Book Review: Rules For Conservative Radicals

Rules For Conservative Radicals: How The Tea Party Movement Can Save America, by Dr. David L. Goetsch & Dr. Archie P. Jones

There is a fundamental and deep disconnect between how liberals see conservatives and how conservatives see themselves. For example, many of my liberal friends endlessly rant about how conservatives (by this, I assume they mean social conservatives like myself) want to “control a woman’s body,” but a read of this slim 90-odd page volume will find nary a single reference to social issues at all–no sexual politics, no references to abortion whatsoever. In fact, the authors of this reference make no specific reference of America’s Christian heritage at all, and only make a few oblique references to religion in contrasting the worldview of Muslim terrorists with our own, as well as the origin of war in our lusts and desires (which is a reference to James 4:1-3, albeit one that is not referenced). This is not to say that the contents of this book will warm the hearts of liberals (or even moderates) but rather that the authors of this work appear to have consciously (but without stating it) decided that the best way for Conservatives to win power is to absolutely run from social issues like the plague and emphasize tradition and economics. I disagree with this strategy, but I can understand it.

The contents of this book are extremely straightforward. They offer seven strategies for conservatives to regain power by articulating a coherent political worldview, offering something for fiscal conservatives and neo-conservatives, but not really a great deal to social conservatives, at least not explicitly. The seven strategies are as follows: advocate for limited government (included are recommendations to gut some entire departments like the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and to make cuts to the military but far more cuts to other departments, including elimination of corporate subsidies, which I happen to agree with), support initiatives for lower taxation, insist on a free-market economy, encourage individual liberty, require personal responsibility, support military preparedness and a strong national defense, restore constitutional sovereignty and integrity. If you are a fiscal conservative with libertarian leanings, this book is going to be music to your ears. If you are someone who believes strongly in national defense and “traditional American values,” without needing those values to be given specifically, you will probably find much to like. It’s likely to be viewed with a great deal of support from those who consider themselves conservatives and are hostile to liberals, moderates, Republicans in name only, and squishy and compromising Republican leadership. If you’re a squishy Republican inclined to compromise on tax increases in the face of political pressure, expect to be primaried from the Right. That’s the message I get loud and clear from this short book.

In many ways, I appreciate the rhetorical skill of the authors of this book, having known some of their work (that of Archie Jones) from their other work. The authors point to conservative opposition to statism as springing from at least the time of Woodrow Wilson. This is savvy–not only because it completely avoids the issue of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln (or statism in the Confederate States of America) but because it allows a way for principled conservatives to point if they so choose at the statism of Woodrow Wilson as representing racism and imperialism as well as creeping socialism, a way to knight fork [1] several particularly offensive aspects of American political culture simultaneously. Additionally, the book spends a considerable portion of its slim length in dealing with matters of definition–arguing for the rhetorical clarity of “limited” government as opposed to “small” government, and commenting as statism as creeping socialism leading eventually to government control.

That is not to say that this book is something which I can uniformly praise. For one, I find the book’s avoidance of the ultimate moral causes behind America’s political problems to be troubling. Even if moral issues are somewhat divisive, they are far more core issues than the economic issues that this book focuses on. It is useless to defend traditional values that are a mixture of good and evil when one does not look forward to a greater level of harmony with God’s ways than our nation, or any nation, has ever known. Likewise, I find this book’s attitude of blaming young people for a lack of economic success given the lack of opportunity that is readily available in this society. The rather harsh tone this book takes toward personal responsibility comes dangerously close, if it does not reach, the level of Job’s friends blaming the poor for their misfortunes. Likewise, the book does not offer any replacement for the slashing of our (admittedly unsustainable) social net. Again, there are legitimate concerns here about the political program of the authors of this work that could have been dealt with–but are not dealt with at all, and I find that lack of balance troubling, mirroring the sort of frustration I find in political discourse with libertarian-leaning fiscal conservatives in general. This is a problem that needs to be fixed if the potential friends of the Tea Party Movement become actual allies, and if America is to repent and reverse our widespread decline.

[1] A knight fork is a chess move by which the knight, the most chivalrous and honorable piece on the chessboard, threatens several pieces at once, which by nature of the unconventional way the knight moves on the chessboard means that not all of the pieces can be defended simultaneously, meaning one will be taken with no countermeasures possible.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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14 Responses to Book Review: Rules For Conservative Radicals

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  13. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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