The development of a uniquely Texan conservatism has occurred over the last quarter century. A central figure in this transition was the late M.E. Bradford, professor of English at the University of Dallas, literary essayist in the tradition of the Vanderbilt Agrarians, and prominent critic of the political Lincoln.

In 1972, Bradford rallied to the cause of George Wallace, only to see this last important example of Democratic populism halted by a bullet in the Alabama governor’s spine. With the Party of Jefferson and Jackson dominated by the McGovern left and the new sexual and moral minorities, Bradford swallowed hard and turned to the Party of Lincoln. He became a prominent early backer of Ronald Reagan and convinced many of his fellow Southern intellectuals to follow. Even when vicious calunmies denied him the post of chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1981, Bradford remained loyal to the populist conservatism found within the GOP. He led his own last charge in 1992 on behalf of Pat Buchanan’s first presidential campaign. Two years later, conservative Republicanism was in the ascendance in the old Texas Republic, heralded by Senator Phil Gramm’s presidential bid, the election of a Republican governor, significant gains in the state legislature, and the victory of a strong movement conservative as chairman of the state party. A new magazine, The Texan Republic, even emerged to give voice and definition to these unlikely events.

The books under review here are best understood as expressions of this new Texas-styled right. Thomas Pauken’s The Thirty Years War is the political memoir of a Texas-reared Catholic lad, lured to Georgetown University in 1961, who trains in the political trenches of the Young Republican organization during the Goldwater years. Over the next three decades, Pauken becomes a pilgrim, taking part in or touching virtually all of the significant political events of his time. He serves in Army intelligence in Vietnam, running agents in Chan Doc province, and uncovering the careerism, corruption, and carefully constructed military illusions that were undermining the American cause. He comes home to work in the Nixon White House for presidential counsel John Dean, and narrowly avoids taking a job as the liaison between Dean and the Department of Justice regarding “internal security problems” (as in Watergate). He returns to Texas to study law, run for Congress, and build the Republican apparatus. Returning to Washington as part of the Reagan Revolution, he survives a grueling confirmation process to become head of ACTION, the federal agency overseeing the Peace Corps and VISTA, where he battles the leftward trend bequeathed by the Carter years. Pauken’s election as Texas GOP party chairman in 1994 brings his pilgrimage full circle.

The theme unifying the book is the “intergenerational fight” between the “new left” (and fellow travelers such as Bill Clinton) and the reenergized conservative cause. This war, he argues, began in the 1960’s over the issues of Vietnam and communism and continues in recent battles to this day. Yet Pauken’s own analysis suggests a more complex dynamic. While he skewers “new leftists” for their fawning support of the Viet Cong, and while he repeatedly endorses the anticommunist cause, he also admits that America’s “most fatal mistake” in Vietnam occurred through American complicity in the October 1963 deposal of President Diem; almost inadvertently, he builds a case against the continued American commitment after that date. In tracing the conflict between left and right in these years, Pauken also identifies a third force in Washington, variously labeled “the American establishment,” “corporate liberals,” and “pragmatic corporate managers.” As the ideologues conduct massive public battles, this shadowy third force flits m and out of Pauken’s story. Oddly, it is the “corporate liberals,” rather than the left or the right, who usually win, something Pauken might have more fully explored.

Wisely, the publisher has edited lightly, and the reader feels sure that this is Pauken’s own story. The words, phrases, and judgments offered have an authentic sound, which should make this book a valuable resource for future historians of late 20th-century American conservatism.

Reclaiming Morality in America, William Murchison’s popular history of moral collapse in 20th-century America, reflects another strain of the new Texas conservatism. Son of an old Texas family, a historian trained at the University of Texas, and for 20 years a columnist at the Dallas Morning Star News, Murchison carefully dissects the moral disorders of our time.

Defining morality as “a set of propositions about who we humans are, with accompanying guidelines for the proper care and maintenance of our nature,” Murchison correctly concludes that the current immorality in America is not simply a product of the 1960’s. At the deepest level, it was the Enlightenment’s skepticism toward divine authority that undermined moral certainty, and opened the floodgates for the “liberations” of the 1920’s and 1960’s. Murchison ably traces this attitude’s negative effects on “the solemnity and grandeur of the marital promise,” and its encouragement of pornography, fornication, and homosexuality.

Addressing the issue of possible solutions, Murchison endorses familiar policy steps: an increase in the federal tax deduction for dependents; a school voucher plan; and the abolition of no-fault divorce. Yet he places more emphasis on the construction of a “new counterculture” resting on the “three teaching institutions: family, church, and school.” Repentance and character-building, he insists, can be achieved through new forms of entertainment, morality-infused schools, and the mutual reinforcement of family and church.

If Murchison falls short, it is in underestimating the countercultural requirements for moral reform. Vouchers, for example, will not be enough to generate a new order (and, indeed, may subject private schools that receive them to new forms of state guidance). The more promising avenue here is home education, which truly renews the functional basis of the family. Moreover, family decline m this century has been driven by the expansion of both state and industry. While Murchison properly understands and excoriates the former, he spends too little time on the consequences of the latter.

Taken together, Pauken’s “movement conservatism” and Murchison’s “social conservatism” combine well, and explain much about recent political changes in Texas. Missing from both books, however, is a full appreciation of the importance of the economic populism that drove the Wallace campaign in 1972. If and when that native Southern ingredient is reintroduced into the formula, the results will be potent for conservatism, for the Republican Party, for Texas, and for the nation.


[The Thirty Years War: The Politics of the Sixties Generation, by Thomas W. Pauken (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books) 220 pp., $22.50]

[Reclaiming Morality in America: Why Traditional Morals Are Collapsing and What You Can Do About It, by William Murchison (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 189 pp., $16.99]