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Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right
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Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right

by Andrew Sullivan

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Today's conservatives support the idea of limited government, but they have increased government's size and power to new heights. They believe in balanced budgets, but they have boosted government spending, debt, and pork to record levels. They believe in national security but launched a reckless, ideological occupation in Iraq that has made us tangibly less safe.


Today's conservatives support the idea of limited government, but they have increased government's size and power to new heights. They believe in balanced budgets, but they have boosted government spending, debt, and pork to record levels. They believe in national security but launched a reckless, ideological occupation in Iraq that has made us tangibly less safe. They have substituted religion for politics and damaged both.

In The Conservative Soul, one of the nation's leading political commentators makes an impassioned call to rescue conservatism from the excesses of the Republican far right, which has tried to make the GOP the first fundamentally religious party in American history. In this bold and powerful book, Andrew Sullivan makes a provocative, prescient, and heartfelt case for a revived conservatism at peace with the modern world, and dedicated to restraining government and empowering individuals to live rich and fulfilling lives.

Editorial Reviews

David Brooks
This is Sullivan at his wonderful best. The politics of principle. Not the politics of doubt.
&151; The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As editor of the New Republic and on his blog The Daily Dish, Sullivan has been a major conservative voice in U.S. politics for 15 years. Now, he attempts "to account for what one individual person means by conservatism"-not repudiating his former political beliefs but trying to "rescue" modern U.S. political conservatism from "the current [Christian] fundamentalist supremacy" that now dominates it. Sullivan (Love Undetectable) has a breezy, readable style that allows him to address such diverse issues as religious fundamentalism's reliance on "the literal words of the Bible," the "excessive witch-hunt" surrounding Clinton, and the secular Enlightenment foundations of the Constitution. He's most approachable when he writes autobiographically through a critical lens-"Looking back I see this phase of my faith life as a temporary and neurotic reaction to a new and bewildering school environment." But that reflection is not as readily apparent when he makes sweeping pronouncements on politics ("post-modern discourse... opposed basic notions of Western freedom: of speech, of trade, of religion"). Much of the book is a meditation on his own evolving faith as a devout Catholic and will appeal most to readers interested in personal religious evolution. (Oct. 3) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
True conservatism recoils from the fundamentalist obsession with virtue and natural law, but embraces a minimalist view of government that allows a maximum of economic and lifestyle liberty. This is the argument that Sullivan has long been refining on his popular blog, The Daily Dish, and in his numerous print columns and books (Virtually Normal, 1995, etc.). In this book, he deploys an interpretation of the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott to support his continuing effort to reconcile his Catholicism and Thatcherite conservatism with the normalization of homosexuality and, most of all, with the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples. Sullivan notes that government must be based neither on reactionary adherence to the past, nor on Thomist theories of natural law, but on doubt: specifically, on the Hobbesian disbelief that our neighbor can be trusted not to do us an injury in the absence of a public authority. (Oddly, liberty requires that we give our neighbor "the benefit of the doubt" and therefore civil equality.) Government has no business inculcating virtue in society, the author says. Rather, good conservative government will accommodate itself to the felt needs of the time, like Disraeli's support of the democratic franchise in 19th-century Britain and, as Sullivan would have it, gay marriage in 21st-century America. In order to reach these conclusions, the author devotes about half of this work to explaining why most people who call themselves conservatives are really fundamentalists, a class that stretches from Osama bin Laden, through the editorial offices of the better neoconservative journals, and up to the fundamentalists-in-chief, George W. Bush and BenedictXVI. What all these people have in common is the belief that they know the truth with a certainty that allows them to impose their views either by force or by a definition that can compel consciences. It's difficult to imagine the audience for this philosophy: Cultural revolutionaries can turn to franker polemics, while self-described conservatives will be unnerved by Sullivan's anti-foundationalism.

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Read an Excerpt

The Conservative Soul

How We Lost It, How to Get It Back

By Andrew Sullivan

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Andrew Sullivan

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060188774

Chapter One

A Silver Age


"The era of big government is over."

--President Bill Clinton, January 1996

All conservatism begins with loss

If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve, which is the essence of any conservatism. Our lives, a series of unconnected moments of experience, would simply move effortlessly on, leaving the past behind with barely a look back. But being human, being self-conscious, having memory, forces us to confront what has gone and what might have been. And in those moments of confrontation with time, we are all conservatives. Sure, we all move on. In America, the future is always more imperative than the past. But the past lingers; and America, for all its restlessness, or perhaps because of its restlessness, is a deeply conservative place.

The regret you feel in your life at the kindness not done, the person unthanked, the opportunity missed, the custom unobserved, is a form of conservatism. The same goes for the lost love or the missed opportunity: these experiences teach us the fragility of the moment, and that fragility is what, in part, defines us.

When an old tree is uprooted by a storm, when a favorite room is redecorated, when an old church is razed, or an old factoryturned into lofts, we all sense that something has been lost--if not the actual thing, then the attachments that people, past and present, have forged with it, the web of emotion and loyalty and fondness that makes a person's and a neighborhood's life a coherent story. Human beings live by narrative; and we get saddened when a familiar character disappears from a soap opera; or an acquaintance moves; or an institution becomes unrecognizable from what it once was. These little griefs are what build a conservative temperament. They interrupt our story; and our story is what makes sense of our lives. So we resist the interruption; and when we resist it, we are conservatives.

There is a little conservatism in everyone's soul--even those who proudly call themselves liberals. No one is untouched by loss. We all grow old. We watch ourselves age and decline; we see new generations supplant and outrun us. Every human life is a series of small and large losses--of parents, of youth, of the easy optimism of young adulthood and the uneasy hope of middle age--until you face the ultimate loss, of life itself. There is no avoiding it; and the strength and durability of the conservative temperament is that it starts with this fact, and deals with it. Life is impermanent. Loss is real. Death will come. Nothing can change that--no new dawn for humanity, no technological wonder, no theory or ideology or government. Intrinsic to human experience--what separates us from animals--is the memory of things past, and the fashioning of that memory into a self-conscious identity. So loss imprints itself on our minds and souls and forms us. It is part of what we are.

It is no big surprise, then, that the first great text of Anglo-American conservatism, Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, is all about loss. It's a desperate, eloquent, sweeping screed against the wanton destruction of an old order. When the French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, overthrew a monarchy and a church, remade the calendar, and executed dissidents by the thousands for the sake of a new, blank slate for humanity, Burke felt--first of all--grief. His primary impulse was to mourn what was lost. He mourned it even though it wasn't his. This was not the same as actually defending the old order, which was, in many ways, indefensible, as Burke conceded. It was simply to remind his fellow humans that society is complicated, that its structure develops not by accident but by evolution, that even the most flawed bonds that tie countless individuals are not to be casually severed for the sake of an inchoate idea of perfection.

Even people and societies with deeply wounded pasts, with histories that cry out for renewal and reform, are nonetheless the products of exactly that past. They can never be wiped clean, born again, remade overnight. Even radical change requires a reckoning with the past if it is to graft successfully onto a human endeavor or life. An alcoholic who becomes sober will be unlikely to succeed without a thorough and often painful accounting of how she came to be where she is; and her future will be pivoted against her past and unimaginable without it. When those in recovery insist that they are still alcoholics, they are merely saying that they are human. They have a past. And living in the present cannot mean obliviousness to one's own history. It means living through and beyond that history.

If that is a conservative insight, it presses more powerfully than ever today. If the essence of conservatism is conserving, then our current moment is an extremely unnerving one. In the twenty-first century, the pace of change can at times seem overwhelming. Quantum leaps in technology have transformed how we communicate with one another and expanded everyone's access to an endless array of life possibilities. Jobs last months rather than decades. Travel is cheaper and easier than ever before. Mass immigration has altered settled cultures across the globe. Freer trade has upended life's certainties and customs in almost every society on earth. Assumptions we once made about who we are as a people, or as a country, or even as men and women, are now open to debate. The meaning of family, of marriage, of health, of sex, of faith, are now things we cannot simply take for granted as a shared understanding. And this pace adds a more bewildering and communal sense of loss to the more familiar, quotidian losses of human existence.

Adults face this first of all as they try to bring up their children. They look around them in the twenty-first century and they increasingly see no stable cultural . . .


Excerpted from The Conservative Soul
by Andrew Sullivan
Copyright © 2006 by Andrew Sullivan.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

"Sets a standard for depth and subtlety of argument. . . . Everyone concerned will want to read what he has to say."
---The Wall Street Journal

Meet the Author

Andrew Sullivan is one of today's most provocative social and political commentators. An essayist for Time magazine, a columnist for The Sunday Times of London, and a senior editor at The New Republic, he is also the editor of "The Daily Dish," one of the most widely read political blogs on the Web. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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