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Publishers WeeklyAuthor and professor Allit (I'm the Teacher, You're the Student, Religion in Americ Since 1945)probes the origins of American conservatism from a time when "conservative" was a descriptor, not a movement. Taking an even-handed approach, Allitt acknowledges the conservative tendency toward self-interest (pessimism and complacency being "characteristic vices"), but finds that, at its best, the conservative message illuminates "hidden or neglected insights about the human existence" (i.e, the realities of inequality and free-market justice). From present-day questions of taxation and big government, Allitt traces conservative principles to the earliest days of the republic. (The history of their specious abandonment is almost as old; Thomas Jefferson railed against Hamilton's big-government "loose construction of the Constitution," before coming to power and using the same principle to justify the Louisiana Purchase.) Allitt charts the schism between Northern and Southern conservatives before, during and after the Civil War, bringing to light those forgotten abolitionists who also supported secession. Allitt also investigates the isolationists who, after WWII, became the leading cold warriors, and other latter-20th century issues like Civil Rights, desegregation and affirmative action. Cutting across the stereotypes of present-day conservatism, this nuanced, thoughtful history should educate the unaffiliated and help the disillusioned recover.
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