Fresh Ideas for Reforming America and Truly Helping People

Published November 5, 2015

Review of The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America, by Arthur C. Brooks, Broadside Books, 2015, 265 pages; ISBN-13: 978-0062319753: $15.55 on

In the past, reformers with sound answers to the problems plaguing our nation have often had difficulty convincing people to accept or try those solutions.

Because we policy analysts tend to communicate with heads instead of hearts, the average person has a hard time understanding the problems facing the United States and the solutions being proposed.

In his new book, The Conservative Heart, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks notes conservatives have become accustomed to behaving as if they are a minority group, even though they actually outnumber liberals. Minorities fight for “things,” he explains succinctly, but majorities fight for people.

Standing Up for People

The distinction between fighting for things and fighting for people suggests a new way of solving the nation’s problems.

Brooks grew up believing in liberal ideas, but he says he matured and gained common sense with age. He recalls a friend who observed that while Brooks was in his late twenties, he had transformed into a conservative without even knowing it.

It is time for the American right to reclaim the moral high ground and transform itself from a protest movement into a social movement, Brooks writes. Likewise, it is time for the Tea Party to end its protest movement against others’ ideas and stand up for its own.

World Tour

Retracing his experiences throughout the world, Brooks introduces the reader to inspirational, real-world examples of conservative principles in action he saw in his travels. Brooks spent more than a decade playing in a European orchestra, and he saw firsthand how government dependence destroyed residents’ will to thrive in a small Austrian factory town. In India, Brooks saw poverty does not impede people’s path to self-sufficiency once government barriers are removed and people are allowed to succeed.

Brooks’ stories transport the reader to a homeless shelter in New York, a ghetto in Washington, DC, and all around the world, but the lessons for the conservative heart remain the same.

Helping People Help Themselves

We have a duty and a privilege, Brooks says, to help those with less power than we have, and they can remind us of the dignity of all forms of work and the importance of progress.

One of the biggest failures of government intervention intended to help people, Brooks writes, was Lyndon Johnson’s so-called “War on Poverty.” Instead of growing opportunities for disadvantaged Americans, it only grew the welfare rolls.

Brooks explains such big-government policies fail because they treat social problems as though they are engineering problems, such as building or repairing an engine. People and their motives are too complex for such interventions to succeed.

Values to Live By

By reinforcing helplessness, instead of combating it, programs such as the Great Society harm the very people they are intended to help. If we treat people as assets, not liabilities, we see work as a blessing that improves people’s lives, not a punishment or burden. Improving people’s lives is a holistic approach because moral values matter, and success requires lifting people up spiritually, as well as economically.

Applying these values allows conservatives to realize that although helping people directly is important, leading them to the hope things can be improved through hard work is essential, Brooks argues.

Reading this book is like sitting down and chatting with Brooks himself, a very bright man with passionate ideas about how people can be truly helped. By finding ways to open the hearts and minds of the persuadable majority, reformers can adopt the language of compassion and fairness and show Americans that conservatives are happy warriors, with a moral mission to fight for the people who need us most, regardless of how they vote in elections.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.