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The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back

de Andrew Sullivan

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2005107,868 (3.76)1
A leading political commentator poses an urgent call to rescue conservatism from Republican corruption, arguing that conservative ideals are being challenged by expensive and inappropriate government practices.

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"The Conservative Soul" is a call for all, but especially those who self-apply the term "conservative", to return to a combination of economic liberalism, fiscal restraint, and socio-philosophical skepticism. I'm not sure I would identify that as any kind of "conservative" I've ever known, but it certainly overlaps a lot with the values I identify with.

Sullivan is basically calling for an embrace, or re-embrace as he would have it, of a kind of moderate liberalism (lowercase "l") with an extra dose of skepticism and guardedness against utopian thinking of any stripe. In this he reminds me a lot of the writings of John N Gray. He seems to have drawn his influences from other sources however; and Sullivan is explicitly Catholic (though of a very liberal and personal flavor.) I myself had to struggle a bit with his discussion of religion, which reminds me that my probably-anti-theistic attitudes are in many ways a prejudice. He does not go on at the same length, or with the same ill-thought out arguments that other liberal pro-religious writers and thinkers do (I'm thinking specifically of Chris Hedges, if only because I just finished a book by him within the last couple of weeks.)

He is one of a very small handful of conservatives who started pro-Iraq-war and have not only changed their attitude but said, with a few quibbles here or there, "I was wrong." Which, as most people know, are the hardest words to pronounce in just about any language. Separately from that, he also calls out the *refusal* (or inability?) in the modern political environment of people to change their minds, not only because of ideology, but because of the dreaded title "flip-flopper." This also wins him bonus points in my book. ( )
  dcunning11235 | Oct 17, 2016 |
Interesting, thought-provoking book. The first half was basically how fundamentalism -- Islamic, Christian, or even secular -- is antithetical to liberty and should not be allowed influence in government, and I certainly agree with that. The second half meandered more. He discusses a few philosophers I've never read, so I have no idea whether his interpretations of their work are sound. He mostly seems to end up arguing for pragmatism over ideology, which I also support and would love to see more of in this country, but really how controversial is that? I didn't agree with all of his positions, but appreciated the mellow way of presenting them. I found myself going back and rereading paragraphs to make sure they completely sunk in, which I don't usually bother with. ( )
  kristenn | Jan 10, 2010 |
I have always been a fan of The Daily Dish, Sullivan's blog which is hosted at the Atlantic website. To me Sullivan is the antithesis to much of the polemical and ideological rant which passes for political discourse in the media, both in the main stream press and the blogosphere.

Having been raised in a fairly political family and for many years holding what I believed were conservative beliefs, the rise of fundamentalism as a core principle of the Republican party has been difficult for me to understand. The attempt to reconcile what I believed to be conservative values of individual liberty with the parties continued assault on personal choice coupled with the expansion of regulation of our lives, proved troublesome.

So when I read Sullivan's book, it was like having the blinders removed. His emphasis on skepticism and reason over the fundamentalist reliance on blind faith resonated with my early Catholic and conservative values. In a day when the eloquent and well-reasoned position is denigrated as elitism, I for one, am proud to be a snob, if that is how one is to be described for preferring an intellectual approach to issues instead of the polemical and simplistic.

His frank discussion of Catholicism and conservatism resonated with me, as he addressed many of the irreconcilable questions that occur in our daily lives and what the proper role of government should be in addressing these issues.

  jsmontover | Nov 13, 2008 |
There's a critique of conservatism that is an ahistoric ideology. That is, it's concerned with the sustaining of institutions, rather that than betting on some grand narrative that will sweep us to a brighter tomorrow.

It's a critique that can be claimed by both old-line National Review conservatives like Bill Buckley and Marxist theorists like Terry Eagleton. I'll leave it to whoever is reading this whether or not this is a useful approach to engagment with the world.

So where is conservatism now? Andrew Sullivan, a Thatcherite conservative, asks and doesn't like the answers he gets.

Sullivan thinks the GOP has largely abandoned the libertarian/Federalism lite (very, very lite) Gingrich vision of that launched the ascendancy of the modern GOP.

Suddenly "conservatives" are very comfortable with the idea of federal intervention in what were state domains, education, domestic contracts, etc.

Sullivan argues that conservatism could do well to reclaim some skepticism and humility, to stop claiming a mantle of absolute truth.

Seems like a reasonable thing to me.

Sullivan's prose is direct, thoughtful, and he's not afraid to engage readers with thorny issues. A satisfying book. ( )
  gregtmills | Jun 6, 2007 |
Sullivan stands above most commentators. There's a depth and a sincerity behind this book that you won't find in most political books. ( )
  DavidSwindle | Nov 29, 2006 |
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