George H. Nash: The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945

Basic Books, 1976     Amazon.com, 3rd ed., 2006

Front and Back Flaps, 1st ed.:

NashWhat constitutes the conservative intellectual “movement” in America? Who are its thinkers? What are their ideas? What effect, if any, have they had on the quality of American life?

In this richly detailed definitive work, George Nash shows how an exceedingly diverse group of men – among them William F. Buckley, Jr., Willmoore Kendall, Robert Nisbet, Milton Friedman, Irving Kristol, and Russell Kirk – shaped not one conservative position but a number of distinct, yet highly influential, positions toward American politics and American life.

Beginning in 1945, Nash locates the origins of post-war conservatism among those intellectuals who emerged from the war deeply concerned and frequently pessimistic about America’s future. Gradually, these voices multiplied, acquired an audience, and began to generate an intellectual current. Among them were those who feared the unchecked expansion of the State as an encroachment to liberty, free enterprise, and individualism; others were more concerned with religious and ethical “absolutes”; a third group warned against the growth of a militant totalitarian Communism opposed to the Western world.

All of these positions, as Nash illustrates, coalesced in a number of reviews, magazines, and intellectual positions that served to create an effective intellectual force within a distinctly American framework.

George H. Nash graduated from Amherst College and received his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. He is an editor of Province in Rebellion and has contributed to Labor History, Modern Age, National Review, and other periodicals. He is currently writing a multivolume biography of Herbert Hoover.

Amazon Book Description, 3rd ed.:
First published in 1976, and revised in 1996, George H. Nash’s celebrated history of the postwar conservative intellectual movement has become the unquestioned standard in the field. This new edition, published in commemoration of the volume’s thirtieth anniversary, includes a new preface by Nash and will continue to instruct anyone interested in how today’s conservative movement was born.
Chapters (the Table of Contents contains more than this):
1  The Revolt of the Libertarians
2  The Revolt Against the Masses
3  The Recovery of Tradition and Values
4  Nightmare in Red
5  Consolidation
6  Fission and Fusion: The Quest for Philosophical Order
7  What Is Conservatism in America? The Search for a Viable Heritage?
8  What Is Conservatism in America? The Straussians, Willmoore Kendall, and the “Virtuous People”
9  Years of Preparation
10  Things Fall Apart
11  Can the Vital Center Hold?
JOB’s Comment:
When I first read this book in the mid-1980s, the weaknesses of this American conservative intellectual movement were much less obvious than they are today. At that time, the movement was even considered by some to have triumphed. In reality, the neoconservative transformation, imperfectly perceived or identified by Nash in the first edition, was already well under way, and in subsequent decades, the spuriousness of much American conservatism undergoing that transformation, as well as the insufficient response of much (not all) American conservatism that did not, became more evident. But already in the mid-80s, it was quite clear that the most important intellectual conservatives, the ones whose work would prove to be of lasting value, were primarily the ones introduced by Nash in chapters 2 and 3. Some of their books are found in my References category and on my References page, and more will be added. Nash’s book is a comprehensive overview of and good introduction to its subject. It covers the contribution of Europeans like Voegelin, Strauss, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn, and includes some discussion of the relation between American and European conservatism, the historical possibility of American conservatism, the British, Burkean orientation of a Kirk and its meaning in America, etc.

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
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