The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling

Gertrude Himmelfarb, Author . Ivan R. Dee $26 (259p) ISBN 978-1-56663-624-7

The intellectuals celebrated in this pleasing collection of essays are not your father's conservatives but your great-great-grandfather's, provided he was a well-to-do English gentleman. Neocon historian Himmelfarb (One Nation, Two Cultures ) specializes in Victorian Britain and profiles some of its leading writers and statesmen, along with philosophical forerunners and descendants, to probe the complexities of two centuries of conservative thought. In her subtly revisionist accounts, novelists Jane Austen, George Eliot and Charles Dickens become conservative-minded moralists; liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill emerges as a closet conservative, when not swayed by his father or wife; and "Tory Democrats" Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill, both supporters of early social welfare programs, demonstrate the latent progressivism of conservative politics. Far removed from American-style free market fundamentalism, the strand of conservatism Himmelfarb traces is respectful of tradition, accepting of an organic class system softened and humanized by personal ties and manners, and suspicious of schemes to rationalize society. Despite her brief for this outlook's continued relevance, it seems less a coherent belief system than a reaction to the liberal and radical ideologies driving modernity. Still, Himmelfarb's stylish blend of literary criticism and intellectual history yields a stimulating reappraisal of a multifaceted and influential worldview. (Apr. 7)

Reviewed on: 12/05/2005
Release date: 12/01/2005
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