The Great Conservative Crackup

Jacob Heilbrunn in Washington Monthly:

JeffreyhartTo prove your conservative bona fides these days, you have to begin by denouncing conservatism. To the delight of many liberals, a flurry of conservative writers and think-tankers at places like the Cato Institute and the Nixon Center are doing just that, condemning George W. Bush for being, among other things, a “redistribution Republican” (George F. Will), a “socialist” (Andrew Sullivan), and an “impostor” (Bruce Bartlett). Now add Jeffrey Hart to the list of aggrieved accusers.

Hart, a professor of English at Dartmouth College and former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, has unimpeachable conservative credentials. He has been a regular contributor to National Review since the 1960s. His son Ben Hart was an editor at The Dartmouth Review and a leader of what the Heritage Foundation billed as a “Third Generation” of new conservatives in the early 1980s. A Burkean conservative, Jeffrey Hart has weighed in primarily on cultural issues, lamenting what he sees as the corruption of American arts and letters. But like NR founder William F. Buckley Jr. (“insurrectionists in Iraq can’t be defeated by any means that we would consent to use”), he is also a critic of the Iraq war. In a March 11, 2005, letter to The Dartmouth Review, for example, Hart took aim at Bush’s selling of the war: “You do not have to get eyesore burrowing in the archives to find astonishing patterns of deception.”

Now, in The Making of the American Conservative Mind, Hart chronicles the emergence of the right and National Review‘s role in shaping it. His story begins in the 1950s and ends with the current Bush administration. By turns dyspeptic, melancholy, and ruminative, Hart casts a surprisingly detached eye on his subject. This is a book about a path not taken. It is also one of the most important and idiosyncratic meditations in recent memory about the conservative movement.

More here.