No other book provides such a rich survey of the intellectual history of American conservatism. With almost 1,000 pages of entries written by some of the most prominent American conservatives (people such as Russell Kirk, M. E. Bradford, and Murray Rothbard), this is now the one book that must be read if one wants to understand American conservatism.
This comes at a good time, because American conservatives are wondering about the future of conservatism in America. The current debate over whether President George Bush and his neoconservative supporters have betrayed the conservative movement manifests this new period of conservative self-examination. This book will help conservatives to reconsider their complex history and their possible future.
My judgment might be biased because I was involved in the original launching of this project by Greg Wolfe in 1990. I have five articles in the book--on "Intelligent Design Theory," "The Scopes Trial," "Social Darwinism," "Sociobiology," and "Herbert Spencer." My articles reflect a desire to persuade conservatives that Darwinian science supports conservative social thought. But that is a minority view in this book. The more common conservative scorn for modern science is stated in M. D. Aeschliman's article on "Science and Scientism."
The one clear weakness in this book is that it does not really cover the full history of the American conservative movement. It stresses the intellectual or academic side of conservatism as dominated by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (the publisher of the book) and NATIONAL REVIEW. It gives almost no attention to the most populist elements of the conservative movement. For example, there is not a single reference to Billy James Hargis, to John Stormer's book NONE DARE CARE IT TREASON, or to J. Evett Haley's book A TEXAN LOOKS AT LYNDON. Hargis was a Christian conservative who once broadcast his radio program in the 1960s on over 200 radio stations. Hargis's book A COMMUNIST AMERICA, MUST IT BE? was widely distributed. The books by Stormer and Haley sold millions of copies in 1964, during the Goldwater presidential campaign against LBJ. People like Hargis, Stormer, and Haley were far more popular than William Buckley or Russell Kirk in the 1960s.
I understand, however, that the editors of this enclyclopedia want to make the history of American conservatism intellectually respectable by concentrating on the more purely academic levels of the movement.
In any case, no one can think seriously about the intellectual history of American conservatism without reading this book. And in helping us to understand the past history of conservatism, this book could help us to foresee the future promise of conservatism in America.