Monday, March 13, 2006

ISI's Encyclopedia of American Conservatism

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has just published AMERICAN CONSERVATISM: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA. I have posted the following review on the website:

No other book provides such a rich survey of the intellectual history of American conservatism. With almost 1,000 pages of entries written by some of the most prominent American conservatives (such as Russell Kirk, M. E. Bradford, and Murray Rothbard), this is now the one book that must be studied if one wants to understand American conservatism.

This comes at a good time, because American conservatives are wondering about the future of conservatism in America. The current debate over whether George Bush and his neoconservative supporters have betrayed the conservative movement manifests this new period of conservative self-examination. This book will help conservatives to reconsider their complex history and their possible future.

My judgment might be biased because I was involved in the original launching of this project by Greg Wolfe in 1990. I have five articles in the book--on "Intelligent Design Theory," "The Scopes Trial," "Social Darwinism," "Sociobiology," and "Herbert Spencer." My articles reflect a desire to persuade conservatives that Darwinian science supports conservative social thought. But that is a minority view in this book. The more common conservative scorn for modern science is stated in M. D. Aeschliman's article on "Science and Scientism."

The one weakness in this book is that it does not really cover the full history of the American conservative movement. It stresses the intellectual or academic side of conservatism as dominated by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and NATIONAL REVIEW. It gives no attention to the most populist elements of the conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, there is not a single reference to Billy James Hargis, to John Stormer's book NONE DARE CALL IT TREASON, or J. Evett Haley's book A TEXAN LOOKS AT LYNDON. Hargis was a Christian conservative who once broadcast his radio program in the 1960s on over 200 radio stations. Hargis's book A COMMUNIST AMERICA, MUST IT BE? was widely distributed. The books by Stormer and Haley sold millions of copies in 1964, during the Goldwater presidential campaign against LBJ. People like Hargis, Stormer, and Haley were far more popular than William Buckley or Russell Kirk in the 1960s.

I understand, however, that the editors of this encyclopedia want to make the history of American conservatism intellectually respectable by concentrating on the more purely academic levels of the movement.

In any case, no one can think seriously about the intellectual history of American conservatism without reading this book. And in helping us to understand the past history of conservatism, this book can also help us to foresee the future promise of conservatism in America and around the world.


airth10 said...

I would be very interested in reading your entry on Herbert Spencer and how he is a conservative. Some conservatives have argued that he is not. I guess it depends on how you approach him. Is he a conservative because of his believe in "survival of the fittest"?

Anonymous said...
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Larry Arnhart said...


Both of Spencer's main ideas--individualism and evolution--influenced conservative thought. Spencer's individualism was adopted by libertarians like Albert Jay Nock, who argued against collectivist welfare-statism. Spencer's idea of the evolution of social order through voluntary cooperation was adopted by Friedrich Hayek in developing his theory of spontaneous order.

airth10 said...

Thank you for that Mr. Arnhart.

You mentioned that Spencer thought that a social order evolved through voluntary cooperation. Now, I recall reading Lewis Mumford on Marx and he saying that Marx always talked about social evolution through social struggle but never realized that cooperation was also important , if not more, in social evolution.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Arnhart,

I'm a producer at Open Source (, a
nationally-syndicated public radio show hosted by Chris Lydon.

Tonight we'll be talking about the Encyclopedia of American Conservatism, and given your perspective, I am hoping you would weigh in to the conversation. We broadcast at 7 pm online and on XM radio 133, and we're syndicated in many cities later this evening and tomorrow. There is an open conversation thread on our website (specifically, in the post of tonight's show)at

I was just reading your review of the book, and I think you could offer our conversation that same insight. It would be great to have an intelligent, well-articulated conservative such as yourself contribute to the discussion. We'll be using comments from our blog thread to shape the show-- we often even bring blog comments on-air to the guests. Here's the link for signing in, and from there the conversation is yours.

We'd love to welcome you.


Colin Baker
Blog Producer
colin radioopensource org