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Conservatism in America

Modern American conservatism as a movement was born in the aftermath of World War II, shaped by a belief in limited government, free market economics, traditional values, and strong opposition to Soviet Communism. But conservatism today is in a moment of flux, uncertain about its basic commitments in the wake of populist resurgence around the world. How did we get here? This course examines the philosophical origins and development of American conservative ideas, from the postwar period to the culture wars of the late twentieth century.

This course focuses on the ideas of the mainstream conservative movement, not the far right or any particular constituency of the Republican Party, though we may raise these issues in discussion. Our goal is to get a broad sense of what motivated conservative thinkers to dissent from the dominant liberal order in the postwar period, and how they shaped their ideas into policies that eventually captured electoral majorities. Some questions that we will pursue include: Is conservatism a consistent and coherent intellectual tradition, or an amorphous response to specific modern events? From what does it draw its influences, and to what is it opposed? What is the difference between American conservatism and liberalism?

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