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Conservatives and the Constitution: Imagining Constitutional Restoration in the Heyday of American Liberalism, Ken I. Kersch

Reviewed by Michael Bowen

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In a book that is striking for its creativity, Ken I. Kersch lays out a new analytical framework through which to understand the cultural and intellectual development of modern American conservatism from roughly 1954 through the election of Ronald Reagan. He argues that originalism, which he defines as the pervasive belief that the nation had been led away from its original constitutional principles, motivated right-wing activists of various stripes to unite. Whether one was an unrepentant capitalist opposed to government regulation or an evangelical rejecting the permissive society, the idea that the United States had lost its true purpose was persuasive enough to allow a disparate cast of characters to coalesce into a single movement devoted to what they saw as constitutional redemption.

Kersch's narrative moves beyond the landmark work of George Nash, whose 1976 monograph The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 has been the standard interpretation of the rise of postwar conservatism for over 40 years. Nash contends that a fierce anticommunism fused moral traditionalists and libertarians into a unified movement that came to dominate the Republican Party. Kersch points out that Nash's thesis only works to a point, as both liberals and conservatives were strongly ant

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