Cornell University Press Authors' blogs

The Vanishing Tradition of Conservatism in America

Return to Home

This anthology on The Vanishing Tradition deals with different traditions of conservative thought that the present conservative establishment has banished, together with those who represent them. These traditions are united by their non-acceptability to an establishment that enjoys wealthy benefactors, a ubiquitous media presence, and generally tolerable relations with the center-left. Although libertarian isolationists, Southern conservatives, and others whom this volume presents do not show perfect ideological harmony, they have all offended the same powerbrokers, who have worked studiously to marginalize them.

Two underlying themes in most of these essays are the opportunism of the conservative establishment and its blatant hypocrisy in claiming to represent open discussion and intellectual freedom. This establishment has changed its positions on just about every major social issue since the 1960s, while implausibly maintaining that it stands for “permanent things.” Employees have been driven by a slavish eagerness to satisfy its donor base, especially over-the-top Zionists, who are usually quite liberal on social questions, and defense industries. Conservative journalists have also been engaged in (to quote the title of Norman Podhoretz’s book by that name) “making it.” They cultivate friends in what is supposed to be the other camp in order to publish in fashionable magazine and in the hope of appearing on popular TV programs.

Two underlying themes in most of these essays are the opportunism of the conservative establishment and its blatant hypocrisy in claiming to represent open discussion and intellectual freedom.

There is a well-founded suspicion that except when accommodating their donors, conservative celebrities are usually taking positions that the Left took until recently. Their permanent things now include gay marriage and as in the case of Trump-activist Charley Kirk, ingratiating oneself with Drag Queens, who may be persuaded to vote Republican. In order to prove their antiracism, leading conservative publicists call for pulling down Confederate memorial statues and complain that Reconstruction did not last longer and result in the expropriation of the property of Confederate veterans. In its desperate attempt to reach out, this establishment may be mostly restrained by its effort not to upset donors or to show in a bad light the Republican Party, which it also serves.

Even less to its credit, the conservative establishment has worked to discredit and ruin professionally those on the Right, who are no longer of benefit. “Purges” have usually been presented to the mainstream media as necessary actions against racists and anti-Semites. The real targets have included critics of a neoconservative foreign policy and extended government surveillance. This opposition on the Right has also questioned the idolization of American-style democracy, which the conservative movement has been intent on inflicting on the unwilling. Not surprisingly, these undesirables sound more often like Ron Paul than Bull Connor or the American Nazi Party. Although one finds among the marginalized those who praise the “Southern heritage,” one would be hard put to locate among them die-hard segregationists or fans of the KKK. They are simply Southern regionalists who resent the way the present conservative movement has turned on them and now degrades their heritage.

Even less to its credit, the conservative establishment has worked to discredit and ruin professionally those on the Right, who are no longer of benefit.

Although the conservative movement lectures to the “radical Left” about intolerance, its own lack of tolerance look every bit as bad as that of its leftist debating partners.

Cover Image of The Vanishing Tradition.
Read more about this book.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College. He is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism.

Book Finder