The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

February 21, 2019

REFERENCE DESK
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Olasky, Marvin
John Attarian - 04/29/11
Lifespan: (1950– )

Marvin Olasky is a journalism professor, evangelical Protestant, and, in the New York Times’s words, “the godfather of compassionate conservatism.” Raised Jewish, Olasky was an atheist by age fourteen. He embraced Marxism and joined the Communist Party. But by 1973 Olasky had discarded communism, and three years later he converted to Christianity, becoming a Presbyterian.

Meanwhile, Olasky earned a Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Michigan in 1976. After lecturing at San Diego State University, he wrote speeches for Pete DuPont from 1978 to 1983, then became a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Olasky has written books about abortion, journalism, and history, but is most famous for his dissection of the concept of “compassion.” His Tragedy of American Compassion (1992) pointed out that in nineteenth-century America, religious organizations and individuals attacked poverty by practicing compassion in its true, literal sense, suffering with the unfortunate, involving themselves personally with them and offering both material and spiritual help, challenging them to be better. This approach worked well, Olasky argued, and should be retrieved. William Bennett recommended The Tragedy of American Compassion to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose endorsement won Olasky’s ideas national attention. Olasky’s Compassionate Conservatism (2000) articulated a strategy of attacking poverty with local, faith-based efforts, an idea that would soon thereafter become a focus of national debate and would help lead to the creation of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Since 1993, he has been an advisor to George W. Bush, who strongly endorsed “compassionate conservatism” as the governor of Texas and as president.

Olasky has been the editor of World magazine, a weekly that covers national and international news from an evangelical Christian perspective, since 1994.

Further Reading
  • Olasky, Marvin N. Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books, 1992.
  • ———. Renewing American Compassion. New York: Free Press, 1996.
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