Although Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review, argued the Conservative movement is "dead" and buried, the redoubtable R. Emmett Tyrrell in his latest book After The Hangover tells us that reports of conservatism's death are greatly exaggerated. With his usual panache, Mr. Tyrrell offers a remarkable distillation of conservative history and, most significantly, how it is unfolding in the United States circa 2010.
Sitting on his perch at The American Spectator, Tyrrell has offered a valuable critique of both contemporary liberalism and conservatism, their wisdom and their failures. In what can only be described as a tour de force, Tyrrell chronicles the flow of contemporary politics from the Republican success in the '94 congressional elections to the defeat in the 2008 presidential election.
Despite an inclination to embrace conservative ideas, and what Tyrrell calls the conservative "temperament," he includes a scorching indictment of conservation as often "pinched by a smallness that has set the movement back and encouraged intramural squabbling."
Without the heavy-handed club that conservatives sometimes employ to attack the media, Tyrrell notes that amusing gaffs by President Obama and Vice President Biden are given scant attention by members of the press.. While Tyrrell recognizes the obvious bias, he does not dwell on it; what he does dwell on is the difference between the "elites" and the man and woman in the street. He recalls with nostalgia a time when there was genuine solidarity among conservatives, the height of what might be called the William F. Buckley era and the founding of the National Review.
owever, the political ascendency of conservatism in the 1950's and '60's occurred in large part because the movement was small, united and virtually powerless. Fragmentation insinuated itself into conservatism with the political success of the Reagan years. At that point YAF conservatives saw themselves as the genuine article as opposed to the arriviste neo-cons and the paleos of yesteryear. Liberals, as Tyrrell points out, have "silenced disagreement," a conspicuous difference from conservatives. Yet even after Obama's election, roughly twice as many Americans claim to be conservative as opposed to liberal, a legacy presumably of the first principles on which conservatism was founded. Nonetheless it is important to note, that many, if not most, of these conservatives are not registered Republicans.
What appears to enjoin liberal loyalty is a general cultural understanding ratified by moral sentiment, etiquette and reflexive cues. "Bush lied," "McCarthy destroyed civil liberties," "trickle down economic theory adversely affects the poor," are homilies that drip from liberals without the slightest regard for historical accuracy or context. Here is a herd of "independent thinkers" incapable of nuanced thought. These views, sculpted into the national culture through textbooks such as Howard Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States, represent the conservative challenge for the future -- what Tyrrell describes as overcoming "Kultursmog."
A new generation of conservatives face a challenge their predecessors did not need to consider. Fifty years ago the ideas that threatened America came from outside our borders; now the threat is from within: the servants of a command economy are attempting to impose a gigantic government on every American. They do so with the conviction this helps the poor and downtrodden, but as conservatives understand, dividing the economy does not multiply the wealth.
It is difficult to convince youthful idealists that the road to serfdom (nod to Hayek) is paved with good intentions. The conservative attitude is predicated on individualism and anti-utopianism, both of which ideas do not awaken youthful enthusiasm. As the ship of state moves relentlessly down an ocean of icebergs, however, there will be many looking for a helmsman who can provide a different direction. They need look no further than After The Hangover. R. Emmett Tyrrell has outlined a remarkably sensible agenda for the future with his policy prescriptions, particularly his reassertion of American exceptionalism. At a time when "declinists" are on the rise, it is refreshing to read that with all our imperfections, the United States is still the beacon of hope for mankind.
As his conclusion, Tyrrell notes the nation's political center is shaped by conservatism. This is true, but there is a major task ahead in reclaiming the culture from radical elitists who dominate it. That is the mission this book explores and the reason it should be read.