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The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back
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The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (Hardcover)
by Andrew Sullivan (Author)
(29 customer reviews)                                                                                                                                                 
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Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
As editor of the New Republic and on his blog The Daily Dish, Sullivan has been a major conservative voice in U.S. politics for 15 years. Now, he attempts "to account for what one individual person means by conservatism"—not repudiating his former political beliefs but trying to "rescue" modern U.S. political conservatism from "the current [Christian] fundamentalist supremacy" that now dominates it. Sullivan (Love Undetectable) has a breezy, readable style that allows him to address such diverse issues as religious fundamentalism's reliance on "the literal words of the Bible," the "excessive witch-hunt" surrounding Clinton, and the secular Enlightenment foundations of the Constitution. He's most approachable when he writes autobiographically through a critical lens—"Looking back I see this phase of my faith life as a temporary and neurotic reaction to a new and bewildering school environment." But that reflection is not as readily apparent when he makes sweeping pronouncements on politics ("post-modern discourse... opposed basic notions of Western freedom: of speech, of trade, of religion"). Much of the book is a meditation on his own evolving faith as a devout Catholic and will appeal most to readers interested in personal religious evolution. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post's Book World/
I don't spend much time in Washington; maybe it's different down there. But let me tell you, out here in the wilds of the New Jersey suburbs, it is pure hell being a Republican these days, or a conservative, which used to be the same thing. The party I grew up in, which stood for fiscal discipline and strong defense and avoided the sloppiness and stained dresses of so many good-hearted Democratic administrations, seems to have been conquered by people who think stem-cell research is murder, who want to ban unpopular sex acts and who have proven incapable of managing such basic government tasks as disaster relief and a war. A war! That used to be the one thing you knew the GOP could run efficiently. Now, well, now it's gotten to the point where I'm just too embarrassed to admit that I'm a Republican.

Conservatism is facing a crisis that won't be solved, one suspects, merely by switching presidents. To those of us far removed from Beltway philosophical battles, Andrew Sullivan -- a columnist for Time magazine, a prominent blogger and a senior editor at the New Republic -- might seem an unusual candidate to parse the problem. He's British. He's Catholic. He's gay. But Sullivan is also smart and well read, and in his new book, The Conservative Soul, he calmly and rationally attempts to deduce the malady that in barely 15 years has rendered Reagan-era conservatism all but unrecognizable.

The pathogen he identifies is Christian fundamentalism. The Conservative Soul, in fact, is one of several similar books issued this fall that collectively serve as a call to arms to American elites to put down their New York Times crossword puzzles and their glasses of Fumé Blanc and wake up to the idea that the fundamentalists most dangerous to our future are not Islamic and foreign but Christian and homegrown. Sullivan's is at once an obvious yet much-needed siren; his text calls to mind the book Mary Lefkowitz wrote several years back, Not Out of Africa, to rebut charges that the foundations of ancient Greek culture were built by black Africans. Afrocentrism was so nutty that most intellectuals couldn't be bothered to answer it. The same, I fear, is true for Christian fundamentalism. Its political tenets are so addlebrained and its leaders so difficult to take seriously that it's only now -- after the country has been run by a born-again Christian for six years -- that thinkers like Sullivan realize that it's time for reasonable people to do something about it.

The Conservative Soul, unfortunately, is not only too polite but too high-minded to galvanize anyone without a graduate degree in philosophy. This is not a bad thing, just a warning. If you belong to the Elks Club, apply catsup to your scrambled eggs or have ever read anything by Ann Coulter, this is not a book for you. It is written by a card-carrying intellectual and aimed at card-carrying intellectuals. Sullivan wades deep into the high grasses here; he is more interested in Hegel, Hobbes and Leo Strauss than anyone you've seen arguing on television, much less voted for. Further, the book doesn't really explain how conservatism lost its soul, just that it did, and it doesn't offer any real prescription for getting it back.

Instead, and this is the book's great value, Sullivan takes us back to basics -- we're talking Plato here -- to remind us of the bedrock differences in the two schools of belief that, like squabbling conjoined twins, inhabit the Republican Party's tortured body. The first half of The Conservative Soul, which explores the philosophical underpinnings of Christian fundamentalism and explains how they are anathema to a free society, made me as angry as anything I've read in months. That there are people in 21st-century America who believe the Bible is literally true, who believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, and who believe that our lives today should be dictated by codes of conduct written by people who lived 2,000 years before modern medicine, electricity or equal rights -- and that these same Americans have influence in national affairs -- should infuriate anyone with a functioning mind. Fundamentalism, Sullivan reminds us, is the antithesis of reason. Its adherents -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise -- have been handed The Truth and cling to it, facts be damned. Quoting figures as varied as Pope Benedict XVI and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Sullivan repeatedly emphasizes how fundamentalism abhors the thinking mind, insisting that an individual's conscious choices -- whether to have an abortion or what to order at Burger King -- amount to moral anarchy.

In the book's second half, Sullivan switches from anger to nostalgia, reaching back to remind us of the things that made Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's brand of conservatism so appealing and so successful as a mode of governance. He traces the influence of fundamentalists to Bill Clinton's various personal deficiencies, which triggered a moral counterattack from Christian leaders who felt they knew something about morality. It's a good story, but Sullivan doesn't tell it with any narrative grace. Instead, he gnashes his teeth in frustration at the changes this period brought to conservatism. It's the hallmark of his book -- a fine intellectual effort that, for all Sullivan's clear thinking and clear prose, probably won't change any minds that fundamentalist beliefs haven't already ossified.

Reviewed by Bryan Burrough
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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      56 of 70 people found the following review helpful:
      another conservative shows that Bush is not conservative, October 14, 2006
      Sullivan does excellent work in showing how far from traditional conservatism George W. Bush is with his emphasis on heavy government spending without commensurate taxation, his unconscionable expansion of executive power at the expense of other branches of government and against the U.S. Constitution, as well as his putting religious ideas, themselves without rational basis, in the place of reasonable, skeptical inquiry. The only fault of the book is that it makes Reagan a more competent president than in fact he was: Reagan's fiscal profligacy in expanding defense spending while cutting taxes doubled the national debt in the eight years of his administration.

      Sullivan's book joins Bruce Bartlett's Impostor as a debunker of Bush's supposed conservatism.

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      76 of 87 people found the following review helpful:
      Fast read, gripping commentary, October 12, 2006
      Sullivan's writing is ultra-accessible, and transforms previously dry and boring academic philosophies into something anyone can understand. His critique on the state of conservatism in America is refreshing and much needed. He presents a viable argument for doubt and faith to exist side by side, soemthing I didn't think possible.

      His commentary on the current Republican party is insightful and brutally honest. A must read.

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      Customer Reviews
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      Disappointed, June 23, 2007
      By  Alex Knapp (Overland Park, KS USA) - See all my reviews
      Without question, Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite writers. Even when I do not agree with his analysis of a situation, be it political or philosophical, I find him to be interesting, thoughtful, and passionate. And when it comes to the Bush Administration and the handling of Iraq and other facets of the conflict with Islamic terrorists, I have to say that a good deal of his attitude (though not, I think, development of ideas) has mirrored my own over the course of the past several years. So I was very much looking forward to reading his most recent book, The Conservative Soul. I am also disheartened to say that I was tremendously disappointed. Although there are some interesting nuggets of good ideas buried in the book, I find that on the whole it was sloppy, muddled, disorganized and -- I'm sorry to say -- not very well written. Although I would highly recommend that everyone read Sullivan's blog and essays, I would not recommend this book.

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      Honest & Direct, June 4, 2007
      By  A. Gift For You "Laura Nelson" (Newport Beach, CA) - See all my reviews
      (REAL NAME)   
      Great book! Andrew Sullivan spoke at my local library and he was loved by all. Had him sign this book for my collection.

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      1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
      Competing Definitions of Conservatism, May 18, 2007
      By  Clinton Ervin "maximus" (Murfreesboro, TN USA) - See all my reviews
      (REAL NAME)   
      Andrew Sullivan's book is a thoughtful, well-crafted critique of current Republican party conservatism. His view, essentially, is that what is currently termed conservative is, in fact, the promotion of a fundamentalist Christian agenda that is not conservative at all, certainly not the conservatism of his heroes, Reagan and Thatcher. He argues that "fundamentalist vs. conservative" is not a continuation, but a usurpation. He claims that a shift has occurred changing conservative emphasis from freedom to "remoralization."

      Although this book is lucidly written and cogently argued, I reject its thesis that in order to return to true conservatism, the influence of the Christian right must be removed. The fundamentalist impulse in politics is in response to intolerant political correctness, the radical relativism of the Hollywood left, media elites, and the kook fringe left (now the base of the Democrat party). It is reasonable to believe in moral absolutes; Sullivan espouses values closer to libertarianism. The Republican party does not have to be "fundamentally religious" to believe that there is such a thing as right and wrong; it has always believed so.Conservatism is not based on theory but on practical observation of life. I surmise that Sullivan is one of the many today who confuse freedom of religion with freedom from religion. Freedom vs. Morality (p.128) is not freedom from morality. I don't agree with even mildly linking Osama Bin Laden with the American religious right, although Sullivan is by no means alone in this distorted view, Al Gore and many in the media do it too. Sullivan exaggerates when he draws a distinction between visions for America; no rational person wants to remake the U.S. in Iran's image.

      This is not supposed to be a harrangue from me; I enjoyed the book. For the reluctant, you don't have to agree with everything he proposes to learn from this book. It is nonjudgemental in tone; you won't be offended.

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      6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
      Highly Recommended, March 24, 2007
      By  Alex L. Silva (Atlanta, GA USA) - See all my reviews
      (REAL NAME)   
      This is one book that has had a huge influence on my political philosophy. Both the author and I grew up in conservative homes, grew up in Christian homes, and voted for G.W. Bush in 2000. Before I picked up the book, that's where the similarities ended.

      Sullivan is truly a fascinating man. A homosexual, British, Catholic who voted for John Kerry in 2004. Sullivan lives with HIV and I say that only to say that it doesn't stop him from living life to the fullest, from speaking passionately about the America he still believes in, his adoptive country. That is where the differences begin. But as I read his book I felt his ideas resonate with me strongly.

      The term conservatism has been taken over in the last 15 years or so and abused and Andrew Sullivan's mission is to take it back. If you lament what conservatism used to be, and dream of what it truly can be, this is the book for you. His main theme is that our politics should be a politics of doubt, that is, a realization that individual humans don't have all the answers for everyone else at any point in time. Thus the beauty of the freedom that has been written into our constitution here in America.

      If you know of a conservative or a fundamentalist, who is thick-headed, blindly passionate about their views, not willing to consider error in their own perspective or listen to sound reason, this is the book that just might break them down. So do be careful.

      Other Information: It is a quick read with large margins and double-spacing and it is a page-turner. It is the kind of book you will want to pass on to your friends and family.

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