Conservatives Without Conscience

Conservatives Without Conscience
John W. Dean, former White House legal counsel to President Richard M. Nixon and whistleblower extraordinaire, spent a great deal of time after his Watergate experience thinking about what went wrong with the Nixon administration. Years later, when he saw what the George W. Bush administration was doing, he became inspired to take on a serious analysis of why certain politicians behave as they do. That analysis resulted in his book, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Written in 2006, with a new Afterword added in 2007, Conservatives Without Conscience deserves to be an enduring classic -- required reading for anyone with an interest in politics and/or personality theory. The book also serves as a way to understand the dynamics of Republican Party politics from 1980 through the present day, and the effect those politics have on our country and the world.

In his Preface, Dean makes a simple, declarative statement: "Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians." The rest of his book fleshes out that claim. Dean organizes his thesis in a clear, readable style. He takes the reader on the journey he himself took, to the place where he found his answers, explaining each of his intentions and conclusions as he goes along.

The chapters provide a brief history of conservative thought and introduce the works of social psychologists Stanley Milgram and Bob Altmeyer, whose research and theories provide Dean with the answer to his driving question: Why do people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney act the way they do?

The answer to that question turns the book into an intriguing mix of political history and psychological study, since it has to do with Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWAs), and the politicians to whom those traits apply. Think J. Edgar Hoover and Phyllis Schlafly and you’ll start to get the idea. The Appendices at the end of the book offer fascinating information about personality types, as do various lists and tables that Dean spreads throughout the book.

Conservatives Without Conscience ends with a warning that conservative authoritarianism is a very dangerous form of leadership. No doubt, Dean must have been pleased with the election of Barack Obama. But the RWA mentality is still very much with us. Take the recent incident in which former Senator Rick Santorum criticized President Obama for apologizing to the French for America's arrogance. Santorum is an RWA; they don’t believe in apologizing because they believe they are always right. The dangerous part: Santorum went on to imply that, because Obama apologized, he is un-American. RWA leaders think that their values are the only values worth having and thus should be the American values.

News items such as this are what makes Dean's book an important one to read now if you missed it when it was first published. The mindset he describes so well is still a threat to our country's progress, and we need to understand it in order to deal with it. You might say that John W. Dean has blown the whistle once again.

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