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The Strange Death of Conservative America

American conservatives once sought to ride the waves of markets and innovation toward ever-greater wealth and prosperity, but now they cower in fear. And, as the trajectory of today's Republican Party shows, that makes them a threat to democracy.

BERKELEY – If you are concerned about the well-being of the United States and interested in what the country could do to help itself, stop what you are doing and read historian Geoffrey Kabaservice’s superb 2012 book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. To understand why, allow me a brief historical interlude.

Until roughly the start of the seventeenth century, people generally had to look back in time to find evidence of human greatness. Humanity had reached its peak in long lost golden ages of demigods, great thinkers, and massive construction projects. When people did look to the future for promise of a better world, it was a religious vision they conjured – a city of God, not of man. When they looked to their own society, they saw that it was mostly the same as in the past, with Henry VIII and his retinue holding court in much the same fashion as Agamemnon, or Tiberius Caesar, or Arthur.

But then, around 1600, people in Western Europe noticed that history was moving largely in one particular direction, owing to the expansion of humankind’s technological capabilities. In response to seventeenth-century Europeans’ new doctrine of progress, conservative forces have represented one widely subscribed view of how societies should respond to the political implications of technological and social change. In doing so, they have generally gathered themselves into four different kinds of political parties.

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