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
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.
Most course materials are available through ISI (www.isi.org). 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)
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)