The Conservative Movement in 20th Century America

History 103D.003

Fall 2006
Instructor (text): 
204 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
W 2-4

";We have never had a real conservative tradition,"; historian Louis Hartz declared confidently in 1955. Half a century later, the United States has a robust conservative tradition, populated with names like William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan, to name a few. But what does the moniker ";conservative"; mean in the American context?

This course will explore the development of conservatism both as a set of ideas and a distinct political movement, understood as a shifting synthesis of libertarianism, religious traditionalism, and militant nationalism. Students will read primary and secondary sources that address key episodes in the development of conservatism, including its 19th century roots, anti-New Deal sentiment, the role of Catholics, the Cold War, liberals and liberalism, grassroots anticommunism, the Religious Right, abortion and the culture wars, neo-conservatism, and suburbanization. The readings will include both classic statements of conservative belief and the latest historical research.

We will use this literature to explore questions such as: Is conservatism best considered a top-down or grassroots phenomena? How do conservatives manage their ideological differences and internal divides? What role have women played? Are economic or religious ideas more important? How significant is race or racism? Who are the most important conservative thinkers and politicians? Can the rise of conservatism be reduced to demographics? At the end of the semester we will use our historical knowledge to address the more recent impact of radical Islam on conservative thought.

Students of all political persuasions are encouraged to enroll. The seminar atmosphere will be one of respectful and constructive discourse, disagreement, and dialogue.

Course requirements include regular and thoughtful participation, weekly written responses to the reading, and a series of short papers. There will be a strong focus on improving student writing. A book list and course reader will be available prior to the first class meeting; please query the instructor for further information.