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The Conservative Tradition

The Conservative Tradition

Course No.  4812
Course No.  4812
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Course Overview

About This Course

36 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Preserving the traditions and values of the past and applying them to the future—this is the core of the Conservative attitude. While the development of Conservatism has followed different arcs in the United States and Great Britain, this rich and fascinating political tradition has decisively impacted the evolution of both nations and their grand political institutions.

Conservatism has become a critical part of Western world thinking since its origins in the late 17th-century's Glorious Revolution, when royal power was curbed and Parliament became the central feature of the British political system. Since then, it has gone on to play an influential role in shaping the course of British—and later American—history.

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Preserving the traditions and values of the past and applying them to the future—this is the core of the Conservative attitude. While the development of Conservatism has followed different arcs in the United States and Great Britain, this rich and fascinating political tradition has decisively impacted the evolution of both nations and their grand political institutions.

Conservatism has become a critical part of Western world thinking since its origins in the late 17th-century's Glorious Revolution, when royal power was curbed and Parliament became the central feature of the British political system. Since then, it has gone on to play an influential role in shaping the course of British—and later American—history.

In our own country, this philosophy has become one of the two dominant ideologies of our modern political tradition. A thorough understanding of Conservatism's lineage, principles, and impact on history is essential to making sense of the 21st-century political dialogue—a dialogue that consumes the television you watch, the newspapers you read, and the radio you listen to.

No matter where you place yourself on the ideological spectrum, the 36 lectures of Professor Patrick Allitt's The Conservative Tradition will intrigue you, engage you, and maybe even provoke you to think about this political philosophy in an entirely new way.

Explore the Growth of Conservatism

Stability may well be the greatest shared element of both Conservatism and modern Liberalism. The United States has now been without a revolution for more than 200 years and Britain for more than 300 years—even though nearly every other industrialized nation has been forced to undergo that traumatic national ordeal, sometimes more than once.

In crafting his exploration of just why this has happened, Professor Allitt has specifically designed his lectures to be objective, neutral, and intellectually satisfying for every viewer and listener—whatever their ideological outlook.

Using an easygoing and engaging style, he shows you

  • how Anglo-American Conservatism developed and evolved in both Great Britain and the United States;
  • how traditional Conservatism produced evolutionary variants like Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism, Theoconservatism, and Libertarianism; and
  • the provocative ways in which Conservatism has interacted with differing political philosophies. These have involved not only challenging opposing views but just as often contributing to them, helping to produce both the rise of modern Liberalism and the emergence of the two-party system.

Learn about the People behind the Philosophy

As he traces Conservatism's development in both nations, examining the debate between Conservatives and their opponents and the internal debate between Conservatives themselves, Professor Allitt moves back and forth across the Atlantic, revealing the impact on both nations of ideas, events, and, above all, the powerful personalities who have left their marks on history.

  • John Stuart Mill, the British economist and philosopher whose writings on the philosophy of utilitarianism and free markets, on the one hand, and advocacy of equal rights for women and minorities and freedom of speech and thought, on the other, have led both Conservatives and Liberals to claim him as a founding voice
  • Ayn Rand, the Russian émigré novelist and philosopher whose work influenced a generation of Libertarian thinkers, including former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, once a member of her inner circle
  • Francis Schaeffer, the Christian evangelical theologian credited not only with coining the term "secular humanism" but with helping spark the rise of the Christian Right

In addition, Professor Allitt shows you the contributions made by other major theorists and practitioners, including Adam Smith, Henry Adams, Alexander Hamilton, William Pitt the Younger, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan.

And he takes you deep inside the Conservative movement to reveal the influence of voices from other parts of the culture, such as journalists H. L. Mencken and William F. Buckley Jr. and economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek.

A Neutral Examination Both Sides Can Learn From

As you listen to Professor Allitt discuss the fascinating history of Conservatism, you'll likely be surprised to discover, whether your own leanings are Conservative or Liberal, how much of your side's views came from or were influenced by the other. You'll gain a more rounded understanding of not just your point of view but of the opposing side's, as well.

By the end of this course, you'll have an enhanced appreciation of the development of a philosophy that, Professor Allitt reminds us, has been "perhaps the dominant phenomenon of recent American politics" and how it has impacted both sides of the political spectrum. Whether you consider yourself a Liberal or a Conservative—or something in between—The Conservative Tradition can make you a more effective and informed citizen, armed with a sharpened understanding of the ways in which this philosophy has influenced events around the world.

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36 Lectures
  • 1
    What Is Conservatism?
    The opening lecture explains some definitions of Conservatism and previews Professor Allitt's approach to exploring its rich and varied lineage in both Britain and America and its fund of ideas and principles. Each is explored within the context of contemporaneous historical events and debate. x
  • 2
    The Glorious Revolution and Its Heritage
    In gaining a grasp of Tory ideas about politics during the early years of Parliament's supremacy, you learn much about the roots of English Conservatism, including Lord Bolingbroke's comments about what we now call the "loyal opposition." His views would influence generations of subsequent English and American politicians. x
  • 3
    Burke, Tradition, and the French Revolution
    Learn about the ideas of Edmund Burke, the Whig politician whose Reflections on the Revolution in France is regarded by many Conservatives as the founding text of their political creed. His book, written after the conflict's early stages, counseled respect for tradition and avoidance of radical change. x
  • 4
    Pitt and the Wars of the French Revolution
    Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was to Conservatism's politics what Burke was to its theory. Learn why he is probably the one man to whom it is easiest to trace the growth of Britain's Conservative Party. x
  • 5
    The American Revolution
    The underpinnings of America's revolution were really as "un-revolutionary" as could be. See how many of its leaders actually looked back to a long British tradition of liberty under limited government and the heritage of the Glorious Revolution, and how large numbers of the populace remained loyal to the crown. x
  • 6
    The Federalists
    Strongly influenced by the Western political tradition, America's Constitution can be seen as a very conservative kind of revolutionary document. Learn about the Federalists' role in creating and passing it and their dismay over the eventual changes in national direction brought by Thomas Jefferson and his party. x
  • 7
    Conservatives in the American South
    Southern plantation owners wanted to be left to their own devices, without the federal government imposing its power on their states. Explore how these desires combined with unapologetic racist justifications for slavery to shape the face of southern Conservatism. x
  • 8
    Northern Antebellum Conservatism
    See how concerns over President Andrew Jackson becoming a tyrant—with democracy turning into mere demagoguery—became the catalyst for the formation of a new political party. The Whigs drew their nucleus from remnants of the Federalist Party in New England and prosperous businessmen throughout the Union. x
  • 9
    Opposing the Great Reform Act
    A mood of romantic conservatism in early 19th-century England pitted Conservatives against reform movements like Catholic emancipation and the Great Reform Act of 1832. See that Conservatives vigorously resisted passage of such bills, which began the slow process of making Britain a parliamentary democracy. x
  • 10
    Robert Peel and the Conservative Revival
    Follow the career of Robert Peel, who built the modern Conservative Party. Although he presided over a great Conservative revival, his rivalries with Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone created a party rift. x
  • 11
    Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Mill
    Take a ride on the swinging pendulum of political definitions as you meet the pioneers of free-market capitalism. The same principles now considered bulwarks of modern Conservatism then marked them as radicals, with some of their admirers even now referring to them as "classical Liberals." x
  • 12
    Conservatism and the American Civil War
    Can the Civil War be considered the clash of two Conservative philosophies? Judge for yourself as you see conservative southern states secede from the Union while northern Conservatives refused to acknowledge their secession as legitimate. x
  • 13
    Industrialists, Mugwumps, Traditionalists
    With American industrialization accelerating after the Civil War, at least three different brands of Conservatism surfaced, including the "Gospel of Wealth" argued by Andrew Carnegie; the older Republican values of the "Mugwumps"; and the longing for an even more-distant past evident in the works of Henry Adams. x
  • 14
    Disraeli and Tory Imperialism
    Meet Benjamin Disraeli, the outsider who converted from Judaism to Anglicanism and enjoyed a meteoric ascent through the ranks of the Conservative Party. Creating much of the structure of the modern Conservative Party, Disraeli remained an inspirational figure to the party for more than a century. x
  • 15
    The Rise of Labour and the House of Lords
    Although the American trade union movement never created a political party of its own, you see how Britain's union movement did just that, with the founding of the Labour Party in 1900 carrying powerful implications for both the Liberal and Conservative parties. x
  • 16
    The Idea of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy
    Racism was intellectually respectable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Anglo-Saxons seen as destined to rule the rest of the world. Explore how this idea influenced Conservative thought in Britain and America. x
  • 17
    No Vote for Women
    While today's belief is that men and women are similar in all essentials except the most physical, articulate Britons and Americans in the early 20th century were more struck by the differences. Explore how this different perspective made itself felt in the debate over suffrage for women. x
  • 18
    American Conservatives after World War I
    Under a trio of Conservative Republican presidents, the 1920s was a period of prosperity throughout the United States. Examine how isolated Conservatives—including groups known as the New Humanists and the Southern Agrarians, along with journalist H. L. Mencken—deplored this turn to materialism. x
  • 19
    Opposing the New Deal
    The onset of the Great Depression would transform American Conservatism. Explore how Conservatives reacted to both the New Deal and to arguments over whether America should stand behind Britain in defending European civilization in the Second World War, or remain aloof from a conflict in which the nation had no vital interest. x
  • 20
    The Tory Party from Bonar Law to Churchill
    Britain entered the interwar years sobered and psychologically wounded by the First World War. Learn how a string of Conservative leaders, though holding power much of this time, offered mediocre leadership until the crisis of the oncoming war forced the party to turn to Winston Churchill. x
  • 21
    The Reaction to Labour and Nationalization
    Gain insight into the reasons why Churchill, in spite of victory, was repudiated in 1945 by an electorate to whom he represented the wrong kind of Conservatism: backward-looking, elitist, and dedicated to class distinctions and empire. Although he would eventually lead the Conservatives back to power, he was unable to reverse the massive political and economic changes of the postwar years. x
  • 22
    American Anticommunism and McCarthyism
    American Conservatives, already afraid of Socialism, were horrified by the militant Communism of Lenin's Bolsheviks. See how anticommunism gradually became one of the defining features of postwar American Conservatism. x
  • 23
    American Traditionalists
    While McCarthyism was making headlines in the early 1950s, a quieter, self-identified Conservative movement was also taking shape and becoming intellectually influential. This lecture explores some of the thinkers prominent in this movement, including Ross Hoffman, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Walter Lippmann, and Peter Viereck. x
  • 24
    Libertarianism
    See a third strand of the new American Conservatism emerge in the 1950s, as Libertarianism joined anti-Communism and traditionalism. Its adherents had virtually unlimited faith in the powers of the free market, deplored state intervention in the economy, and regarded personal liberty as the highest possible good. x
  • 25
    National Review and Barry Goldwater
    Enjoy a front-row seat as Conservatism in America achieves a level of unity with the publication of William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review in 1955. Anti-Communist, anti-big government, and sympathetic to traditional values—the magazine soon becomes the central journal of the Conservative movement. x
  • 26
    Upheavals of the 1960s
    Why did the Conservative movement gain adherents during the 1960s, despite the defeat of Conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater? You'll grasp the answer in the galvanizing influence of the Vietnam War, the spread of affirmative action, and an increasingly activist—and often violently demonstrative—youth culture on college campuses. x
  • 27
    The Neoconservatives
    Among the sharpest critics of the new Conservatives in the 1950s were a group of Liberal social scientists, including Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Samuel Huntington, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. See how the unfolding social turbulence of the 1960s prompted them to begin thinking in different directions. x
  • 28
    The Neoconservatives and Foreign Policy
    In the 1970s Saigon fell, the Soviet Union built a world-spanning navy, and revolutions broke out in Iran and Nicaragua. See that the Neoconservatives—who had come to share the Conservatives' views on domestic issues—began to join them on foreign policy, as well. x
  • 29
    Christian Conservatives and the New Right
    For five decades, evangelical Protestants in America had avoided direct involvement in politics. You grasp how societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s—including feminism, the sexual revolution, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion—prompted some evangelical leaders to rethink their position. x
  • 30
    Margaret Thatcher's Counterrevolution
    Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper's daughter from Grantham, was an unlikely figure to rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party. Learn how she nevertheless became the decisive personality of her era and left an impression on the country as vivid as that left 40 years before by Winston Churchill. x
  • 31
    Monarchs and Prime Ministers
    Examine how John Major, the successor to Margaret Thatcher, consolidated her counterrevolution and gave further evidence that the Conservative Party was no longer the preserve of aristocrats. Meanwhile, see how the outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana in 1997 demonstrated the continuing emotional appeal of royalty and the monarchy's skill over three centuries of adapting to changing times. x
  • 32
    Reagan Triumphant
    You look at the rise of Ronald Reagan, who was to American Conservatism what Thatcher was to British Conservatism. Enjoying great personal popularity, he was able to make Conservatism seem normal, friendly, relaxed, and all-American, qualities it had certainly not exhibited in the 1950s and 1960s. x
  • 33
    The End of the Cold War
    When most of the Communist world collapsed at the end of the 1980s, American Conservatives were taken by surprise. Explore America's dilemma in navigating this strange new world. Should it withdraw into isolationism, or exert its power to influence all future global crises? x
  • 34
    Paleoconservatives and Theoconservatives
    Look at the arguments of those American Conservatives who were opposed to a foreign policy based on trying to democratize the world. Among them were the Paleoconservatives, which included southern descendents of the Agrarians; Libertarians; and the Theoconservatives, a group of ecumenical religious writers organized by Richard John Neuhaus. x
  • 35
    Culture Wars
    Focus on several writers, including Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, Lynne Cheney, and Roger Kimball, who lamented what they considered a decline in civilization and civility. They argued that Conservatives had won the battle for national politics, but not the one for the souls of young Americans. x
  • 36
    Unresolved Paradoxes
    This final lecture summarizes the issues discussed in the course. See why, no matter how Anglo-American Conservatives react to new challenges, they have good reason, whatever their short-term anxieties, to approach the future in a mood of quiet confidence. x

Lecture Titles

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Patrick N. Allitt
Ph.D. Patrick N. Allitt
Emory University

Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching and Curriculum from 2004 to 2009, where he looked for ways to improve teaching. In this critical administrative position, he led workshops on a wide variety of teaching-related problems, visited dozens of other professors' classes, and provided one-on-one consultation to teachers to help them overcome particular pedagogical problems. Professor Allitt was honored with Emory's Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2000 was appointed to the N.E.H./Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities. A widely published and award-winning author, Professor Allitt has written several books, including The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; and Religion in America since 1945: A History. He is also author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom, a memoir about one semester in his life as a university professor. In addition, he is the editor of Major Problems in American Religious History. He has written numerous articles and reviews for academic and popular journals, including The New York Times Book Review.

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Reviews

Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 46 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by This May Be Patrick Allitt’s Finest Hour This is the fourth course by Prof. Patrick Allitt which I have taken from TGC and by far my favorite of his. I used the audio version, because I like to listen at the gym or in the car, and this course is more about ideas than visual illustrations. (I also enjoy listening to the Prof’s engaging regional British accent.) Over the course of 36 lectures (and I could have listened even longer), we cover the history of conservatism in England and the USA over the past 300 years. Allitt balances his lectures nicely between theory, personality, and historical events. His lectures are peppered with quotes from the writers who shaped the meaning of the word “conservative,” and he left me wanting to follow up the course with a substantial amount of reading. The course ends at the year 2000, and was recorded before David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK, so don’t expect any discussions of current politics. Allitt began the series by setting a goal of being unbiased in his presentation. I believe he succeeded admirably. He presented conservative leaders and their ideas “warts and all,” but in a sympathetic and even-handed way. It will help conservatives understand their heritage more thoroughly, and help others get a better idea of where their political opponents are “coming from.” My only criticism of the course is the sparse course book. Each 30-minute lecture is boiled down to one or two pages of bare-bones outline, without any of the best quotes or a detailed reference list. I was disappointed more than once after listening to a lecture, to discover that the bit of information I wanted to track down in the course book wasn’t there at all. I don’t want to pay the large fee for the complete course transcript, so I guess I’ll have to listen again and take written notes myself. August 23, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Outstanding Course! Professor Allitt's lectures are warm, engaging and deeply insightful. This course is a must for every student of political history and theory. A great value that covers a wide breadth of material through skillful and interesting anecdotes. February 24, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by good at 36 lectures - great at 24 or 30 I enjoyed this course and got a lot out of it. Prof. Alitt is a wonderful lecturer, and I greatly enjoyed his course on Victorian England and another on the History of the British Empire. I summarize this course as one that's good at 36 lectures but would have been superb at 24 or 28 lectures: it was a bit too detailed for me, spending time on minor people and influences that I didn't really need to learn about. But, I learned an immense amount, particularly about the Glorious Revolution, Edmund Burke, William Pitt, Peele, Disraeli and Gladstone, and more. I also found the discussion of the conservative tradition in the context of the American Revolution, US Civil War, and so on quite illuminating. August 31, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Interesting and informative... While the beginning of this series was a bit slow and dry for my taste, it gathered steam and ended up being very, very enjoyable. Professor Allitt is an engaging and extremely knowledgeable lecturer. If you have any interest in the history of conservative thought and tradition, this course will give any listener an excellent introduction. August 29, 2013
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