State of the Union

TAC Bookshelf for the Week of February 12

Rod Dreher, senior editor: For a TAC review, I re-read Ross Douthat’s forthcoming book To Change The Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism. It really holds up, and as this papacy falters further—now the sex abuse scandal has directly touched the Pope, in the mess with the Chilean bishop—Douthat’s book is a must-read for understanding how Francis gets into these messes, and what it may portend for the future of Catholicism.

Late last week, I received in the mail Philip Lawler’s latest book, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock. I can hardly wait to jump in. Lawler has long been one of the handful of must-read Catholic commentators on the Church—on the abuse scandal, certainly, but not only that. He’s a conservative, but not a bomb-thrower, and he has a deep understanding of how the Catholic Church works as an institution. It’s pretty clear from the book’s title what Lawler’s take on the papacy is, but I’m eager to crack this book open because everything Lawler writes about Catholicism is worth reading.

The impending Vatican concordat with Beijing has been in the news lately, with some conservative Catholics shocked that Francis appears to be selling out the underground church to make nice with the communists. Lost Shepherd was already printed by the time this news broke, but I flipped through to see if Lawler in any way addressed China. Sure enough, speculating on the future of the Vatican’s negotiations with Beijing, Lawler observed that Francis “typically betrays his anxiety to reach an agreement regardless of the cost.” He then uses the example of how Francis sold out the Venezuelan Catholic bishops in their struggle with the oppressive socialist government there. I didn’t know that had happened. And now it’s happening with China. See, reading Lawler really does teach you something.

This week I’ll be in France giving some Benedict Option talks. At week’s end, I’ll be addressing a national conference of French Catholic farmers and agrarians. To prepare for the talk, I re-read some Wendell Berry, specifically his great short book Life Is A Miracle. I don’t know if Berry is well known in France, but the French farmers are going to hear about him from me.


Daniel Kishi, associate editor: I’m reading The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Your Head by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law. In it, Wu charts the long-standing commercial effort to monetize what has become our most valuable commodity: our attention.

His narrative traces the developments of mass marketing and mass media, beginning with the 19th-century penny press and concluding with the rise of the 21st-century digital platforms of Facebook and Google. From print to radio, television to the Internet, the business model of the “attention economy”—harvest attention and sell it to the highest-paying advertiser—has remained largely the same. And yet, Wu argues that the introduction of each medium has enabled the “attention merchants” to become increasingly adept and efficient at hijacking our consciousness.

Equal parts history and social analysis, I’d recommend The Attention Merchants to anybody interested in the history of advertising, the formation of our consumer culture, and the drawbacks of an economy that richly rewards the harvesting of our attention.


Scott Beauchamp, contributor: I’m not a huge fan of the New Yorker for a number of reasons, and not having read the magazine until I was already an adult means that I don’t have the nostalgic attachment that so many media people and East Coast people (and especially media people on the East Coast) seem to have. That said, I have a voracious appetite for John McPhee, and for all of the reasons that people usually can’t stand him. I know his prose isn’t flashy. I know he rambles on. I know he’s middlebrow. But I’m a sucker for the middlebrow deep dive. It’s why I also like The Grateful Dead and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—sifting through massive amounts of unique and oddly ambitious middling art is an addiction. So I was pleased to receive McPhee’s latest book, Draft No. 4, from my father in law for Christmas. Sure, it’s full of pretty obvious writing advice and anecdotes that don’t seem to go anywhere, but it’s McPhee! If you enjoyed any of his other books even slightly then you’ll find some pleasure in this slim volume of instruction and recollections.

I’ve been reading another slim volume, Tim Blanning’s The Romantic Revolution: A Historyas part of a much larger project that I’m working on. I’ve read pretty widely on the Romantic movement, and I don’t think you’ll find a more clear or concise introduction to what I think is an often misunderstood period of history. My only complaint is that it could stand to have a little more about Coleridge, the poet/essayist/thinker who introduced German philosophies of Romanticism to the English speaking world almost singlehandedly.

I won’t say too much about D.C. Schindler’s Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Libertysince I have a review forthcoming over at The Public Discourse, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in passing what for me could be the most influential book I’ve read in years. If you harbor some distrust of Locke’s definitions of power, will, and freedom but aren’t quite sure why, this book will definitely help to clarify your thoughts. Caveat Emptor: This book isn’t only for professional philosophers, but it’s pretty dense. It’s also worth the trouble.

TAC Bookshelf for the Week of February 5

Robert W. Merry, editor: Currently I am in the middle of The Russian Revolution: A New History, by Sean McMeekin, professor of history at Bard College. I hadn’t been familiar with McMeekin’s work, but the dust jacket says he is the author of seven books. Amazon lists among his titles July 1914, a day-by-day narrative of the events leading to World War I; The Ottoman End Game: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East; and History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks.

The latter title intrigued me, particularly since an online entity called the World Socialist Web Site blasts The Russian Revolution in an essay by a writer named David North, who calls the book “simply an exercise in anti-communist propaganda from which no one will learn anything.”

I beg to differ. I consider the book a solid historical narrative rendered in crisp, unadorned prose. I haven’t reached the historical time in the tale when the Bolsheviks emerge to grab hold of the Russian destiny; perhaps when I do I will then see what rankles Mr. North so intensely. That will be an interesting exercise in critical reading when I get there.

In the meantime, I am learning a lot. McMeekin punctures a number of misconceptions about the onset of the revolution, which began in earnest in the streets of St. Petersburg with demonstrations that unfolded with a kind of festive spirit on February 23 (by the Russian Julian calendar). This day brought a fateful convergence—a sudden, unanticipated break in the winter weather, with temperatures climbing to 46 degrees Fahrenheit; and commemoration of the socialist-inspired International Women’s Day, which lured thousands of spirited folk into the balmy streets. That first day saw some 100,000 people join the celebration with little agitation or pushback from authorities.

But soon workers took the occasion to go on strike, swelling the second-day crowd on Nevsky Prospekt to 160,000. Authorities, increasingly alarmed, sought to check the inflow benignly by closing city bridges, but thousands merely crossed on the ice. Rougher elements showed up from Vyborg and Vasilievsky Island, where bread supplies were short, owing to a lack of fuel for the bakeries. By day three the crowd swelled further to more than 200,000 in what amounted to a spontaneous general strike. Blood was spilled, and soon the situation was entirely out of control.

Writes McMeekin: “We can only surmise what the ‘real’ motivations of the protestors may have been.” After all, bread was not in short supply through the winter (with the exception of the temporary situation noted above). Economic growth was roaring in Russia at the time. And there was little antiwar sentiment in the country as the conflict with Germany and Austria-Hungary continued; indeed, writes McMeekin, while the Russian war effort had languished in 1916, things looked much brighter as the new year of 1917 unfolded.

But among the elites there was plenty of tension and maneuvering, as respect for Tsar Nicholas II waned in response to his often hapless leadership. Contributing also were the German heritage of the Tsarina Alexandra, and the court machinations of the outlandish Grigory Rasputin (until his assassination by three nobles, including a cousin of the Tsar).

In any event, once the violence began and authorities finally moved aggressively to restore order, the situation was lost. The Tsar, off commanding his armies, couldn’t conceive of what was happening in St. Petersburg, and soon in Moscow and other cities. By the time he grasped it, it was too late.

The chaos that ensued serves as a kind of historical lesson. No society is immune from that kind of civic dislocation. And often the most stark and shattering historical developments are the ones that hardly anybody predicted.


Gracy Olmstead, contributing editor: I just finished reading The New Localism by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, and highly recommend it. The style is very wonky and reads occasionally like a TED talk, but the principles they explore are vital for Americans to consider. The book amply demonstrates that localism is not chained to the partisanship and bombast that dominate our national discourse at present, and thus the book is hopeful and refreshing in a way many of us need right now.

Now that’s finished, I’m delving into Cræft: a fascinating book about our nostalgic longing for artisan things such as handmade furniture, homemade sourdough bread, homespun wool, and other manually-made (often ancient) items. The author ties our desire for artisanship and cræft to a deeper yearning for place and context. So yes, reading this book is like entering my crunchy con happy place.

Finally, I am two-thirds of the way through Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. I started this book last year, and kept setting it aside in order to write book reviews or meet deadlines. I’m hoping to finish it during this Lenten season. Thus far, Merton’s considerations of faith, culture, and God have been poignant, inspiring, and convicting. It’s one I’m sure I will re-read in the future.


Emile A. Doak, director of events & outreach:  I’ve been revisiting Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. It’s a novel that I was first introduced to many years ago, before Donald Trump and Hillbilly Elegy jettisoned small town malaise into the center of the national conversation. Russo’s narrative focuses on the fictional Maine town that lends its name to the title, a blue-collar town that once thrived on the prosperity of the paper mill that made its home on the town’s river bank. Of course, Empire Falls, like countless other American small towns, loses the mill, leaving those who remain in the town—protagonist Miles Roby, chief among them—to navigate the uncomfortable challenges of post-industrial life.

Insofar as fiction has a way of clarifying and humanizing the most complex of social ills, Russo’s novel is up to the task. We see Miles’s steadfast devotion to his daughter, Tick—and his anguish as teenage Tick withdraws further and further from him amidst his messy divorce from her mother, Janine. Of course, the divorce itself is a quintessential Empire Falls story, as good hearted-yet-meek Miles loses Janine to the bombastically sleazy Walt “Silver Fox” Comeau, a man so opposite of Miles that it was inevitable that the town’s ennui would drive Janine straight to him. Walt’s constant presence at Miles’s Empire Grill certainly doesn’t help the uphill task of operating a struggling establishment that really should have closed with the mill.

Miles’s travails—personal, religious, professional—are not unique to fictional Empire Falls.  Russo’s novel, written over 15 years ago, wrestles with many of the questions driving our politics today. Is there a future for the American communities that have been left behind by the global economy and the information age? Should there be? And what of the people who call these places home—many of whom, like Miles, stay despite a desire to leave? Yet perhaps the most prescient question is implied by the title itself: Is “Empire Falls” a foreboding allusion to our current national moment?


Grayson Quay, contributor: To amuse myself on long car rides and break up the heavy theoretical and canonical texts I read for my Georgetown classes, I tend to indulge in lighter fare when it comes to audiobooks, choosing plot-driven novels that don’t punish me if I lose focus for a second to check that I have the right exit. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge Trilogy—which consists of The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and A Column of Fire.

In his introduction to Pillars, Follett, who generally confines himself to World War II spy novels, explains how despite his lack of religious conviction, his fascination with cathedrals led him to research and write a novel about the decades-long construction of a twelfth-century Gothic cathedral in the fictional English city of Kingsbridge. The first novel, which Starz adapted into an eight-part miniseries in 2010, was followed by two more, set in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively.

Follett occasionally makes a historical or theological misstep, but generally his research is good, and the wide-ranging casts of architects, laborers, priests, nuns, knights, kings, farmers, and burghers gives a good cross-section of medieval society. There’s always building project, some intersection with larger historical events, and a love story in which Follett quickly throws two characters together only to keep them apart for decades with a series of contrived obstacles before ending the book with their joyful wedding.

As an added bonus, these are among the most pro-capitalist books I’ve ever read, a little like Ayn Rand but with fewer seventy-page monologues (none, in fact). Knights, instead of being portrayed as the chivalric figures of legend, are more like frat boys with unrestrained appetites for rape, and senseless violence. Even the good ones are hammers to whom every problem looks like a nail. The true heroes are the innovators and entrepreneurs like Jack Builder, who runs away to France and returns with the designs for ribbed vaults and pointed arches, or Lady Aliena, who becomes a prosperous wool merchant after her noble family is stripped of its lands and titles. The greatest triumphs take place on the building site, not the battlefield.

They may not be the most highbrow novels, but in a moment defined by the angst of “late capitalism,” it’s refreshing to visit a community where providing a needed service, making a quality product, and earning an honest profit is a cause for pride.

TAC Bookshelf for the Week of January 29

This is the third installment of the “TAC Bookshelf” series. Published each Monday, The American Conservatives editorial staff, along with some regular contributors, share with our readers what they’ve been reading of late.

Bradley Birzer, president: Since first reading Red Storm Rising while traveling across Europe via Eurail Pass in the fall of 1987, I’ve read every Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan book but one. This week, I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the latest two in the series, Power and Empire by Marc Cameron and Point of Contact by Mike Maden. Though lacking the grand sweep of global events as seen in the previous Ryan novel, True Faith and Allegiance by Mark Greaney, these two recent Ryan novels were a joy to read. Each delved far more into the characters involved than the actual plots or tech knowhow that Clancy handled so well during his creation and run of the series. In particular though, Maden reintroduces us to the Catholic world of Georgetown and Boston College that so pervaded Clancy’s earlier novels. And Cameron once again gives us not just a fierce John Clark, but a brutal John Clark. Additionally, there’s a great personal story about gun ownership in a Texas Roadside restaurant and a middle-aged Texas woman who helps in the apprehension of some pedophiles. Indeed, though both novels were great reads, the Texas Roadside moment was worth everything in both novels combined. I actually cheered out loud as the story played out.

On a more academic level, I’ve been re-reading Robert Nisbet’s beautiful little 1976 book Sociology as an Art Form. With it, Nisbet explored the 19th-century understanding of sociology as a part of the humanities in juxtaposition to the 20th-century attempt to make it a part of the sciences. Most interestingly, Nisbet considered the key human faculty in all studies to be that of “imagination,” higher than rationality or passion in its uncanny ability to allow us to connect seemingly disparate things, one to another, thus transcending ego and pride.


Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor: I just finished The Demolished Man  (1953) by novelist Alfred Bester (1913-1987), often called the godfather of modern science fiction. While one might debate that moniker—science fiction is a strange and multiplexual creature, borne by many midwives—Bester was there, along with other godfather-greats like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and John Campbell, when baby cut her teeth in the late 1930s.

It was with Demolished Man that Bester won the first ever Hugo Award in 1953—and it was his first novel. Bester’s technique here is rooted in his radio-play days (Nero Wolfe, The Shadow), and the pulsing pulp and film noir aesthetic. But his head was clearly in the stars, and in the psychodynamics threading through postwar film and literature. Heady stuff. In Demolished Man, he follows a troubled tycoon with murderous intentions in a Huxley-like futureworld inhabited by “normals’ and “espers,” better known as “peepers.” Predating the pre-cogs imagined in 2002’s Minority Report (based loosely on a novel by Bester peer, Philip K. Dick), the espers are remarkably evolved telepaths at the peak of a highly regulated, hierarchical society. They rely on their own strict moral and ethical codes to advance human consciousness and to avoid the lapses of weaker men, esper or otherwise. When our “normal” tycoon Ben Reich commits the first murder in 79 years it is up to our master peeper cop, Dr. Lincoln Powell, to bring him to justice, not merely on the evidence found in Reich’s head (and in the subconscious of his only witness, a coquettish, traumatized girl), but through old-fashioned gumshoeing and chessboard strategy.

So far, so 1950s—complete with gal fridays, sandpaper slang like ”clever up!” and crumbums who scatter like mice as Reich and Powell stalk and pound the city in a race to outwit each other. But this is merely the surface of Bester’s pre-cyberpunk binge. His genius is in leading the reader to consider uncomfortable, complex, even existential pathways of human behavior by transposing them into otherworldly contexts. Here, he invokes paternalism and eugenics, godlessness and free will, and C.S. Lewis’s tyranny of the good, as it reaches for man’s elusive perfection. The end (no spoilers) is a horrifying surprise, and a cautionary finger wag at the Freudian acolytes of Bester’s day.

Ursula Le Guin, who died January 22 at the age of 88, was a pioneer in sociological science fiction, as was the late Ray Bradbury, whose Martian Chronicles is an achingly beautiful contemplation of human frailty, courage and conformity, love and faith. For these writers, exploring who we are was most effectively done in the great beyond, and decades later, we know it’s true.


Daniel Larison, senior editor: In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn: I have not finished this one yet, but Quinn’s thesis is intriguing and so far compelling. She argues that the people that we and their ancient contemporaries referred to as Phoenicians were not a self-conscious people by that or any other name. Not only was Phoenician the name given to them by Greeks and Romans, but there was no other collective name that they used for themselves. Instead, the inhabitants of city-states such as Tyre and Sidon identified primarily with their family and their city, and the surviving evidence from these places bears that out. What makes Quinn’s book especially interesting is her investigation of the later uses of the idea of a Phoenician people by modern nationalists from Ireland to Lebanon. The people who lived in the ancient cities of “Phoenicia” didn’t think of themselves as Phoenicians, but a remarkable number of people in other times and places have found that invented identity useful in making their own claims of nationhood.

The Last King of Wales: Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, c. 1013-1063 by Michael & Sean Davies: This is a study of a surprisingly neglected figure in medieval Welsh history. Despite being the first and only native ruler to unify all of modern Wales under his control, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn usually doesn’t receive as much attention as other kings and princes from the pre-Conquest period. That is a reflection of the short-lived nature of his accomplishment and the violent and brutal manner in which he realized it. The Last King of Wales is an attempt to take a closer look at the career and achievements of the only person who successfully united the various kingdoms of medieval Wales, and it offers an important reassessment of his place in the political developments of England and Wales before the coming of the Normans.

The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr by Leanda de Lisle: This is a sympathetic revisionist account of the life and reign of Charles I. In it, de Lisle draws attention to the king’s admirable personal qualities and principles, but also emphasizes his tragic flaws as a ruler that led to his defeat and execution. The White King tries to give a more complete portrait of Charles, who was more interesting and complex than the “man of blood” or the martyr that most have considered him to be.


TAC Bookshelf for the Week of January 22

This is the second installment of the “TAC Bookshelf” series. Published each Monday, The American Conservative‘s editorial staff, along with some regular contributors, will share with our readers what they’ve been reading of late.

Rod Dreher, senior editor: Late last year, a TAC reader put me onto Joseph Roth’s 1932 novel The Radetzky March which examines the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the fortunes of one military family. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I see why it is a favorite of conservatives. I can’t get the Habsburgs out of my head just yet, so I’ve been taking a deep dive into a winsome, idiosyncratic book called Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe. Its British author, Simon Winder, writes in the companionable style of Bill Bryson, which is not what you want for serious history, necessarily, but it’s a lot of fun by the fireside.

More seriously, in reading to prepare for the next book I’m planning to write, I devoured a couple of shortish books on beauty and transcendence. The first is a thin secular volume, one I read in a single sitting: On Beauty and Being Just by Harvard’s Elaine Scarry. In it, she makes accessible and persuasive arguments for the importance of aesthetics. Mostly she argues against cultural leftists who say that standards of beauty are oppressive. That’s not a mistake conservatives are likely to make, but the book is still quite helpful in teaching what beauty is, and how it affects us.

The second book, which I picked up immediately after I finished Scarry’s book, is The Sacred in Life and Art by Philip Sherrard. Sherrard was a British-born Hellenophile and convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. This book is about beauty, metaphysics, and religion, and can be heady stuff (sample line: “Beauty placed beyond good and evil usurps the place of the Absolute, with total indifference towards truth and goodness…”), though mercifully not because of the author’s style. Sherrard writes about deep concepts pellucidly, and is helping me think more carefully about the moral cost of our culture’s relative indifference to beauty.

Finally, I started reading the new print issue of Fare Forward, the ideas journal written by young Christian authors, including TAC alumni Leah Libresco and Tim Markatos. It’s one of the most vital and exciting magazines I’ve seen in ages.


Andrew J. Bacevich, writer-at-large: I’ve read most of Evelyn Waugh and consider his Sword of Honour trilogy a true masterpiece. Brideshead Revisited ain’t half bad either. Admittedly, I am drawn to those books in part because of their Catholic themes and their searing critique of modernity.

Although I had heard a lot about Scoop, Waugh’s takedown of sensation-mongering British journalism, published shortly before World War II, I’d never gotten around to reading it. I used the post-Christmas break to correct that deficiency.  

Verdict? Not so hot. Scoop stands in relation to the Waugh oeuvre much as, say, Across the River and Into the Trees does in relation to Hemingway’s.  

While there are moments of high humor—especially when the resourceful Mrs. Stitch appears on the page—few of the characters in Scoop elicit either interest or empathy. They are less funny than pathetic. One can see in Waugh’s protagonist William Boot some slight resemblance to Guy Crouchback, the central figure in Sword of Honour. Both are innocents let loose in a world beyond their ken. But whereas Crouchback achieves some modest enlightenment as a consequence of his adventures, Boot remains implacably dim.  

The racist and anti-Semitic overtones will offend some readers.


Daniel Kishi, associate editor: I’ve been reading Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction by Barry C. Lynn. In it, Lynn charts America’s political economic history, and argues that a reinterpretation of our country’s once robust antitrust (or anti-monopoly) laws has caused almost every sector of the economy to become dominated by a small handful of well-financed firms.

Whereas prior generations of American lawmakers (Democrats and Republicans alike) passed antitrust legislation in an effort to promote competition and preserve the economic liberty of small and midsize market participants, Lynn argues that a “revolutionary” shift occurred in the early 1980s. Under the influence of economists at the Chicago School of Economics, the Antitrust Division of Ronald Reagan’s Department of Justice adopted a set of merger guidelines that permitted, if not encouraged, the concentration of market power. Operating under a newly conceived “consumer welfare” standard, the Reagan administration—and every administration since—would only block a merger if it resulted in a rise of short-term consumer prices. Since large corporations could exploit economies of scale to deliver these low prices, industries now had license to merge into fewer and fewer hands.

Cheap consumer goods notwithstanding, Lynn says that this shift has been nothing short of disastrous. According to Lynn, industries dominated by a handful of firms contribute to a handful of negative economic consequences: the stagnation of wages due to decreased bargaining power of individual, non-unionized employees, the hindrance of innovation as a result of firms pocketing profits rather than reinvesting in additional research and development, and the socialization of economic risk as illustrated by the taxpayer-funded bailouts of Too Big To Fail banks and firms in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  

But perhaps most importantly, Lynn—a small-d democrat and small-r republican in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Louis D. Brandeis—argues that economic concentration of such immense scale hinders the ability for small and midsize entrepreneurs, proprietors, and farmers to compete against their deep-pocketed competitors. Not only does this represent a loss of economic liberty on an individual level, but it also undermines the resiliency of local and regional economies—a reality that threatens the stability of our country’s communities and our very democracy itself. 

For those interested in this topic, Washington Monthly has published substantive analysis on market concentration for more than half a decade. The magazine’s most recent issue contains a piece by Leah Douglass titled “How Rural America Got Milked,” which explores how consolidation in the dairy industry has made the livelihoods of independent dairy farmers increasingly precarious.  


Scott Beauchamp, contributor: Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States by longtime Berkeley sociologist George R. Stewart (1895-1980) is a grand, sweeping journey through the American palimpsest of place name etymology. I think what gives Names on the Land such a strong pulse is that it’s told more as an adventure story than a plodding index of bureaucratic revisions. Stewart draws on the playfulness and pomp of the proto-Americans who gave us such place names as Goethe Peak, Death Ball Creek, and La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco to craft a narrative resonate with the restless energy of its people.

This is a book meant to be read by the people who actually live in the places it mentions. Stewart’s stories more closely resemble anecdotes, jokes, or even riddles than dry academic-ese. One of my favorite anecdotes describes the spread of the name “Buffalo.” Stewart writes, “In every glade they looked for the shaggy beast with the ponderous head. Where they first saw him or his traces, they often called the place by that name. So, right across Virginia runs a line of buffalo names. Eastward there are none, for the buffalo had not come. Westward such names are fewer, for by the time men had reached those regions the buffalo had ceased to be a novelty. But north and south, from Buffalo Branch in Augusta County to Buffalo Springs in Mecklenburg, that line of names still shows where our ancestors first came to the range of the buffalo.”

I’ve long been an admirer of Stanford professor Robert Pogue Harrison for both his New York Review of Books essays and his wonderful podcast “Entitled Opinions” (I recommend you check it out if you’re not familiar), but I’ve only recently gotten around to reading his books. I wasn’t disappointed. The one I’ve been reading most recently is The Dominion of the Dead, an eloquent meditation on “the many places where the dead cohabit the world of the living.” Harrison draws deeply from the entire well of Western culture, referencing sources as varied Vico, Emerson, Heidegger, Rilke, Plato, and Giacomo Leopardi to make what basically amounts to a Humanist case for tradition. Harrison writes that, “To inhabit the world humanly one must be a creature of legacy. That explains why the living housed the dead before they housed themselves.” If books can act as houses, and I’m sure Harrison would agree they can, then this book is a splendid tomb, a temporary abode for the living reader, and a gift to future generations all in one.

I hadn’t read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain since I was in high school, but a friend’s generous Christmas gift of a Word on Fire Classics edition, beautifully bound and with a forward by Bishop Robert Barron, gave me occasion to revisit the classic. I’m glad I did. There isn’t much praise that I can give Merton’s conversion story that hasn’t already been heaped on it, but it does make all the differences that it came to me at the precise moment I was emotionally and spiritually ready to revisit its message. The book sits on my nightstand and I’ve been going to bed earlier and earlier ever since I received it.

TAC Bookshelf for the Week of January 15

This is the first installment of the “TAC Bookshelf” series. Published each Monday, The American Conservative‘s editorial staff, along with some regular contributors, will share with our readers what they themselves have been reading. 

Robert W. Merry, editor: This week I descended into the dark netherworld of international intrigue with David Ignatius’s latest novel, The Quantum Spy, which certainly rises to the level his readers have come to anticipate. It is hugely entertaining, with plot twists aplenty and the highest of stakes on the line, but also is tremendously enlightening. Ignatius, who traverses the globe as Washington Post columnist when he isn’t writing novels, is known for the authenticity of his narratives, and this book is no exception. Here the fundamental subject is quantum computing—which, when it finally comes, will transform human life on this planet. Through his narrative of global intrigue, Ignatius educates readers on just what quantum computing is, why it’s important, and why the United States and China are locked in an existential race to unlock the key to computing that is thousands of times more powerful than anything ever seen before.

I tip my hat also to Clyde Prestowitz’s piece in the current Washington Monthly, a review of Dani Rodrik’s latest book, Straight Talk on Trade, a kind of sequel to his earlier Has Globalization Gone Too Far?, published some two decades ago. The earlier work warned that globalization was generating what Prestowitz describes as “fissures in developed nations between the better educated, who prosper under the new regimes, and the less educated, who do not.” Rodrik suggested a possible result would be “social disintegration.” Now we’re seeing that social disintegration, and Rodrik parses it in his latest book. The underlying merit in the Prestowitz piece (and presumably in the Rodrik book) lies in a measured approach that rejects much of the free trade regimen of recent decades without retreating to any kind of neo-mercantilism. The answer lies in the concept of “reciprocity” between trading nations, an idea as old as William McKinley.


Matt Purple, managing editor: I’ve been reading Truman Capote, albeit purely by accident. Searching on Christmas Day for something festive beyond the usual Dickens, I stumbled on Capote’s A Christmas Memory, which I read, followed by its companions The Thanksgiving Visitor and One Christmas. The three short stories gently unfold the childhood of a boy named Buddy growing up in the Depression-era Deep South, as he prepares for the holidays, contends with a bully, and, in the slightly darker third entry, spends a Christmas with his philanderer father. The glaze of nostalgia is applied throughout, and sometimes over-applied, leaving the sense that Capote, by now living in New York City, was seeking something he’d left behind in his own Southern upbringing. That something is perhaps reflected in Buddy’s elderly companion Sook, a kind woman who remains child-like even at her advanced age.

From there it was on to Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, about a boy awakening to his homosexuality—the nature of the plot is covered in only the lightest Victorian concealer, which garnered considerable controversy at the time—and The Grass Harp, a novella about a group of lovable fugitives who hole up in a treehouse. Both works contain glimpses into Capote’s childhood mirror: adventures through the woods, fragile male protagonists, guileless adults, absent parents (Capote’s divorced when he was four). Cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C. are distant and unreachable; snow is sought after but never found. Southern stereotypes are undermined by delightful misfits who evade pigeonholing. Capote, nemesis of Gore Vidal and host of what was supposedly New York’s glitziest party ever, had in him a Jeffersonian tenderness towards the agrarian. His Deep South is well worth a visit.


Addison Del Mastro, assistant editor: I’ve been reading The Bones of the Earth by Howard Mansfield. I discovered this book while I was doing some research on the retail history of Route 22, one of New Jersey’s iconic post-war highway strips. It happened that Mansfield wrote a couple of pages about Route 22 here, and the kitschy midcentury signs and buildings there, some of which survive today.

The Bones of the Earth is not, however, so much about historic preservation or suburbia, as it is about cultural memory and how we think about the past. Mansfield visits some old stone bridges in New England and ponders how they were built with no mortar, by masons who could tell from the shape of a stone exactly where in the bridge it needed to go. He also wrote about a tradition sparked by the now-defunct Boston Post, in which the paper distributed gold and ebony canes to the oldest residents of several hundred New England towns, and stipulated that upon death, the cane would be transferred to the next oldest resident. At the time of its writing in 2004, a handful of towns still participated in the tradition.

When does a corporate sweepstakes like that turn into a genuine tradition? When does a faded neon sign of a smiling anthropomorphic bowling pin on an ugly highway strip meld into the nation’s cultural patrimony? Terms and ideas like “culture,” “historic preservation,” “the past,” and so many more have no clear definition and are based on many underlying assumptions. Mansfield wades into all of this to great, thought-provoking effect here.


Gracy Olmstead, contributing editor:

  • Irresistible, by Adam Alter: Apple’s shareholders are putting pressure on the company to address smartphone addiction amongst its younger users. Jean Twenge’s book iGen shines a (rather troubling) light on the technological obsessions of today’s young adults. And more and more Americans are experiencing “nomophobia”: the fear of being without a phone or cellular connection. Which means Alter’s book and the topics it addresses—namely, technology addiction and the businesses that profit by it—are going to be relevant and important for a while. Thus far, it’s a fascinating and insightful book.
  • Water at the Roots, Philip Britts: Philip Britts was a farmer, poet, pastor, and member of the Bruderhof community during the early 20th century. He died at 31, but this collection of poems and insights shows the depth and richness of his wisdom during those shortened years. Britts’ writings are reminiscent of Wendell Berry’s: they touch on the same themes of earth and faith, community and presence. It’s a short but lovely read.
  • The Lifegiving Home, Sally and Sarah Clarkson: This is probably the coziest book I’ve read in a while, and it’s already inspired some thoughts on surviving January’s coldness by making home a haven. This mother-daughter team share thoughts both theological and practical on fostering a hospitable, creative, soul-inspiring space—and in a world that’s increasingly vacated the home (for long commutes and frenzied careers, eating out and movie theaters and gyms, etc.), the Clarksons’ vision of home is both inspiring and challenging. They encourage their readers to take back the home front, and make it a place that roots and nourishes hearts and minds, giving both a space in which to blossom.


Mark Perry, contributing editor:

Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945, Rana Mitter

Few historians can equal author Barbara Tuchman’s exquisite timing. The Guns of August, her celebrated account of how Europe stumbled into World War One, was released just as John Kennedy was weighing a showdown with the Soviet Union, while Stilwell and the American Experience in China preceded by a year Richard Nixon’s opening to Beijing. The books rocketed onto the bestseller lists, garnered Tuchman a pair of Pulitzers, and solidified her standing as one of the premier historians of her generation.

The problem, of course, is that Tuchman’s views have failed the test of time—Germany did not stumble into a conflict in August of 1914, but purposely worked to bring it about, while the release of hitherto unaccessed archives in China show Stilwell to be far more feckless than Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who Tuchman derides. In truth, the fault is not Tuchman’s: time’s gift is not simply that it leads to more sober reflection, but that it allows once-sequestered documents to illuminate history’s initial draft.

Such is the case for Rana Mitter’s Forgotten Ally, which (spurred on by Beijing’s new openness and Chiang Kai-shek’s partial rehabilitation) provides a startling and compellingly coherent account of China’s bloody conflict with Japan. Mitter’s narrative recasts the popular notion that Japan’s defeat resulted primarily from America’s military prowess—and two atom bombs. That’s true, but incomplete. The weight of the Pacific War was borne primarily by the Chinese, who lost four million soldiers and 11 million civilians (the Americans lost 65,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines), while facing the largest portion of Japanese ground forces. This was an ugly and bloody fight, matching in intensity anything the Red Army faced in Europe.

The acerbic Stilwell, sent by Roosevelt to help the Chinese, believed Chiang’s Nationalist forces could defeat the Japanese. Chiang knew better; his army was poorly trained, poorly armed, and many of his commanders were plotting against him. Chiang adopted a strategy that reflected this reality: he bled the Japanese, depended on the Americans to deliver victory, and saved his soldiers for the inevitable post-war face off against Mao’s communists. Or, to use a phrase popularized by Ulysses S. Grant, Chiang was determined to hold the beast, so long as the Americans skinned it. That “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell remained clueless about what Chiang was doing remains one of the great puzzles of the war—unresolved by Tuchman.

Chiang’s strategy worked. While Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur were fighting in the Pacific, Chiang’s ragtag division forces tied down hundreds of thousands of Japanese that might have been used against them. MacArthur, in particular, understood this, as evidenced by his later advice (to John Kennedy) that the U.S. “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” The warning is worth heeding, Mitter told me in a telephone conversation several months ago: “The Japanese kept thinking that at some point the Chinese would surrender,” he said, “but they never did. They just kept coming.”

Mitter is among a new generation of China specialists (the list includes Ezra Vogel, Richard Bernstein, Frank Dikotter, John Pomfret and Jay Taylor, whose biography on Chiang Kai-shek, The Generalissimo, inaugurated the rethinking), who are providing us with a new history that leaves readers with the discomforting notion that World War II was primarily a fight between the Soviet Union and Germany on the one hand, and China and Japan on the other. Which is not to say that Americans are wrong when they claim that “we” won the war against Japan, it’s simply to suggest that the “we” is plural.

Take Our 2017 Reader Survey

We at The American Conservative seek to advance a “Main Street” conservatism that promotes the flourishing of families and communities, smaller and more accountable government, civil liberties, and a realistic, restrained foreign policy. Thanks to you, we’ve been able to reach record numbers of readers with our message of principled, measured conservatism in this first year of the Trump era.

As we move forward into 2018, we’re eager to learn more about our readers so we can continue to cover the issues you find most important. Why do you read us? How do you feel about the Trump presidency so far? What are your thoughts on immigration? Foreign policy? Your favorite writers? Take our 2017 readers survey here, and help us reshape the Right!


Professor and Wife Get $500,000 From Evergreen College

Evergreen College Professor Bret Weinstein on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. (YouTube)

Professor Bret Weinstein of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, will receive $500,000 from the college in a settlement announced this week. Readers of TAC may recall details of the campus turmoil that descended on Evergreen last spring, detailed in a cover story by Gregg Herrington in TAC’s September/October issue, also online here.

Weinstein was accosted on campus by students, and was advised by college officials that he should remain off campus for his own safety, as campus security personnel, it was stated, couldn’t protect him.

Students also commandeered college president George Bridges in his office, holding him there and subjecting him to more than four hours of verbal abuse before releasing him. A sampling of the abuse: “No fuck you, George. We don’t want to hear a goddamn thing you have to say….You talk so fucking much….No, you shut the fuck up.”

Weinstein, a political progressive who supported Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid, ran afoul of campus leftists when he challenged plans by students, faculty, and staff members of color to urge white students to vacate the campus for a day so nonwhites could contemplate their grievances without whites in their midst. In previous years, those of color had themselves vacated the campus as a demonstration of solidarity, but now the tradition took on a more menacing aspect to whites.

Weinstein rejected the underlying sentiment of the change. He wrote publicly: “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles, and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself….I will be on campus on the Day of Absence.”

Subsequently, Weinstein’s class was interrupted by 50 protesters labeling him a “racist” and calling for his suspension. When police arrived to escort Weinstein out of the building, students sought to thwart the protective maneuver. The next day, for the sake of his and his students’ safety, he took the campus police chief’s advice and held class off campus.

Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, also an Evergreen faculty member, in July filed a $3.85 million tort claim against the college alleging it failed to “protect its employees from repeated provocative and corrosive verbal and written hostility based on race, as well as threats of physical violence.”

In an email to faculty and staff late Friday, Evergreen officials reported that the college will pay the Weinsteins $450,000 in redress and $50,000 to defray attorney fees. The announcement also stated the college “admits no liability, and rejects the allegations made in the tort claim.” It added that the Day of Absence activities “were not discriminatory. The college took reasonable and appropriate steps to engage with protesters during spring quarter, de-escalate conflict, and keep the campus safe.”

Both Weinstein, a biology professor, and Heying, who taught anthropology, resigned their academic positions at Evergreen, effective on the day of the settlement announcement.

TAC Welcomes New Managing Editor and Executive Editor

TAC Editor Robert W. Merry on Wednesday announced two major personnel moves in the TAC editorial operation. Kelley Vlahos will move up to fill one of the magazine’s Executive Editor slots (along with Lewis McCrary), while Matt Purple, currently deputy editor at Rare Politics, will become Managing Editor, to replace Kelley. In making the announcement, Merry said, “With these moves I believe we have congregated a sterling management team prepared and ready to help lead TAC to ever greater heights of editorial excellence and political influence.”

Kelley joined TAC on June 12 after nearly a decade as a mainstay TAC freelance contributor. She came to Washington in 1999 after five years of newspaper experience in Connecticut and worked for a number of publications and web sites, including and Bridge News, before landing with Fox News in 2001. More recently she was web editor and social media manager for WTOP. In her new role, Kelley will report to Merry and maintain managerial jurisdiction over day-to-day operations related to the TAC web site, social media efforts, and operational analytics. McCrary will continue to oversee foreign policy coverage, urban affairs writing, and TAC events.

Matt Purple has been at Rare Politics since 2014. A news and opinion web site established in 2013 by Cox Media Group, it aims its fare at a “younger, center-right audience.’’ Purple is a Catholic University graduate and has been involved in DC conservative commentary since his arrival as a college student. Following college Matt served as assistant managing editor at The American Spectator, and he has written extensively for such publications as National ReviewThe National Interest, the Washington Times, and the Daily Caller. In his new role with TAC, Matt will be charged primarily with ensuring that TAC’s web presence is timely, lively, and meaningful. Both Vlahos and Purple will write for TAC as time permits.

Kelley’s new role is effective immediately. Matt will begin his TAC duties on October 2.

Meet TAC’s New President

The American Conservative is pleased to announce Bradley J. Birzer as the new president of the American Ideas Institute, which publishes TAC.  Dr. Birzer’s appointment takes effect today, August 1.  Dr. Birzer will serve a one-year term while maintaining his full-time position as the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies at Hillsdale College.  He replaces Jeremy Beer, who will become chairman of the board of directors.

We are thrilled to be adding Dr. Birzer to our publication’s leadership. He has written for TAC for years, recently contributing pieces on novelist Margaret Atwood, the television series Stranger Things, and the great sociologist Robert Nisbet, a range of output that gives some indication of his extraordinary versatility. Dr. Birzer is the biographer of Russell Kirk, an icon of the type of Burkean conservatism that lies at the core of TAC’s identity. And he is an outspoken critic of recent American foreign policy and interventionist outreach.

Thanks to our readers, supporters, and all those who have helped steer TAC in recent years, TAC now reaches at least three times as many people as it did in 2014. We have thrived, even as other magazines and websites have folded. Our articles, programs, and events are helping to shape the conversation and the way people on the right, in the center, and even on the left think. Bradley Birzer will do a great deal to help TAC continue to grow its readership and expand its influence in these strange and turbulent times.

For all press inquiries, please contact Emile Doak, director of events & outreach, at [email protected]

The Government Tilt: How Crony Capitalism Distorts Markets

On June 15, The American Conservative convened a panel to explore the cozy relationships between government and business, and make the case that the growth of cronyism—and the policies that feed it—runs counter to a truly conservative economic policy.  Watch the full discussion here.

The panel featured:

Ambassador C. Boyden Gray, former Ambassador to the European Union (2006-2007).

David M. Smick, author of The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone.

Tim Carney, commentary editor at the Washington Examiner.

Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

moderated by Robert W. Merry, editor of The American Conservative.

Pratik Chougule Appeared on C-SPAN Washington Journal

TAC executive editor Pratik Chougule appeared on C-SPAN Washington Journal on Saturday to discuss his recent article, How America Turned Against Smart Kids.  The interview is available via C-SPAN at this link:

TAC Is Hiring

The American Conservative is seeking a managing editor.

Primary responsibilities of this position include:

  1. Managing the TAC web edition, ensuring that it is plenished daily with fresh material of high quality;
  2. Writing a regular web-edition column;
  3. Assisting with the day-to-day operation of TAC’s Washington D.C. office.

Ideal applicants will have:

  • A worldview consistent with the philosophy and disposition of The American Conservative
  • Strong editing skills
  • An understanding of conservative media and how to create engaging content in this space
  • Interest in monitoring the day-to-day news cycle as well as anticipating longer-term events and issues
  • A demonstrated ability to work proactively and take initiative in a high-pace, rapidly-evolving office

Interested applicants should send a cover letter and resume to Pratik Chougule by email at [email protected]. Applicants must be able to work from our Washington, D.C office.

TAC and R Street Talk Energy on the Hill Tomorrow

Tomorrow at noon, the R Street Institute will host an event titled “Energy and Environmental Reform: Conservative Perspectives for the Trump Administration” in the Rayburn House Office Building. The speakers will include numerous TAC contributors, including James P. Pinkerton, Managing Editor Robert VerBruggen, R Street’s Catrina Rorke, the Heritage Foundation’s Katie Tubb, and Brent Fewell, founder of the Earth and Water Group. Jim Presswood of the Earth Stewardship Alliance will moderate.

Here is the full description of the event:

The Trump Administration has started the process of unraveling a significant number of Obama-era regulations on energy and the environment—but what should the next move be? The time has come for the Oval Office, Congress and the states to enact a proactive, pro-market agenda that unleashes America’s energy potential while carefully stewarding our environmental resources.

Please join us for a panel discussion with introductory comments by The American Conservative managing editor Robert VerBruggen on ways to liberate markets, create flexible and disciplined federal agencies and ignite innovation.

We’ll discuss reining in the bureaucracy of the Environmental Protection Agency, fixing the Department of Energy’s disastrous policy of picking technology “winners,” and exploring the many ways that markets can deliver economic growth and better environmental outcomes without the heavy hand of government.

RSVP here.

‘Rules for Foreign Intervention’ on Tucker Carlson Tonight

Fox News

TAC author George Liebmann appeared on the program last night to discuss his piece. View the segment at Fox News here.

The Politics of Vaccine Safety on Fearless Parent Radio

TAC executive editor Pratik Chougule appeared on the Fearless Parent Radio Blog to discuss in more detail his article from last week, “Why the Kennedy-DeNiro Vaccine Challenge Matters.” Full audio of his interview is available at the link below.

“Is it a good idea to convene a presidential vaccine safety commission? We just finished reading a cogent, probing, and well-researched article: “Why the Kennedy-DeNiro Vaccine Challenge Matters” whose author says, ‘Yes.’

“Pratik Chougule, JD, executive editor of The American Conservative, eschews the usual trashing of advocates who challenge the government’s vaccine safety program. Curious about this compelling voice emerging from the fray of naysayers, we were eager to hear more from Pratik. Some the questions we’ll address include:

  • What are the historical origins of the American vaccine safety movement?
  • Why are vaccine safety advocates dismissed in the mainstream press?
  • How did Trump become interested in the vaccine/autism issue?
  • What factors will influence Trump’s decision to tackle the vaccine issue?
  • What political impact will a vaccine safety commission make?”

Listen to the audio at Fearless Parent.

Discussing the Greatest Presidents

Last week, TAC editor Robert W. Merry appeared on Boise State Public Radio to discuss how the American presidents have looked in the rear-view mirror of history. In conjunction with his article today, we are posting the audio from the segment below.

“Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago this April, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States.  Since then, 44 Americans have taken that solemn vow, most recently Donald Trump.  History has yet to judge our most recent presidents. But as we look farther into the past, which presidents have stood the test of time and are revered today?  And which ones are now viewed as less successful leaders, or even as failures?

“We’re discussing presidential performance with Robert W. Merry.  He is the author of Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and the Historians.  It’s now out in paperback.  Where They Stand  takes an in-depth look at what Mr. Merry calls “America’s favorite game,” rating the presidents.  In the book, Mr. Merry examines polls conducted over the years, as well as metrics developed to rank those who have led our nation. He also shares fascinating anecdotes and insights about our past presidents, including how and why perceptions about some of them have changed over the years.”


Is TAC Too Easy on Trump?

Dear Editors,

I have greatly enjoyed reading your writings as of late. As a liberal it has been informative and challenging work, and I appreciate the depth of your understanding and your care with argument.

I do feel, however, that you have slacked somewhat in your duties to your readers. In particular, I think it is the responsibility of all press, but especially conservative press, to keep their readers on guard about some of the more alarming behaviors and historical analogues we see right now. It may be that Trump does not seek authoritarian power, but it may be that he does. His attacks on the free press and the judiciary make many of us nervous. If he does in fact seek more power, we all need to be watching for the historical analogue of the Reichstag fire.

He has stoked in all of us a fear of Muslims. He has prepared us to blame the courts, the press, and the liberals if and when an attack happens. An attack is likely to happen, just based on the world today.

It will be the responsibility of moral conservatives to push back against the fervor and blame that could destroy the American experiment. It will be your responsibility to remind your readers that the press is our protection, that liberals and Muslims are just as American and just as well-meaning as conservative Christians. It will be your responsibility to remind us all that our representatives’ first duty is not protecting our safety as they keep saying, but protecting our constitution and our rights. If nothing happens, nothing is lost by reminding your readers what an authoritarian will try to do. If something happens, having waited will be indefensible.

I believe all of you at TAC are moral and careful and have a deep love for the freedoms we enjoy. I believe, however, that you must put party loyalty aside (even more so than you have already done, which I commend you for) to remind us all of what defending freedom can entail. It will surely entail resisting the division and fear that have become so common on all sides. I know I sound alarmist, and I hope I am overreacting. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

Thank you for your time,

Jacqueline Mauro

The Editor Replies

When a publication such as ours receives a letter such as that of Jacqueline Mauro, it generates a good-faith imperative for a reply. I’m particularly heartened by Ms. Mauro’s revelation that, as a political liberal, she doesn’t agree with us much but still appreciates our “informative work,” our “depth of … understanding,” and our “care with argument.” Particularly in times such as these, with the country rent so abysmally by division and rancor, Ms. Mauro’s measured and seemingly heartfelt complaint deserves an equally unemotional and respectful response.

Her central complaint seems to be that we have insufficiently raised the alarm about what she sees—and many others see—as President Trump’s tendencies toward authoritarian behavior, as manifest, in part at least, in his attacks on the news media, on judges, and on liberals. We conservatives, she says, have an obligation to push back against this rhetorical “fervor and blame that could destroy the American experiment.”

I’m not prepared to argue that she is wrong. No doubt we have passed over some of Trump’s most egregious flights of rhetorical brutality. At the same time, I’m proud that we have published some truly pugilistic attacks on Trump by our regular bloggers, Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison, who from the earliest days of the nomination process sought to expose troubling elements of his persona and agenda. Of course we ran those pieces alongside the commentary of Patrick J. Buchanan, one of our founders, who considers Trump a necessary corrective to policies of our elites that he considers destructive of the American future. That’s the great debate in America these days, and we aren’t inclined to short-circuit it.

Beyond that, though, our primary interest in covering Trump is to get beyond the man and offer interpretative insights into the state of American politics, with particular emphasis on how the country could become so riled up against its status quo leadership that it would turn to such a figure as Trump. Some argue that it’s a racist backlash to eight years of Barack Obama. Some say it is the “deplorables” consumed with fears and hatreds that Trump has exploited. Some even suggest obliquely that the American republic is disintegrating before our very eyes.

We reject all that, largely because we have faith in the collective electorate—and, having such faith, we harbor optimism also that the American people will find their way through these troubled times and emerge eventually into the sunlight of a new political coalition with a new political dialectic and new prospects for a unified polity.

Is Trump the man to pull this off? Perhaps, but it is looking increasingly unlikely. In the meantime, as that question hovers over our nation, The American Conservative will not join the chorus of those whose anti-Trump rhetoric places them in the camp of wanting to engineer the man’s failure. Our depth of understanding and our care with argument preclude such an approach.

Robert W. Merry
The American Conservative

Summer 2017 Internship at TAC — Extended Deadline

The American Conservative is currently accepting applications for a summer editorial assistant position. The deadline for applications is Sunday, March 5.

Editorial interns gain experience in all aspects of producing the website and print magazine. This internship offers real experience in all the moving parts of a media organization and exposure to both editorial and marketing projects.

Responsibilities include:

  • Preparing pieces for the web, writing headlines, curating images
  • Managing TAC’s presence on social media platforms
  • Contributing headlines and story ideas
  • Proofreading and fact-checking articles for print and web
  • Blogging for the web
  • Devising strategies for audience development and engagement
  • Helping with event planning and special projects
  • Clerical duties, such as answering the phone and handling the mail, are also involved.

All candidates should possess:

  • Eagerness to work tirelessly on a small but ambitious team
  • Superb writing and editing ability
  • Strong communication and organizational skills
  • Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics
  • Excellent news/culture/opinion judgment
  • A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s sensibility
  • Past experience with a news or opinion publication is preferred, though not required.

Interns will join our team in Washington, DC, from May to August (with some flexibility for academic schedules), and will receive a stipend. We will review applications on a rolling basis, so applicants are encouraged to submit their materials before the final deadline. College students or recent graduates who would like to apply should e-mail their responses as Word document or PDF attachments to [email protected] no later than March 5.


  • Résumé
  • Cover letter
  • A 500-word writing sample appropriate for our website, offering a fresh perspective, original analysis, and a clear, evidence-based argument. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a link to a blog post or article you have published elsewhere that would have been well-suited for publication in The American Conservative.

Optional (Pick 2 or 3):

  • Propose three ideas for web articles (1-2 sentences each).
  • What are the two most interesting media accounts you follow on Twitter and why? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our coverage and analysis on the web? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our fundraising efforts on the web? (100 words max.)
  • Write two Facebook posts and two tweets about articles or blog posts that appear on our homepage today.
  • Which two contemporary writers have influenced your thinking the most? (100 words max.)
  • How would you describe the American Conservative reader? (100 words max.)

We also consider applications submitted through the Charles Koch Institute as part of their Washington, DC-based educational programs.

The Trump Challenge

This article from the March/April 2017 issue hasn’t yet been published online. For now, it’s just available to subscribers—to read it right away, subscribe here and access the digital edition of the magazine. If you’re already a subscriber, log in here.

The Best of TAC in 2016

The New Year inevitably gives us occasion to reflect on the old one. And this has been a fantastic year for TAC.

Here are the articles and blog posts you’ve read most. If you like what you see, please contribute to our year-end fundraising drive.

1. “A 2016 Foreign Policy Report Card,” TAC Staff
2. “Unlocking the Election,” Robert W. Merry
3. “Trump vs. the New Class,” F.H. Buckley
4. “Why Trump Wins,” Scott McConnell
5. “What the Oregon Standoff Is Really About,” Justin Raimondo

Rod Dreher Blog Posts
1. “Trump, Tribune of Poor White People”
2. “My Fellow Liberals, I’m Tired of You”
3. “We Have Been Warned”
4. “Hillbilly America: Do White Lives Matter?”
5. “SJWs Will Elect Trump”

Daniel Larison Blog Posts
1. “The GOP Is Finally Debating Bush-Era Failures”
2. “Flynn’s Warped Worldview”
3. “Why Did Britain Vote to Leave?”
4. “Bush Wrecked the GOP Long Before Trump Appeared”
5. “Cruz’s Preposterous Foreign Policy Team”

Pat Buchanan Columns
1. “When Trump Beats Hillary”
2. “The Rule or Ruin Republicans”
3. “When Fake News Leads to War”
4. “Republicans Reject Bush (at Last)”
5. “Ted Cruz and the Trump Takeover”

Noah Millman Blog Posts
1. “Why Donald Trump Will Lose to Hillary Clinton”
2. “The Incoherence of the Religious Conservative Case for Trump”
3. “Four Reasons Hillary Clinton Is So Unpopular”
4. “I’m Gonna Miss the President When He’s Gone”
5. “New S#!+ Has Come to Light, Man”

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