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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine


Pulling Back the Conservative Curtain

When former First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke of the "vast right wing conspiracy" trying to destroy her husband's presidency, she wasn't entirely off the mark, according to a new book by Hopkins political science professor Steven M. Teles.

In The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement—The Battle for Control of The Law (Princeton University Press), Teles demonstrates through exhaustive and exclusive research that conservatives have conspired since the 1970s to counter the entrenched influence of liberals in the U.S. legal establishment.

But despite what many liberals believe, the effort was in no way waged by a vast collection of evil geniuses.

As Teles writes in his book: "While the conservative movement has had its very considerable strengths, it was never a monolith, often made serious errors, and succeeded by shrewd adaptation rather than by the far-sighted pursuit of a grand plan."

Critics have praised Teles for obtaining access to the archives of the Federalist Society and the Olin Foundation, two of the main conservative organizations behind the effort to infuse conservative values into traditionally liberal law schools.

"No published study about the conservative legal movement of which I am aware can compete with the information, detail, perspectives, and stories that Teles has packed into his book," wrote Roy B. Flemming in the Law & Politics Book Review. "Teles' book is an important reference and the chief departure point for anybody seriously wanting to understand one of the most important transformations in contemporary legal history and politics."

Teles began work on the book in late 2001, but he says it took years of prodding to convince the Federalist Society to grant him access to its papers. Once the access was granted, he knew he was on the cusp of an academic "scoop," especially as the privilege led other groups to open their files to him as well.

He was correct in assuming that the exclusive access would help produce an academic book with popular appeal. Bloggers from media as varied as National Public Radio, Slate, and the Volokh Conspiracy sounded off on the book. Much of that was driven by the assumptions Teles shattered about conservative organizations.

"People have this Oliver Stone image of five guys meeting in the Mayflower Hotel and cackling," he says. "The more I looked at it the more I saw a process of trial and error."

That's not to say the conservative legal movement has not come a long way. "The book explains," he says, "how the conservative legal movement, outsmarted and undermanned in the 1970s, became the sophisticated and deeply organized network of today."

More 2008-09 Faculty Books

Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia
Routledge Press
Edited by Ronald Herring and Rina Agarwala, assistant professor, sociology

With the issue of class losing prominence as a way to understand the world from a South Asian perspective, this narrative explores the effects on the class system of the global economy, intellectual fads, and the emergence of a new middle class.

Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China's New Class
Stanford University Press
By Joel Andreas, assistant professor, sociology

Through a case study of China's renowned technology school, Tsinghua University, Andreas explains the tumultuous origins of the class of technocratic officials who rule China today, chronicling how two mutually hostile groups—the poorly educated peasant revolutionaries who seized power in 1949 and China's old educated elite—coalesced to form a new dominant class.

A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture
Edited by Sara Castro-Klaren, professor, German and Romance languages and literatures

Castro-Klaren assembles a collection of essays that explore the cultural and historical contexts of Latin American literature and examines how the culture and literature of Latin America interacted in the past and continue to interact today.

The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family Today
Alfred A. Knopf Inc.
By Andrew Cherlin, Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Public Policy, sociology

Cherlin, an expert on American family life with more than 30 years of study and analysis, discusses the current state of marriage and how its incarnation as a "merry-go-round of partnerships" affects parents and children alike.

Fateful Beauty: Aesthetic Environments, Juvenile Development, and Literature 1860-1960
Princeton University Press
By Douglas Mao, professor, English

In Fateful Beauty, Mao recovers the lost intellectual, social, and literary history of the belief that the beauty—or ugliness—of the environment in which one is raised influences or even determines one's fate.

Visual Reflections: A Perceptual Deficit and Its Implications
Oxford University Press
By Michael McCloskey, professor, cognitive science

McCloskey's observations of a college student who sees the world in a mirror-reversed fashion leads him to new conclusions about spatial cognition and challenges how we view perception philosophically.