When I think of the historian Alan Brinkley, I usually think of 9-11, at least fleetingly. That’s because on the day the terrorists attacked, I was working on an article for National Review in which Brinkley figured prominently. It was about a new generation of professional historians, mostly liberals, who had decided to study American conservatives with scholarly dispassion (as opposed to ideological hostility). Many of them were encouraged in their work by Brinkley, a professor at Columbia who had urged his colleagues to pay serious attention to one of the most important political movements since the end of the Second World War.
In the aftermath of 9-11, I set aside the piece on Brinkley and his proteges and wrote on war and terrorism for a few months. “Getting the Right Right” finally appeared in January 2002.
I recently reconnected with Brinkley to record a podcast on his new book, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century. At the end of our conversation, I asked Brinkley to comment on the modern academy’s treatment of the conservative movement. What has happened in the last decade or so? He says there’s been a surge of interest. He doesn’t want to take credit for it, but in truth he deserves a hearty pat on the back. Several of his own students have gone on to write interesting and important books on conservatives. When I asked Brinkley to recommend an excellent recent book on conservatism, he chose Invisible Hands, by his former student Kim Phillips-Fein–who was also one of my podcast victims.