National Review has been the leading conservative national magazine since it was founded in 1955, and in that capacity it has played a decisive role in shaping the conservative movement in the United States. In The Making of the American Conservative Mind, Jeffrey Hart provides an authoritative and high-spirited history of how the magazine has come to define and defend conservatism for the past fifty years. He also gives a firsthand account of the thought and sometimes colorful personalities—including James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall, Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, William Rusher, Priscilla Buckley, Gerhart Niemeyer, and, of course, the magazine’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr.—who contributed to National Review’s life and wide influence.
As Hart sees it, National Review has regularly veered toward ideology, but it has also regularly corrected its course toward, in Buckley’s phrase, a “politics of reality.” Its catholicity and originality—attributable to Buckley’s magnanimity and sense of showmanship—has made the magazine the most interesting of its kind in the nation, concludes Hart. His highly readable and occasionally contrarian history, the first history of National Review yet published, marks another milestone in our understanding of how the conservatism now so influential in American political life draws from, and in some ways repudiates, the intellectual project that National Review helped launch a half century ago.