- The title of John Dean's exegesis on the conservative movement in America is obviously meant to ring a few bells of recognition, being as it is an obvious play on Barry Goldwater's touchstone book, The Conscience of a Conservative. It's clear that Dean hopes to reclaim the good name of conservatism, and in exploring as he does the stark contrasts between modern movement conservatives and the ideals of movement founders like Goldwater, he does so admirably.
But the title rings another bell -- unintentionally, to be sure, but tellingly: it first brought to my mind Robert D. Hare's now-standard text on psychopaths, Without Conscience, which was first published in 1993 but remains in print. Dean's book, as it happens, makes no reference to Hare's work, but it does explore similar territory in examining the psychology not just of the movement's fear-driven followers -- people whose needs drive them to seek out authoritarian leaders -- but the conscienceless manipulators who are all too happy to lead them.
Of course, I would be remiss in failing to point out that my partner in crime, Sara Robinson, has also discussed Conservatives Without Conscience and its ramifications in some detail in her series Cracks in the Wall here, here and here. Also, be sure to check out the excellent discussions of the book at Firedoglake's weekly book salon here and here; Dean himself made an extensive appearance in Week 2.