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I met Jeffrey Hart when he was still a professor and I have to say that he was a really good professor and I learned a lot from him, nice post to honor this wonderful person!


As a conservative since 1978, I, of course, appreciate Jeffrey Hart. And, in following the example of the Dartmouth Review (1980) myself and two others began the South Florida Review in 1983 at USF in Tampa, FL.

And, I thoroughly concur with Hart that George W. Bush has never been a conservative. A "right wing idealogue" is close. He's just a mish mash of ideas.

However, Hart's problems with Bush, beyond the war, are so narrow and convoluted as to how they relate to conservatism, they impair his criticism of Bush. How Hart ignored the fundamental problems with Bush from a conservative perspective makes one wonder about any unity in the conservative movement. Further, Hart's definition of conservatism - through Burke - is esoteric at best.

The fundamental flaws with Bush, and with the conservative movement, relate to two particular areas: Liberty and Economics. The co-oping of the conservative movement by Evangelicals has created a paucity of sound thinking within the movement, unfortunately (I say this as I would be categorized as an Evangelical, but not a typical political one). Evangelicals have no understanding of liberty and small government. They are happy to restrict the rights of others and increase the size of government when it comes to their causes (e.g., sexual mores, war efforts; etc.).

The essence of conservatism - or as WFB once put it, "Classical Liberalism," rest in three areas:

1) Fundamental rights to life, liberty and property to each individual. Government's purpose is to simply defend & support these rights within the nation. To grow government for reasons beyond these categories becomes liberalism for the most part.

2) Limited Government. Government has a purpose but it should be far more limited. The larger the government becomes, the more powerful it becomes and the more likely it is to abuse the fundamental rights above - such has been the case for decades and Bush only contributed to this.

3) Free Market Economic principles. George Bush has no clue about this. His expansion of government, and government intrusion (I do not include in this enforcement of law) is THE fundamental problem with Bush - along with the Iraq war. Bush's lower taxes were a positive but his failure to intellectually back and push through a capital gains tax reduction (which demonstrated his misunderstanding of conservatism and free market economics) as well as his increased spending in all areas - creating a larger government and increased debt throughout his presidency - was tragic from a conservative perspective. By calling himself a conservative yet acting in such a way as to undermine a real free market system - has been self-destructive to the conservative movement.

It is in these areas that real conservatism is defined and that George Bush failed. Why Hart went to such narrow topics relative to these broad fundamental issues is a puzzle. Nevertheless, he is to be respected for his work in the conservative movement.

supra tk society

Describing the liberation of Iraq as Trotskyite seems a silly reference to Christopher Hitchens.


I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Jeffrey Hart when he was still a professor and I have to say that he was a really good professor and I learned a lot from him, nice post to honor this wonderful person!


It is amazing how Hart's views on Roe v. Wade, Shiavo (who?), Iraq and stem cells already seem so dated by the beginning of 2008. What kind of conservative exhibits such range of the moment opinions? "Old age should burn and rave at close of day" but shed light in doing so.

Robert Schwartz

I am sure Prof. Hart was a wonderful inspiration to his students, but after reading and thinking about the above, I find him less than appealing. I append my reactions below:

"'Like the Whig gentry who were the Founders, I loathe populism,' Hart explains."

He then goes on to catalog Bush's failures by citing poling data. I sense an internal inconsistency.

"A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around"

Tough call on that one. Is conservatism laissez faire on moral issues? I kind of doubt it. I won't be dogmatic about it, but just as I am opposed to the "War on Drugs", I still don't think there is a constitutional right to marry the critter of your affectional preferences.

"an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense. He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

I guess I cannot be a conservative as I never shop at J. Press, don't play golf or tennis, and drink Johnny Walker. This is seriously off-putting and really cannot be taken seriously. I hope Hart was joking, but I fear that he was not.

"Buckley did object to my conclusion that Bush had been the worst American president in that earlier draft. He thought it too categorical, and, at the time I was writing, he was right. That was soon after the 2004 election."

The conservative attitude towards historical judgment was best expressed by an old revolutionary, Zhou Enlai, Mao Tse Tung's long time right hand man. Henry Kissinger meet with Zhou in 1972 in preparation for Nixon’s trip to China. During a social moment in their schedule, Kissinger asked Zhou if he thought the French Revolution was a success.

"It is too soon to tell," replied Zhou.

"Moreover, I would insist that the definition of 'conservative' has been clear since Burke evolved it ..."

Needless to say Burke was a wonderful writer and a sharp thinker. But he was writing as a critic not as a philosopher. The application of his ideas to the American context, a nation "founded on a proposition" can neither be simple nor easy. I highly recommend "Is Conservatism Finished?" by Wilfred M. McClay in Commentary Magazine for January 2007.


Shops at J Press, drinks Dewar's. This means you can't be a coservative if KMart is your haberdasher or Miller Lite your drink. Loathesome? No, stupid.


Professor Hart is very near the mark in his assessment of GW Bush as the worst president in US history, and it misses the point to quibble with Hart's ideal conservative as an educated man who drinks martinis, or to make ad hominem assertions about his character on the tennis court at age 19.

The more important facts are right in front of us: Bush, in slapdash fashion, led the nation into nothing less than a war of choice; refused to take the strategic steps necessary to make it work (more troops, plans for the occupation, strict adherence to traditional moral/American policies vis-a-vis torture and detention, and a serious drive to decrease US dependence on oil); and has squandered his office divisively with grandstanding against the demonstrable facts of the world and the beliefs of an overwhelming majority of Americans on concerns like Terry Schiavo, stem-cell research, climate change, and evolution (a US president effectively against science and education -- astounding). Katrina exposed our preparedness for terrorist attack as frighteningly laughable; the economy is in debatable condition, certainly less well balanced than it was 10 years ago; and it has even become cloudy, as it never was under Reagan or even under Carter, just what America stands for in the world.

We need only take the results of Bush's blitz into Iraq, and compare them to Reagan and GHW Bush's truly conservative management of the collapse of the USSR and Gulf War I; those were magnificent pieces of conservatism in action, showing forethought, restraint, and careful adherence to the limits of national interest and power.

Personally I might call Bush only the 3rd worst president, but ask me again in 2015. For now it is clear that Buchanan and Bush share a ruinous trait: clinging to a "principle" long after its utility has plainly expired. In Buchanan's case, this led to the breakup of the Union over disputes in which he felt he had no place to intervene; in our time, Bush's "principles" have led to many things, of which "plus up" (aka more of the same) is only the latest of 1000 examples; the fallout from Bush's "principles" will be tumbling down upon us for another decade at least. Whereas Bush's other rival for worst, President Pierce, in some ways the opposite of Buchanan, nevertheless also shares traits with Bush, as Pierce exhibited a combination of cynicism and incompetence in his national misadventures that, as they failed spectacularly, paved the road for those catastrophes that so boggled Buchanan.

So, yes: Bush like Pierce teed up the problems, and then Bush like Buchanan let them all go to hell. Whatever Bush is, he's no conservative, and he's no success story. And the problem is, it's a problem for all of us.


Not sure which is worse- the arrogance of Big Government Bush Conservatism, or the arrogance of Hart's description of the "acceptable" social conservative: "He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

Both are loathsome.

Mark Williams

Professor Hart hasn't made any assertions that conflict with conservative ideology. I hope that he and men like him are able to defend conservatism from further denigration in the minds of the electorate. The conservative foundation for his views is undeniable; while the Republican response is woefully predictable.

The party reacts to plain spoken truth as though it was something offensive. Denying and lying is caving in on the perpetrators, as it is prone to do. More of the same just makes things worse.

Conservatism has been so badly corrupted that conservatives themselves see it as being foul. For the first time in 42 years I voted for a Democratic the last election. Voters give this adminstration a 30% approval rating which is suppose to be the hard core Republican baseline.

Right now "conservatives" are jumping up and down on thin ice. Arrogance and childish rants don't win elections. Effective policies and honest accounting do. If conservative cannot regain control of the Republican Party soon, it's going to get mighty cold.


I must say I don't understand Hart's turnaround on abortion. He used to be on the editorial board of Human Events, probably the most pro-life publication in the United States, and throughout all his years with National Review, I never remember him dissenting from the magazine's editorial position on abortion. His comments on evangelicals also seem very like snobbery, unusual for such a normally genial man. Hart is not just dissenting with regard to Bush - he's also broken with much of what Goldwater and Reagan believed in. Very strange...


There are no Yankee conservatives. They may seek to "conserve" various artefacts of their ancestors' creeds, but those creeds, more or less, are statist, interventionist, and Puritan. Hart may not like evangelicals, but he is pissing on his own foot when he excoriates them. The original evangelicals hail from New England and their detestable influece on American history is indelibly stamped on its politics. No doubt Mr. Hart has a picture of Lincoln somewhere in his home.


As someone who sparred with Prof. Hart many years ago as a student, around South Africa, Chile, Indian symbols, and the like, it's *most* entertaining to see him described by one poster as a campus lefty.

The incoherence of his critics above is in its own way eloquent. I might suggest though, Terry G, that the "Trotskyite" bit was probably a reference to the administration's neocons, who moved from left to right without giving up any of their certainty that they knew how to fix up the world.

It's been a topsy-turvy few years, hasn't it? Around the Schiavo case, you had "conservatives" arguing against an independent judiciary; around Iraq "conservatives" adopted the nation-building ambitions they had a few years earlier mocked liberals for.

While Paine still stirs the blood, I have grudgingly to admit that Burke was smarter and has more to teach us, especially now. One thinks of his stuff on India.

Mark Johnson

I don't think Iraq is a disaster. The Muslims needed to learn that attacks on the U.S. would not go unpunished, and that they have. The MSM like to portray Iraq as a defeat, as if we couldn't completely flatten Baghdad but that our national human decency prevents us. In any case, if we have been defeated, it wasn't by Saddam or the Taliban, both of whom we soundly routed. And if we have been defeated, it's only in the sense that we may get sent back home, and the Iraqis may not get a democracy. It's a complete victory in that there has not been a single major terrorist attack on Americans since 9/11. This seems perfectly obvious yet is a point of view you will simply never hear in the MSM.


Hart is brilliant, and I love his curmudgeonly turn. The comments of Jim B are startling and reflect a typical Republican incoherence of conservatism, which is exactly Hart's point.

Furthermore, evangelicals are not openminded and are almost completely non-creedal (as Hart points out) and have more to do with Finney than Luther, a difference that is important and which explains the gullibility of the average evangelical to the ideological magic espoused by Bush.

But Hart's most important point has to do with Bush's radical populism (which is the subject of John Lukacs's recent book), which is something that thrives on ignorance, fear, and hatred, none of which are conservative because none reflect a life worth living or conserving.


What Jim B said. This guy's off his rocker.

Jim B

Professor Hart is certainly entitled to contend that the essence of true conservatism is found in support for massive government funding of stem-cell research, contempt for evangelical Christianity, a resigned acceptance of abortion on demand, unquestioned fealty to scientific materialism, a fascination with left-wing conspiracy theories, and poll-driven political opportunism. However, he should hardly be surprised when some of us suggest that he has not only lost the conservative intramurals, but that he wasn’t even in the game. I haven’t read “Noah’s Flood” at the Grand Canyon bookstore, but I’m willing to wager that it is a more credible read than most of the “We’re fighting for Halliburton” tracts in the professor’s study. I also imagine that most people would find your average evangelical to be far more normal, rational and open-minded than your average tenured-can’t-be-fired-never-had-a-real-job-these-kids-hang-on-my-every-word English professor, particularly the ones who own meerschaum pipes, “TR for President” buttons, and the collected works of John Conyers. The sobering thing is that Professor Hart was almost certainly the most conservative member of the liberal arts faculty at any ivy league college in the last forty years.


When the msm caters to the Bush haters, I wonder why they are suprised at how much the polls agree with them. Then, the Bush haters say they have proof to back up their biases. See these polls and these msm headlines.

This is what Prof. Hart did and what many like him do.

The msm pander to their audience's biases. They have revenues from ratings, not getting the story right.

Recently I read a blog of a headline on a poll that Europe believes religion is what is wrong with the world. The writer of the blog went over the statistics of the poll and found it was not a valid conclusion.

I tried to enlighten my family about what I have learned about Iraq and Iran. My mom, 81, was hysterical. She called me names, sent to me Bush Bash stories, but said do not email her again. All of the stories were so old that I had difficultly finding data.

Looking into some of the bad statements told about Bush, it usually comes up empty, either invalid supporting facts or at a place where you can not prove a negative. In some cases, the bad statements were just that -- it was stated by whom had something to gain.

One reply she did make was 'it was a lie that Iraqis are dying for their country'. One week I had sent the numbers on the Iraqis that were tortured and killed that were waiting to sign up to be policemen. After further research, I found the total is 180,000 Iraqi deaths since 2003. Her response to this assertion was none.

Bush is not central to the world. All of us are. We must want to help others from killing dictators and hateful countries working on nuclear bombs.

The further surprising was the silence of the rest of the family.

Can you hear me now?

It seems only if we can realize it could be bad for us, do we want to do something about it.

This is why Christianity is so good. If we are all God's children, then we want to help all of our fellow brothers and sisters.


His old tennis coach is most likely very old or hanging out with William J Casey and Gerald Ford. It is not courageous to discuss in unflattering terms those who cannot defend themselves. Bob Woodward has been giving lessons.

Jim Belna

My first thought after reading the article, and more particularly Professor Hart’s letter, is that I would sure like to hear his old tennis coach’s side of the story.


One has to wonder if Mark manifests the same lazy reliance on irrelevant factors in dismissing the arguments of blacks or hispanics, that he clearly maintains for those advanced in years.


One has to wonder at a poll-driven thought process. Might that be a function of being too old to think?

Terry Gain

It's unfortunate that Professor Hart did not proof read his response.

He describes the Bush presidency as populist and yet describes it as failed because its position on various issues is a minority position.

Hart describes himself as a conservative and yet he engages in the classic leftist practice of name calling- describing those who would dare to disagree with him as ignorami.

Hart describes Iraq as a disaster less than one year after Iraqis have assumed full responsibility for their future. In doing so he eschews both historical precedent and one of the principal characteristics of conservatives which is the capacity to take a long term view of an issue.

Hart's use of Colin Powell as somehow justifying his position is ridiculous. Powell sat silent and let the Bush administration endure daily attacks in the media over the Plame affair when Powell knew all along the role of Armitage in the "outing" of Plame. This is a fact one might take into account is assessing the worthiness of Mr. Powell.

Describing the liberation of Iraq as Trotskyite seems a silly reference to Christopher Hitchens.

Even if the current level of violence in Iraq continues for decades describing Bush as a worse president than Jimmy Carter is absurd.

Bush was dealt a difficult hand with 9/11. He decided the problem of rising Islamism could not best be attacked by continuing the policy of the Clinton administration of dealing with it as a law enforcement issue.

Bush's critics conveniently overlook the fact that because they chose to intervene in Iraq in order to impose their will rather than allow Iraqs the right to make democratic choices and because of their tacics in pursuing that goal the war in Iraq has been a disater for al Qaeda. They have been decimated, both in terms of fighters lost and their reputation and popularity among Muslims.

Of course, given the unpopularity of the war and the daily misrerepresentaions of the liberal MSM only a true conservative would have the ability to see the entire picture.

David Smithson

I was happy when Saddam's statue came down. Prior to that I was very disturbed when the World Trade Center tumbled. I feel that those the first event resulted in the second. Wilson, Plame and the attempt to discredit WMD's is not reality based. Someone was not following their fantastic adventure, apparently.
Sunnis and Shiites can work together when it serves their purposes. Congress voted in the 90's and again after 9/11 to overthrow Saddam. Bush clearly made the rounds before he went to war.
All these facts are ignored. I have read Professor Hart and admired his genius. But he overlooks the simple facts of the case. He is more interested in President Wilson than he is in the diplomat Wilson. Intellectuals sometimes lose their way while they are absorbed in themselves and their gifts.
Sometimes you have to fight. And Bush is losing support because he will not fight Iran. I will not be surprised if his level of support continues down to the teens if he continues to ignore our enemies who are killing our children as they prove their bravery in that godforsaken land. Bush is not losing support because he is an Evangelical or a non-supporter of stem cell research.
I will join with Andrew Sullivan or anyone else before too long if Bush doesn't respond to Iranian provocations.
A single cell is not the issue here. Billions of cells were lost during September 11, 2001. They were all part of something that deserves protection. This war is meant to convince our enemies that bringing an atomic device to NY City and detonating it would not be a good idea.
Bush was doing a fair job in this regard. But he, also, has lost his way.
This is the problem with our political and intellectual leaders. They are human. They fail us, also.


I grew up reading Hart and Buckley at the NR. They were the of the few 'credible' voices of conservatism in the seventies and eighties. The prior thinking was just that conservatives were dumb and hated change. Kirk made us see why we were right philosophically, and Buckley, politically.

Conservatism is a winning ideology. It comports with the opinions of Americans. But politically, conservatives need to unify upon a singular strategy which unifies its populace..

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