From TAC's Bookshelf: Main Street Conservatism
Looking back at a year of reading with the staff of The American Conservative.
As we celebrate Christmas and look forward to a new year, in an homage to an old “TAC Bookshelf” series, we hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse this week of some of what we at The American Conservative were reading in 2022.
Need to get some last minute holiday shopping done? Want some good reading to ring in the new year? Look no further than Main Street Conservatism: The Future of the Right, The American Conservative’s twentieth anniversary anthology.
I know it’s a shameless plug, but it could be more shameless. This could have been written by TAC executive director Emile Doak or senior editor Helen Andrews, whose names adorn the cover as principal editors of this massive undertaking. Or they could have just ordered me to write it. But they did no such thing. This was my idea. And, to be clear, the blatant fundraising pitch you’ll find at the bottom came after I pitched it.
When TAC published the profile I wrote of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the September/November 2022 edition, Helen wrote in her opening editorial that “Everyone who works at TAC today is acutely conscious of belonging to a proud tradition. Bradley Devlin was barely born when TAC was founded.”
She’s right on both counts. I was just four years old when the first issue of The American Conservative hit store shelves on October 7, 2002. As a college student, I started paying close attention to what The American Conservative was saying in the wake of the release of the Afghanistan Papers, searching for an explanation as to how all of the “right” people were so wrong.
My appreciation for TAC grew as the contradictions of right-liberal laissez faire dogmatism became increasingly apparent to me. Why, I thought, did I ever believe that America could just waltz into countries with alien political traditions on the opposite side of the globe without consequence? How could I have believed that “creative destruction” was the cure-all for a rapidly disappearing American middle class? TAC not only provided an alternative to that failed consensus, but an account of the conservative intellectual tradition and conservative movement that elucidated how, when, and where we went wrong.
By the time I got the job at TAC, I was familiar with the magazine’s outlook on the issues, and ecstatic to become a part of its proud tradition. It’s a great responsibility, and at the time, I was worried I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the magazine's history to meaningfully contribute. But working on Main Street Conservatism with Emile, Helen, and the rest of the staff, and reading the finished product, provided a thorough account of not only TAC’s twenty-year history, but the American right’s intellectual heritage.
My girlfriend recently brought a Gustav Mahler's paraphrase of St. Thomas More to my attention: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Preserving the fire is what we try to do at The American Conservative every single day. And through some of TAC’s most iconic pieces, covering subject areas from foreign policy to faith and family, Main Street Conservatism doesn’t just preserve this publication’s tradition, but points to the Truth that all good tradition instills.
After a brief preface, Main Street Conservatism begins with Scott McConnell’s founding editorial, titled “We Take Our Stand,” laying out the magazine's raison d'être. TAC would shift the Overton window and challenge the liberal political establishment and make substantive changes to the American right—something more than just writing op-eds for its own sake.
TAC co-founder Pat Buchanan is also featured prominently in the anthology. His “Whose War” warned the public that the Washington establishment’s zeal for intervention abroad would undermine America’s interests at home. Thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and two decades of war later, Buchanan stands vindicated. Buchanan didn’t just warn against the globalists’ foreign policy agenda, but their economic agenda in “The Death of Manufacturing.” He was a canary in the coal mine, before the government shut those down.
Roger Scruton’s “The Right Architecture” in the anthology's American culture section discusses the importance of our built and shared environment. In the way only Scruton could, he discussed on how our surroundings order our community, reflect our priorities, and propel us to higher ends. There are also entries from Patrick Deneen, Michael Anton, Dan McCarthy, and Senator-elect J.D. Vance.
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Main Street Conservatism is not a lamentation for a bygone era of American politics. It looks in the rear-view mirror to learn, from both victories and defeats, so that we might forge ahead. As Emile says in the preface, we are trying to conserve “all that makes life worthwhile.” And Main Street Conservatism is a small part of our continued mission to do just that. But we can’t do it alone. Man is a relational and communal being, and TAC needs partners and allies who “believe conservatism to be the most natural political tendency, rooted in man’s taste for the familiar, for family, for faith in God,” as McConnell wrote in the editorial that started it all twenty years ago. We hope you join us.
Main Street Conservatism can be bought wherever books are sold. You can also receive a signed copy from TAC HQ by making a gift of $100 or more through this link.