CPAC Syllabus

Quirky? Didactic? Ridiculous? I dunno, but this is the syllabus I worked up for CPAC. It takes the books on Jeffrey Nelson’s list of Ten Books That Shaped America’s Conservative Renaissance (.pdf), adds a few more primary texts, and includes secondary readings drawn from various anthologies and George H. Nash’s seminal Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, and groups all of the material according to sections that I thought might prove educational: some of the sections contrast different kinds of conservative non-leftist thought, others class thematically similar works together. The last section should actually have been something more like “Conservative Critics of Conservatism,” with different selections from Nisbet and Lukacs and with the inclusion of Peter Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited. The whole syllabus is highly simplified, but perhaps not ineffective.

As I advised the audience at my CPAC talk, these readings don’t really constitute a single semester’s work. A reading group that covered just one or two of these sections in a semester would be doing just fine. A solitary student, of course, can proceed at his own pace.

Introduction to American Conservatism
Political Philosophy 310

Daniel McCarthy
Senior editor, ISI Books
Office hours: M-F, 9-5

Aims and structure of the course:

This is one possible course of study for the student who wishes to become well-versed in the basic canon of intellectual conservatism. Some of the units are designed to contrast different strains of conservatism (“Economics and Culture” for example), while others are organized chronologically or along shared themes.

This course may be followed individually or in reading groups. A leisurely pace is encouraged: you will do yourself more harm than good if you try to read Human Action in a week. If you find any text too grueling and demoralizing, move on to something else and return to the harder text later—often an appreciation for the more difficult works takes months or years to develop.


No grades, no credit—you’re doing this for fun.

Course materials:

Most course materials are available through ISI ( The books that are not available through ISI should be affordably obtainable from most major on-line retailers. Note: the years that follow the book titles do not in most cases denote a recommended edition; I have included the years just to give you a sense of where these books fit into the conservative chronology.

The secondary texts in some cases will be more accessible than the primary texts, and you may wish to read them first.

World War II, Keynesianism, and the “Fearful Descent”

Primary texts: Hayek, Friedrich, The Road to Serfdom (1944); Weaver, Richard M., Ideas Have Consequences (1948); Hazlitt, Henry, Economics in One Lesson (1946)

Secondary texts: Nash, George H., The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (rev. ed., 2006), chapters 1-3

Economics and Culture

Primary texts: Kirk, Russell, The Conservative Mind (1953); Mises, Ludwig von, Human Action (1949) or Socialism (2nd ed., 1934)

Secondary texts: Kirzner, Israel, Ludwig von Mises (2001); Panichas, George, ed., The Essential Russell Kirk (2007)

Communism, Christianity, and Liberty

Primary texts: Chambers, Whittaker, Witness (1952); Meyer, Frank S., In Defense of Freedom (1962)

Secondary texts: Carey, George W., ed., Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate (rev. ed., 1998); Nash, George H., The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (rev. ed., 2006), chapters 4-6

Old and “Neo”

Primary texts: Nock, Albert Jay, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943); Kristol, Irving, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (1995)

Secondary texts: Crunden, Robert M., ed., The Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of American Culture 1900-1945 (2nd ed., 1999); Nash, George H., The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (rev. ed., 2006), chapters 11-12

Gnosticism and Straussianism

Primary texts: Voegelin, Eric, The New Science of Politics (1952); Strauss, Leo, Natural Right and History (1953)

Secondary texts: Federici, Michael P., Eric Voegelin (2002); Bloom, Allan, The Closing of the American Mind (1987)

History and Sociology

Primary texts: Nisbet, Robert A., The Quest for Community (1953); Nisbet, Robert A., The Twilight of Authority (1975)

Secondary texts: Lukacs, John, Remembered Past: John Lukacs on History, Historians, and Historical Knowledge (2005)


4 thoughts on “CPAC Syllabus

  1. scriblerus March 3, 2007 / 5:28 pm

    Very interesting list. I’m a little surprised that you have Bloom’s book on your list and nothing by Jaffa or other West-Coast Straussians. Bloom’s book is certainly influential, but as far as Strauss’ legacy within the conservative movement goes, it seems like Jaffa’s students have really established a hold on it. A lot of the concrete policy proposals that take their bearings from Strauss are indebted to Harry Jaffa’s shifting interpretations of Strauss and America.

    Perhaps, Claremont-types loom large in my mind, because they seemed omnipresent during my undergraduate years at the University of Dallas. But, on the topic of the University of Dallas, why no Willmoore Kendall?? Not even “Basic Symbols.”

  2. Daniel McCarthy March 4, 2007 / 4:53 am

    There’s some geographic and personal bias at work: I’ve met more East Coast Straussians than West Coasters, and Bloom’s book is the one I most often get asked about. It’s also the Straussian book that I most often hear casual acquaintances cite as influential upon their own thinking.

    Basic Symbols would have been a good choice. It simply didn’t occur to me. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I put together a list like this. Space constraints led to other omissions: I would have liked to include some Burnham, but I wanted to keep the syllabus to one double-sided sheet of paper.

  3. Andy December 19, 2007 / 6:35 pm

    Oh, and did not know about it. Thanks for the information …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s