What Conservative Canon? – LewRockwell

In 2012, I came across a scholarly article in a journal on rhetoric on “The Conservative Canon and Its Uses.”  The author, Michael J. Lee, undertook to explain why the American conservative movement had put together a “secular canon” featuring its leading thinkers.  According to Lee, this selection of books and seminal authors has been designed to forge a “spiritual bond” among groups that otherwise have exhibited sharp disagreement.  Conventional libertarians, social traditionalists, and anarcho-capitalists, to name just three such groups, have been able to cooperate on common purposes because a canon has been created that embraces figures from all of these traditions.  Certain rhetorical phrases, moreover, have been repeatedly identified with this shared heritage, including references to “permanent things” and “values.”

This canon has been periodically updated, and with the ascendancy of the neoconservatives and Straussians in the 1980s, certain golden oldies, like the works of Russell Kirk and the Southern Agrarians, lost their place in the conservative canon.  This did not come about without protest, and I recall receiving angry notes from members of the Old Right complaining about how their favorites in the canon had been replaced by such relative newcomers as Allan Bloom, Harry Jaffa, and Irving Kristol.  In 2001, Jonah Goldberg wrote a commentary in National Review in response to his devotees who asked him to name the authors whom he would place in the “conservative canon.”  Goldberg proposed figures he identified with National Review.  He then almost sheepishly explained that he should probably add to his list Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind but couldn’t quite make…

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