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AND I QUOTE / What Political Books Are Saying

The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America. By Godfrey Hodgson (Houghton Mifflin: $24.95, 350 pp.)

September 22, 1996|John Balzar

"At first the new conservatism genuinely was a radical movement. It was an assault by a band of outlaws on the citadels of privilege, and the new conservatives found it exhilarating. . . . Gradually and skillfully the conservatives took advantage of the contingencies and the changing perceptions of three decades. Four widespread perceptions in particular offered favorable opportunities for them. One was the Cold War itself: Liberals could never outbid the new conservatives in an anti-communist auction. Then there was widespread anger that the United States had been allowed to decline, both morally and in its power and influence in the world; and conservatives were successful in convincing many that this was the fault of the liberals. There was conviction that the liberal attack on fundamental social and racial inequality not only had been a failure, but was fundamentally misconceived. Lastly, there was a surprising degree of popular acceptance of the tempting, if ill-founded, idea that liberalism was the creed of an overprivileged elite, out of touch with people's real needs and wishes."

****

Illuminating, dispassionate and spaciously satisfying, this account of today's political ground-motion might be the best bookshelf buy of election year 1996. British journalist and scholar Hodgson has a command of history and a panoramic understanding of the forces that formed modern conservatism, not just the politicians but the intellectuals, economists, journalists--and, of course, the happenstance of events. This is a three-dimensional portrait of the conservative movement--its diversity of ideas and motives, its strengths, contradictions and lapses.

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