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Author and Historian George Nash Lectures on American Conservatism

Respected author and historian George Nash in a well-attended lecture at the Mount on November 14 acknowledged the difficulty of predicting the future of American conservatism.

george-nash-the-conservative-intellectual-movement-in-america-since-1945.jpgNash began his lecture by describing the origin of the current conservative movement in the post-WWII era. “The movement was not monolithic,” said Nash, “but rather, made up of originally three diverse groups—a ‘libertarian’ small-government group, a ‘traditionalist’ group focused on a return to ethical and religious values, and a militant ‘anti-communism’ group.” Nash went on to discuss how these three movements began coalescing in the 1950s around the National Review magazine, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. These three movements were later joined by two additional conservative trends in the 1970s and 1980s—the “religious right” and the “neo-conservative” movement.

nash-pod.jpg“With the fall of communism in the early 1990s, these diverse groups began to fragment, and we saw a new development in the conservative movement under leaders such as Patrick Buchanan. We might call this movement ‘paleo-conservativism,'” Nash said. This new movement emphasized nationalism, skepticism about U.S. foreign policy, and promotion of an “America first” agenda. Paleo-conservatism, fueled by talk-radio and mass media, was the fertile ground upon which a fiery new populism would grow in the late 2000s. The new conservative populism materialized in the form of the Tea Party movement.

With his masterful use of social media, and his ability to harness the passion of the conservative populism, Donald Trump proved victorious in the 2016 presidential campaign. Nash described this particular brand of populism, which includes elements from both conservative and progressive populism, as “Trumpism.” “By its nature, populist movements are difficult to sustain,” Nash said. “Sooner or later, they settle down.”

Nash observed, “Conservativism in America has proven resilient. But it’s difficult to predict its future.” Nash acknowledged that there is division within the American conservative movement as well as an intensifying polarization on the outside with progressives. Nash concluded his lecture with a quote from Edmund Burke: “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

Nash is one of the leading authorities on conservatism, particularly American conservatism. He wrote the classic work The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 and is the preeminent biographer of Herbert Hoover. Nash authored the multi-volume biography of "Herbert Hoover: The Engineer: 1874–1914"; "The Humanitarian: 1914–1917" and "The Master of Emergencies: 1917-1918." More recently, Nash wrote Reappraising the Right: The Past and Future of American Conservatism. He has lectured and written extensively on twentieth-century American political and intellectual history.

The Philosophy, Politics and Economics program, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Office of Competitive Fellowships hosted the lecture, which is available on the Mount’s livestream: