I see that E.J. Dionne's embrace of what is known among American historiographers as the "consensus school" has become as fragile as mine:
[U]ntil recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.
Such things cause shifts in historical perspective. The relatively peaceful and prosperous postwar era--that in which the consensus school thrived, and to which I have always been intellectually if not anachronistically wedded--helped to instill in the chroniclers of American history their view of American history. Think of it as classically Eisenhoweresque: we were, and always had been, one big family of millions, replete with every family's heated squabbles and bubbling discontents; but by and large we got along--we compromised, we cooperated, we all, in our own little ways, accepted the realization of the American Dream as a worthwhile hope to pursue. The consensus school was far from unimpeachable, but that was OK. Reconciling its flaws kept a lot of historians employed--and published.
At any rate, it is obvious that this is also the school out of which came Dionne. And he has a question:
So why has this consensus unraveled?
To which he answers:
Modern conservatism’s rejection of its communal roots [once grounded in the American consensus] is a relatively recent development. It can be traced to a simultaneous reaction against Bush’s failures and Barack Obama’s rise.
But (and historians, like lawyers, love to say "But") here we encounter the additionally tricky question of periodization. That is, can conservatism's wholesale philosophical collapse really be compartmented into such a narrowly recent slice of history?--that pre-Bush and even throughout Bush there was "conservatism," yet post-Bush, there wasn't?
I'm skeptical of Dionne's op-ed tidiness, which I won't pursue critically, since I'm also sure that in his book on the subject (Our Divided Political Heart--which I haven't yet read), he has taken advantage of greater explanatory room to run in. Which is my way of saying I'm confident that Dionne would not disagree: there's something about today's misnomered "conservatism" that is creepily similar to the far right of the New Deal era, the far right of the postwar era, the far right of the Goldwater era and the far right of the 1970s New Right, and beyond.
Conservatism today is, in brief, the far right of consensus-historian Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style," a well-known political neologism that sprang from his still-circulating work but is tied thematically to another of his less-read works today--his New Deal chapter in The Age of Reform, in which Hofstadter brilliantly reduces conservatism's anti-New Dealism to a frothing, hysterical reaction rooted in an ideological shift to essential indifference to human tribulation and remedial, pragmatic experimentation.
Conservatism's principal difference today from that of its anti-New Deal manifestation is that, as the cliche roughly goes, its paranoid psychotics are running the asylum. However there is continuity, which is elemental to the consensus school of historical thought. So take heart, E.J. Our old-school perspective isn't toast yet.