Where the Cliopatriarchs critiquing Wilentz are weakest - as is Wilentz - is in understanding or explaining the several economic philosophies of conservatism which seem to all get lumped together under the vague label of " pro-business". This is a lacuna that seems to affect the historical profession as a whole which collectively believes that modern economics began with John Maynard Keynes The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and ends with Paul Krugman's column. Any opposing view of economics from the Right is a priori dismissed outright as scribbling on a cocktail napkin - despite von Mises, von Hayek, Milton Friedman, a boatload of Nobel prize winners at the University of Chicago and a supply-sider Nobel laureate who inspired the Euro.
The intellectual resistance among most historians to giving serious consideration to conservative economic arguments borders on being an article of faith; and as a result they miss an important part of the conservative movement. American conservatism is deeply split on economics and the libertarian, free-market wing provided an ideology that helped fuel Ronald Reagan's march to the White House. Big Business by contrast opposed Reagan in the primaries and lined up behind George H.W. Bush in 1988 and George W. Bush in 2000. Supply-Side economics are what drove Reagan's across the board tax cuts, budget cuts, degregulation policy and tax reform, not the complacent rent-seeking of the Business Roundtable.
Big Business does not like across the board tax cuts, tax simplification or pro-entrepreneurial deregulatory policies. Big business likes tax loopholes, credits, subsidies, no-bid contracts, interest-free government loans, waivers and high artificial barriers to market entry - things that George W. Bush has given them in spades. That wing of the G.O.P. is Richard Nixon's and Bob Dole's wing, not Jack Kemp's or Ronald Reagan's and they are in the driver's seat these days but constitute few of the rank and file " movement" conservatives.
A second criticism I have- and it's a surprising one given the past four years - is that the once, allegedly all-powerful, Neocons are missing in action in both the Wilentz article and in the symposium. Of the group, McDaniel comes closest to addressing that strand of conservatism, albeit indirectly. The Bush administration Neoconservatives fit very poorly into Wilentz's Whig model, if at all ( I think McDaniel's allusions and his references to the fire-eating, Southern filibusteros demonstrated how poorly).
Conservatism really isn't a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma - though in the Ivy League it might as well be.
" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli