The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 15, 2017

Intercollegiate Review
John Zmirak - 08/21/12

The Intercollegiate Review, the only scholarly journal in America which includes in its core audience undergraduate students (along with graduate students and faculty), was launched in 1965 by the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, later the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the publisher of this encyclopedia. Begun at what must have seemed the nadir of postwar “movement conservatism,” in the immediate wake of the defeat of Barry Goldwater, the magazine concerned itself not with practical politics but the life of the mind and the philosophical issues disputed among thinkers broadly grouped on “the right.” As the magazine promised, the IR presented “a thoughtful and thought-provoking interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary issues by digging to the roots: first principles, philosophy and religion, cultural and historical forces.” It also served as a lifeline to conservative students isolated at increasingly leftist institutions. Distributed free to all members of ISI, the journal has risen steadily in circulation from 22,000 in the mid-1960s to over 50,000 today.

Even as National Review’s Frank Meyer attempted to unite the American right around his “fusionism,” a Cold War–infused classical liberalism defended on grounds of the traditional Christian respect for individual dignity and freedom, distinguished authors attached to other positions fenced in the pages of the Intercollegiate Review, advocating various versions of traditionalism, libertarianism, and Austrian economics, and debunking the polemics emerging from the nascent New Left that had begun to dominate American campus life. As Lee Edwards notes in his official history of ISI, Educating for Liberty (2003), “Aware that an undergraduate generation spans only four years, the IR undertook to reintroduce the major themes and figures of the conservative intellectual movement to succeeding generations of conservatives.”

The biannual journal’s first editor, Robert Ritchie, was a veteran both of the U.S. armed services and of the New Guard, the magazine of the almost equally militant Young Americans for Freedom. In his choice of editorial board, however, Ritchie showed a distinctly academic and intellectual bent, choosing such worthies as political philosopher Will Herberg, poet and critic Donald Davidson, political scientist Gerhart Niemeyer, and political philosopher Leo Strauss, among others. The first issues of the magazine set the tone that it would carry forward to the present—intellectual but accessible, committed to broadly right-wing perspectives but nondogmatic, ever infused with a concern for literary culture. Early essays dealt with Hannah Arendt, Arthur Miller and John Dos Passos, alongside discussions of “The Politics of Race” by Paul Cole Beach, “The Civil Rights Movement and the Coming Constitutional Crisis” by Willmoore Kendall, and “Existentialism and the American Intellectual” by Thomas Molnar. Those writers who have appeared in the journal’s pages constitute a virtual “who’s who” of the conservative intellectual movement; a short, far from exhaustive, list includes Burke scholar Peter Stanlis, historian Stephen Tonsor, philosopher Eliseo Vivas, political journalist and organizer M. Stanton Evans, political theorist Frederick Wilhelmsen, historian of ideas Eric Voegelin, novelist and political historian Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, man of letters (and principal founder of postwar American conservatism) Russell Kirk, sociologist Robert Nisbet, Austrian-school economist Ludwig von Mises, Southern historian Clyde Wilson, even the rightful heir to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (and an architect, for better or worse, of European unity) Otto von Habsburg.

The tone and content of IR has been carefully maintained under successive editors, up through the current editor Mark Henrie, adding to its pages such stars as historian Robert Conquest, economist Paul Craig Roberts, literary critic Marion Montgomery, political scientists Claes Ryn, Harvey Mansfield, George Carey, and Paul Gottfried, historian of science Stanley Jaki, future congressman Jack Kemp, and future senator Phil Gramm. Other important contributors have included novelist Robert Penn Warren and his sometime partner in literary criticism Cleanth Brooks. The journal has also published (posthumously) essays by rhetoric scholar and seminal conservative thinker Richard M. Weaver.

Some of the most important divisions within the conservative intellectual world were first explored within the pages of the Intercollegiate Review. Its famous spring 1986 issue featured a symposium, “The State of Conservatism,” edited by Gregory Wolfe with contributions by Wilson, Niemeyer, George Panichas, Kirk, Carey, Gottfried and M. E. Bradford. These writers explored the growing influence of neoconservatism, which had by that point veered from an empirically based analysis of the perverse effects of liberal social policy into an alternative account of what in America was worth conserving, different in vital details from what both traditionalists and libertarians had long defended and committed to an activist, neo-Wilsonian foreign policy. The fall 1992 issue explored another important cleavage on the right: the meaning of the American founding, in essays by Bradford, a Southern traditionalist, and Harry Jaffa, advocate of the maximalist reading of the Declaration of Independence first advanced by Abraham Lincoln. The question they disputed as to whether American liberty finds its source in Anglo-Saxon traditions and institutions, which must therefore be preserved as its native soil, or in universal, self-evident truths adaptable to any cultural environ still motivates disputes over the nature of the American founding and identity.

Further Reading
  • Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1996.
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