorating. I don’t think the movement’s deteriorating. I think that it’s threatened by politicians who are using it for their own purposes and” are deviating from “the principles they were elected on,” Mr. Regnery said.

But Mr. Kettl said “there’s a genuine crisis” in both the liberal and conservative movements as they redefine their ideas. Liberals need to figure out how large of a government people will accept, while conservatives need to solve questions about foreign affairs and the government’s role in the economy.

The dominant ideology will be the one that resolves these questions first, he said.

Among conservatives, Mr. Reagan is “the king of the movement” for his ability to win elections on conservative ideas, Mr. Kettl said. Mr. Reagan serves as the “gold standard to which conservatives have been compared since.”

Mr. Reagan was a true conservative, unlike former President George H.W. Bush and his son, the current president, Mr. Regnery said. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive 2008 Republican nominee, may have a fairly conservative voting record, but his positions on campaign finance reform and global warming “directly fly in the face of conservative principles,” he added.

George W. Bush has governed as a big-government conservative in areas such as spending, executive power and civil liberties, contradicting the traditions of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Goldwater, said Edward H. Crane, president and founder of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“The conservative movement has lost its way badly by this big-government conservatism,” he said.

Mr. Crane worked for Youth for Goldwater during the 1964 presidential campaign.

In his book, Mr. Regnery traces the role of neoconservatives in the movement, interested at first in domestic social policy and now in foreign affairs.

Lee Edwards, a scholar specializing in the history of the conservative movement at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said neoconservatives hold positions contrary to conservatism: a big government that favors activist, internationalist policies on foreign affairs.

Neoconservatives influenced Mr. Bush on foreign policy after September 11, 2001, Mr. Regnery says in his book.

“Conservatives don’t believe in interventionism. They believe that when you send troops some place, you do it because it’s going to serve us, and … we’re going to have a fairly defined role. We’re going to know when and how we’re going to get out of it. And certainly, none of those things fit the Iraq situation,” Mr. Regnery said.

Many conservatives may have supported the Iraq war out of patriotism, loyalty to Mr. Bush or repulsion to the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime, he said. They want the United States to win the war and leave Iraq, he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide