Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America.

Author:Gitlin, Todd

Michael Lind is the enfant terrible of that famille terrible, the American right. Accordingly, he has been much denounced by its standard-bearers for having the bad taste to point out that the archdeacons of morality are, in fact, nudists. His new polemic will bring conniptions to his former colleagues at National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and The National Interest, often for good reasons, but it's not totally successful despite its worthy purpose.

Lind offers a political analysis of the ascent of conservatism and a critique of some of its most stirring ideas, basted together with enough personal testimony to warrant that he was right to exit. The more substantial portions of Up From Conservatism are argumentative. Lind's first task is to demonstrate that so-called conservatism is riding high politically by default, because there is a missing position in American politics. If we map economic and social views from liberal to conservative along two axes, there should be four possible positions. Combine social and economic liberalism and you get left-liberalism, which is mired in identity politics and offers next to nothing for the white working class. Combine social liberalism and economic conservatism and you get the neoliberalism of Bill Clinton. Combine economic and social conservatism and you get the conservatism that reigns in the Republican Party. Combine economic liberalism and social conservatism and you get--next to nothing: no vigorous movement or institution, no force in the existing parties. Lind calls this missing position "national liberalism," identifying it with the New Deal, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson, and basing it on the (largely white) working class. Absent a progressive nationalist alternative, he says, conservatives have cornered the political debate.

But how lower-case liberalism collapsed in the United States is a more tangled story than Lind adequately explains. The fault, as he finds it, is in the "overclass," his popularization of Gunnar Myrdal's catchy coinage referring to the managerial and professional types who control both major parties and all other institutions of substance. The grip of the overclass--and not globalization or technological change--explains why the obscene inequality prevailing in America is uncontested. However socially liberal, the overclass doesn't wish to tax itself. "Left-liberalism, neoliberalism, and conservatism are all compatible, in one way or another, with either the...

To continue reading