Tags: WASP | Brookhiser | ethos | president

Conservative Touts 'WASP Way'

By    |   Thursday, 01 May 2014 08:11 AM

On March 8, 1991, conservative writer Richard Brookhiser sat for an interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb to discuss his book Way of the WASP: How It Made America and How It Can Save It . . . So to Speak. Book TV replayed the interview on Encore Booknotes, providing an opportunity to reconsider Brookhiser's thesis in light of events and for a new generation of viewers and readers to learn about one of the most entertaining conservative social commentators as he responded to Lamb, an interviewer skilled in bringing out the personalities of authors.

For this writer, who is about a decade older than Brookhiser, the interview evokes parallel experiences of one who was likewise inspired by James Buckley and Barry Goldwater to become a conservative and to try to advance a cause that was informed by the WASP ethos, which was adopted by other religions and their adherents, who prospered as a result. We independently concluded that, as Brookhiser put it, the blood of the WASP leaders "was running thin," so it would be necessary for the nascent conservative movement to recruit Catholics and Jews.

Also, in defining the term "WASP," Brookhiser cited the work of the late University of Pennsylvania Sociology Professor E. Digby Baltzell, who coined the term in 1964. When this writer matriculated at Penn that year, Baltzell was in his heyday, and even those of us who didn't take his course were aware of his theory.

Lamb drew from Brookhiser all of the influences that led to his identification with the WASP ethos, including his mixed Christian background and marriage to a Russian Jewish woman. Yet another insight that resonates decades later is that for many years the State Department was populated by WASP leaders from the investment banking community, but this influence ultimately petered out. This writer would observe that ironically it turned up at the Treasury.

Asked who his favorite presidents were, Brookhiser named Washington and Lincoln. Invited to choose Reagan as his third, Brookhiser balked and replied simply that the whole field of other presidents would be judged on a different level below the top two.

He also listed as his most important issues, first, national defense, and then, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, for which he gives considerable credit to Reagan, Brookhiser stressed taxes and abortion. Pressed by Lamb, Brookhiser stressed that his position was anti-abortion and that this stand is based not on religion but on a conclusion that all of the effort to legalize this practice reflects the underlying truth that a human life is at stake. He placed himself squarely in the center of the continuum of traditional and libertarian conservatism.

Ultimately, the challenge Brookhiser poses is to rediscover the values that the WASP leadership grew tired of upholding and promoting. This writer independently came to the formulation that for Republican candidates looking for a platform, the principles espoused by Reagan sit on the shelf, neglected.

It would be interesting to know whether Brookhiser would still hold out hope more than 20 years later or whether he would conclude, as this writer suspects, that so much damage has been done to the political and financial systems of this country that it is too late. As another presidential election looms two years hence, it is a question for each reader to ponder.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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On March 8, 1991, conservative writer Richard Brookhiser sat for an interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb to discuss his book Way of the WASP: How It Made America and How It Can Save It . . . So to Speak.
WASP, Brookhiser, ethos, president
Thursday, 01 May 2014 08:11 AM
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