Any trip today to an airport bookstore will discover tables of books with political diatribe of the left and right. Most of these works are highly formulaic and show shoddy or no research and very little thought. Most are also filled with acid ad hominem attacks on leading figures from the other political corner. They feed off of one another in a sort of frenzy of partisan political hatred. Few if any of these works will withstand the test of time and frankly I think the country would benefit from simply having most of them pulped. (No, I am not advocating censorship—merely expressing a wish for productive recycling).
Sullivan’s book is different. He is concerned with the essence of ideas—less the parade of personalities and more the transformation of political discourse. He is deeply worried about what has happened to conservative thought in America. Like a good conservative, he is concerned about loss, specifically the alarmingly rapid disappearance of a conservative tradition—which could be reflected in different constellations by Eisenhower, Goldwater and Reagan—almost immediately after it was being judged politically triumphant. Sullivan saw, earlier and far more keenly than most, the rupture in American conservatism between the Theocons and the small-government, balanced-budget, personal-freedom conservatism that characterized Goldwater. But this is also an intensely personal book. In the best of it, Sullivan stacks up the Theocon trend against his own conservative lodestars—most significantly, Michael Oakeshott, but also Michel de Montaigne, and Edmund Burke. The points of reference are very well taken and the discussion is extremely revealing.
It outlines what conservatism should mean, in contrast to all that Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity bullshit on Fox. It’s the best book on modern Conservativism I can think of. I’m sure it’ll end up in University Class rooms in no time.