cover image The Death of Conservatism

The Death of Conservatism

Sam Tanenhaus, . . Random, $17 (144pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6884-5

The arguments are more surprising than the conclusions in this slender book that simultaneously celebrates and mourns the end of the harshly ideological strain of conservatism that reached full flower during the presidency of George W. Bush. Tracing the movement's intellectual history from Edmund Burke to Rush Limbaugh, Tanenhaus (Whitaker Chambers ), editor of the New York Times Book Review , argues that the “contemporary Right define[s] itself less by what it yearns to conserve than by what it longs to destroy”—and that pragmatic Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have usurped the Republicans' once winning focus on social stability. Tanenhaus argues that Republicans must moderate their focus on ideological purity if they are to return from the political wilderness and offers trenchant criticism of the liberal excesses that previously led to a long Democratic exile from the White House. Tanenhaus's positions are not entirely consistent, however; he aligns Nixon with George W. Bush and his destructively “revanchist course” before praising Nixon's “prodigious gifts” and “sheer intellectual ability.” But the author recognizes the need for two strong parties to compete in American politics, and his impeccably well-written book insightfully summarizes the highs and lows of American conservatism over the decades. (Sept.)