The Conservatives


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Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History

Patrick Allitt

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An even-handed, comprehensive assessment of conservative thought in America, from the Constitutional Convention to the present

This lively book traces the development of American conservatism from Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Daniel Webster, through Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover, to William F. Buckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan, and William Kristol. Conservatism has assumed a variety of forms, historian Patrick Allitt argues, because it has been chiefly reactive, responding to perceived threats and challenges at different moments in the nation’s history.

While few Americans described themselves as conservatives before the 1930s, certain groups, beginning with the Federalists in the 1790s, can reasonably be thought of in that way. The book discusses changing ideas about what ought to be conserved, and why. Conservatives sometimes favored but at other times opposed a strong central government, sometimes criticized free-market capitalism but at other times supported it. Some denigrated democracy while others championed it. Core elements, however, have connected thinkers in a specifically American conservative tradition, in particular a skepticism about human equality and fears for the survival of civilization. Allitt brings the story of that tradition to the end of the twentieth century, examining how conservatives rose to dominance during the Cold War. Throughout the book he offers original insights into the connections between the development of conservatism and the larger history of the nation.

Patrick Allitt is Goodrich C. White Professor of History and Director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum at Emory University. He lives in Atlanta.

"This is a spirited and scouring intellectual history, likely to become a minor classic.  What is called 'conservative' is shown to be a uniquely American core of convictions repeatedly summoned to hold the fort against waves of Europeanizing assailants."—Charles Hill, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"Patrick Allitt has written a perceptive, rigorously balanced, and richly panoramic account of conservative ideas and thinkers in American politics and culture since 1787.  This is a welcome indeed, necessary book."—George H. Nash, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945

"Allitt shows how 'conservatism' has an American history best understood in terms of its fluid meanings, plural definitions, and oppositional currents."—David Hoeveler, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Allitt's writing is lively, and he has a gift for summarizing the complicated ideas he deals with in this welcome history."—Leo P. Ribuffo, George Washington University

"Author and professor Allitt probes the origins of American conservatism from a time when 'conservative' was a descriptor, not a movement. . . . Cutting across the stereotypes of present-day conservatism, this nuanced, thoughtful history should educate the unaffiliated and help the disillusioned recover."—Publishers Weekly

"Allit's deliberately disinterested purview encompasses public thinkers from the ratification of the Constitution to the end of the twentieth century, and both readers who expect to learn something and those who consider themselves well-versed about conservatism stand to be thrilled to meet figures and ideas new to them."—ALA Booklist

“[Allitt’s] sketches are on target, quick, and well done. … Professor Allitt has succeeded in his goal. He writes with vigor, clarity, style, enthusiasm, and high intelligence. He obviously enjoys his subject thoroughly, and it must be a great pleasure to take his courses.”—The American Conservative

"Thus the book's main benefit: One learns a lot without being either lectured at or pandered to."—Mickey Edwards, Boston Sunday Globe

"Patrick Allitt has succeeded admirably in his objective of producing a compact survey of American conservative thought that will be useful to students and general readers. The Conservatives features excellent succinct summaries of key conservative thinkers, going back to the Founding era, ably conveying along the way the inconsistencies and internal divisions on the right."—Steven F. Hayward, The Weekly Standard

"[This] wideranging, briskly written survey of the American Right from the founding era through the end of the 20th century is no conservative history of conservatism in the sense of an attempt to vindicate a conservative viewpoint against others, nor is it a liberal debunking exercise. Rather, it is a descriptive account, situated at the crossroads of intellectual and political history, that seeks to allow the various strains of conservative thought in America to emerge in the context of the political debate of their time."—Tod Lindberg, The National Review

"Tracing the origins of American conservatism is a challenge, especially when the very term itself was not generally acknowledged by its practitioners until the mid-20th century. In The Conservatives, Patrick Allitt has taken on the task and drawn the conservative lineage from this nation's founding to the present day."—Wes Vernon, The Washington Times

"Precisely because he looks so far back and is so unorthodox in his choices of what counts as a conservative, Patrick Allitt's recent book, The Conservatives, provides intriguing clues for what a reinvigorated Republican Party might look like. If Republicans are to avoid a protracted period in the wilderness, they would do well to pay close attention to his lively and at times surprising history of American conservatism."—Steven Teles, The American Interest

"Allitt isn't trying to convert or demonize anyone; instead, he merely presents a history of ideas. He has written a marvelous book that will be enlightening to both conservatives and liberals. . . ."—Michael O. Eshleman, Library Journal

“Allitt’s generally unbiased and objective treatment of conservative thinkers and ideas through the decades is one of the best ever produced.”--Stephen F. Hayward, Claremont Review of Books



"Allitt [offers] an engaging tale of conservatism in the US. . . . Highly recommended."—D. Schultz, Choice

"The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History is the book that many reformers will turn to in the next few years, as they seek a new grounding for conservatism." —Steven Teles, The American Interest

"Patrick Allitt displays a superb eye for the paradoxes that constitute conservatism in America." —Peter Berkowitz, Hoover Institution Policy Review
ISBN: 9780300164183
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4