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Notes from Chapter 12 – Section 1

Conservatism was in a sort of “wilderness” and struggled through the beginning years of the 20th century. Great leaders of ideas were hard to come by, and it seemed that the vision of America espoused by Hamilton had won. Ideas shifted from the political leaders to the educational leaders.

– By World War 1 America is a nation of a “complacent democracy” with a lot of great wealth and poverty and little “leisure time” that was often despised

“A mature nation, however scornful of intellectual attainments, could not evade the obligation to tolerate a few men of ideas. (416)

– Notable conservatives of the time – Ralph Adams Cram, Henry Adams, Albert Jay Nock, Donald Davidson, Allen Tate

– Politicians shirked their place in being conservative thought leaders and the professors took up the conservative thought leader banner

“Conceivably it is an ominous sign for any society – Burke might have thought so – when men of letters must take up the burden which a dwindling remnant of old-fashioned philosophical statesmen have resigned.” (417)

– Rural populations declined and with it the virtues and loyalties that bolstered conservative influence to be replaced with “social centralization” and industrialism that the Adamses feared all along

– Hamilton’s vision succeeded but it became a society the founders would abhor

“The America of Jefferson and John Adams was being effaced; Hamilton’s scheme was triumphant, after all, though Hamilton might have been aghast at his creation’s smug and grossly intolerant face. It was a society dominated by hazy sentimentality and concrete appetite, waking to knowledge of its own awful strength, ready to patronize or to lord it over the rest of the world, afraid of responsibility, impatient of admonition.” (418)

Conservatism Needs Champions

– America was in a position of social change like Jacobin France but much stronger – conservative thought needed to help channel that strength toward a less radical vision or the French Revolution would be repeated

“We are struggling with it still, harder than before; and the great contest in American society is the assault on the forces of moral and political aggrandizement upon the forces of moral and political stability.” (418)

– The philosophical foe of the time is John Dewey – he had a bombastic style that was easy to comprehend

“He commenced with a thoroughgoing naturalism, like Diderot’s and Holbach’s, denying the whole real of spiritual values: nothing exists buy physical sensation, and life has no aims but physical satisfaction. He proceeded to a utilitarianism which carried Benthamine ideas to their local culmination, making material production the goal and standard of human endeavor; the past is trash, the future unknowable, and the present only the concern of the moralist.”(418-419)

– His books reflected he disconcerted spirit of the time and favored the Utilitarian vision of the future – embraced by those who had “submitted to the lordship of sensation”

Bibliography
  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001

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