Published Humanitas, Volume XXV, Nos. 1 and 2, 2012


The Conservative Movement’s Perpetual Civil War

The conflict between advocates of the free market and traditionalist conservatives dates from the beginning of the modern conservative movement. Never have traditionalists and classical liberals comfortably shared the same space. The differences and ensuing conflicts between these two strands within modern American conservatism have been well documented.

In every area, whatever the potential for practical political alliances, differences emerge between the underlying philosophies that often produce irreconcilable policy prescriptions. In the 1950s, just as the postwar conservative movement was beginning to coalesce around several key institutions, Russell Kirk, author of the 1953 bestseller The Conservative Mind, and Frank Meyer, National Review’s book editor, famously sparred over the role of reason and tradition, freedom and community. Meyer published a review of Kirk’s Conservative Mind titled “Collectivism Rebaptized” in the July 5, 1955, issue of The Freeman, accusing Kirk of putting a traditionalist gloss on the statist status quo. Kirk responded in kind and the two exchanged invectives for the next several years. Kirk never allowed his name on National Review’s masthead because he did not want his reputation associated with that of Meyer or others like him. Neither was convinced by the other and the conflict remains representative of the disagreements between the two schools of conservative thought.

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