200 Years Without TraditionnMarieB. Hecht: OddDestiny: TheLifenof Alexander Hamilton; Macmillan;nNew York.nLou Cannon: Reagan; G.P. Putnam’snSons; New York.nby Daniel J. O’NeilnJL ogether these two books providenvaluable insight into the nature ofnAmerican conservatism. The Hecht bookntells persuasively the story of AlexandernHamilton. It is a fascinating tale, tellingnof his illegitimate birth, his youth ofnpoverty and struggle, his college days, hisnexperience in the American Revolution,nhis relationship with George Washington,nhis role at the Constitutional Conventionnand in the ratification battle, hisnprominence in Federalist politics, hisntenure as Secretary of the Treasury, hisneconomic and developmental schemes,nand finally his tragic death. It is a politicalnsuccess story of a man who contributednvitally to the American conservativenmold. The Cannon book tells annot-dissimilar story of Ronald Reagan.nAgain we encounter a self-made mannand read of his youth in small-town Illinois,nhis college days, his early broadcastingnjobs, his acting career and unionninvolvement, his venture into Californianpolitics, and finally his Presidentialntriumph. This, too, is a political successnstory. Hamilton emerges as an anglophilenwho stressed the primacy of theneconomic realm, linked the Federalists tonthe wealthy, promoted industrial development,nand sought centralized government.nReagan emerges as the successfulncommunicator who champions traditionalnvirtues and aspires to contain thenwelfare state. In power he prefers tonisolate the ideologues and govern pragmaticallynand coUegially.nThese books tell a great deal aboutnDr. 0 ‘Neil is professor of politicalnscience at the University of Arizona.nSOinChronicles of CulturenAmerican conservatism; but, more importantly,nthey expose its deficiencies.nThe norm for philosophical conservatismnhas been a tradition extending fromnAristotle through Cicero, the medievalnscholastics, Richard Hooker, and culminatingnin the thought of EdmundnBurke. It is a tradition that stresses anpessimistic view of human nature, annorganic rather than a mechanical perceptionnof society, an evolutionary conceptnof change, a search for moderation andnbalance which admits that politics oftenn”This is not a profound book, butnReagan is.”nThe organic view of society, with itsndeference to tradition and continuity,nseems muted in American political conservatism.nBoth Hamilton and Reagannperceive society primarily in mechanicalnrather than organic terms—as somethingnto be tampered with and manipulated.nBoth seem to espouse the progressive interpretationnof history. Both are intenselynfascinated by economic questions, andnview the environment as inviting exploration.nMissing is the philosophical conservative’sndeference to nature, sense ofnit is easy to see how unprofound Presidentn—The Progressiven”He [Reagan] has rwo strikes against him: he appears to be an ordinary middle-classnAmerican, and he holds beliefs . . . that seem ridiculous to the mainstream media.”n—The Nationninvolves selecting the lesser evil, and ancommitment to pluralism and subsidiaritynin decision-making. It is permeatednthroughout by a sense of the tragedy ofnhuman existence. While some of thesenconcerns are found in the thought ofnHamilton and Reagan, their thrust is absent.nThe deficiency stems from the emphasisnand balance, from the hierarchy ofnvalues, rather than from the ingredientsnof American conservatism.nAmerican political conservatismnseems to lack that pessimistic view ofnhuman nature so vital to the conservativenethos. It denies a primacy to that suspicionnof flawed humanity that is representednby the Judeo-Christian parable ofnthe Fall and which is so detrimental to allnforms of utopianism. Consequently,nthere is seldom any cognizance of limitsnor of the probability of failure. Hamiltonnrecognized the ancient insight onlynregarding the masses, while Reagan, thenperpetual optimist, seems never to havengrappled with this mystery. Thus Reagannand other American conservatives (andntheir liberal brethren) are often shockednby current events.nnnthe chain of being—linking the living,nthe dead, and unborn—and awe beforenthe mystery of the universe. Indeed,nHamilton is a child of the Enlightenment;nhe fought in a revolution, participatednin constructing the Great Charter,npromoted political centralization, andnopposed the most traditional region ofnthe new nation. Reagan offers a programnthat promises a simple solution to the insoluble—antax cut linked to a balancednbudget and a strengthened military. Hisnvalues and concerns reflect those of thenbusiness world.nAmerican political conservatismnseems only nominally supportive of thenpillars of pluralism—family, community,nchurch. They are acclaimed duringnpolitical campaigns, but subsequent effortsnto bolster them always end up onnthe back burner. In contemporary Americanconcern for such loyalties has oftennbeen stigmatized as reactionary, puritanical,nand/or prudish, as it is frequentlyncoupled with the feared Moral Majority.nHamilton and Reagan, like most politicians,nappeal to these basic loyalties, butnone suspects that they rank low in theirn