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Conservatives without Conscience

de John W. Dean

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Charges the Bush administration with using religious morality and propaganda-like tactics to promote big business interests and silence alternate perspectives at the expense of the nation's constitutional foundations.
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Conservatives Without Conscience, by John W. Dean (read 13 Jan 2012) This is an insightful and excellent book. It was published in 2006, and as I read it I kept being grateful that the 2006 and 2008 elections turned out as they did, else the country would really be in bad trouble. Dean in the forepart of the book does some rather turgid discussion of what a conservative is, which is instructive but not as enlightening as his discussion of the nature of the conservatives exemplified by the likes of Cheney, Bush, and Gingrich. It is troubling that 20 to 25 % of the adult population of the US is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing that can be said or done to change its minds.
Fortunately in 2006 and 2008 they were outvoted. But 2010 shows the dangers that still loom for the country. This book though six years old is still a book to help understand the danger of the type of conservative which Dean studies so perceptively herein. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jan 13, 2012 |
A disappointing book about John Dean's vendetta against G. Gordon Liddy. Due to his hatred of certain conservative figures, he condemns the entire modern conservative ideology. ( )
  GeorgeBarr | Jul 23, 2010 |
Dean's book is an incisive exploration and critique of how the influence of Christian fundamentalism has pulled the Republican party far to the right, and altered the substance of conservative thought in contemporary politics from its earlier essence in the 20th century. Troubling insights, and helpful material for understanding many of the abuses of power and dangers in current government.

As a staunch Nixonian Republican who was one of the few to break ranks and stop playing along with the Watergate coverup, Dean has well established credentials as a conservative (later moderate, as the Republicans moved further to the right), and a man of considerable integrity. He is well positioned to write this critique, knowing most of the players first-hand, and with unique perspective on the issues. He also refers to substantial bodies of social science (in particular Altemeyer's work on authoritarianism) and writes a cautionary tale regarding governance today. Highly recommended, especially for moderates trying to make sense of what is askew on the national stage these days. ( )
2 vote Teramis | Oct 30, 2009 |
Where to start... there's so much interesting stuff in this book. The motivation was the publication of a book in the early 90s that accused Dean of masterminding Watergate, and other things that were total fabrications. A number of famous conservatives supported the book, including Charles Colson, with whom Dean had had a relatively cordial relationship. So Dean began trying to understand why they would support a book that was so fraudulent. From there he studied conservatism and began trying to define it (almost impossible).

Dean became a conservative in part because of knowing Senator Barry Goldwater for most of his political career - Dean was roommates with Barry Jr. at military academy in the 1950s, and was highly influenced by Goldwater's Book _The Conscience of a Conservative_ (from which the title of this book came, and obviously where the liberal Pauls, Krugman and Wellstone, got the title of their books, _Conscience of a Liberal_). In 1994 Dean contacted Goldwater to get his views on the conservatives who were pushing the book against Dean, and the two of them planned to write a book on these social conservatives. However, Goldwater's failing health and death made that impossible. Dean decided to continue on his own, and did consult Goldwater's papers.

The book gives some historical context of conservatism, mostly to illustrate how difficult it is to define. He shows the many strands that make up modern conservatism, which mostly consists now of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and neoconservatives. And, lately, all of these have been dominated by a strain of authoritarianism.

What, psychologically, leads a person to conservatism? This is one of the more fascinating aspects of Dean's books, and he summarizes the findings of one particular study: "The heart of Jost and his collaborators' findings was that people become or remain political conservatives because they have a 'heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty and threat'. More specifically, the study established that the various psychological factors associated with political conservatives included (and here I am paraphrasing) fear, intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty and structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others."

This further called for understanding how people relate to authority, and here Dean draw a lot on the famous studies by Stanley Milgram, who discovered that a high percentage of people were willing to subject other people to what they believed were painful electric shocks because they were told to do so by an authority figure. "In an organizational setting few people assess directions given by a higher authority against their own internal standards of moral judgment." (p. 42)

Dean further discusses the work of Bob Altemeyer, who has studied what he terms "right-wing authoritarians". They are not necessarily right-wing politically: (quoting Altemeyer) "So when I use 'right-wing' in right-wing authoritarianism, I do not mean the submission necessarily goes to a politically 'right-wing' leader or government, but that it goes to established authorities in one's life." (p. 49). The book goes into details on the characteristics of the right-wing authoritarian followers, then goes into a discussion of social dominators, who are the leaders of RWAs.

Social dominators see the world in terms of survival of the fittest, and they tend to be amoral, viewing themselves as realists. The most scary group of all are those who score high on both the social dominance and right-wing authoritarianism scales, whom Altermeyer refers to as "Double Highs".

Dean makes it all specific in detailing examples of those whom one can guess are social dominators or double highs, such as Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, and Dick Cheney. Several of them have been hurt by their ambition and amorality, but not without doing severe damage to American democracy. The authoritarian stunts they have pulled go far beyond what most of us have heard in the news.

The book is intended as a warning... that we can lose our democracy to those whose fears will drive them to support the loss of freedom. It takes awareness and political participation, in people of all politcal stripes, to keep freedom alive. ( )
2 vote reannon | Nov 27, 2007 |
On the one hand a very well written and thought out work, but on the other perhaps too biased against conservatism, even the sort I detest. Authoritarian personalities are far from limited to the "right wing." It is a pity this work was not co-written with Barry Goldwater, as was originally intended. ( )
  worldsedge | Jun 4, 2007 |
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Charges the Bush administration with using religious morality and propaganda-like tactics to promote big business interests and silence alternate perspectives at the expense of the nation's constitutional foundations.

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