Magazine June 22, 2020, Issue

The Conservative Intellectual Tradition: Recovering Old Wisdom

The full moon rises above the Statue of Liberty, Jersey City, N.J., May 7, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition, edited by Andrew J. Bacevich (Library of America, 663 pp., $29.95)

Conservatism forms a vigorous intellectual tradition in the United States, rich, diverse, yet eminently recognizable. The editor of this welcome if idiosyncratic anthology, Andrew J. Bacevich, is right to characterize American conservatism as more an “ethos or a disposition” than a “fixed ideology.” In fact, the most penetrating conservative thinkers have always insisted on conservatism as an antidote to ideology. By “ideology” they have meant a systematic disregard for the unchanging features of human nature, a propensity to reckless utopianism and draconian social engineering, and a misplaced confidence that scientific and technological progress always and everywhere entails moral progress.

Bacevich is

This article appears as “The Conservative Ethos” in the June 22, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Daniel J. MahoneyMr. Mahoney holds the Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., and is a National Review Institute trustee. He is the author, most recently, of The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity

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