Matt Lewis on “Conservatism in Thought & Action”

Matt Lewis' seminars will be held on Tuesdays in May at 3:30pm.

All IOP Pritzker Fellows Seminars will be held in the IOP Living Room unless otherwise noted. 
All seminars are students only and closed to press/off the record.


In 1963 Richard Hofstadter published his landmark book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Today, the argument could be made that America's inclination toward simplicity and stupidity is stronger than ever, and its greatest victim is a Republican Party.  In this seminar series, we’ll trace the conservative movement's strong roots, from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley, and from Goldwater's loss to Reagan's landslide victory, and then examine the turn of events that led to the election of Donald Trump to the presidency – and explore whether there is any way back to thoughtful conservatism for the Republican party. 

Session 1 (May 1): The Roots of Conservatism | RSVP

Rather than being a reactionary ideology that is based on power and privilege, conservatism has a deep and storied history. From Aristotle to Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk, this seminar will discuss the rise of the conservative tradition and examine conservatism’s deep philosophical roots. It will also examine some of the places where conservatism continues to flourish in the political realm (see emerging political leaders like U.S. Senator Ben Sasse) and in the intellectual realm (see opinion leaders like Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat, and Arthur Brooks).

Special Guest: Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon

Session 2 (May 8): Faith & Politics: A Devil’s Bargain? | RSVP

To understand modern conservatism, it is important to understand the influence of faith (particularly, Christianity) in U.S. politics in both good and bad ways. There is a long tradition of this. Whether it was William Wilberforce fighting the British slave trade or Martin Luther King, Jr. fighting for civil rights in America, the scripture “faith without works is dead” rings true. On the other hand, politics is often seductive, and there are plenty of other examples where the mixing of faith and politics has resulted in unintended negative consequences (for example, prohibition). What is more, sometimes mixing the City of God with the City of Man ends up corrupting the faithful. It is an open question whether that’s what happened when the religious right joined the Republican Party—and it’s a question we will explore.

Special Guest: Michael Wear, founder of Public Square Strategies & director of faith outreach for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign

Session 3 (May 15): Did Conservatism Peak with Reagan? | RSVP

The presidency of Ronald Reagan may have been the apogee of American conservatism. This seminar will discuss the biography of Ronald Reagan (which dovetails nicely with the rise of American conservatism), “fusionism” and the three-legged stool of conservatism (social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives) that held together his coalition, and how the achievement of Reagan’s ultimate goal—the collapse of the Soviet Union—ironically sowed the seeds for the movement’s coming apart.

Special Guest: author and historian David Pietrusza

Session 4 (May 22): Too Dumb to Fail: How We Went from Reagan to Trump | RSVP

How did conservatism go from William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan to Sean Hannity and Donald Trump? This seminar will discuss anti-intellectualism and the “dumbing down” of conservatism, the impact of alternative media (social media, cable news, and reality TV), economic and demographic shifts, and identity politics and liberal overreach, all conspired to lead us to this moment.

Special Guest (via Skype): Kristen Soltis Anderson, co-founder of Echelon Insights, columnist for The Washington Examiner & author of The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up)