If you're interested in reading a history of American conservatism that comes neither to panegyrize nor pathologize, then this may be the book for you. Allitt's fair, dispassionate account of various strains of conservative thought throughout American intellectual history keeps on the high road throughout, touching upon present-day debates when necessary but focusing on ideas first and foremost. Allitt identifies the following as characteristic of American conservatism:
1. an attitude to social and political change that looks for support to the ideas, beliefs, and habits of the past and puts more faith in the lessons of history than in the abstractions of political philosophy;
2. a suspicion of democracy and equality, more specifically, the confusion between the notion of men as being legally and politically equal and being equal when it comes to virtues, abilities and talents;
3. the view that civilization is fragile and easily disrupted and we need virtuous citizens to keep our civilization whole;
4. the desire for a highly educated elite as guardians of civilization.
That's as elegant a summary of basic conservative ideas as I've ever read. Of course, being in academia, I know that we've got a "highly educated elite" in place; the problem is that too many of them are on the other side.
Liberals are especially encouraged to read this book. The first step to good debate is knowing and respecting where your opponent gets his ideas from.