Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours

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(Literature, Civilization, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Linguistics)
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GRAAT: Getting to the bone
A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Kenneth L. Deutsch and Ethan Fishman (Editors), The Dilemmas of American Conservatism (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010). $40, 232 pages, ISBN: 9780813125961—Gerardo Del Guercio, Independent Researcher, Canada.

During the second half of the twentieth century the United States saw the emergence of American conservatism from a liberal ideal. Editors Kenneth L. Deutsch and Ethan Fishman’s The Dilemmas of American Conservatism tracks conservatism from its origins to the present day. The contributors are noted experts in political science and especially on conservatism. They consist of editors Kenneth L. Deutsch and Ethan Fishman, along with James L. Wiser, Robert A. Preston, Brad Lowell Stone, Peter Augustine Lawler, Gerald J. Russello, Linda C. Raeder, and Daniel McCarthy. The book’s corpus consists of nine important conservative thinkers: John H. Hallowell, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, Richard Weaver, Robert Nisbet, John Courtney Murray, Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, and Willmore Kendall. It is emphasized that “[a]lthough Voegelin, Strauss, and Hayek were not born in the United States, their ideas had at least as much impact here as in their native countries” [1]. What this demonstrates is that conservatism, as practiced in the United States, has developed from philosophies from all over the world. Deutsch and Fishman’s book is a detailed one that is relevant to contemporary America and to world politics because of the influence American conservatism began to exert over public policy at the mid-point of the twentieth century.

The book’s aim and scope is to demonstrate that US conservatism is a complex theory that is often complicated by contractions. Deutsch and Fishman’s study begins with a definition of conservatism. Conservatism is defined in general terms as

the reality of a flawed humanity and a hierarchy in which human abilities are unequally distributed. It teaches that political positions should be prudently considered in the context of historical precedent. It opposes radical ideologies based solely on perfectionist ideals and is sceptical of a rationalist politics of abstract theoretical principles that produces fanaticism and an all-or-nothing approach to public life. The institutions of society—political, religious, educational, family, and so forth—are understood to develop slowly with much trial and error and must be viewed as containing considerable wisdom, especially when defending ordered liberty, the rule of law, and rewards based on merit [1].

Deutsch and Fishman, on the other hand, argue that the two basic tensions that exist in American conservatism are “limited government versus government protection of traditional values, and free enterprise versus the supremacy of the elected branches of government” [2]. Conservatism is based on favouring equality and order. Moreover, conservatism considers historical precedent meaning it takes a holistic approach and looks at humanity’s overall picture dating from Aristotle’s pragmatic view of human nature and favours collective action over the individual and traditional values over dynamic change. Deutsch and Fishman’s study argues that the “ideal” the Puritans brought with them when they first settled in America created a cleavage or conflict within America. What occurred was that tension began to be created between a market economy based primarily on individual achievement and morals. American conservatism sees it as its responsibility to resolve this issue or discrepancy because only then can equality and morality exist. This dilemma is what plagues America in the present day. The inherent hierarchy that is allowed to continue disrupts the ideal flow that a community needs to survive and progress. Although I am discussing evolution and progress the intent here is to have the community grow together and not to have one individual always leading the way. Institutions like schools, society, the family, religion and so on are to grow slowly and with trial and error because only then can these institutions be fair to everyone and have everyone profit from them equally and ensure that they are perfect. Reward being allotted on merit is based on great wisdom because of the western principle that hard work deserves reward.

A significant omission I noticed in Deutsch and Fishman’s book is that it lacks a conclusion. A conclusion that summarizes what has been argued throughout the book would have made the study more complete and professional. By professional I mean following a convention that books have a closing chapter that summarizes its argument and that states what impact the books thesis will have in the future. Even though the thesis is reiterated throughout the book it is not discussed in great length and detail in one chapter. Any reader who will read the entire book and not only certain sections or selected chapters will surely notice this omission. As a reviewer I always look at how a book is divided so I was disappointed to discover that Deutsch and Fishman did not include a conclusion to their book. I am surprised that The University Press of Kentucky allowed such an omission to stand since a conclusion is the best way to have the audience accept what has been argued in the study and is one of many things that gives a book a solid structure. Without a conclusion the reader finds themselves at a sudden stop in the book. I found this sudden stop somewhat awkward.

Despite the glaring omission I just mentioned Kenneth L. Deutsch and Ethan Fishman’s The Dilemmas of American Conservatism is a valuable contribution to Political Science. The book’s editors and contributors each chose a significant political thinker to show the dilemmas American Conservatism has always been faced with. The topic is a significant one that still haunts the United States with how people should define both themselves and others and how conservatism has developed into a movement. Advanced scholars and students will enjoy Deutsch and Fishman’s book for is breadth and precision to the topic it presents. Teachers will also find The Dilemmas of American Conservatism a useful classroom tool. Using the book in the classroom will give students a clear presentation of what conservatism has developed into. The study is clear and concise and is one that many will enjoy. I believe that it will make a good addition to any serious library.

© 2011 Gerardo Del Guercio & GRAAT










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