A leading conservative intellectual journal has published Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) Resident Fellow David Frisk’s dual book review, “Still Athwart History,” in its Spring 2018 issue. The books it discusses are Just Right: A Life in Pursuit of Liberty by Lee Edwards and Skirmishes, a volume of short writings and recollections by Neal Freeman. The Modern Age review also includes comments on the current state of American conservatism, especially after the rise of Donald Trump.
“Being published in this high-profile journal—founded in 1957 by Russell Kirk, the godfather of traditionalist conservatism in America, just two years after National Review—is something I consider a special honor,” said Dr. Frisk. “That’s especially true given its recent revitalization under new editorial leadership, starting with the late Peter Augustine Lawler in 2017 and continuing with his successor, Daniel McCarthy. Modern Age is now dealing more directly with politics, history, and today’s world.”
Authors Edwards and Freeman are both, the review says, elder statesman of the American conservative movement at a time when conservatives particularly need to hear such people. “After the deaths of William F. Buckley Jr., William Rusher, M. Stanton Evans, and Phyllis Schlafly,” Frisk writes, “the entire right should heed, although not necessarily agree with, the senior figures who remain.” Edwards, now at the Heritage Foundation, was (among many other things) a national leader in Young Americans for Freedom and worked at a high level in the Goldwater presidential campaign in the 1960s. Freeman, who was a prominent member of the National Review and Buckley circle for decades and helped to launch the television show Firing Line, has seen and participated in a comparable amount of conservative movement history.
Both of them, Frisk says, have valuable reflections on that history—much of it, though by no means all of it, in first-person accounts: “ … the lifetime of service to organized conservatism that [Edwards] recounts in Just Right is … an inspirational yet somewhat unsettling reminder that anti-establishmentarian work—as distinct from posturing—is slow, incremental, and demanding. Coalition-building requires far more commitment than our new age of instant political gratification seems to encourage. As Edwards’s memoir demonstrates, the story of conservatism from the 1950s through the 1990s is almost the precise opposite of today’s smash-mouth punditry, reflexive accusations of ‘fake news,’ and quick hits on social media. As Freeman, with a touch of his trademark irony, reflects in the introduction to Skirmishes: ‘Alongside my cherished allies in the conservative movement … I have been part of what amounts to a permanent insurgency. There is no rest, it seems, for the ideologically tendentious.’ ”
In his review, Frisk goes on to comment: “Conservative stalwarts in Edwards’s and Freeman’s generations, like their heroes Buckley and Ronald Reagan, have untiringly played the long game. It’s this passion for the long game that now seems most lacking on the right. What better explanation is there for its high-profile participants’ frequent unwillingness to engage in conversation of any depth with non-conservatives?”
A Resident Fellow at AHI since 2013, Dr. Frisk teaches its popular continuing education courses on history and politics, assists with reading groups the AHI sponsors at Hamilton College, and helps to edit Enquiry, the weekly publication of AHI’s Undergraduate Fellows Program at Hamilton. Last fall, he taught a course titled “Modern Conservative Politics” in the college’s Government Department. He is the author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012).