I am an extremist in the defense of liberty. Sam Tanenhaus isn't. In my view, books about American conservative intellectual history written by people who aren't extremists in the defense of liberty -- or who aren't at least making a good faith effort to understand us -- are not worth reading.
My friend Menashi raises excellent criticisms in his review. He was a government major in college, if I recall correctly, so he naturally focuses on Tanenhaus's fuzzy understanding of conservative political theory. This is all well and good, but I'd love to see a real economist light into Tanenhaus. There is part of me that thinks that if you can't formulate a one or two-sentence definition of "public choice theory," you have no business writing an intellectual history of the American right. Based on Tanenhaus's scant attention to developments in economics over the last fifty years, I'm guessing he can't.
Yes, I know, I'm perhaps biased toward granting the libertarian/fiscal conservative elements of the right outsized importance in the overall movement. But I maintain it's even odder not to grant us any role whatsoever, which is essentially Tanenhaus's position.
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