November 19, 2015
THE BOOKS THAT SHAPED OUR MINDS (an excerpt)
We asked some prominent conservative thinkers which books influenced them most.
John J. Miller
The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945, by George H. Nash (ISI, 660 pp., $25)
Meeting Russell Kirk was one of the great thrills of my early life as a conservative. I’d signed up for a weekend for college students at Kirk’s home in Mecosta, Mich., sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. We heard lectures on Edmund Burke, walked in the woods, and listened to ghost stories by candlelight. Kirk signed my copy of The Conservative Mind.
The most important moment for me took place when Kirk held up a book with a blue jacket. “All of you must read this,” he said. It was The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. The author, George H. Nash, was sitting next to me. When I got back to the University of Michigan, I checked out a copy from the library and read it cover to cover.
Up to then, I had not really understood why conservatives argued with one another so much. Wasn’t it enough to fight the schemes of the Left? Couldn’t the traditionalists, libertarians, and neoconservatives just get along? Nash explained it all: the origins of their ideas, the major personalities behind them, and why they so often seemed to clash. And when I started to hear conservatives make their in-group references to immanentizing the eschaton, I actually knew what they meant.
I also discovered that I was an instinctive fusionist: a disciple of Frank S. Meyer and his school of ecumenical conservatism. It recognizes divisions on the right but seeks to make common cause as we struggle against the progressives who insist that it’s possible to create heaven on earth — i.e., the utopians who strive to immanentize the eschaton. Today, Nash is a friend.
A quarter century ago, his book was a revelation.