Free Press couldn't have timed the publication of Norman Podhoretz's My Love Affair with America any better: The United States has entered a time when conservatives have good reason for hope, but can use a strong dose of knowing, patriotic guidance on where to direct it.

Last July, when the book was released, there was anger, mourning and strategizing among pro-life advocates, strategists, and lawyers. But mostly there was despair in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that banning the monstrous partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional.

Of course, the year didn't get any better after that. The FDA approved RU-486 in the fall. Podhoretz could never have anticipated what was still to come. The painfully protracted Florida election further destroyed Americans’ confidence in politics and politicians. As a journalist covering all this nonsense those 36 long days, I was thankful to have My Love Affair with America on the bookshelf.

Norman Podhoretz has been shaping conservative and neoconservative thought since he famously broke ranks with the band of ‘60s radical intellectuals among whom he had been a leader. (He recounted his “conversion story” in 1979's Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir and exposed the lunacy of the far left in 1999's Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel & Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer.)

My Love Affair with America: The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative by Norman Podhoretz Free Press, 2000 256 pages, $25

In My Love Affair with America, his latest book, Podhoretz makes a case against those on the right whom he sees as leaning toward anti-Americanism. And be warned: Not all Register readers will appreciate the exercise. For among his prime targets are those who argued in a celebrated 1997 symposium in the journal First Things that the American system, mostly thanks to the courts, has veered fatally off course. This, some stated in no uncertain terms, had made it impossible to remain loyal to both church and state.

Podhoretz counters this point of view, which he sees as a form of despair, with what amounts to an intellectually pumped pep-talk. In firing up the troops, he draws substantially from his past personal experience holding deeply felt anti-American sentiments.

“[T]he resurrection of anti-Americanism on the Right in America itself also turned out, perversely, to be a stroke of luck,” he writes, “… in that my being summoned from the reserves into active duty, and having to defend this country once more, served to remind me of why I loved it so much.

“America, according to some who have preceded me in their attitude toward it, is ‘God's country.’ This is, as the pages that follow will attest, a judgment with which I have no inclination whatsoever to disagree.”

My Love Affair with America is an intellectual's heartfelt thank-you note to his country. He is grateful for a grade-school teacher who forced a ghetto accent out of him at a young age. He is grateful to those Catholic teachers who weren't afraid to invoke God's name in front of the children. He is grateful just to be an American, right here and right now.

Some Register readers will cheer as they read this book. Others will gnash their teeth. Few will remain indifferent. In other words, it's vintage Podhoretz.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is an associate editor at National Review Online.

------- EXCERPT: