We’re back to our standard theme song this week: Neko Case’s “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” from Middle Cyclone (2009).

General Introduction
– What’s on the blog?
– Sam Mulberry wins a windbreaker

The Death of Conservatism
– Introduction to Sam Tanenhaus
– Our gut reactions to the book
– Three thumbs pointing various degrees of down

Could This Book Have Been Released in 2004?
– GOP on the ropes
– George W. Bush as ultimate movement conservative ideologue
– Why David feels like Abe Vigoda
– Things have changed
– Nathan uses a passive verb

Philosophical vs. Movement Conservatism
– Is this a fair distinction to make?
The “kindred spirit” approach
– Philosophical vs. movement liberalism
– Openness vs. closedness

Conservatism vs. Radicalism
– Too broad a movement
– Tradition as status quo
– What do conservatives actually want to conserve?
– Why liberals like Leave It to Beaver now

Dialectical Politics
– “The dragging heels of the body politic”
– Theory vs. observations
– How Tanenhaus confuses effect with goal
– Is there an inevitable trajectory of history?
– Why attention to the particular matters
– Flattening historical moment

Orthodoxy vs. Compromise
– Blue dogs and rhinos
– Impotence vs. acquiescence
– Do liberals eat their own?
– Left-wing complaints about Obama

Republican Disinterest in Specifics
– A healthy disinterest, David argues
– Turning libertarian
– Are conservatives simplistic?
– Conservatism as keeping to yourself
– Polarization on both ends of the spectrum
– Nathan plugs his candidate

The Culture War™
– Is it a part of the past?
– Sarah Palin’s elite-baiting
– Who counts as an elite?
– Michial declares his Catonism; Nathan contends
– How democracy leads to tyranny
– A fourth ex-cathedra pronouncement: You’re the man now, dog

The Death of Social Conservatism?
– Mores, not populism
– Celibate vampires vs. prime-time television
– The libertarian uprising
– How big of a voice do social conservatives have now?
– Social conservatism as a consumer choice
– Michial’s socially conservative fatalism
– Nathan’s humorless, quasi-Anabaptist, lunatic sanguinity

Looking to the Future
– Making a new way
– Becoming more conscious
– Nathan is tired of being a wannabe Anabaptist. He wants to be an Anabaptist!
– Taking the best from all movements


Augustine. City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. New York: Penguin, 1976.

Hauerwas, Stanley. Resident Aliens. Nashville: Abingdon, 1989.

Kirk, Russell. The Essential Russell Kirk. Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006.

Plato. The Republic. Trans. Desmond Lee. New York: Penguin, 1987.

Postman, Neil. Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Tanenhaus, Sam. The Death of Conservatism. New York: Random House, 2009.

Weaver, Richard M. Ideas Have Consequences. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.

Wood, Ralph C. The Comedy of Redemption: Christian Faith and Comic Vision in Four American Novelists. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1988.

7 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode 13: The Death of Conservatism”
  1. I don’t think I’ve said this before, but one of the most anticipated events of my podcast day is the show notes. Love’em!

  2. Hey guys, just wanted to say thanks for reading my email during the last podcast.  I thought I would take Nathan’s advice and comment on some of the past episodes as I work through them.  I just finished ‘The Death of Conservatism’ and, when placed next to current events, I must say it was interesting (Palin 2012, indeed!).
    I think you all really hit on some key issues later in the podcast, the relevance of which, three years later, is striking.  Michial mentioned the need for leaders more intelligent and better informed than the general electorate (to which I agree) and the scary prospect of  ‘rule by the masses’ which seems most evident to me in the generally ill-informed, apathetic and – particularly in the case of Obama – ‘cult of personality’ mentality displayed by the electorate.  While Nathan disagreed somewhat with this position, I believe he, Nathan, was correct in his assessment of the consolidation of power that is being vested in the Executive branch, and particularly where Obama is concerned.  Two points: 1) in the case of Bush and now Obama, the boogeymen everyone is rallying behind the president to destroy are not a group of elites, but rather a group of religious extremists the federal government has been very effective in using to scare the population into submission of their policies, and 2) this consolidation of power is proving particularly troublesome in the hands of a democratic president, as the cries of totalitarianism that would normally be heard from the left are vastly silent.  By way of example, the simple fact that Obama has vested himself with the power to kill American citizens, regardless of the right of due process provided by the Constitution, has met with little or no resistance from left-leaning pundits.  Bush’s illegal wire-tapping on the other hand created a firestorm of ‘shredding the constitution’ hysteria from the left.
    As an aside, I like to consider myself politically nuanced.  I’ve lived too long to hold any position with an absolutism that leaves no room for persuasion or a changing of viewpoint. That being said, I fear the country I am leaving to my sons and pray they, or their children, will not end up in a land of tyranny.
    Take care guys…and keep up the great commentary!

    1. @sps2003 If I could take an adjective in your comment a bit more broadly, Steve, I think that seizure of power by any democratic leader (no matter what faction in the democracy that leader represents) stands to be dangerous, precisely because the faction ascendant in the moment seems incapable of seeing the “other” party as anything but “obstructionist” until the day their guy leaves the chief executive office to a guy from the other faction.  Thus you’re right that DNC partisans cheered on their American-citizen-assassinating candidate in 2012 just as GOP partisans rallied behind their intelligence-fixing candidate in 2004, and the most vocal partisans in either case seemed incapable of remembering how bad it was for a president to lie in 1998 or to imprison an American citizen without trial in 2002.  
      I am sometimes jealous of Farmer here, who never seems troubled by any democratic sympathies. 🙂

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