The Heritage Foundation’s Dr. Lee Edwards on the History of the Conservative Movement

On Thursday December 7th, Dr. Lee Edwards spoke with Buckley Fellows over dinner in New Haven. One Fellow spoke with Dr. Edwards before the dinner seminar, and her thoughts are printed below. 

Dr. Edwards, distinguished fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation, is a leading historian of American conservatism and the author or editor of 25 books. Dr. Edwards also is adjunct professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and chairman of a foundation that dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2007.

By: Aryssa Damron

With all the political discord on the right tonight, Dr. Lee Edwards thought it was high-time to write a book showing that this was not always the case. In his new book, Just Right: A Life in Pursuit of Liberty, Edwards traces his political life from Barry Goldwater to Donald Trump and gives us hope for the future of the movement based on how it has grown in the past.  Edwards says his life has shown him that persistence is important in every aspect of his life and has helped him and the movement achieve all it has so far.

Dr. Edwards joined us for a dinner seminar in which he discussed three great giants of the conservative movement and how their influence can still be felt today: Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley, and Ronald Reagan.

I sat down with Dr. Edwards before our seminar and got a chance to talk with him about his new book and his life-long interest in the conservative movement which has spanned several decades and will continue for years to come.  I asked him why he wanted to write a memoir now and what he intended to achieve with it, and he quoted Winston Churchill, saying, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Since he has been on the frontline of the conservative movement for so long, and been able to interview and write about notable conservative figures like Reagan, Buckley, Goldwater, Edwin Meese, and more, he thought who better to track the history of the movement than himself.  As he pointed out, there has been a lot of talk about the conservative movement and its political arm, the Republican Party, losing its way, and he wanted to show the history of the movement in a truthful light.

Edwards got his first real start as a volunteer on the Draft Goldwater team that worked to get, and ultimately succeeding in getting, Goldwater on the Republican presidential ticket.  This is an experience he counts as deeply informative for his political principles since Goldwater was such a principled man who wanted to run and win a campaign based on those principles instead of personality. We all know how that turned out, but nonetheless working on the Goldwater campaign helped Edwards not only learn from a principled conservative leader but meet future leaders like Ronald Reagan, who Edwards profiled early on in his writing career. This led to Dr. Edwards writing the first political biography of Ronald Reagan. Edwards gushed about his admiration for Reagan when he visited the Reagan home with his own wife Anne and noticed a well-stocked library that was not only full of conservative classics but the books were annotated and dog eared. As Edwards pointed out, “He came to his political philosophy one book at a time” and was clearly more than B-list actor turned politician.

With recent conversations on communism taking over the internet waves at Yale, I had to ask Dr. Edwards about his thoughts on it, since he is involved with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and worked tirelessly for years to establish the memorial that now stands in Washington, DC as a reminder of the horrors we cannot allow to be repeated.  Edwards expressed concern over an advent of left-leaning students defending communism, especially since recent polling done by his organization has found that while a third of students say they support communism or socialism, they don’t truly understand what communism and socialism are like to live under. They ignore the facts of history that communism has been tried in nearly 40 different countries and has ruined the lives of its citizens each and every time. Going forward as we encounter these Marxist loving classmates, he suggests we ask them more fine-tuned questions about communism such as “Are you willing to give up all your private property?” and “Are you willing to give up your God?” since many students are ignorant of what communist regimes expect of their citizens.  The Victims Against Communism Foundation continues to work tirelessly to spread the knowledge of the horrors of communism.

What’s next for Dr. Edwards now that he’s written a memoir? I asked him, and while he thinks writing about Trump would be fascinating, he sees that as an oversaturated market. He’s currently considering turning one of his classes at Catholic University of America on politics in the 1960s into a book. When we hear about the 1960s, he explained, we hear about bra burning and war protests and Students for a Democratic Society, but the 1960s was also when Goldwater ran, when Young Americans for Freedom was formed, and when Ronald Reagan’s a Time for Choosing speech changed the movement.

The Buckley Program is grateful to Dr. Edwards for joining us and looks forward to his next book!

Aryssa Damron is a senior in Saybrook College.