Because no movement resembling American social conservatism exists in any other affluent democracy, it is widely seen as a “retro” phenomenon soon to disappear, a sure casualty of globalization.
Author and political activist Jeffrey Bell argues that social conservatism is uniquely American precisely because it’s an outgrowth of American exceptionalism. It exists here because our founding principles, centering on the belief that we receive equal rights from God rather than from government, remain popular among American votersif not at elite institutions.
Bell argues that upheavals of the 1960s set the stage for social conservatism’s rise. The left’s agenda, particularly the sexual revolution, triumphed among elite opinion in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. This happened after the left sidelined its century-long drive for socialism and returned to its roots in the 18th-century thought of Rousseau and the revolutionary Jacobins, radicals who sought to break free from civilizing institutions, particularly religion and the family.
American social conservatism derives from a branch of the Enlightenment that Bell analyzes as the “conservative enlightenment.” The ability of this optimistic belief system, which dominated the American founding and transformed the English-speaking world, to spread its natural-law-centered vision of democracy will affect the shape of politics in the decades ahead.
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About the Author
Jeffrey Bell played an active role in federal tax budget reform as an aid to Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s. A graduate of Columbia and a veteran of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Bell served as a fellow of the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard, visiting professor at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers, and as the DeWitt Wallace Fellow in Communications at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union and of the Campaign Finance Institute at George Washington University. Since 2007, he has been a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.
In 2010, Bell became director of policy of the American Principles Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. His most recent book, Populism and Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality, was named “the most important political book” of 1992 by Fred Barnes in The New Republic. Bell and his wife, Rosalie O’Connell, have four children and live in Annandale, Virginia.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Everyone sees the contradictions in today's politics: feminists who think Clinton's hitting on 8 White House staffers is OK or conservatives cool with vast business subsidies. Where does this come from, you wonder? Jeffrey Bell has some answers for you. Here is a coherent look at (1) the truly fundamental conflict raging in Washington today, (2) why the conflict isn't going away, and (3) why the world's social and economic future (no hyperbole) is at stake. Essential reading.