Book Argues for Retaking the 'Conservative Soul' In The Conservative Soul, Andrew Sullivan argues for getting back to the basics of conservatism: limited government, balanced budgets, individual liberty. He says the Republican-controlled U.S. government has strayed from these fundamentals.
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Book Argues for Retaking the 'Conservative Soul'

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Book Argues for Retaking the 'Conservative Soul'

Book Argues for Retaking the 'Conservative Soul'

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

NORRIS: How We Lost It and How to Get It Back. Welcome to the program Andrew Sullivan.

ANDREW SULLIVAN: Thanks Robert.

SIEGEL: And if I have this right, you spend at least as many pages - perhaps more - explaining what you're not than explaining what you are. You are not, you say, a fundamentalist.

SULLIVAN: And the kind of religious certainty and absolutism that you see now across the world in all the major religions - Christianity, but particularly Islam and even in Judaism in the Middle East - is a terrible poison for our political discourse and indeed for world peace. And I wanted to try in the book to say it's possible to oppose fundamentalism without opposing faith.

SIEGEL: You write in your book that you have many friends who say you're not really a conservative. Let me join that group of your friends. I'm skeptical that where it is that you find yourself so conservative.

SULLIVAN: I'm asking for a conservatism that gets back to basics, that gets back to understanding that we have to restrain government, not empower it, and that faith and politics need to be kept apart for the sake not only of politics but also of religion, which is being poisoned by partisan politics.

SIEGEL: However, as Barry Goldwater, in applying that conservative philosophy, later came to regret, that meant that he opposed the civil rights act. That meant that he couldn't recognize a good worthy of very assertive government action. Isn't that a problem with a politics based on skepticism and doubt all the time?

SULLIVAN: And so we have to moderate ourselves and gain a little bit more humility in how we address our religious question.

SIEGEL: Apply a limited government, skeptical conservatism to the question which you face as a gay man in America today of same sex marriage.

SULLIVAN: I also think that this should be done on a state by state level. The current Republican Party wanted to amend the federal Constitution to ban it everywhere, to make no state able to make these decisions. Again, theirs was not the conservative position.

SIEGEL: But, to say that, I mean, seems to me to minimize what a dramatic change in civilization the notion of same sex marriages. That to say that it's a natural evolution over the past 30 years and that an 18th Century parliamentarian Edmund Burke would have been sympathetic to accommodating the change, seems to be sidestepping the point that we just haven't had anything like same sex marriage for thousands of years.

SULLIVAN: Conservatives are very pragmatic. They take the world as it is and they try to make the best of it. They don't come to the world with a fixed ideology and try and rig the facts and reality to fit that ideology. And that - to my mind - that latter philosophy is what typifies George W. Bush.

SIEGEL: But your definition of conservatism would equally describe, say, the pragmatism, the problem solving of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt who ran on very different ideas, but once in office said I have to solve the problem. We have millions and millions of people who are unemployed. We've got to do whatever it takes right now to address this problem. And not bringing a great ideology said that he barely understand Keynes when the two of them actually spoke once. He was simply trying to fix it, to get people back to work.

SULLIVAN: They will always be concerned if you expand government, you have to reduce individual freedom, and basically conservatives believe that people are best able to run their own lives rather than having a distant government run it for them.

SIEGEL: Andrew Sullivan, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SULLIVAN: You're very welcome Robert.

SIEGEL: Andrew Sullivan is the author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It and How to Get It Back. You can find a link to his blog, The Daily Dish, at our Web site, NPR.org.

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