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Conservatism's Rebirth Chronicled

Thursday, 20 Mar 2008 01:43 PM

By Phil Brennan

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Upstream — The Ascendance of American Conservatism

Author: Alfred S. Regnery

Publisher: Threshold Editions

If conservatism was reborn in the 20th century, Alfred S. Regnery was present at its birth.

As the son of pioneering conservative publisher Henry Regnery, at the age of 8, young Al Regnery sat at countless dinner tables where his father hosted the men and women who mid-wifed the conservative resurgence.

In "Upstream — The Ascendance of American Conservatism," his exhaustively researched history of the conservative movement, Regnery traces the growth of the movement from the end of World War II, when the nation was envisioning a future where collectivism ruled supreme, to the Reagan Revolution, which began to dismantle Big Brother government and the collectivist mentality which held that Washington had all the answers. [Editor's Note: Get Alfred Regnery's book — Go Here Now.]

Regnery recalls that at the time of Roosevelt’s death in 1945, “intellectual life in the United States was firmly liberal.” He quotes a liberal historian as writing in his history of the conservative intellectual movement that the United States “was a domestic superstate, a partially controlled economy, millions of conscripts under arms, and widespread fears of reversion to depression once demobilization set in. Further success for a philosophy of ‘tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect.’”

Writes Regnery, “The New Deal was an ongoing project. Anything resembling conservatism was moribund.”

Swimming against that neo-Marxist tide were a handful of dissenters, among them the acid-penned Westbrook Pegler and fellow Hearst columnist George Sokolsky, both of whom were anathema to the reigning liberal establishment.

What they were preaching was latent conservatism but it was not identified as such. Those of us who held conservative views didn’t know what conservatism was, and we did not identify ourselves a conservatives.

All that ended when a young Yale graduate, notorious for having written a book — “God and Man at Yale” — deemed heretical by the high priests of liberal orthodoxy , set out to publish a magazine that helped inculcate a small army of Americans into conservatism.

William F. Buckley’s National Review revealed that the deeply ingrained beliefs held by many were conservative beliefs and that those who adhered to those beliefs were conservatives. Conservatives were now no longer isolated individual believers in an unpopular philosophy, but members of growing movement with a rational set of beliefs and specific political goals.

Conservatives finally had a roof over their heads. As Regnery wrote, “Conservatism was suddenly intellectually responsible.”

Politically, conservatives were a minority in the Republican Party which was largely in the hands of what became known as the Rockefeller wing. Unrest over the failures of the liberal Democratic Party during the Truman administration resulted in the election of Dwight Eisenhower who while dissenting from liberal orthodoxy in many ways, was anything but conservative.

Regnery traces the growth of the Goldwater for President movement, revealing how National Review, especially publisher Bill Rusher, played the major role from getting a very reluctant Goldwater to seek the GOP presidential nomination, to setting up the machinery to obtain the nomination for him.

The rest is history. Barry lost but conservatives controlled the party, a fact that made Richard Nixon’s presidency possible and in the end led to Ronald Reagan and the Reagan Revolution. Regnery follows the long road from Pegler to today’s conservative movement.

Conservatism has long needed a competent and talented historian to chronicle its past. Al Regnery fills the bill admirably. Henceforth he is the source historians will turn to when examining the roots and progress of the movement.

[Editor's Note: Get Alfred Regnery's book — Go Here Now.]

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