Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly Excluded From American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia...

The New York Times
Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly Excluded From American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia...
An A-to-Z Book of Conservatism Now Weighs In

WASHINGTON, June 20 — It has red states and blond pundits; home schoolers and The Human Life Review; originalists, monetarists, federalists and evangelists; and no shortage of people named Kristol.

Now American conservatism can claim another mark of distinction: an encyclopedia all its own.

It is a big deal, in terms literal — 997 pages — and metaphorical. Few insults have stung the movement's thinkers as much as the barb from Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, who said conservatives had no ideas, "just irritable mental gestures."

A half-century later, 251 contributors have weighed in, not so irritably, with a four-pound response.

"Feel the heft of it," said Lee Edwards, a former aide to Senator Barry Goldwater, who appears in the volume with a byline and an entry. "It's more than a book. It is, if you will, an estimate — it shows the maturation of the conservative movement."

And a timely one, at that. Sixteen years in the making, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia appears with American conservatism, the political movement, warring over its future direction.

"We've gone from history's adversary to destiny's child, but governing has brought a whole new level of challenge," said Jeffrey O. Nelson, publisher of ISI Books, the conservative press in Wilmington, Del., that produced the encyclopedia. Criticizing what he called the "big education, big spending, big war, big government" conservatism of Republican leaders, Mr. Nelson said he hoped that the book, whose list price is $35, would help the movement return to its small-government roots.

"If conservatism is going to succeed and thrive in the 21st century," he said, "it's got to look more like the conservative tradition as expressed in this book than the conservatism currently practiced in Washington."

Those people toiling in the capital trenches may not recognize the conservatism represented here. The book omits familiar names like Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Bill O'Reilly and Karl Rove.

It includes the journals University Bookman, circulation 2,600, and First Things. It gives Willmoore Kendall, a political scientist who died in 1967, three times as much ink as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Those proportions are appropriate, said a former student of Mr. Kendall, William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, who called the reference book "terrific."

"Newt came and went rather fast but didn't leave hard fingerprints," Mr. Buckley said. "The quote, unquote conservative politicians have a pretty short lifetime in encyclopedia usage.

"It seems to me that if one were looking for orientation in such a world that the encyclopedia tries to serve that you would be more interested in Burckhardt," he said, a reference to Jacob Burckhardt, a 19th-century Swiss historian of the Renaissance, "than in any of more than 100 conservative senators in the past 50 years."

Garland Publishing started working on the encyclopedia in 1990. ISI Books took over the project 10 years later. ISI Books is part of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which, as Page 436 explains, is a nonprofit group founded in 1953 to promote conservative ideas in colleges.

The encyclopedia is being featured by two conservative book clubs, Mr. Nelson said, and has sold nearly 20,000 copies since its release about two months ago. Along with Mr. Nelson, its editors were Bruce P. Frohnen, who teaches at the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Jeremy Beer of ISI Books. Given its gestation, the book includes contributions from scholars who are long dead, including Russell Kirk, who in 1953 published a seminal book, "The Conservative Mind." Kirk, who died in 1994, wrote essays on John Adams and moral imagination. Mr. Nelson is his son-in-law.

Some entries wear their conservatism on their sleeve. Goldwater's "loyalties were to duty, honor and country." Ronald Reagan had a "vigorous and principled agenda." Bill Clinton was "corrupt."

Others plumb more obscure topics with no obvious tilt. "Public choice economics" describes a theory of how special interests wield power. Two of its proponents have won Nobel Prizes.

The discussion under "Jewish conservatism" acknowledges a history of anti-Semitism on the right. The entry on Abraham Lincoln explores a conservative split between admirers and those who think he laid the groundwork for "contemporary statist liberalism."

The longest entry belongs to "Straussianism," a school of political theory founded by a professor at the University of Chicago, Leo Strauss, that emphasizes classical texts. Embraced by some leading proponents of the Iraq war, Straussianism is often regarded by those beyond its fold as opaque mumbo jumbo, a reputation that five pages of explanation may not dispel.

If there is a place where the rivers of the right converge, it appears to be the office of William Kristol, a Straussian editor and advocate, whose mother (Gertrude Himmelfarb), father (Irving Kristol), philosophy (neoconservatism) and magazine (The Weekly Standard) all earned separate entries.

Though Mr. Kristol was puzzled to read that he valued "the virtue of a citizenry" more than its prosperity or freedom, he declined to dwell on quibbles, praising the volume for concluding each entry with a short bibliography.

"What I liked most was that it encouraged you to read additional works," Mr. Kristol said.

Some quibbles are edifying. The entry about "God and Man at Yale," Mr. Buckley's most famous book, says it portrayed a campus "conspiracy" against capitalism and Christianity. But Mr. Buckley said his book "made a rather emphatic point to say there was no conspiracy, that people were acting out of their own impulses."

Another entry describes the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as "pro-business." The page's editor, Paul A. Gigot, said the paper often criticized businesses that sought government favors and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 partly for an editorial called "Down With Big Business."

"We believe in capitalism, free markets and free people, not business over labor," Mr. Gigot said.

The volume treads lightly, when it treads at all, on matters of race. It describes the "courtesy and dignity" of Strom Thurmond, who as a South Carolina governor and senator led the South's effort to preserve segregation. It does not mention that Mr. Thurmond had a black daughter whose existence he kept secret.

George C. Wallace, who became governor of Alabama pledging "segregation forever," was "always more complicated than his critics allowed." The discussion of "Southern conservatism" pays tribute to the region's "precious Anglo-American continuity" and says nothing about Jim Crow.

Dan T. Carter of the University of South of Carolina said such entries offered a "pasteurized" view of racial history. "The rise of American conservatism owes, in some part, to racial animosity, and it's uncomfortable for many conservatives to deal with that," said Mr. Carter, a biographer of Wallace who describes his politics as liberal. "You don't have to say that conservatism capitulated to it. But you have to acknowledge it was there."

Mr. Nelson agreed that the encyclopedia's discussion of race was incomplete and said the next edition would include an entry about conservatives' reaction to the civil rights movement.

"Our forebears made a mistake on the issue," he said. "They were just wrong. I don't know how to say it more clearly than that."

The sheer mass of the volume left at least one subject with mixed feelings. Richard A. Viguerie, a founder of Moral Majority, was delighted to find himself portrayed as a "liberal bogeyman." But given the army of thinkers and doers who inhabit the book, Mr. Viguerie said, "we should have achieved more politically than we have."

That, Mr. Kristol said, was not a conservative view. "Conservative thinking," he said, "should teach you not to expect too much from politics, at least in the short run."