Published Humanitas, Volume VII, No. 1, 1994

The Conservative Movement: Revised Edition, by Paul Gottfried. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. xxiv+214 pp. $26.95 hardcover, $14.95 paper.

…If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope, will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.

—Edmund Burke Thoughts on French Affairs (1791)

Edmund Burke’s oft-quoted reflection on the historical changes wrought by the French Revolution has almost equally often been misunderstood. While usually presented as Burke’s attempt to make peace with an historically inevitable movement, this quote, as evidenced by his later writings on the French Revolution, is simply a pessimistic view of the developments in France, and of their increasing acceptance in the minds of Englishmen. Burke never reconciled himself to the French Revolution; but he also held no great hope that the sweeping historical changes that it ushered in could be reversed, at least in the short run.

Paul Gottfried, in his revised and expanded edition of The Conservative Movement, expresses a similar short-term pessimism about political and cultural developments in the United States. While most of the book has a sociological air about it, the last two chapters, and other material scattered throughout the book, make it clear that Gottfried is more than just a disinterested chronicler of trends on the American Right. An active participant in the rising paleoconservative movement, Gottfried is at his best when criticizing the disaffected liberals who, under the name of neoconservatives, have come to dominate what passes for the right wing in current American politics.

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