As American conservatism matures, and its histories are written,
the entities and individuals that made its rise and influence
possible have begun to come into focus. Among the most important
of these has been the John M. Olin Foundation, which, until its
voluntary dissolution in 2005, had distributed millions to conservative
institutions, projects, and persons over the past fifty years.
It has been perhaps the most critical philanthropic institution
of modern American conservatism.
John Miller, a writer for National Review, recounts
Olin’s legacy and importance in this volume. Miller had
extensive access to the foundations’ papers and trustees,
and his research provides a full picture of the institution and
its achievements. John Olin was an industrialist who began his
foundation in 1953, the same year as National Review.
The foundation’s mandate was to support the free enterprise
system, which was later clarified to include other American founding
principles. In the decades since, under its able leadership,
especially William Simon, Jr. and James Pierson, the foundation
poured money into the ideas that rendered an intellectual revolution.
As Miller recounts, almost every conservative of note has benefited
from Olin support, from the Federalist Society to The New
Criterion and The National Interest, from the Collegiate
Network (in its early years) to this journal, and it has provided
assistance to scholars as varied as Francis Fukuyama and Samuel
Huntington. Indeed, Olin sometimes represented a conservative
debating society; there were almost no restrictions placed on
what scholars or institutions could say, so long as they furthered
the Olin’s overarching goals of strengthening American
institutions. Most notable among the foundation’s successes
perhaps was Allan Bloom, whose 1987 The Closing of the American
Mind became a surprise best-seller and conservative rallying
The successes of conservatism in the realm of ideas and politics
might have happened without institutions like the Olin Foundation,
but they would have been less lasting and less effective. Miller
has done historians of American institutions and students of
philanthropy a service in setting out the Olin story.
Federal criminal law suffers from what in other contexts is
called mission creep. The number of federal crimes has increased
dramatically, the law explaining them has become vague and almost
incoherently complex, and the enforcement of these offenses has
become at times arbitrary. In the process, as Gene Healy explains
in this volume of essays, the essential features of the Anglo-American
common law have become diluted, which should worry anyone concerned
about a free society. By requiring that the government prove
a person’s intent to commit a crime and that the prohibited
conduct be reasonably clear, the criminal law acted to preserve
liberty and restrict the arbitrary exercise of the state’s
coercive force. In the particular context of American federalism,
moreover, the pressure to federalize even common street crimes
has led to significant threats to liberty. The states lose the
power to reflect its citizens’ wishes on what conduct should
be criminalized, while federal laws passed in Washington are
drafted in terms that do not lend themselves to nuanced application.
By diminishing these protective features of the law, Healy and
his contributors argue, the government is given greater reign
not just to define the crimes, but to use the criminal law as
a means of social control rather than punishment and prevention
of future crime. As Healy notes, this understanding is contrary
to the intent of the Founders, who reserved the criminal sanction “mainly
for serious, morally culpable offenses.” However, in some
areas, such as environmental regulation or health care offenses,
prison sentences are imposed for technical infractions or minor
and possibly unintentional violations of complicated laws. These
laws also tend to trap not the criminal class, whose conduct
is covered by other federal or state offenses, but hapless companies
or mid-level executives or medical professionals.
In the days following September 11, the public perhaps was too
eager to restrict its liberties in the name of stopping terrorism.
As this volume warns, however, a line has been crossed, and now
the criminal law is too often treated as just another way to
score political points with interest groups. The genie may not
be easy to put back into the bottle.
Perhaps no one has done more than Ellis Sandoz to introduce
American audiences, and conservatives in particular, to the thought
of Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). Due to Sandoz, leadership and vision,
Voegelin’s works are becoming available in a uniform edition,
and his scholarship, especially his book The Voegelinian Revolution,
had explained the importance of this crucial twentieth-century
political philosopher. In honor of Sandoz’s achievements,
which, aside from his work on Voegelin, include penetrating studies
of Dostoyevsky and constitutionalism, former students and friends
have arranged a Festschrift touching on philosophical, literary,
and political themes important in his work.
The topics of the essays range widely across the subject areas,
from Robert Penn Warren to Freud, Mitter and to Francis Bacon,
hunting to political theory. Aside from the editors, the seventeen
contributors include Steven Ealy, David Walsh, and Glenn Hughes.
Elizabeth Corey contributes an interesting study on the connections
between Voegelin and George Santayana, whose materialism seems
at first at odds with Voegelin’s rejection of that school
of thought. Corey shows, however, the deeper affinity in the
practice of philosophy that existed between the two, and explains
why Voegelin himself thought so highly of Santayana.
One aspect of Voegelin’s concern as a political philosopher
was to explain modernity and its implications. In an essay on
Voegelin’s The Nature of Law, Timothy Fuller carefully
distinguishes between Voegelin’s defense of American law,
which was a product of modernity, and his rejection of modernity
as such. Law must retain the use of force, as an educative power
and as an instrument of order, which is a notion contrary to
the modern preference for self-actualization and its rejection
of an order imposed by anything other than the untrammeled self.
This collection is a worthy tribute to an important figure of
American intellectual history, and an excellent guide to one
of the most important philosophers of the last century.
At the heart of the conservative understanding of society is
the recognition that people are not individual atoms but part
of a living community that stretches into the past and into the
future. The Holocaust is a particular affront to this understanding.
The criminal and deliberate taking of life was magnified by the
cultural loss that that genocide tried to effect. The cultural
knowledge essential to a society that binds together generations
across time—the mores, customs, stories, songs, and ways of doing
things that have been defended from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott
and Russell Kirk—were in danger of being extinguished forever.
In this respect, the Nazi horror was emblematic of the modern
impulse to erase the sources of individual identity such as tradition
and organic community.
This remarkable volume shows how culture and tradition can assert
themselves in the face of destruction, and how those affected by
a great trauma can nevertheless devote their lives to improving
humanity. Bernice Lerner, who directs an ethics center at Boston
University, has here compiled the stories of seven survivors and
the lives they have built. Her subjects each made their way to
the United States, earned advanced degrees, and became college
and university professors across a range of fields, from physics
to psychology. Some of those profiled here, such as biologist Samuel
Stern, survived the camps. Others were hidden by kind strangers
or family. Some, out of the trauma they had suffered, embraced
their Jewish identity and culture after the war. Some initially
buried that culture and tried to start a new life in the new world.
Each of Lerner’s subjects pursued careers designed to help
others or to preserve justice, what Lerner here calls the Jewish
precept of tikkun olam. This book describes their lives
in harrowing and sometimes luminous detail. Books such as these
take on greater value as those with a living memory of the Holocaust