Imagination Movers: The Creation of Conservative Counter-Narratives in Reaction to Consensus Liberalism
Bartee, Seth James
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The purpose of this study was to explore what exactly bound post-Second World War American conservatives together. Since modern conservatism's recent birth in the United States in the last half century or more, many historians have claimed that both anti-communism and capitalism kept conservatives working in cooperation. My contention was that the intellectual founder of postwar conservatism, Russell Kirk, made imagination, and not anti-communism or capitalism, the thrust behind that movement in his seminal work The Conservative Mind. In The Conservative Mind, published in 1953, Russell Kirk created a conservative genealogy that began with English parliamentarian Edmund Burke. Using Burke and his dislike for the modern revolutionary spirit, Kirk uncovered a supposedly conservative seed that began in late eighteenth-century England, and traced it through various interlocutors into the United States that culminated in the writings of American expatriate poet T.S. Eliot. What Kirk really did was to create a counter-narrative to the American liberal tradition that usually began with the French Revolution and revolutionary figures such as English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine. One of my goals was to demystify the fusionist thesis, which states that conservatism is a monolithic entity of shared qualities. I demonstrated that major differences existed from conservatism's postwar origins in 1953. I do this by using the concept of textual communities. A textual community is a group of people led by a privileged interpreter—someone such as Russell Kirk—who translates a text, for example Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, for followers. What happens in a textual community is that the privileged interpreter explains to followers how to read a text and then forms boundaries around a particular rendering of a book. I argue that conservatism was full of these textual communities and privileged interpreters. Therefore, in consecutive chapters, I look at the careers of Russell Kirk, John Lukacs, Christopher Lasch, and Paul Gottfried to demonstrate how this concept fleshed out from 1953 and well into the first decade of the new millennium.
- Doctoral Dissertations