Book Review: The Conservative Heart

By Robert M. Whaples, Wake Forest University

Arthur Brooks quoteAlthough Arthur Brooks’ book is titled The Conservative Heart, it might just as aptly have been titled The Libertarian Heart, and perhaps even The Liberal/Progressive Heart. Its goal is to share a compassionate world view, findings from social science research and practical advice to build a broad coalition for achieving goals that are embraced by almost everyone – building a fairer, happier, and more prosperous society. Brooks (president of the American Enterprise Institute) argues that the central paradox of American politics is that conservatives’ ideas are better at achieving these goals but are sometimes dismissed because too many people think conservatives care only about themselves. Their inability to demonstrate their compassion in thepolitical arena has trapped us in a mire. The problem seems to be that many people think compassion is spending other people’s money in expensive but vain attempts to solve problems, rather than getting to the roots of the problems and empowering people to solve them by themselves.

The irony is that liberals often mistakenly view conservatives as greedy materialists. Of course many self-proclaimed conservatives are quite greedy, as are people of all political stripes. “Materialism is tyranny, and no ideology or economic system is immune to it” (p. 43). But true conservatives, Brooks argues, are actually less materialistic than average, as is demonstrated by giving larger fractions of their incomes to charities, having larger families and being more willing to donate blood (“if liberals and moderates gave blood like conservatives do, the blood supply in the U.S would instantly jump by about 45 percent” (p. 139)). Conservatives’ success in escaping the all-too-human cycle of “grasping and craving” (p. 41) often arises from the fact that they are more likely to focus on religious and spiritual matters, realizing the relative unimportance of material possessions. Perhaps excessive materialism is another example of lack of self-control. Interestingly, recent studies suggest that conservative also exhibit more self-control than others (see Science Daily, “Conservatives Demonstrate More Self Control than Liberals, Studies Suggest,” June 22, 2015).

Read more of this book review of “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.”