Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
An Incomplete Conservative Glossary
Dr. Jim Yong Kim , photo by Robin Holland
September 18, 2009

In his interview with Bill Moyers, Sam Tanenhaus made reference to a host of intellectuals as he mapped out some of the fine ideological divisions within the American right.

We've put together a small glossary here to help viewers sort through the names and ideas discussed in the interview, presented in the order that they appear in the program. A disclaimer: intellectual history is a serious and complex field of scholarship and we offer this list only as a starting point for further investigation.

Revanchism comes from the French word for revenge (revanche). The original revanchists were French nationalists who advocated retaking the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, which France lost to Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The meaning has since broadened, and now a revanche policy is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a usually political policy designed to recover lost territory or status."

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was an 18th century political philosopher, statesman and Whig politician, considered by many the founder of modern conservative thinking. He is mostly remembered for his opposition to the French Revolution, and his work on the subject, REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE, is a classic of modern conservative thinking. More information, and some of Burke's writings can be found here.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) was a historian at Columbia University and a critic of conservatism in his day. He wrote a number of works on the subject including, ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE and THE PARANOID STYLE IN AMERICAN POLITICS. Hofstadter's works read by a wide audience in his day and are now considered required reading for those studying the 1950s and 1960s.

Garry Wills is a professor of history emeritus at Northwestern University and a prolific writer. You can read his work for the the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS online. You can also peruse a list of his own books as reviewed in the NEW YORK TIMES online.

Samuel Lubell was a political scientist who came up with the "solar system" theory of American politics that read in part, "it is within the majority party that the issues of any particular period are fought out; while the minority party shines in reflected radiance of the heat thus generated." Tanenhaus cites Lubell's theory in his own book and argues that, with the current decline of conservativism, the Republicans have slipped back into the position of the "moon," relative to the Democrat's "sun."

William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008) was an American conservative writer and public intellectual. He founded the NATIONAL REVIEW magazine in 1955. He is widely cited as an important public intellectual and leader of the American conservative movement for the second half of the 20th century. His complete writings are hosted at Hillsdale College here and his colleagues at the NATIONAL REVIEW put together a Buckley reading list here.

Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) was a writer and editor who gave up his work as a Soviet spy and became a staunch anti-Communist and a hero to the right. He famously testified against Alger Hiss in his 1948 trial for espionage and perjury. A collection of Chambers' writings, as well as writings about him can be found here. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s review of Tanenhaus' biography of Chambers can be found here.

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881) was a novelist and the British prime minister from 1868 and 1874, as well as a novelist. He helped to form the modern Conservative party in Britain, and his thinking influenced Whittaker Chambers, who called himself a "Beaconsfieldian."

The New Conservative Web Sites

A lively debate is taking place on the Internet about what it means to be a conservative, and what the future of the conservative movement in America should be. If you'd like to read more about the diversity of thought on the right, here are a few Web sites to get you started:

Writing under the tagline "Place. Limits. Liberty." the diverse set of authors at FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC generally favor a breed of conservatism focused on localism and community.

New Majority
Started by David Frum, who served as special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002, it hopes to create a "conservatism that can win again."

With blogs such as "Tory Anarchist" and "Post Right" the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE magazine functions as a home for conservatives critical of more mainstream publications such as the NATIONAL REVIEW.

Another conservative blog with an intellectual bent.

Related Media:
David FrumDavid Frum
A conservative plan for healthcare? Bill Moyers sits down with former special assistant to George W. Bush David Frum, who is calling on Republicans to come up with their own plan for health care reform and suggests changes that conservatives can support. (August 14, 2009)

Mickey EdwardsMickey Edwards and Ross Douthat
What's happened to the conservative movement in America? Conservatives Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat discuss why they believe their movement has gone off track during the last eight years and what it means for the Republican Party. (July 11, 2008)

Victor GoldVictor Gold
Deputy Press Secretary to Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign, Victor Gold explains how he believes the Republican Party has gone astray in the last twenty years.(June 29, 2007)

FBI Domestic Spy PosterJack L. Goldsmith
Former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, Jack L. Goldsmith, discusses the Administration's expanded view of executive power. (September 7, 2007)

ElephantThe Battle for the GOP
Highlights from the Moyers Digital Archive on the meaning of conservatism. David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union; Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform; Cal Thomas, Conservative commentator; Richard A. Viguerie, Conservative grassroots activist.

ElephantThe GOP's Nominee
REASON's Matt Welch, author of MCCAIN: THE MYTH OF A MAVERICK and former GOP Senator Mickey Edwards on John McCain.

Guest photos by Robin Holland.
References and Reading:
"Taking the Right Seriously,"
By Mark Lilla, THE CHRONICLE REVIEW, September 11, 2009.

"The Counter Enlightment,"
By Isaiah Berlin, DICTIONARY OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS. Berlin's essay places Burke within the context of the counter-enlightment, an intellectual movement opposed to the ideas of rationalism coming out of France in the 18th century.

Also This Week:
Digging deep into the roots and evolution of the American conservative movement, Sam Tanenhaus talks with Bill Moyers about why he believes that conservatism is dead and how it might yet come back to life. Tanenhaus is the editor of both THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW and the Week in Review section of the TIMES.


With public support for labor unions at its lowest point in 70 years, Bill Moyers talks with experts Bill Fletcher, co-author of SOLIDARITY DIVIDED: THE CRISIS IN ORGANIZED LABOR AND A NEW PATH TOWARD SOCIAL JUSTICE and Michael Zweig, director of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at SUNY Stony Brook, about the state of organized labor.

Explore some of the crucial issues facing America's workers and priorities for reform. Topics include challenges faced by younger workers, workplace rules, The Employee Free Choice Act, the living wage movement and more.

View a collection of JOURNAL reports on the effect of the downturn on the homefront.

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ