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“The Right Nation” by Micklethwait etc. Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021

There is this story of a man who was not able to fix his leaking roof. Why? When it was raining; he was not able to and when it was not raining; he didn’t want to. Does this remind you of George Bush! If not, read the book The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Micklethwait and Wooldridge, the Britons in America who have authored this book, have done a fantastic job in writing a book that is so enthralling and timely.

They are both graduates from Oxford and are journalists at The Economist. They feel that the US will be dominated by an alliance of conservatives (there are a lot even now) and consider the US The Right Nation. But the point of contention is – Is it right for the nation?

Nearly half a century ago the Americans lacked a real conservative political ideology. “Conservative” as a term was defunct in the annals of American politics. It was more of an insult, coined by the Democrats during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the term was fended off by Republicans like Hoover, who called himself a “true liberal”. In contrast to socialism and liberalism and a whole series of other subject matters of political theory, conservatism is not a clearly definable concept.

This is the major point to be demonstrated and it denotes the futility of so many of our “new American conservatives” who try to prove their case by quoting endlessly from the European (sometimes British) model of conservative thought, incidentally without paying much attention to the prudent qualities of flexible European conservative action (Freund, 1955). Over the last 50 years, America has become a conservative country in the American manner. Then why can’t European-style conservatism become hot in America? This sort of conservatism needs a social basis. Also, a hierarchical class structure was absent in America and hence such a European structure did not exist in America (Gottfried, 2007).

To know who the conservatives were – their leaders and the tensions between them – we should know the evolution of conservatism in America. The rise of conservatism in ‘conservative’ America has been helped largely by the nemesis of American liberalism “ … which lost its way between the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson, between the anti-communist Korean War, which is supported, and the Sandinistas’ Marxist takeover of Nicaragua, which is also supported, and between the earthy populism of Harry Truman and the cerebral elitism of Al Gore”1

The authors feel that not all Americans are conservative and only 41 percent of them are conservatives and 19 percent consider themselves liberals. The Americans have moved to the right in the recent past and anchored itself as a country far more conservative than other countries. Haines (2004) says that “when compared to the citizens of Great Britain, America’s closest ally, Americans are markedly more conservative on a variety of political, moral, and social issues. For example, only 17 percent of the British are against legalized abortion while 46 percent of Americans oppose it”.

This book offers more than the rise of Ronald Reagan or the policies of George Walker Bush. In the light of what is written, Bush’s policies should not be viewed as an anomaly in contemporary American politics, but as a look into the ethos of the current conservative outlook. This book provides a deep insight into the historical context on the issues that dominated the conservative movement – the Cold War, civil rights movement, ‘Reaganomics’, the Goldwater campaign – right up through Bush.

The authors argue that the Americans had always been ‘fundamentally conservative’. The thoughts of the authors are analyses of the ideas of social history. Their grasp on America’s history and the demographic trends is evident in their writing, sprinkled with dry humor. They point out three simple reasons that explain conservatives (the rights?) always defeat the lefts. They go on to explain how the rights have a determined and focused battalion of activists who are reaping the benefits of changes in American society that can be construed to be long-term.

According to them, American conservatism is due to six features. These six features are fundamental to the reason why conservatism is surviving in America. They are

  1. religion;
  2. government;
  3. capitalism;
  4. complete absence of socialism;
  5. their tradition over the years and
  6. the very geography of the nation.

In their opinion, the American conservatives are more religious, have no legacy of social welfare, and also advocate decentralization. The inroads, the Americans, have made in making capitalism tick and the progress they have made; make them unique. These and other facts, the authors assert, have fostered a ‘frontier spirit’ and ‘a way of free living’ without government intrusion.

They show by way of an example, that the vast American country has enough space to provide every citizen an acre of land and still have free land – the Americans occupy only one-twentieth of their land. They further say that due to a higher birth rate and immigration, the population of America is aging more slowly than Europe and their conservatism is growing. The authors predict that the American’s will grow in economic and military strength and will police the world – given its proclivity for conservatism.

It is a known fact that the success of the American conservative movement rests largely on the two epic events that have shaped much of modern America. The one that was external – engaging and winning the Cold War; the second was internal – the American government should be the principal solver of major economic and social problems and its rejection thereof by the American public.

They conclude that the more religious leanings of the Americans are an exception when compared to their European conservative counterparts. That this country is far more conservative than any other nation is their ‘exceptionalism’. They go to great lengths to explain the fact that the Americans with their think tanks (political, religious, scientific), unique entrepreneurship, factional rivalry, mega-churches can have no equals in the conservative parties of Europe. We have to believe their incisive and logical observations to know what makes America – a Right Nation.

References

Freund, Ludwig. “The new American conservatism and European conservatism”. Ethics, 66(1), 1955: 10-17.

Gottfried, Paul. Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan (2007).

Haines, Christina. “Conservatism in America”. (2004). Web.

Footnotes

Quoted from “Edwards, L (2003). The Origins of the Modern American Conservative Movement. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“The Right Nation” by Micklethwait etc. Review." September 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-right-nation-by-micklethwait-etc-review/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '“The Right Nation” by Micklethwait etc. Review'. 14 September.

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