Intellectual History, Political Thought, and Conservatism
Intellectual History, Political Thought, and Conservatism
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explores the advantages of intellectual history in comparison with other approaches to political thought generally, and to British and American conservatism particularly, and it explains why, among all the conservatives writing during these inter‐war and post‐war decades, four British and four American historians have been chosen as central figures in the definition, representation, and propagation of conservative thought. These figures were selected because of their coherent and accessible statement of conservative ideas, and because of their demonstrable success in reaching audiences larger and more varied than the small groups accustomed to rehearsing conservative messages.
The study of the twentieth century—the most recent and rapidly changing of all centuries—is far less manageable than the study of more remote periods. The successively overwhelming events of the twentieth century took place in our immediate past. Massive wars and their terrible tolls were simultaneously justified and denounced. Proliferating and conflicting ideas overflowed into aesthetic movements, experimental literature, religion, science, technology, and attempts at social science. Perceptions and politics simultaneously responded to, and attempted to, control changing relations among men and women and families in the midst of a transformation of opportunities, as well as of social, economic, and educational institutions. The erosion and emergence of new kinds of status as well as of mutating religious and secular identities were aided and abetted by the increasingly rapid manufacture and distribution of opinions. Lost certainties created unprecedented opportunities for the development and adoption of new ideological movements which competed for political acceptance and ascendancy.
A wide diversity of twentieth‐century studies contributes to increased understanding of the substance and trajectory of those movements. Every historian, no matter what their disciplinary preference, struggles to wrest significance from their studies. That struggle, while always problematic, occurs for some in a much smaller physical and intellectual world. The medievalist, for example, suffers from a paucity of evidence; the twentieth‐century scholar is buried in avalanches of information. The differences between them are not a matter of kind, since both have to evaluate and use evidence in the same way. Even so, the modernist, confronting an overwhelming quantity of different kinds of evidence clamouring for equal attention, faces the troubling decision of which categories of material to accept and which to reject.
Intellectual history attempts to organize evidence and explain its significance by borrowing liberally from the other disciplines within history in order to create as broad a context as possible. Ignorance of the kinds of insights provided by these other disciplines severely limits any grasp of the forms and contents of ideas under study. Each kind of study, including intellectual history, has its proprietary virtues, vices, and predilections. When we have some understanding (p.20) about the modus operandi of these other approaches, we are in a better position to adapt or reject their applicability to the enquiry we are pursuing. The most obvious problem is the decision about a methodology for collecting and ordering evidence. Amongst the variety of importunate voices, which kinds of testimony are essential and which peripheral? Choices, always contestable and personal, are governed by the subject studied. That will, in turn, decide the meanings eventually attributed to that subject.
One of the goals of intellectual history, especially when applied to historiography, is a revelation of the presumptions and organizing principles that historians bring to a particular study. An understanding of the ways in which intellectual history offers a perspective different from that of other disciplines can begin by considering what intellectual historians imagine that they are doing. To reveal the hidden imperatives that animate other historians, it is helpful to consider our own undeclared commitments. Historians today, as in the past, may deceive themselves and their readers about the unexamined agendas they bring to their work. An introspective and historiographical reckoning with our motives, intentions, and subjects for study involves unpacking the ideological baggage intellectual historians carry so that the enterprise becomes visible both to the authors and their audience.
Intellectual history interrogates individuals who live within identifiable cultural communities and cope with particular historical events by assigning them some sort of meaning. These varieties of meaning and their forms of expression can be pursued by examining the connections between their origins, reception, influence, competition, corroboration, and consequences. Ideas and their representations have inertial powers of endurance, but within historical time they are constantly challenged by circumstances that require either reaffirmations or altered perceptions and formulations. While historians of all kinds tend to be attracted to a period of time when it promises to fulfil lacunae in knowledge, understanding, experience, or, perhaps, teleology, these promises are seldom fulfilled for intellectual historians because they tend to ask questions for which there are few unimpeachable answers. If satisfactory answers remain elusive, partial understanding is greatly to be preferred to ignorance.
When intellectual historians read discursively, they are often compelled by new information and perceptions to jettison or at least re‐examine what they believed they had understood. Close examination of our own habits of thought, although essential, can be daunting. If the result is concentrated brooding, no matter how delusional it may occasionally be, that is part of the process. Uncomfortable reflection sustains born‐again scepticism, the faith necessary to historians of ideas. Intellectual history is hardly a reified practice with a contents and methodology accepted by all its adherents, but it has distinct advantages in offering a flexible, self‐conscious entrée to the disparate kinds of ideas that complicate political thinking. Intellectual historians concentrating on the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries have pursued this kind of fruitful exploration. In marked contrast, (p.21) students of twentieth‐century political ideas have tended to be almost exclusively philosophers and political theorists.1
Why choose a particular subject and a particular organizing principle and eliminate others that may have similar utility or strong demands for attention? Aside from gratuitous, but not unimportant, factors such as personal taste, or the ease of finding sources, or familiarity with a foreign language, there may be unacknowledged compulsions. Even the most conventional and least speculative historian is hardly free of presuppositions. Historians need tentative hypotheses, often unstated and still more often unconsciously held, to begin their search and then to organize what they find. Without such hypotheses, we would be awash in a torrent of apparently unrelated incidents. For intellectual historians, there is the additional problem of confronting intractable problems of definition and organization more easily solved when history is pursued as chronological narratives. When compared to historians of politics, society, economics, and even culture, intellectual historians are at a still greater disadvantage. Other historical disciplines can evoke an existing structure, often already given in the subjects studied. The separations between political, social, economic, cultural, and intellectual history are not clearly defined and the borders are very permeable. What does separate them are their intentions and their perceived purposes—they set out, often, to address very different kinds of historical problems. In so doing, they ask different questions and the answers they receive are largely determined by the contents, forms, intentions, and limits of the questions asked.
For the intellectual historian, unlike the political philosopher or theorist, putative thinking about politics is tested for its success empirically. Empiricism is a tarnished, but still sterling, standard in intellectual history because empirical events, although mediated by levels of perception and interpretation, are all that we can agree to agree about. Political thought, no matter how abstruse in origin, is a vital component in an actual world rather than in any imagined one. In both past and present, political concepts serve specific interests and ends. Our pragmatic appraisal of political issues enables us to navigate the slippery realities of the world, past and present, in which we cannot help but live practically as well as intellectually. To study political thought, the intellectual historian must invoke the larger intellectual, social, political, economic, and cultural events of the time in which that thought occurred. Even though intellectual history shares boundaries with political theory, it is firmly rooted in the historical experience of real, identifiable people. Political theory can soar among all kinds of hypothetical political situations and normative desiderata, while political thought is anchored to given historical realities. This book is about conservative political thought, not conservative political theory. In contrast to the canonical view of political thought as essentially theoretical, J. A. Pocock correctly defined a history of political thought as the history of ‘men and women thinking’.2
Political thought is an aspect of a larger political life traditionally studied by historians who often rely upon a pre‐existing, continuous plot told as a series or (p.22) sequence of events. If the narration itself becomes an explanation, the historian may avoid any explicit theoretical or thematic apparatus to impel their story. Although historians do not have a historical text ‘given’ to them in the sense that the story already exists in the objective world, they tend to construct their reports within familiar boundaries recognized by other scholars and by educated readers. Political history achieves a certain privileged perspective by permitting armchair scholars to move intimately or even aggressively through the talking and killing fields of power. This is especially true of the traditional studies of high politics, with its emphasis upon those figures that wield genuine political power. Political historians, whose opinions are rarely heeded today by those who actually make history, can imagine themselves powerful by illuminating how, why, and to what ends authority and power are organized, exercised, justified, and received.
Whenever we compare American and British historical writing about twentieth‐century political thinking, the problems of scale and size of audience intrude. There are more studies of iconic political figures by American historians because there are so many more American historians studying twentieth‐century American history, as well as a greater consuming public among other scholars, university students, and general readers who remain interested, especially, in political biographies.3 In Martin Gilbert's impressive and monumental political biography of Churchill, told nearly in real time, his richly detailed account makes the author appear almost a participant in the events he describes.4 Among American biographers, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s three‐volume study of Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes closest to Gilbert in its richness of detail, but may be more significant in the breadth of its analysis, but that, too, has been challenged by Robert Dallek in his studies of Roosevelt.5 If we compare the number of serious studies by American historians of FDR to those of Churchill by British historians, there are over 730 American authors writing about FDR and 78 British authors who have written about Churchill.6 Given the commonality of language and the ease of professional discourse, it is not always easy to separate American and British scholars. Dallek, who spent his academic life at the University of California in Los Angeles, at Columbia University, at Boston University, and at the University of Texas, was also the Harmsworth Professor at Oxford, 1994–5 and received an Honorary MA there.
Alternative narratives of political history tend to place politics within specific social and economic contexts.7 Before the Second World War, twentieth‐century American political history was dominated by the Progressive historians, whose social and economic purposes shaped their political studies. After the war, American political historians challenged the ‘conflict’ tendency of their predecessors to find a greater ‘consensus’, in their country's recent development, while still later recent studies find neither synthesis acceptable. Persistent concerns for American political historians in the twentieth century have been: America's involvement in the two world wars; the relationship between the three branches of government; the conflicts between the states and the federal government; the meaning of the (p.23) constitution; demographic shifts; voting patterns; and the role of the city. In each of these areas, American historians compete with political scientists.8
Other departures from high politics in both Britain and America discuss literature or religion or art or even science as essentially political issues.9 In some cases, evidence is considered empirically persuasive because it can be organized demographically, prosopographically, or statistically.10 A weaker form of empiricism occurs in studies of institutions, sub‐structures, administrations, voters, political parties, political factions, citizens, and the relationships among opposing and co‐operating interests. Some political historians examine the ways in which political entities originate, become established, and then function; others rely on group biographies. Those political historians, who find theoretical inquiries more congenial, organize their investigations around the meanings and uses of class, or gender, or various kinds of marginalized and hidden political assumptions and processes.11
In Britain, a ‘new political history’, sometimes combining the perspective of Gareth Stedman Jones and post‐structuralism, seeks to replace a social and economic interpretation of politics with a recognition of ‘political culture’ where ‘discontinuities between political and popular visions and the way in which the relationship between political language and practice and the wider society is constantly renegotiated’.12 This is most evident in the work of Stephen Fielding, Lawrence Black, Jon Lawrence, James Epstein, and James Vernon, who have disparately combined social and linguistic interpretation to concentrate on the construction and reception of political language.13 Scholars like Philip Williamson analyse political rhetoric to provide impassioned defences of ‘high’ politics as a sophisticated study of political leadership, while others such as Patrick Joyce attempt, through a ‘material turn’, to incorporate more varied forms of social history into political history.14
Even though the subject of political history has become more disputatious, most political historians in America and Britain continue to assemble their arguments, evidence, and conclusions in a form recognizable as a story.15 For intellectual historians, too, a narrative form of exposition remains an essential organizing principle because ideas and events occur concurrently and serially, in specific historical time and place. Chronology is as important in intellectual history as in any other approach for the obvious reason that events, whether mental or material, have consequences whose origins and explanations can be pursued from the present back to the past as well as from the past forward to the present. For the conservative historians, who all confronted the immensely accelerated time that characterized the twentieth century, chronology and the selection and elevation of particular dramatic events within that process was especially critical. They all discarded a Whig or Progressive view of history and their major concern, as historians and polemicists, was to extract from history the lessons that would prevent the erosion or direct challenge to those institutions, practices, and traditions they believed were essential and exceptional to Britain or to America.
(p.24) The appropriation and exploitation of power, explored by diverse approaches to politics, also remain central to any study of political ideas. Moreover, the concept of ‘political culture’ has always interested intellectual historians who look as well for ‘social cultures’, and every other kind of ‘culture’ that appears pertinent to an enquiry, because they tend to understand a ‘culture’ as a thick, coherent, retrievable context that can be identified and investigated. Intellectual historians of the twentieth century are interested, additionally, in social history that differentiates layers of dense social realities in which thought develops and disperses; in economic studies that address behaviour and motivation as essential components within economic institutions and processes; and in a cultural history that adopts a reflective stance and reveals perspectives neglected by historians of ideas. This species of cultural history keeps company with intellectual history in studying the manufacture, diffusion, and consumption of art, images, and values, and most especially the ways in which these phenomena and epiphenomena reflect, and are created by, thought.
Ideas are not autonomous events. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine independent or unrelated events because they all belong in an interwoven tapestry with material, psychological, and conceptual texture. Although often interacting and overlapping, ideas have identifiable, historically specific contexts that cannot be reduced to universal myths. Obscurity need not be confused with incomprehensibility. As an intellectual historian, in common with other kinds of historians, I recognize that absolute objectivity and complete disinterestedness are neither possible nor desirable. That recognition is compatible with a treatment of ideas as real entities with substance and meaning independent of, and often antagonistic to, relationships of power or rhetorical confrontations. The stability of a bridge between a conceptual construction of the past and present worlds in which we live and have lived depends upon foundational definitions, or interpretations, of the meaning of political ideas such as ‘conservatism’ in the changing circumstances under examination. In America, far more so than in Britain, there was, and still is, a great deal of confusion about what ‘conservatism’ means.16
We may not be able to recover precisely what individuals or groups have thought, because the testimony that remains is always partial and often false. The fugitive past, no matter how far or near in time and memory, eludes us as we attempt to understand it. Sometimes, the remaining records were intended to delude us; at other times, the creator of those records deluded themselves. That does not mean that the motives for their thinking, as well as its form, content, essence, and consequences are irrevocably lost. It is undeniable that attempts at recovery blunder over all sorts of unknowable and unpredictable obstacles. Although stymied by the randomness of what remains, the accident of what we stumble upon, and by our own cultural and personal limitations, we are far from helpless.
As a distinct category of study, the history of ideas often disappears into sub‐disciplines that subsume or elide cultural history. These genres include not (p.25) only historiography but also the history of science, literary criticism, law, and religion, along with excursions into anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Studies of the construction of language can conclude in an attempt to find the meaning of historical ideas and experiences in the interpretation of images.17 Any separation of these different fields and methodologies in history is bound to fail because boundaries among the disciplines and sub‐disciplines are porous and constantly shifting. Moreover, humanistic studies do not agree upon well‐defined prescriptive procedures that all investigators follow faithfully. Intellectual history has neither a unique or a defining methodology and I have borrowed liberally where I found instruction and rejected what appeared as tangential or irrelevant. Whatever we learn is sifted through inherited traditions of professional practice, which guide our research and inform our writing. As we understand the origins and purposes of those practices, as well as of their consequences, we become more able to adopt, adapt, or ignore them. In a book that focuses upon historiography, the historiography of intellectual history provides a critical review of the field that we have decided to rely upon. When searching for insights and methods, it is important to understand the failed approaches as well as those that have succeeded. There is no comforting Whig historiography of intellectual history and later developments are not always better.
Within the Anglophone world, intellectual history or the ‘history of ideas’ accepted by historians, began first in America when James Harvey Robinson, the pioneer of the ‘New’ or ‘Progressive History’, issued a manifesto to the profession in the decade before the First World War. Robinson called for an alliance of history with science, subordination of the past to the needs of the present, and commitments to social reform. At the heart of his appeal was the conviction that ideas should be studied as revelations of the reality of progress.18 A generation later, in 1933, Arthur Lovejoy gave the William James Lectures at Harvard on the historical construct of a great chain of being. That was not what Robinson had in mind, and Lovejoy's lectures had little effect upon other historians.19 It was not until after the 1940s, as Thomas Bender recently indicated, that intellectual history came to prominence within American history as the ‘synthesizing subfield’ representing a ‘national mind or culture’.20 The Journal of the History of Ideas was first published in 1940 and twelve years later, the American émigré Peter Gay began a sophisticated project in European intellectual history and politics that he gradually expanded to include avant‐garde cultural and psychological history.21 Fifteen years after that, Hajo Holborn's presidential address to the American Historical Association urged historians to think more introspectively about the practice and viability of intellectual history and ‘the need for social history in conjunction with the history of ideas’.22 A more theoretical effort began in 1960 with publication of the journal, History and Theory. 23
The kind of appeal made by Holborn had no resonance in Britain, either before the 1940s or in the two subsequent decades.24 Literary scholars such as Basil Willey in 1934 and E. M. W. Tillyard in 1943 pursued the history of thought, as (p.26) Lovejoy was doing, as an empyrean dialogue among the great thinkers occurring at the edge of the empirical world.25 R. G. Collingwood, the classical historian and philosopher of history, asserted provocatively in 1936, that all history was the history of thought, which the historian was compelled to ‘rethink’.26 British historians largely ignored Collingwood's challenge to conventional, essentially political history, and few showed any interest in the history of ideas as defined by Lovejoy or by the literary scholars. Recently, there has been a call to revive the ‘great texts’, although modified by the negotiations of recent years, as a dialogue between the past and the present. This process is explained as an effort to see how people have made sense of their perceived worlds, through a ‘concern’ with ‘the internal coherence and logic of the structures of mental reference or the languages which it studies’.27 It is not clear if this is a post‐modernist return to the kind of enterprise advocated by Lovejoy, Willey, and Tillyard. Would a resurrection of the internal architecture of great texts be a significant rejection or an affirmation of the emphases begun in the mid‐1960s by Quentin Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock? Intellectual history began relatively late for British historians with the advent of Skinner and Pocock, and it diverged, initially, from social and political history as well as from literature.28
Quentin Skinner, trained in the University of Cambridge, proposed a methodology for intellectual history in 1965 that depended upon philosophy as much as upon history. A student of seventeenth‐century political thought and subsequently Regius Professor of Modern History at his university, Skinner attempted to create a manual for the study of ideas that transcended the conventions of social and political history as well as the more traditional and historically disembodied grand narratives of ideas perpetuated by Willey, Lovejoy, and Tillyard. Skinner tested his proposals in two kinds of essays—one examined the epistemology of ideas, and the other applied that epistemology in studies of Hobbes’ political thought. Both efforts discarded four traditional approaches found in studies of ideas: the search for a descent of ideas that contributed to a canon; attempts to find coherence in incoherent thinkers; the imposition upon the past of concepts which belong to a subsequent time; and the anachronistic assumption that the past and present are similar. Additionally, he rejected emphases upon text and context to urge instead that the crucial elements in understanding were the intention of the author and the intellectual conventions of the time that governed the use of language.29 One of the difficulties with Skinner's persuasive argument is that traditions of political thought persist so that ideas continue to have influence beyond their original purpose or the author's intentions. In those traditions, the work of earlier authors continues to interest later generations because of the important issues they invoked.30
In 2002, Skinner published Visions of Politics, a three‐volume collection of new and rewritten essays, with emendations, afterthoughts, and responses to his critics. In the first volume, Regarding Method, he attempted to clarify his views on the role of an intellectual historian, or perhaps it would be more accurate (p.27) to say a historian of philosophy. Although he writes ‘mainly’ as ‘a practising historian’, he starts with theories of epistemology and meaning derived from philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, W. V. O. Quine, John Searle, and A. L. Austin. Skinner was particularly impressed by Wittgenstein's contention that ‘words are deeds’ and by Austin's inquiry into the ‘use of words as opposed to their meaning’.31 Skinner's method makes three important assumptions. The most basic one, that language is a form of social power, is hardly contentious.32 Skinner is especially interested in the ‘normative vocabulary available to us for the description and appraisal of our conduct’.33 The second assumption, about a necessary relationship between language and reasoned contrivance, is more controversial. Skinner's disinterest in his subjects' psychological and emotional life is rooted in a rationalist bias that expects people to use language to accomplish calculated ends. Their success in an enterprise, he agues, as was true for Max Weber's early capitalists, required a rational use of language to make their behaviour legitimate.34 Most intellectual historians tend to believe that in the reading of texts, questions should be asked about what a text means and about what its author may have meant. This is insufficient for Skinner because his third assumption is that any complex text ‘will always contain far more in the way of meaning than even the most vigilant and imaginative author could possibly have intended to put into it’.35 David Wooton's review of the three volumes maintains that while Skinner was undeniably seminal, he failed to consider religion, social and technological change, and the reciprocal relationships between ideas, emotions, psychology, and behaviour.36 Still, an understanding of those relationships, as well as of their historical contents and contexts, remains undeniably dependent upon an understanding of the words in which they were conducted. Intellectual history, because it deals with the expression, as well as the formulation, of ideas, can hardly be indifferent to linguistic turns and twists.
Many directions in intellectual history, including this book, share an interest in the different uses of language as they occur in historical conversations and in the construction (or deconstruction) and dissemination of intellectual information. Another member of the ‘Cambridge school’, the New Zealander J. G. A. Pocock, has been enormously influential since 1960 in urging an approach to political thought that recognized the ‘plurality of specialized languages’ about politics characteristic of a ‘complex plural society’.37 Pocock identified himself with ‘Cambridge’ historians of historiography who ‘see historians as situated at moments in history, which present them with narratives to be told and with the need to retell them’. Although concerned with what Oakeshott has described as the ‘practical past’, historians of historiography will discover, he expected, that ‘pasts did not exist as relevant to presents but to themselves’.38
Recently, Jonathan Rose has tried to reverse ‘the traditional perspective of intellectual history’ and concentrate on ‘readers and students rather than authors and teachers’. His ‘audience history’ asks ‘how people read their culture’ to include all aspects of their experience. Rose does this by using library and (p.28) educational records and opinion polls to check the testimony in autobiographies and archives of oral histories. In response to the debate about ‘whether meaning is inherent in the text or created by the reader’, Rose concludes: ‘obviously, it is a matter of one working on the other’.39
Rose's conclusion is useful as a beginning because one of the greatest difficulties in the study of thought, and particularly in the study of political ideas, is the demonstration that ideas actually have influence within their own time or in a later period. It is a formidable, often unattainable, undertaking to prove that expressed ideas actually reached particular audiences. It is a further speculative leap to discover what those audiences wanted to hear, what they actually heard, and further still what they made of what they imagined they heard. While an author's intention may be stated explicitly in a preface or introduction, or in some other sort of testimony, there is generally room for ambiguity, so that different kinds of audiences and different members of the same audience will find a variety of meanings, often contradictory, in any writing or speech. A distinct advantage in studying conservatism through the work of conservative historians is that demonstrable connections exist between them and distinct, recognizable audiences.
Since the 1970s, there has been an ongoing series of methodological re‐examinations in intellectual history, largely by historians studying countries other than Britain.40 These experiments have included adaptations of such post‐structuralist ideas as Roland Barthes's dictum about the ‘death of the author’. In the U.S., David Harlan has argued that an analysis of either authorial intention or context is impossible, and that the intellectual historian should rather let ‘the present interrogate the past’.41 Among the newer European methods of approaching ideas, Germans have emphasized ‘Begriffsgeschichte’, a revision of idealistic or Hegelian intellectual history, and the related pursuit of ‘conceptual history’, popular especially in Holland, France, and Finland. They can be seen as alternatives, or national variations, or descendants of both the Skinnerian tradition of ‘speech acts’ and Pocock's concern with linguistic discourses. Within Germany, these emphases are most evident in the seven volumes published between 1972 and 1992 of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexicon zur politisch‐sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, edited by Reinhart Koselleck, Otto Bruner, and Werner Conze, and the fifteen volumes published since 1985 of the Handbuch politisch‐sozialer Grundbegriffe in Frankreich, edited by Rolf Reichardt and Eberhardt Schmitt.42 In Britain these movements have proved interesting to Michael Freeden who has adapted, expanded and transformed them intriguingly.43 In America, Melvin Richter made a ‘case for conceptual history’ as ‘a unique form of knowledge, providing detailed information about key shifts in the vocabularies of politics, government, and society’.44 Apart from Freeden and Richter, the German project has had only a marginal effect upon the study of British or American intellectual history. Quentin Skinner found common ground with the German group, but he suggested that if a history of conceptual (p.29) changes ‘were to have any explanatory value, the explanations would have to be given at the level of social life itself’. But Skinner readily admits that he ‘lacks any talent’ for writing a social history that covers long‐term transformations.45 Whether transformations in ideas are short term or long term, they are always embedded within a social and cultural context that often requires excavation of layers of strata before it is clearly seen.
Methodological issues, such as those discussed above, may ultimately be epistemological and even ontological, and a considerable literature attests to that.46 Those issues are intriguing, but the actual procedures that enable us to do research and write about them are more immediately practical in their demands. A particular method proves its suitability, at least in the instance under examination, when we understand more at the end of the inquiry than we did at the beginning. The utility of any method and the results it yields can only be tested through trial and error. Ultimately, assumptions are validated by the thoroughness of research; the coherent organization of what is known; sustained and consistent argument; scholarly consensus; and even the elegance of an interpretation. None of this is foolproof because we can be tempted to ignore critical qualms when seduced by the intellectual promise of a novel approach. The kinds of evidence that enable intellectual historians to grasp historically specific but evasive ideas have to be extracted from a combination of texts, contexts, and other representations of thinking which may be implicit rather than explicit. A reading of these various kinds of ‘texts’ depends upon the reasons that lead us to them. In the study of political thought, it is helpful, and perhaps even necessary, to appreciate how other scholars arrive at credible explanations of a concept and practice such as conservatism.
The current historiography of conservatism reveals that some scholars pay attention to the thought of specific individuals, while others emphasize the ideas held collectively by a delineated group. Some, either in individual or collective biographies, deal exclusively with political thought; some with political thinking within the larger setting of people's lives; and others with the still broader stage of complex issues affecting the various intellectual communities in which these thinkers thought and moved. The biographical technique, when sufficiently contextual, may tell a great deal about the figures studied and about the practical and intellectual worlds to which they belonged as participants or as acute observers. Julia Stapleton's Political Intellectuals and Public Identities in Britain since 1850 (2001) is an example of an engaging, provocative collective study in the broad and meaningful context of the life and times of a variety of political thinkers whose instincts were conservative. In America, Jeffrey Hart, a senior editor since 1969 of the leading conservative journal the National Review, believes that the history of modern American conservatism is coterminous with the history of the Review since its founding in 1954.47 Peter Novick's That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (1988), an ambitious and successful treatment of American historiography, set a new (p.30) standard for elegant and revelatory reflection about intellectual biography and its larger cultural environment.
Other scholars have arrived at definitions of conservatism by studying traditions of political thought they believe exist implicitly awaiting the analytic scholarship that will make them explicit. Michael Freeden and John Barnes have each tried, with interesting results, to define persistent qualities and attitudes that they believe differently make up a consistent ‘conservatism’.48 A similar method, used by George Nash, collects and compares disparate strands of American conservative thought to determine whether they are coherent, consistent, or evolving in some discernible pattern.49 Both of these approaches may be useful initially in providing working hypotheses. The common problem they present is that they require continuous adjustment to make sense of them as time and issues change.50 Another approach isolates a major element persistent throughout an extended period of political thinking such as Phillip Lynch did for Britain in his study of the Conservative politics of nationhood.51 Other analysts, such as Ewen Green, effectively integrated a discussion of politics, economics, and ideology, as is evident in his absorbing study of the weakened Conservative Party of the Edwardian period. Then, in his treatment of the history of Conservative thought in relation to the party's political economy, Green explained the Ideologies of Conservatism through a series of case‐studies of individuals like Balfour and Arthur Steel‐Maitland; of political events centred on the phenomena of Thatcherism or the Treasury resignations of 1958; and, by analyses of the relation between correlative sets of ideas such as conservatism, the state, and civil society.52
Some students of conservatism question the value of examining conservative ideology on the grounds that conservatism is inherently anti‐ideological. Instead, they argue that common interests, rather than common ideas, determined conservative political loyalties. In his perceptive studies of twentieth‐century British institutions and politics, John Ramsden has maintained that conservatism was a pragmatic, often opportunistic, response to changing social, economic, and political circumstances. Robert Blake shares that perspective.53 Jonathan Schoenwald has argued that the rise of ‘modern’ American conservatism after the Second World War depended upon the translation of conservative ideas into social and political action that appealed to ordinary Americans.54
It is the historian's intentions as much as those of the author being studied that determine an interpretation of a text and its context. Selection of both appropriate methodologies and the criteria for judging conclusions in intellectual history require the investigators to consider the purposes that underlie their particular research and writing. The value of any method depends upon both the historian's interests and the uses to which that method will be put. That does not mean that distortions or eccentric readings are acceptable, but rather that we have trouble understanding what we are unprepared to understand. Different readings result if we search for the author's intention and meaning; or for a (p.31) particular kind of testimony contemporaneous to that text; or for the effect of a text upon subsequent inspiration, or reflection, or activity. To understand and explain twentieth‐century conservative thought in Britain and America, I intend to do all three kinds of reading.
The history of conservative ideas may benefit from a personal encounter with the interior lives of these historians who lived in what L. P. Hartley called ‘another country’.55 As John Burrow has shown admirably, we can enter that foreign place and put ‘the reader in the position of an informed eavesdropper on the intellectual conversations of the past’ while recognizing that there is no unifying coherence but rather ‘thematically overlapping circles’. Burrow advises historians to deal with any piece of evidence by ‘uncovering’ the ‘layers of its intellectual archaeology’.56 We know further that the mental geography of the historian's time and place can be charted and known to a satisfying degree of approximation. Assuming that some aspects of the past are more transparent than others and that degrees of transparency can be achieved, we conclude that their ideas mattered, as much if not more, than interests, personalities, or economic, political and gender imperatives.
Accepting these caveats and the relative intransigence of obstacles, how then should intellectual historians study political thought? It is relatively easy to eliminate the unsatisfactory strategies: neither general models nor paradigms illuminate the historical realities of conservatism in twentieth‐century Britain or America. To recreate the context in which conservative thinking occurred, it is necessary to expose hidden assumptions, identify different kinds of thinking, and suggest why that thinking responded to, or anticipated, particular events. A disconcerting complexity of conversations and discourses, disconcerting when they occurred and even more so now, attempted to define conservatism. Conservative ideology was never concealed in a sacred text perpetuated by the faithful few. Instead, conservative thought had constant, contradictory, and mutating components, some appealing to specific issues and others to more general values. Those components were selected, adopted, and transformed by disparate people with conflicting interests who were often unaware of the reasons that led them to hold particular political views. Among those groups the conservative historians merit special attention because of the substance of their thinking, its representative qualities, and its effect upon a variety of elite and popular audiences. As historians, they described, explained, and justified what they believed was the historical inevitability and fitness of quintessential conservative ideas.
Conservative historians were not all of equal importance in terms of either the content of their thought or its influence. Among those conservatives which ones merit the most attention? On what grounds should certain ‘conservative’ historians be selected as subjects while others are eliminated? What are persuasive criteria for inclusion and exclusion? How does a study of conservative political thought avoid arbitrariness or even personal favour in studying particular (p.32) thinkers, while dismissing others who may have compelling claims to attention? Why study historians instead of other kinds of academics, or public intellectuals, or journalists, or politicians, or party leaders, or local constituency workers, or opponents?
Obviously, some thinkers are more conspicuous than others for altering the ways in which issues are understood and treated. These kinds of original speculators subvert conventions and substitute new beliefs and possibly policies. They can set the agendas and discourses for contemporaries and successors, even though they may have been myopic, or deluded, or just plain wrong. Alternatively, they can also provide bulwarks for retaining existing opinions and practices. The worst possible outcome for their ideas is that, even if inspired and incisive, they become unheard cries from the lonely and neglected periphery. Other thinkers, while not necessarily novel or even profound, represent the common denominators of thinking at any given time. They are important because they can summarize prevailing thoughts and opinions and present them lucidly and systematically. In an enquiry that is historical and not essentially theoretical or philosophical, original thinkers and popularizers both deserve the same reception that they had when they were heard in their time. What mattered most, for me, was whether they successfully developed and delivered ‘conservative’ messages.
Before I decided to write about conservative historians, my first criterion for choosing conservative thinkers was the nature and extent of their influence. Was it more important to affect the leaders of a political party, the party faithful, independents, the greater voting public, the media, or powerful elites? Three conditions for inclusion appeared promising to me. First, the candidate had to have an effect that was both practical and intellectual. Influence solely on disciples, no matter how important they were, was not sufficient. The conservative theorists also had to be heard by the public, policy‐makers, and other engaged thinkers. Whether they were accepted did not seem as important as whether they had a wide and diverse audience. Those who disagreed as well as those who applauded might be part of an ongoing discourse that addressed both continuing and new problems. Contemporaries had to find these conservatives' written texts and oral performances persuasive, and there had to be concrete evidence that they did, indeed, reach the constituency for whom the message was intended. Bestselling authors, with a loyal readership certainly had a following. Sometimes, readers and listeners recorded their responses to these authors in the local press or as minutes of regional political party meetings or in pamphlets meant to solicit support for contentious issues. If the conservative wrote weekly leaders or regular columns for major newspapers and journals, it is not too great a stretch to infer that a significant proportion of subscribers read them. When they consistently addressed local political meetings throughout the nation, it is again reasonable to believe that they were heard by those present, and that their speeches, printed verbatim in the local and national press, were read by even more people. Those (p.33) who spoke regularly to the BBC or to other captive audiences in Britain and America cast an even wider net.
In some instances their contributions might be entirely or largely normative suggestions to guide what they considered to be appropriate conduct; in others, they provided prescriptions for contemporary disorders. Independently of the question of the connection between rhetoric and activity, it is helpful to have a measure for gauging what an audience accepted among the ideas presented to them. If policy‐makers and those with demonstrated access to the shaping of public opinion tell us directly, through private papers or public admissions, that they acted upon some of the ideas of these thinkers, then the problem becomes simpler. Occasionally, there is dramatic evidence of a thinker's broad public appeal in the enormous quantity of fan mail received, and saved, from prominent and ordinary people, as was true for a figure like Arthur Bryant. For the major conservative historians that I chose—Hearnshaw, Bryant, Feiling, Butterfield, Viereck, Kirk, and Boorstin—written texts, personal actions, and the testimony of political leaders corroborate a reciprocal intellectual relationship between these thinkers and varied constituencies.
Besides the question of influence, my selection of important conservative thinkers considered the kinds of justification they offered for the substance and conclusions of their conservative assumptions. The historians that I eventually chose presented their ideas as objective realities proven through the historical survival of tradition, their ultimate pragmatic test. Interestingly, it turned out that their conservatism shaped the ways they acted within their professions and within the greater world. Adherence to conservative principles affected the ways in which they thought about issues that were not political: there was no separate intellectual compartment labelled ‘politics’. Instead, these conservatives held fast to a systematic set of values that were the bedrock of their political views as well as of their larger understanding of ethical, social, political, economic, and cultural issues. In common, although their ideas were developed disparately, they viewed their political convictions as essential to the accomplishment and maintenance of a moderately good life for them and for the rest of the British or American nation.
While these disparate historians often differed in their policy prescriptions, they shared at least three common qualities that made them unequivocally conservative. The first and most fundamental characteristic binding them together was the traditional conservative's profound suspicion of human capacities for reason, planning, and amelioration. The second common act of faith was their understanding of history as the story of survival against overwhelming odds. Those odds were weighted against the individual's reason and will by the religious burden of the problem of evil, compounded by secular ineptitude. The past was the testing ground for sorting out those institutions and qualities of character that were historically resilient. History was, thus, a more trustworthy guide to understanding what was possible in human life than any utopian belief (p.34) in a future that would supposedly correct the mistakes of the past. The third shared trait, their professions as historians, explained their reliance upon history as a guide to a reasonably sustainable life. Their sharp distinctions between what was practically reasonable and what was an unrealistically rationalized ideal were corroborated for them by what they believed to be their informed exposition of their national pasts.
The study of history was especially congenial to conservatives because the validation of conservative ideas is rooted in the past. The conservative historian's choice of careers, then, is hardly surprising. It is also hardly surprising that I was drawn to them since my most recent work was historiography, and historians choose to study what they think they know least badly or what most interests them. That does not mean that my choice of representative conservative thinkers was a sleight of mind. On the contrary, the thought of these historians represented the range of conservative thinking for two generations in Britain and one in America. Although not the only writers about the meaning of conservatism, they were certainly among the most persistent, dedicated, and prolific. They were not part of a special group, but belonged rather to a wider, more diffuse, intellectual community. Although known to each other by their work, some were additionally friends, others were acquaintances, and a few loathed each other. Each of them spoke, wrote, and acted as individuals who expected to gain a hearing because they possessed extraordinary knowledge. The conservative historians provided an allegedly authentic record that supported, transmitted, and often reified controversial political thought as if it were accepted political fact. Their passionately promoted faith was presented as an unequivocal reading of the past.
Finally, there is a fourth factor. Except for Berthoff, who had a narrower audience, Hearnshaw, Bryant, Feiling, Butterfield, Viereck, Kirk, and Boorstin were what Julia Stapleton has described so well as ‘public’ or ‘national intellectuals’.57 In addition to their recognized reputations as historians, they participated ubiquitously in national affairs as prolific and popular authors and lecturers, who spoke as specialists to students, to the public, and to political leaders. Among them, Bryant and Butterfield played important parts in the larger arena of international relations within Britain, other English‐speaking countries, and Europe. Each of the historians in both Britain and America was convinced that the exceptional qualities of their nation were historically demonstrated. In both their irenic and their historical work, they crafted paeans of tribute to their country's just and well‐balanced institutions; the heroic, ethical, hard‐working, and self‐sufficient character of her people; her unique social culture; and, the virtuous self‐sacrifice and practical wisdom of those who ought to be her leaders. They attempted, through the historical record, to prove to a wide educated audience that thinking and policy, rooted in conservative thought, were superior to competing liberal, socialist, or communist formulations. In common, they set out to prove that the individual and communal values of conservatism were historically irresistible. (p.35) The consistent conservative meaning extracted by these historians from their studies was not the product of isolated individual speculation. Instead, it was part of the conservative vocabulary and culture familiar to Conservative leaders as well as to intellectuals seeking an alternative to the ideas of the Left, university graduates aiming for a career in politics, letters and journalism, and some of the upwardly mobile young intending to improve their prospects and status by aligning themselves with the traditional side.
Why have I included Hearnshaw, Feiling, Bryant, and Butterfield but not other equally conservative British historians active during these six decades? In America, inclusion and exclusion were not problematic because except for Viereck, Kirk, Boorstin, and Berthoff, there were no other conservative historians until the late 1970s. In Britain, there were many conservative historians but only the four studied here had the audience and influence that mattered.58break G. M. Young and Lewis Namier immediately come to mind as possible candidates for consideration. Young, best known for his Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (1936), was omitted because he was a nineteenth‐century parochial Englishman. Born in 1882, he survived to 1959 with his insular, Victorian sensibilities intact. Classically educated, Young was briefly a Prize Fellow at All Souls before becoming a civil servant at the Board of Education, a diplomat, and a man of letters. His contributions to conservative causes included an approving biography of Baldwin in 1952 and, that same year, a lecture on conservatism at Oxford.59
Lewis Namier, a more serious candidate, and unlike Young a professional historian, was left out because he never climbed to the higher echelons of the intellectual and political elite. As a Jewish émigré from a wealthy Polish family, he struggled for income and status among the English elites he admired so deeply. His longing for a fellowship at Balliol was denied. Neither his expectations nor his ambitions were appeased by his chair of modern history at Manchester University.60 As late as 1953, after receiving recognition and honours, he still thought of himself as ‘the doyen of the rejected.’61 While the other conservative historians were ‘insiders’ either by birth or acceptance. Namier's robust identification with a secular Judaism, in common with problems of personality, kept him outside of those circles of power and influence that he wanted so desperately to enter. The Namierite School of interpretation and methodology was often discussed and debated, and Namier's name came to be synonymous with a structural and quantitative analysis of interests represented in Parliament. Even so, his effect upon historical studies was significant essentially for its methodology rather than in the definition and perpetuation of a new field.62 Namier repudiated, as Butterfield was to do, the Whig narration of history as an erroneous celebration of the progressive shaping of English liberties in spite of the recalcitrant attempts of monarchs and Tories to resist this natural direction. Instead, in common with the other British conservative historians (except for Hearnshaw, who, uniquely, believed in the value and causality of (p.36) ideas), he lauded the empirical, sober, political traditions of England, which he attributed to the pursuit of practical interests. When he did try, repeatedly, to act upon a larger world stage in passionate pursuit of Zionism, he failed humiliatingly.63
Another obvious conservative historian, Max Beloff, born in 1913, with considerable influence in international and Conservative Party affairs, is omitted because he did not become a Conservative until the early 1970s, when he resigned from the Liberal Party over education policy. The decades after the 1960s, with markedly new directions for conservatism, lie outside my purview. It is worth mentioning Beloff's career briefly because he shared so many of the values of his predecessors. Until his death in 1999, he advocated conservative traditions of liberty, common law, and constitutional evolution. Staunchly in the libertarian conservative camp, he vigorously opposed both state intervention and the movement towards a federal Europe that would deny British exceptionalism. In common with Butterfield, he extracted from history demonstrations of the efficacy of a balance of powers, nationally and internationally. Unlike Butterfield, his understanding of human nature and the state were not infused with the Augustinian problem of evil, but depended instead on a pragmatic reading of the evolution, structure, and administrative functions of the British state. In 1981 he went to the House of Lords and his extraordinary activity there and in journalism and historical writing led his obituarist in The Times to describe him in 1991 as ‘one of the leading lights of what was then called the New Right’.64
The enterprises of influential conservative historians in twentieth‐century Britain until the late 1960s, as historians and as conservative propagandists, contributed to a widely accepted definition of ‘conservatism’. While there was no invariant list of conservative beliefs subscribed to by each historian and accepted by their audiences, there were fundamental, defining ideas that recurred consistently among both Conservatives and conservatives. The disparate views that separated them and the common ideas that ultimately defined their reading of conservatism reflected and influenced conservative thought and policy in Britain. A correspondence, hardly coincidental, exists between those ideas and the principles elaborated by the historians.
Did the historians influence the politicians or did the politicians propose the ideas for which the historians then found historical evidence? Sometimes, and these instances can be documented, historians did influence specific political figures such as Stanley Baldwin and his right‐hand man, Lord Davidson, as well as Neville Chamberlain, Quintin Hogg, Rab Butler, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, and media moguls such as Beaverbrook. At other times, historians made a case for the historical authenticity of ideas expressed by these political leaders, as Bryant did for Baldwin and Chamberlain. The evidence for their influence upon Conservative leaders and conservative public opinion appears in journalism, Conservative Party tracts, and national and regional efforts (p.37) to disseminate conservative ideas within the constituencies. Private papers, correspondence, and the records of Conservative politicians document the remarkable access of the British historians to those in power. In common, they emphasized the value of existing institutions that had grown gradually through a selective constitutional process that determined the uniqueness of English rather than ‘British’ character. They also produced historical evidence for the values of reconciliation and compromise in place of rigid ideological stances. Further, they demonstrated an ideological affinity between politicians in need of considered concepts and the means for translating them into political support and conservative historians eager to provide both ideas and strategy.65
In America, the dearth of an ideologically conservative position among aspiring conservative leaders and among those looking for viable conservative causes made the work of the conservative historians even more important than that of their British counterparts. The American evidence points to the primacy of the historians as political polemicists and cultural critics whose ideas were borrowed and endorsed by politicians and other conservative opinion‐makers. Apart from an extremist conservatism, represented by groups such as the John Birch Society, moderate conservatives had no organized or appealing set of principles and practices before the early 1950s. Conservative historians in America were also not thick upon the polemical ground. Viereck, Kirk, and Boorstin were the only post‐war historians who held and promoted bellicose conservative views that reached a popular, professional, and political following. A fourth conservative historian, Rowland Berthoff, had a much smaller and less significant audience, but he is worth considering because he proudly and uniquely declared himself ‘a conservative historian’. The articulation of powerful conservative ideas by Viereck, Kirk, and Boorstin, echoed by Berthoff, were heard, remembered, and adopted by conservatives in search of a coherent set of beliefs and policies, as well as by political leaders, intellectuals, and influential journalists. Viereck, Kirk, and Boorstin each became cultural, as well as political, icons for national leaders as well as for lesser but powerful politicians locally and nationally. Kirk was a confidante of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan and, as Viereck did, transmitted his ideas in the leading newspapers and journals of opinion, as well as through radio, television, and lecture circuits. In so doing, they created an American conservatism of the faithful, who have testified to the enduring impact that their words had. Boorstin, as a bestselling author of popular American history and, subsequently, as Librarian of Congress, had a consistent bully pulpit. The American conservative historians' versions of a ‘usable past’ provided American conservatism with a historical pedigree that succeeded for many in conferring a new legitimacy and respectability to their assumptions about human nature and society.
An understanding of each conservative historian's thought requires a critical examination of what that particular person said and did. While such an examination is necessary, it is far from sufficient. Unless we also appreciate the ways in (p.38) which their backgrounds and experiences informed their responses to historical and contemporary events, we miss the full dimension of their intellectual life in its time. All of these factors, when mediated by circumstances, opportunities, and choices, fashioned their conservative world view and its application to their thinking as well as to their professional and political activities. Of course, they thought and acted within an environment governed in great part by fortuitous events and the determinism of habit and tradition, but their appreciation of the tribulations marking their times and their reactions to them have a personal as well as an ideological history. Appreciation of their predicament does not require a penetrating psychological analysis, a formidably difficult enterprise best left to those fit to do it. Instead, the discussion of their ideas can be located within the specific social and cultural milieu to which they belonged. Although they shared an ideological context of preconceptions, perceptions, and prescriptions that were identifiably and confessedly conservative, each one had a distinct and unique background that affected and informed their conservatism.
Only two of the conservative historians, both in inter‐war Britain, were unequivocally ‘insiders’.66 Feiling and Bryant, with elite families and backgrounds, defended the values and history of their intellectual caste as an essential part of a just and satisfactory social and political order. In contrast to them, Hearnshaw and Butterfield in Britain, and Boorstin, Viereck, Kirk, and Berthoff in America, were rank ‘outsiders’ both in the kinds of history they chose to write and in their social and economic status. Their welcome into the heart of the English and American conservative establishments, unlikely as that might initially appear, was almost inevitable.
In Britain where class, education, and religion mattered far more than they did in America, the conservative historians each grew up in social and economic circumstances that ranged from the deprivations of poverty through the advantages of aristocratic connections. A commitment to Christianity, with the exception only of Geoffrey Elton, who is discussed but was a minor figure in national circles, was integral to their shared views of the past, present, and future, but their religious affiliations also differed. Butterfield, a practising Methodist began as the poorest with the most clearly non‐established religious tradition as a Methodist lay preacher. Hearnshaw, a rung higher in status, came from a lower middle‐class family. Also a Non‐conformist in religion, he supported the national position of the Church without becoming an Anglican. Both Feiling and Bryant were Anglicans, who came from privileged families and were given the best possible opportunities. In the small world of British intellectual life, despite the fact that Hearnshaw and Butterfield were ‘outsiders’ and Feiling and Bryant were ‘insiders,’ once they were established as historians and conservative pundits, they lived in the same professional, political, and social circles. Those contacts provided an elite status; mutual intellectual and financial support through appointments, lectures, and mutually laudable book reviews; and provision of work.
(p.39) All of the conservative American historians began as ‘outsiders’ who were warmly embraced by conservative political leaders and intellectuals because they were historians with polemical credentials. Viereck had to overcome the disadvantage of a father imprisoned during the Second World War for his active Nazi sympathies, but he had a mandarin education and very comfortable social and economic circumstances. Kirk came from a poor working‐class family and, even with a scholarship, had to work strenuously to complete a third‐rate college. Both Viereck and Kirk began as Protestants who believed in a Providential determinism, although Kirk converted to Catholicism when he was in his mid‐forties. Boorstin was a Jew and Berthoff was partially Jewish at a time when Jews were unwelcome both in higher education and in political life. Their abilities and their conservatism made it possible for them to become prominent and for Boorstin, uniquely influential.
A general explanation of why these historians succeeded so well in entering positions that might have been expected to exclude them depends upon an understanding of their situations and development. In any explanation of ideas, contexts of thought are as important as seminal or typical texts. Those contexts include communities of practice; relations among elites; connections between elite and popular thought; the setting of standards of judgement and value; the adaptation of ideas within professions and institutions; and the contents of varying kinds of opinion and practice. Within these varied settings, identifiable people propagated specific ideas and, when they were effective, those ideas were disseminated to identifiable audiences. Another level of discrimination examines the intrinsic consistency and coherence of those ideas as well as their effect. The circumstances and ideas which allowed even Methodist scholarship boys and small‐town Jews to become as much a conservative pundit as those born and reared to privilege are explored in the remaining chapters of this book.
(1.) There have, of course, been notable exceptions such as John Burrow, Stefan Collini, and Ewen Green, discussed in this chapter.
(2.) J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 1–2. Pocock's distinction, which has made converts throughout the Anglophone world, did not appear compelling to the editors of The History of Political Thought in National Context. Instead, this volume attempted to locate the history of political thought in its ‘more natural place’ within British academic life as part of the discipline of ‘politics’. They argued further that the history of political thought has become political theory, a form of ‘discourse through which a society asks itself philosophical questions about politics’. A ‘vertical’ dimension in the history of political thought, although ‘tempered’ by the ‘contextualist revolution’, addresses questions asked by predecessors quite differently from the more ‘horizontal’ interests of cultural (p.40) or intellectual history. Dario Castiglione and Ian Hampshire‐Monk (eds.), The History of Political Thought in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 6–7. Both editors hold university positions in political theory. In the concluding essay to this volume, Stefan Collini's discussion of the ways in which political thought has served contemporary political interests demurs from the editors' view by suggesting that ‘the less tight the connection with the contemporary practice of a particular discipline, the readier its historians have been to recognize that they are inescapably involved with a wider intellectual history’. Stefan Collini, ‘Postscript. Disciplines, Canons, and Publics: The History of the History of Political Thought’, 297. See, too, his ‘Discipline History’ and ‘Intellectual History’: The History of the Social Sciences in France and England’, Revue de Synthese, 109: 3–4 (1988), 387–99; Public Moralists. Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850–1930 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991); English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
(3.) The Organization of American Historians, the professional body founded in 1907, had, as of June 2007, 11,000 members, and it publishes the Journal of American History, the OAH Newsletter, and the OAH History Magazine.
(4.) Martin Gilbert, The Challenge of War, 1914–1916 (London, 1971); The World in Torment, 1916–1922 (London, 1975); Prophet of Truth, 1922–1936 (London, 1990); The Wilderness Years (London, 1981); Finest Hour, 1939–1941 (London, 1983); Road to Victory, 1941–1945 (London, 1963); Never Despair, 1945–1965 (London, 1988).
(5.) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, 3 vols., vol. I The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919–1933; vol. II The Coming of the New Deal; vol. III The Politics of Upheaval (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1957–9). Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981); Franklin D. Roosevelt as World Leader: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered before the University of Oxford on 16 May 1995 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1995). Dallek's reputation is based on his original work as a historian of presidents.
(6.) After eliminating hard‐ and soft‐core sensationalism, family memoirs, vanity presses, repeated citations, and the contributions of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, I extracted these numbers from the random entries of the combined libraries of the University of California campuses, a reliable and usually exhaustive reference. The search for Churchill went through all 858 titles provided and my count revealed that slightly less than 10% were by British authors. The hunt for FDR indicated that 3,660 titles were available. I counted the first 1,000 to discover that about 20%, or 191 fit my criteria. The figure of 732 was reached by taking 20% of the complete 3,660 listings.
(7.) Marxist‐ or class‐based explanations of economic determinations of politics are at their best in British scholars and especially in Eric Hobsbawm. See, e.g., his Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day (Cambridge University Press, 1991); The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991 (London, 1994) Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (London, 1999). There are very few American Marxist historians who have survived. Those who (p.41) describe themselves as Marxists tend, as Eugene Genovesee has done, to study earlier periods in American history such as the Civil War. For sophisticated studies of high politics within a context of British political economy and economic history, see esp. Peter Clarke, The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924–1936 (Oxford University Press, 1991); The Keynesian Revolution and its Economic Consequences: Selected Essays by Peter Clarke. (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1998), A Question of Leadership: From Gladstone to Blair (London, 1999); The Cripps Version. The life of Sir Stafford Cripps, 1889–1952 (London, 2002); and, Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900–2000 (London, 2004). Among American historians, since the decline of the congratulatory consensus school in the 1960s, there have been fractious conflicts which have tended to separate scholars into narrower fields of specialization and interest. For an anlaysis of that division and the various culture wars it entailed see esp. Peter Novick, That Noble Dream and Peter Charles Hoffer, Past Imperfect. Facts, Fictions, Fraud—American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).
(8.) In America, the 38 ‘Organizing Sections’ of the American Political Science Association (APSA), provide appropriate networks and journals that directly addressed each of these issues through networks of scholars and appropriate journals. They covered such topics as 5. Political Organizations and Parties; 8. Representation and Electoral Systems; 13. Urban Politics; 33. Race, Ethnicity, and Politics; 34. International History; and 24. Politics and History. The APSA was founded in 1904. See their website: www.apsanet.org I am reserving my discussion of American historiography for ch. 8, where it serves best as an introduction to American conservative thought.
(9.) These kinds of study tend to be done by scholars of periods earlier than the twentieth century. For the conflation of relgion and politics, see esp. Jonathan Clark, Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion, and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); for the politicization of religion, Geoffrey Elton, England under the Tudors (London, 1955); and for science as politics, Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
(10.) In Britain, see e.g., David Butler and Gareth Butler, British Political Facts since 1979 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). In America, political scientists tend to pursue these approaches.
(11.) See esp. Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1995), and Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
(12.) Lawrence Black, ‘Popular Politics in Modern British History’, Journal of British Studies, 40:3 (July 2001); 432 and Gareth Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working‐Class History, 1832–1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
(13.) Stephen Fielding, esp. The Labour Governments, 1964–70, Vol. I. Labour and Cultural Change ((Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); and Lawrence Black, esp. The Political Culture of the Left in Affluent Britain, 1951–64: Old Labour, (p.42) New Britain? (London, 2003). James Epstein, In practice: Studies in the Language and Culture of Popular Politics in Modern Britain (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003); and for the 19th century, James Vernon, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture, c.1815–1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Jon Lawrence, Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics in England, 1867–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
(14.) See esp. Philip Williamson, Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Patrick Joyce, Democratic Subjects: The Self and the Social in Nineteenth‐century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
(15.) John Horst's Victorian Labour History: Experience, Identity and the Politics of Representation (London, 1998), is among the exceptions.
(16.) A forum in the American Historical Review in April 1994 attempted, without overwhelming success, to sort that out. See Susan M. Yohn, ‘Will the Real Conservative Please Stand Up? Or the pitfalls Involved in Examining Ideological Sympathies’, The American Historical Review, 99:2 (April 1994), 430–7, for a revelation of the chronic difficulties. Yohn was responding to Alan Brinkley's the ‘Problem of American Conservatism’, in the same issue.
(17.) Simon Schama, in Landscape and Memory (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1995), 18, tried to show ‘that the cultural habits of humanity have always made room for the sacredness of nature’. The Dutch practitioners of conceptual history are especially interested in the relation between language and images. See n. 42.
(18.) James Harvey Robinson, The New History: Essays Illustrating the Modern Historical Outlook (1912) and reissued repeatedly until (New York: Free Press, 1965), almost 30 years after Robinson's death; and Essays in Intellectual History, Dedicated to James Harvey Robinson by his Former Seminar Students (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1929). John Higham, in History. Professional Scholarship in America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Unversity Press,1965), reported that Robinson's course at Columbia, ‘The History of the Intellectual Classes of Europe’, was called by his students ‘The Downfall of Christianity’, 112.
(20.) Thomas Bender, ‘Strategies of Narrative Synthesis in American History’, The American Historical Review, 107:1 (electronic version), 1–2.
(21.) Peter Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952).
(22.) Hajo Holborn, ‘The History of Ideas’ (delivered in 1967) The American Historical Review, 73:3 (February 1968), 692, 694; Gay had already launched that project in his essay on ‘The Social History of Ideas: Ernst Cassirer and After’, which appeared a few months before Holborn's address in Kurt H. Wolff and Barrington Moore, Jr. (eds.), The Critical Spirit: Essays in Honor of Herbert Marcuse (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1967), 106–20.
(23.) Scholarly journals dealing with intellectual history have proliferated and no matter where they are published they have an international roster of contributors and readers. See, e.g., Intellectual History Review, published in Britain with British and Australian co‐editors and an advisory Board from nine different countries.
(24.) As late as 1989, when Peter Catterall examined ‘The State of Literature on Post‐war British History’, in Anthony Gorst, Anthony Lewis Johnman, and Lucas W. Scott (eds.), Post‐war Britain, 1945–64: Themes and Perspectives, (London, 1989), he never mentioned intellectual history and described cultural history as best served by biography, 229.
(25.) Basil Willey, The Seventeenth‐century Background: Studies in the Thought of the Age in Relation to Poetry and Religion (London: Chatto & Windus, 1934), and The Eighteenth‐century Background: Studies in the Idea of Nature in the Thought of the Period (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940); and, E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Macmillan, 1944).
(28.) Isaiah Berlin, who was interested in philosophy, Russian studies, music, Judaism, and many other things, published his Karl Marx: His Life and Environment in 1939. It was not, however, until 30 years later that some of Berlin's important essays were revised for publication as Four Essays in Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969). In the interim, he wrote scores of essays and reviews, many in obscure journals, and from 1958, when two of the Four Essays had served as his inaugural address, he became Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. Was he a major force in the development of intellectual history in Britain? Perhaps, but it may be argued that occurred only well after the 1960s.
(29.) See esp. Quentin Skinner, ‘Meaning and Explanation in the History of Ideas’, History and Theory, 8 (1969), 3–53. See, too, ‘Hobbes's Leviathan’, Historical Journal, 7 (1964), 321–33; ‘Hobbes on Sovereignty: An Unknown Discussion’, Political Studies, 13 (1965), 213–18; ‘Hobbes and Ideology in the English Revolution’, Historical Journal, 8 (1965), 151–78; ‘Thomas Hobbes and his Disciples in France and England’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 8 (1965–6), 153–67; ‘The Ideological Context of Hobbes's Political Thought’, Historical Journal, 9 (1966), 286–317; ‘The Limits of Historical Explanation’, Philosophy, 41 (1966), 199–215; ‘Thomas Hobbes and the Nature of the Early Royal Society’, Historical Journal, 12 (1969), 217–39; ‘Conquest and Consent: Thomas Hobbes and the Engagement Controversy’, in G. E. Aylmer (ed.), The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement, 1646–1660 (Hamdem, Conn.: Archon Books, 1972); and ‘The Context of Hobbes's Theory of Obligation’, in Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters (eds.), Hobbes and Rousseau (Garden City, NY: 1972), 109–42.
(30.) See Gordon Schochet's criticism in ‘II. Quentin Skinner's Method’, in ‘Political Thought and Political Action: A Symposium on Quentin Skinner’, in Political Theory, 2:3 (1974), 261–76. Skinner replied to the symposium in ‘III. Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action’, ibid., 277–303. Skinner (p.44) has repeated and elaborated his arguments in ‘Hermeneutics and the Role of History’, New Literary History, 7 (1975–6), and The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). A discussion between Skinner and philosophers and political scientists occurs in James Tully (ed.), Meaning and Context. Quentin Skinner and his Critics (Cambridge: Polity, 1988).
(31.) Quentin Skinner, ‘Introduction: Seeing Things their Way’, 1–3, ‘Interpretation and the Understanding of Speech Acts’, 103 (this chapter was adapted and developed from the final section of ‘Reply to my Critics’, in Meaning and Context, 259–88), Visions of Politics, I: Regarding Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
(32.) Skinner, ‘Introduction: Seeing Things Their Way’, 7.
(33.) Skinner, ‘The Idea of a Cultural Lexicon’ (a revised article under the same title in Essays in Criticism, 29 (1979) 205–24) in Regarding Method, 174.
(34.) Skinner, ‘Moral Principles and Social Change’ (essentially a new essay, but ‘germ of it’ in ‘Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action’, in Political Theory, 2 (1974), 277–303), Regarding Method, 145–57.
(35.) Skinner, ‘Interpretation and the Understanding of Speech Acts’, 113.
(36.) David Wooton, ‘The Hard Look Back’, TLS (14 March 2002), 8–10. A more sympathetic reading occurs in Kari Palonen, Quentin Skinner: History, Politics, Rhetoric (Cambridge: Polity, 2003). Palonen's ‘thesis’ in the book is that ‘in his singular manner of being a historian of political theory Skinner also becomes a first‐order political theorist himself’, 174.
(37.) J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Languages and their Implications: The Transformation of the Study of Political Thought’ (1971), in Politics, Language and Time. Essays on Political Thought and History (New York: Atheneum, 1971), See, too, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century (1957), reissued with a retrospect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Obligation and Authority in Two English Revolutions, The Dr W. E. Collins lecture delivered at the Victoria University of Wellington, on 17 May 1973 (Wellington, The Victoria University, 1973); The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975); Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Politics, Language and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1989); and, most recently, Barbarism and Religion: vol. I, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764; vol. II, Narratives of Civil Government; vol. III. Decline and Fall; and, vol. IV, Barbarians, Savages and Empires (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999–2005).
(40.) Daedalus devoted its winter 1971 issue to ‘Historical Studies Today’, and the essay on ‘Intellectual History: Its Aims and Methods’, 80–97, was written by Felix Gilbert, a historian of modern Germany with a broad interest in the relationship between politics, history, and culture.
(41.) David Harlan, ‘Intellectual History and the Return to Literature’, The American Historical Review, 94:3 (June 1989), 585, 608. This is still another of the laudable attempts made by the editors of the AHR to encourage historians to think about the nature of their profession.
(42.) Keith Tribe introduced the subject to Anglo‐American intellectual historians in his review essay ‘The Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe Project: From History of Ideas to Conceptual History’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31 (1989). For a fuller treatment, see the essays in Iain Hampsher‐Monk, Karin Tilmans, and Frank Van Vree (eds.), History of Concepts: Comparative Perspectives (1998), an international compilation, sponsored by the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies. Two Anglophone essays in the volume are Iain Hampsher‐Monk's ‘Speech Acts, Languages or Conceptual History’, which examines the work of Pocock and Skinner; and Terrence Ball's ‘Conceptual History and the History of Political Thought’, which ties concepts to agents and to the political conflicts in which they occur. Together, Ball and Pocock edited Conceptual Change and the Constitution (Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1988). See, too, Reinhart Koselleck's The Practice of Conceptual History (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002).
(45.) Skinner, ‘Retrospect: Studying Rhetoric and Conceptual Change’ (revised and extended version of ‘Rhetoric and Conceptual Change’, in The Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought, 3 (1999), 60–73 in Regarding Method, 181).
(46.) See the work of Hayden White, esp. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press,1973), and Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, c.1987); Dominick LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), History and Criticism (1985), and Soundings in Critical Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,1989); John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), Rethinking Modern Political Theory: Essays, 1979–1983 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), and Interpreting Political Responsibility: Essays 1981–1989 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); and the pages of History and Theory.
(48.) Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory, and John Barnes, ‘Ideology and Factions’, in Anthony Seldon and Stuart Ball (eds.), Conservative Century. The Conservative Party since 1900 (1994).
(49.) George Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976) (reissued, unchanged, by the Conservative think‐tank, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Wilmington, 1996)).
(51.) Philip Lynch, The Politics of Nationhood. Sovereignty, Britishness and Conservative Politics (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), p. xii. Lynch examines the evolution and difficulties of both Conservative statecraft and the Conservative concept of the nation, especially after Heath and Powell.
(52.) E. H. H. Green, The Crisis of Conservatism and Ideologies of Conservatism.
(53.) John Ramsden, esp. The Age of Balfour and Baldwin, 1902–1940 (London: Longman, 1978); The Making of Conservative Party Policy: The Conservative Research Department since 1929 (London: Macmillan, 1980); The Age of Churchill and Eden, 1940–57 (London: Longman, 1995); Winds of Change: From Macmillan to Heath, 1957–75 (London: Macmillan, 1996); ‘Britain is a Conservative country that Occasionally votes Labour’: Conservative Success in Post‐war Britain (The 1997 Swinton Lecture) (London: Conservative Political Centre, 1977; An Appetite for Power: a History of the Conservative Party since 1830 (London: HarperCollins, 1998); Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and his Legend since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002). Robert Blake, who was a tutor in politics at Christ Church and was active in Conservative politics, made his reputation with Disraeli (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966) and then gave the Ford Lectures at Oxford in 1968 that were published as The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (New York: St Martin's Press, 1971) and subsequently extended to include Thatcher (London: Methuen, 1985) and then Major (London: Arrow Books, 1998). Blake, then Lord Blake of Braydeston, took over Arthur Bryant's column in the Illustrated London News.
(55.) L. P. Hartley, The Go‐between (London, 1953). The first sentence of the book is ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’.
(56.) J. W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason. European Thought 1848–1918 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. v, 234. Although this book is about Europe rather than Britain, Burrow has managed to carry off this feat in everything he has written.
(57.) Julia Stapleton, Englishness and the Study of Politics. The Social and Political Thought of Ernest Barker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); ‘Political Thought and National Identity in Britain’, in Stefan Collini, Richard Whatmore, and Brian Young (eds.), History, Religion, and Culture. British Intellectual History 1750–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); ‘Cultural Conservatism and the Public Intellectual in Britain, 1930–1950’, TheEuropean Legacy, 5:6 (2000); Political Intellectuals and Public Identities in Britain since 1850 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001); ‘Sir Arthur Bryant as a Twentieth‐century Victorian’, History of European Ideas, 30:2 (2004), 217–40; ‘Citizenship versus Patriotism in Twentieth‐century England’, The Historical Journal, 48:1 (2005), 1–28; and (p.47) Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth‐Century Britain (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005).
(58.) I left out Michael Oakeshott, a powerful and original thinker, because he had a limited impact on conservative thinking before and after the Second World War. Oakeshott came to belated prominence as a guru of the New Right during the Thatcher years, a period whose altered definitions and conditions are being studied by other historians. For a perceptive view of Oakeshott as a historian, see Luke O'Sullivan, Oakeshott on History (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006), as well as Oakeshott, What is History?: and Other Essays, ed. Luke O'Sullivan (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2004).
(60.) See Linda Colley, Lewis Namier (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989); Trevor Roper described Namier, together with Frederick Lindemann, the 1st Viscount Lord Cherwell, as ‘not, after all, entirely English’, in ‘Sir Keith Feiling,’ Christ Church Supplement (1977), 32.
(61.) Quoted by Stefan Collini, ‘Idealizing England: Elie Halevy and Lewis Namier’, English Pasts, 83.
(62.) John Brooke carried on Namier's prosopographical methodology as did Ian Christie. See Namier's and Brooke's biographical and constituency history of The House of Commons, 1754–1790, 3 vols. (London: Published for the History of Parliament Trust by HMSO, 1964); and Ian R. Christie, esp. The End of North's Ministry, 1780–1782 (London: Macmillan, 1958).
(64.) The Times, 24 March 1999, 23.
(65.) See Arthur Bryant Papers, Basil Liddell Hart Centre, King's College, London; 1st Viscount Davidson Papers, House of Lords Record Office; Arthur Bryant Papers (Alanbrooke) Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum; Arthur Bryant Papers (Montgomery) Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum; and Beaverbrook Papers, House of Lords Record Office.
(66.) To see the effect of an intellectual historian's involvement with his subject as an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’, it is propaedeutic to look, for example, at Owen Chadwick's collection of essays on Acton and history. These essays reveal Chadwick's decades‐long fascination with Acton's ideas and his motives for writing about such a figure. Chadwick's own life as an Anglican priest and as a distinguished historian of European, as well as of English, thought have made him especially sensitive to the relationship between character, will, religion, and conduct that Acton exemplified. The result is a scrupulous, perceptive, and erudite reading of Acton that would not have been possible for scholars without Chadwick's special background and intellectual interests. Chadwick is a deeply religious man who also wrestles with the temptations and obligations of the historian to judge the character and conduct of those he writes about. See Owen Chadwick, Acton and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).