Who has any use for conservative intellectuals?

by Henry on April 5, 2018

The firing of Kevin Williamson has led, predictably, to outrage from other conservatives, and in particular from anti-Trumpers like Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson. I can’t help thinking that much of their outrage is rooted in fear. Conservative intellectuals are in a very awkward historical position.

It is an unfortunate, but fairly obvious truth that most intellectuals, both on the left or right, don’t have particularly original ideas. Go to the Aspen Ideas Festival, or TED, or any of their ilk and you won’t find much that is genuinely surprising or exciting. Instead, you will find a lot of people whose stock-in-trade is not so much innovation as influence.

This used to be true in some quite specific ways of conservative intellectuals. The conservative movement perceived the need for intellectuals, both to hold their own fractious coalition together through ‘fusionism’ and the like, and to justify their goals to liberals, who dominated the space of serious policy discussions, and could possibly stop them. Liberal policy types, for their part, needed to understand what was happening among conservatives, and perhaps hoped to influence it a little. The result was that conservative intellectuals were in a highly advantageous structural position, serving as the primary link between two different spheres, which didn’t otherwise come much into contact. As network sociology 101 will tell you, this allowed them a fair amount of arbitrage and enough slack that e.g. people like Jonah Goldberg were treated as serious thinkers.

Now, however, the game is up, thanks to an unfortunate concatenation of events. Conservative intellectuals defected en masse from Trump, thinking that it was a fairly cheap gesture of independence, but Trump got elected. Not only did this damage these intellectuals’ personal ties with the new administration and the conservative movement, but it opened up the way for a conservatism that basically didn’t give a fuck about policy ideas and the need to seem ‘serious’ any more. The result is that conservative intellectuals don’t have all that much influence over conservatism any more.

The problem is that without such influence over conservatives, these intellectuals’ capital with liberals and the left is rapidly diminishing too. If conservative intellectuals don’t have much of an audience within conservatism itself, why should people on the opposite side listen to them any more? Their actual ideas are … mostly not that strong. Some of them are good writers (David Frum, for example), but good writing only goes so far. The only plausible case for paying attention to conservative-intellectuals-qua-conservative-intellectuals, is that perhaps the pendulum will swing back after Trump, and the old regime be restored. That might happen, but you wouldn’t want to betting serious money on it.

If this analysis is right (and it obviously may not be) Stephens, Williamson (up until this afternoon) and the others are running on fumes. The adherents of old-style centrist liberalism might still have some nostalgia for the old days when men were real men, women were real women, and associate editors of the New Republic were real associate editors of the New Republic. But that’s a poorish substitute for actual influence and an actual audience, especially when the actual liberals and leftwingers that are the audience for publications like the Atlantic don’t want anything to do with these people. The very brightest will probably be OK – but it’ll be a cold enough future for the others.

{ 128 comments }

1

DCA 04.05.18 at 8:23 pm

Exhibit A for “probably be OK” would be Friedersdorf: he has written for the Atlantic for a long time, with no uproar that I can see. But that is because (as I see it) he has new ideas and interesting things to say, even if I don’t always agree with him. I’d feel the same about Dreher if he was a lot less lengthy and a bit less apocalyptic.

2

Bob Zannelli 04.05.18 at 9:15 pm

In a democracy conservatism’s only path to success is cultivating the ignorant, the racists , the sexist and religious nuts. Sooner or later someone will show up who embodies these values in a most pure form without the audio protection of a dog whistle or the deodorant of intellectual veneer to hide the actual agenda. And here we are.

3

DRickard 04.05.18 at 9:19 pm

…enough slack that e.g. people like Jonah Goldberg were treated as serious thinkers.

The second-saddest sentence in the English language… the saddest is a tie of all sentences containing “President Donald Trump”.

4

Murali 04.05.18 at 9:50 pm

Friedersdorf is a right-winger only in that a) he is a moderate libertarian and b) he hardly blogs about the topic about which he is to the right of centre.

I’ve noticed lefites play a certain game with conservatives when it comes to abortion. When conservatives claim that abortion is murder but make exceptions for rape and incest or refuse to prosecute women you call them inconsistent and hypocritical. When they are in fact consistent, you tar them as beyond the pale and not serious thinkers.

And anyone who thinks that plans to execute women for having abortions would work retroactively is themselves not a serious thinker.

If you want to defend or question the permissibility of abortions at some given stage, address the arguments. Don’t just arbitrarily declare some view as unserious when you provide no reason for thinking that you have put more serious thought into it than your opponent

5

LFC 04.05.18 at 10:26 pm

opened up the way for a conservatism that basically didn’t give a fuck about policy ideas

Well, yes and no. Peter Navarro certainly seems to give a f— about trade policy and Scott Pruit ditto w/r/t rolling back environmental regs. And Sessions w/r/t whatever his obsessions are (like making sure as few people as possible can manage to vote in certain places). And John Bolton. There may be a few other examples.

6

Anarcissie 04.05.18 at 11:19 pm

I am confused by the use of the term ‘conservative’ here. Conservatives are people who believe society is an organism that shouldn’t be changed too abruptly, so it is better the keep things pretty much the same if possible: for instance, the leadership of the Democratic Party. No doubt there are rightist intellectuals of a sort, but they tend toward radicalism, not conservatism.

7

Faustusnotes 04.06.18 at 1:00 am

Now that American conservatism has dropped its pretence at intellectualism one would expect the wingnut welfare stream for these frauds will dry up. I wonder if people like Williamson have seen the writing on the wall and are trying to jump ship before they have to face a choice of fealty to the new order or poverty. The heart bleeds for the poor dears if that is really so!

Now it seems the only value a conservative intellectual can offer is to go on fox news and screech lies. Who wastes time with NRO now? Those of the old guard who can’t fling their own shit maybe need to start making new career plans…

8

Michael Connolly 04.06.18 at 1:45 am

Here’s a good take on Kevin Williamson’s demise: “Jezebel regrets its decision to hire Cannibal-Witch as Writer-at-Large.
https://jezebel.com/jezebel-regrets-its-decision-to-hire-cannibal-witch-as-1825021634

9

Leading Edge Boomer 04.06.18 at 1:55 am

Bill “Always Wrong” Kristol and Erick Erickson are not conservative intellectuals. There used to be a few, but hardly any remain.

10

Helen 04.06.18 at 2:00 am

They can always move to Australia. Right wing think tanks, especially the Institute of Public Affairs, are given prominence in the media here which is out of all proportion to their actual capacity to comment on Public Affairs. This is in the name of a spurious attention to “balance” where the base assumption is that public media (Australian Broadcasting Corporation / ABC) is a hotbed of communitst, wimminists and other enemies of civil society, so that a rightwinger must be wheeled in to bloviate about every issue regardless of their qualification to do so.
It’s a gravy train without end here.

11

Helen 04.06.18 at 2:00 am

*Communists”, sorry.

12

rcocean 04.06.18 at 2:12 am

As a conservative, I can tell you these so-called intellectuals ( Jonah Goldberg is an intellectual? Really?) have almost zero influence on the grass roots. I have no idea who their audience is. They seem to be mostly talk to themselves.

They hate Trump – but can’t really say why, so you get a lot of insults and vague generalities. The real reason is they support the “invade the world, invite the world” – and Trump doesn’t. That Bush philosophy was never really popular. BTW, you’ll notice zero liking for the Bushes now – despite the fact they are the only living Republican ex-Presidents.

13

Bob Zannelli 04.06.18 at 3:11 am

Anarcissie 04.05.18 at 11:19 pm writes

“I am confused by the use of the term ‘conservative’ here. Conservatives are people who believe society is an organism that shouldn’t be changed too abruptly, so it is better the keep things pretty much the same if possible: for instance, the leadership of the Democratic Party. No doubt there are rightist intellectuals of a sort, but they tend toward radicalism, not conservatism.”

If this were true that conservatives are people who believe society is an organism that shouldn’t be changed too abruptly the republican party would be strong defenders of social security, medicare and medicaid. Thatcher would have wanted to protect the British health care service. As Corey Robin has argued, conservationism is really a political philosophy that centers on idea that societies should be based on rule by a privileged class whose privilege is based on wealth, and often race and gender. And BTW conservative women and conservative minorities are often the most critical of gender and racial equality. Just think of Ayn Rand’s view of women in her books. Of course in a nominal democracy this preference for special privilege doesn’t play too well. So their political strategy is one of endless subterfuge and dog whistle politics. Dishonesty, racism, sexism and religious intolerance , coupled with using the court system , voter disenfranchisement and gerrymandering to subvert democracy and the rule of law is their consistent game plan. We should not be surprised this has led to someone like Trump in the White house

14

William Berry 04.06.18 at 3:28 am

People might find my old C. Wright Mills stuff a little tiresome, but what I see is that the conservative “ideology of legitimation” is in tatters, and all that is left is the naked grasp for power. And when it comes to the disposition of power, the right seems strategically well situated. If they play their cards right, they might win yet. The Orange Pus-bag is still PRESIDENT, for crying out loud.

The administration actions cited by LFC are excellent examples of the exercise of raw power in pursuit of a destructive, pro-.1% agenda.

We shouldn’t over-estimate the strength of democracy and its institutions. It has been a while since we have cultivated our garden.

15

Omega Centauri 04.06.18 at 3:35 am

There is one sort of intellectual they still value. Those who can invent new winning one-liners, and those who are best at evaluating which one’s deliver the most persuasive bang for the buck. That has been a key strength for years, and it has paid big dividends.

These other guys, they try to exist financially by staying in some media producers rolodex as an on-call conservative.

16

ph 04.06.18 at 3:50 am

Henry does. It’s another fine piece of writing, Henry. Certainly some forms of conservatism are openly and proudly anti-intellectual. Romans using Greek and other slaves to do all the admin and deliberation. Certainly cunning and forethought matter in conquest, profiteering, and defending the ‘nation.’

Words? Not so much. I can’t think of any political philosophers I ‘enjoy’ reading, and generally loathe politically slanted novels. So, politiks teh suck, except as a means to an end. Ideas such as pacifism matter (to me) and I’d say both Gandhi and MLK are very conservative in their own ways. Listening to MLK always gives me shivers.

Jonah Goldberg? Huh?

17

ph 04.06.18 at 4:05 am

And if only some mouth-breather from the left would rise up to do to the Democrat posers what Trumpsters did to the GOP. Much as I don’t (much) like sucking up to Henry, his own writing and that of a significant number of critics (Lilla) seems much more mature, useful, and well-grounded than before.

I strongly disagree with your contention re: fumes. That’s all it every was in the first place. There was no there there. An American friend decades ago asked me: ‘You don’t think these clowns actually believe their own shit, do you? It’s just a gaff.’

Which is why we find Drezner, Brooks, Sullivan, Nicole Wallace and sundry other supported the Iraq war BUT!!!!! gas-bags of various political stripes scared to death that their meal ticket and tiny place at the trough stands a greater chance of disappearing every single day Trump remains in office. They never were essential (other than to sign off on dumb-ass decisions such as letting the banks run wild Thanks Bill Clinton and invading Iraq.

They’re not going anywhere because the powers that be will always need convincing shills to sell bad ideas to the public. And if you don’t think that’s what Obama and Hillary are paid to do, then you’re dreaming.

There’s a new generation of ninja social warriors and they stuff they spew truly is toxic – the right being far, far worse than the left. Put them in a suit and we’ve got Europe’s emerging political class. Really.

Back to work.

18

mclaren 04.06.18 at 6:37 am

Little noted is the fact that Henry’s argument also applies to so-called progressive intellectuals. While the drivel purveyed by conservative “intellectuals” is mostly junkthink revolving around such fabulous breakthroughs as algorithmic social darwinism, trickle-down voodoo economics and bombing brown babies to make the third world love us, supposedly progressive intellectuals offer equally degraded siphonings from the bottom of the intellectual chum bucket.

Larry Summers and Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman assure us that free trade and globalization is just spiffy and wonderful, despite the increasingly obvious fact that globalization is destroying both the U.S. middle class and civil society, as our cities and states rot and collapse due to the evaporation of tax revenues from that impoverished former middle class.

Then we have geniuses like Ezra Klein and Noah Smith who lecture us on the importance of not being negative even as 94% of all new jobs created since 2005 turn out to be low-wage temp gigs that pay ~$3.37/hr after all the creative accounting malarkey gets subtracted. Magisters like Anil Dash techsplain to us the glories of the magisterial new 21st digital economy in which old people have to live in their cars while working temp jobs for less than the minimum wage (courtesy of the glories of being an “independent contractor”) in amazon warehouses.

Even from a brain-damaged 6-year-old, this kind of stuff would sound unspeakably stupid. But when this feel-good gibberish touting America’s amazing GDP and our allegedly wonderful share of global manufacturing and our wonderful Ivy league colleges, none of which actually trickle down to the average working stiff, gets spewed out of the pieholes of Yale and Harvard PhDs renowned as the “smartest guys in the room,” even unemployed ex-ironworkers in Wisconsin can smell the bullshit.

Henry analyzes the conservative intellectuals as the buffers twixt conservative base & liberals who thereby get to arbitrage their lack of brainpower into credibility–but aren’t the progressive intellectuals just buffers between greed-crazed remora-eyed Terminator-faced billionaires like Jeff “the world’s richest sadist” Bezos and the working class? And haven’t progressive intellectuals thereby also found themselves magically enabled to arbitrage their halfwit junkthink (“Free trade makes America richer!” forgetting or ignoring that GDP growth ≠ wage growth for the bottom 80% of workers, but is in fact more likely to equate to widening inequality which, economic studies have found, actually depresses wages for the bottom 80% of workers without Harvard PhDs or MDs or LLDs) into an unwarranted credibility?

19

Patrick Deneen 04.06.18 at 12:05 pm

This piece appears to be written by someone too long in the academic echo chamber. If by “conservative intellectual” one is speaking of political journalists, then one might name the likes of Ross Douthat, Yuval Levin, Dan McCarthy, Michael Lind, Mary Eberstadt, and various authors at “The American Conservative” – most prominently Rod Dreher, but younger “millennial” authors like Grace Olmstead – as consistently interesting, thoughtful, and influential especially on a younger conservative audience than this piece recognizes. If, however, by “conservative intellectual” one means more academic conservatives, the numbers are not enormous given the landscape of academe today, and the definition of conservative is varied, but one can not only point to any number of libertarians (e.g. Tyler Cowan, Bryan Caplan, Jason Brennan, etc.), but a good number of very thoughtful social/religious conservatives who doubtless don’t break through the bubble surrounding this author, but might include a goodly number of my colleagues at Notre Dame (orthodox Catholics like Christian Smith, Brad Gregory, Cyril O’Regan, John Cavadini, Richard Garnett, even yours truly), or folks elsewhere like Andrew Bacevich, Brad Birzer, Mark Regnerus, Tony Esolen, Helen Alvare, etc etc. A number of these people are quite influential among religious conservatives (and often shatter mainstream definitions of what constitutes “conservative”), but given the extreme leftward tilt in academe today, are doubtless invisible to this author. There is far more ferment in conservative thought today than this author recognizes or credits. Indeed, if you are not paying attention, you will likely be surprised by what will become new, influential, and interesting currents in conservative thought that are being developed today.

20

Faustusnotes 04.06.18 at 12:09 pm

I’m confused! Aren’t leftists meant to be protectionists!? All these twists and turns in modern American political “thought”…

21

nastywoman 04.06.18 at 1:36 pm

– now these last deletions make me really curios -(especially as they were up – and then disappeared –

Was it the -(very sublime) suggestion that ”conservatives” might be better in identifying ”insane nonintellectuals” – or was it ME defending so-called ”progressive intellectuals” and believing that Henry’s argument IN NO WAY – also applies to so-called progressive intellectuals.

Or – was it just (again?) ME?
trying to be fuuuuny? –
now THAT – actually I would accept right away as justification to delete all of my comments from now on – foreva!! – BUT this ME defending progressives? –
Now that was really NOT nice to delete…

22

Douglas Muir 04.06.18 at 1:47 pm

Okay so nobody here has mentioned that one Kevin Williamson tweet about how women pee. Umm… yeah, so that was a thing.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s not what you’re probably thinking. It’s worse.)

Doug M.

23

Sphrag 04.06.18 at 2:11 pm

The hyper-elite, nominally lefty (but in actuality too risk-averse to hew to any ideology other than endowment management) college at which I teach is in the midst of making a concerted effort to bring conservatives to campus. For balance. For intellectual diversity. To make conservative students feel more included. None of the above, or all of the above? I have no clue. I find it annoying to enraging, depending on how lame or needlessly abusive the speakers have been so far.

While I generally think inviting the likes of Ann Coulter or Dinesh D’Souza to be a supreme waste of time, I do have a hard time coming up with decent alternatives. Which is not to suggest that either AC or DD are intellectuals, of course.

So, dear CT commentariat, were you in charge of putting together of serious conservative intellectuals to whom invitations to speak really ought to be extended, on the merits of these conservatives’ ideas, whom would you invite?

Anybody willing to advocate for any particular conservative intellectuals as worthy interlocutors?

24

L2P 04.06.18 at 2:19 pm

@18

Comparing Krugman to Williamson is a bit much, ain’t it? Krugman won the Nobel-equivalent for economics, fer gawds sake.

We can disagree with Klein, DeLong, etc., but they’re certainly knowledgeable, certainly making relevant points, and certainly represent great swathes of the Democratic Party and liberal thought.

25

cervantes 04.06.18 at 2:55 pm

Jordan Peterson seems to be doing okay. (I mean, he isn’t actually an intellectual but he is a college professor who writes books.)

26

b9n10nt 04.06.18 at 4:04 pm

Many will have seen this, but for those who have not, Mike Konczal discusses how conservatives are not seriously engaged in the substance of policy and politics even while they control all 3 branches and the SC.

Precisely why conservatives don’t give a fuck about policy (anymore) is left, both by Henry in the OP and by Konzcal in his piece, as an exercise for the reader. But as Bob Zanelli notes @13, Corey Robin and others have worked it out for us.

27

b9n10nt 04.06.18 at 4:06 pm

Ummm…please everyone imagine that “and the SC” in the above link was deleted due to its redundancy (gulp).

28

politicalfootball 04.06.18 at 4:15 pm

I’ve noticed lefites play a certain game with conservatives when it comes to abortion. When conservatives claim that abortion is murder but make exceptions for rape and incest or refuse to prosecute women you call them inconsistent and hypocritical. When they are in fact consistent, you tar them as beyond the pale and not serious thinkers.

The thing about leftists is that they support abortion rights and think the arguments against those rights fails. That’s not a game. You can’t blame the inconsistencies of conservatives on the fact that liberals sometimes point out those inconsistencies.

Williamson is no leftist, but he makes the same seemingly obvious point that liberals make: If abortion is murder, then people who commit abortion should be treated like murderers. Likewise, there are many, many conservatives who think that it would be barbaric to hang a woman for having an abortion. You can’t blame that on liberals, either.

29

nastywoman 04.06.18 at 4:21 pm

nastywoman – I’ve asked you not to comment on my posts in the past – not because you’re badly behaved, but simply because your comments don’t make much sense to me. Please desist. HF

30

Aloevera 04.06.18 at 4:28 pm

What this opinion piece argues is true for a certain sub-category of Conservative intellectuals (those largely adhering to NeoConservatism) who are engaged at a certain level of political dispute. There are, however, other categories of Conservative intellectuals who seem to be going strong, and touch on what one might call a “deeper level” of political thought. I have in mind here those largely associated with Catholicism-inflected virtue-oriented ideas—with the godfather being the now-aged Alasdair MacIntyre (and also, perhaps, Charles Taylor), and younger members being Patrick Deneen and Ross Douthat. Both of the latter have just published books which are making waves (at least in some intellectual circles). Douthat’s latest book, “To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism”, has more immediate significance for Catholics—although of broader interest, it is yet another example of the general breakdown and confusions of existing institutions in the contemporary globalizing world. Deneen’s latest book, “Why Liberalism Failed”, however, is focused on a general issue to begin with—and has already attracted attention in a number of intellectual circles. Whatever one may think of the argument, and wherever one stands politically, it is a contemporary intellectual statement worthy of serious attention—and it seems to represent a category of Conservative thought which is not fading away.

31

politicalfootball 04.06.18 at 4:31 pm

The problem for conservative “intellectuals” like Williamson is the same as the problem for Trumpist “intellectuals” like Lou Dobbs: They are full of shit. Leftist and centrist publications are getting pushback not for publishing conservative views, but for publishing lunacy.

Trump has made fraud and dishonesty less respectable than it used to be, and some of his political opponents have been swept up, willy-nilly in a general move toward editorial integrity.

Stephens is a great example of this. The pushback to his hiring at the NYT (from what I saw) was pretty much entirely pegged to his climate-change nonsense, not his conservatism. Of course, Stephens still has his job, so while I agree with Henry that things are trending against Stephens in publications that aren’t primarily oriented toward bullshit, there is still plenty of room for people like him.

32

Chip Daniels 04.06.18 at 4:32 pm

If conservatism was truly a fusion of traditional morality, fiscal prudence, and anti-Communism, then even by that standard, it has been exhausted.

Traditional morality was always and ever just a euphemism for “traditional sexual mores”. Outside of sexuality it really didn’t have anything to say about modern behavior (even if it should have!). And the modern world seems to have become quite comfortable with the sexual ethics we have thank you very much.

Fiscal prudence has become irrelevant because everyone agrees with it. Everyone agrees that we should strive to balance spending with revenue, even if at times we need to go into deficit which need to be repaid later. Everyone, that is, except conservatives themselves, who now openly admit that they don’t give a rip about deficits.

And without a global communist entity to oppose, conservatism lacks any sort of coherent foreign policy other than a primal scream of ethnic belligerence.

Lacking any of those three animating forces, its hard to see how conservatism is anything other than Corey Robin’s thesis of the desire to uphold a hierarchy of private power.

Conservatives can’t explain conservatism to the rest of us because they can’t explain it to themselves.

33

PatinIowa 04.06.18 at 5:12 pm

“But that’s a poorish substitute for actual influence and an actual audience, especially when the actual liberals and leftwingers that are the audience for publications like the Atlantic don’t want anything to do with these people. The very brightest will probably [become Democrats] – but it’ll be a cold enough future for the others.”

There, fixed it.

34

Neville Morley 04.06.18 at 5:16 pm

Gratuitous and tangential classical pedantry in answer to ph #16: it’s a long time since the idea of Romans subcontracting all intellectual efforts to Greek slaves was taken at face value in historical accounts – which is a shame, in some ways, as it has obvious utility for the sort of point you want to make.

35

Zamfir 04.06.18 at 7:45 pm

Michael Connolly links to:
https://jezebel.com/jezebel-regrets-its-decision-to-hire-cannibal-witch-as-1825021634

Strangely, they illustrate the article with a photograh of the former queen of the Netherlands. I wonder if they are aware of that? Though I presume that the other woman in the picture is supposed to be the witch.

36

MPAVictoria 04.06.18 at 7:50 pm

“I’ve noticed lefites play a certain game with conservatives when it comes to abortion. When conservatives claim that abortion is murder but make exceptions for rape and incest or refuse to prosecute women you call them inconsistent and hypocritical. When they are in fact consistent, you tar them as beyond the pale and not serious thinkers.

And anyone who thinks that plans to execute women for having abortions would work retroactively is themselves not a serious thinker.

If you want to defend or question the permissibility of abortions at some given stage, address the arguments. Don’t just arbitrarily declare some view as unserious when you provide no reason for thinking that you have put more serious thought into it than your opponent”

It isn’t about them being “unserious”. It is about them being fucking monsters.

37

ph 04.06.18 at 11:28 pm

@34 Thanks! I’d be quite happy (seriously) to have my outdated and spotty understanding updated and corrected everyday of the week by an expert of your caliber. My general point stands – ignorance and a lack of interest in books are considered virtues in some circles.

A significant percentage of my own students express these sentiments openly, when asked. They/we have far more pressing concerns – such as shopping, sport, etc.

38

Heliopause 04.07.18 at 12:26 am

Presumably we’ll have the number of conservative intellectuals that fills the demand.

39

Faustusnotes 04.07.18 at 12:42 am

When trump said women should be punished for abortion (during the campaign) Williamson ‘s stablemates at NRO we’re up in arms, as were some of the gutter trash at red state, claiming that no pro lifers support this view. Their argument then was that the poor dears are all misled by evil doctors and only the doctors should pay. There was very much a sense of worry that trump would alienate moderates if he pushed this view. But oh look their hero Williamson was saying it all along…

The problem for conservative intellectuals is that their program is transparently evil, and to make it acceptable to more than 1% of the population they need to lie about it. That’s a hard discipline to maintain over years, and now that the party has decided to go full leeroy Jenkins it’s going to be impossible. You simply can’t defend evil intellectually without looking like a monster or a fool. Williamson and his fellow experiments at NRO manage to consistently look like both. And now that the party and its donors have decided to drop their mask I think these useful idiots have to make a decision: get their filthy mouths off the wingnut welfare teat, or go full fascist.

My heart bleeds for them!

40

Ebenezer Scrooge 04.07.18 at 1:00 am

I don’t know what an “intellectual” is. I think I do know what a smart person sounds like. There are plenty of right-affiliated smart people among lawyers and economists. It’s increasingly hard to find them anywhere else. David Frum, I suppose.

41

LFC 04.07.18 at 1:37 am

Patrick Deneen in his comment @19 lists Andrew Bacevich as a conservative. Bacevich is mostly known as a critic of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment consensus (to the extent one can be said to exist) and as a critic of the U.S. ‘imperial’ posture (i.e., bases all over the world, etc etc). Foreign policy scrambles traditional alignments, and varied politicians and pundits might agree w roughly Bacevich’s position, but I don’t particularly think of him as a conservative (even if he self-identifies as such).

42

LFC 04.07.18 at 2:17 am

p.s. A glance at the intro (via Amazon ‘look inside’) of Deenen’s Why Liberalism Failed suggests that it’s forcefully written. (Which is not to say I’m nec. going to read it or, if I did, that I’d agree with it.)

43

musical mountaineer 04.07.18 at 2:35 am

Fat, broke and detested is no way to go through life, son.

44

Alan White 04.07.18 at 3:10 am

One percent conservatives now have long gotten the fact that pushing feeling something and usually a negative something in the service of plutocracy is effective in moving the general populace to be self-perceived have-nots, and accurately so given the macroeconomic policies of their manipulators, but have-nots who also are manipulated to see that their only political hope are those same one percent haves. Liberals’ push-backs in service of abstract factors like the truth or justice or equality criticisms of the one percent just don’t have the same kind of gravitas with the majority. The only hope is that the conservative strategy is so collectively destructive that finally it destroys itself. Given the collective gullibility of the world to the plutocratic message, I seen no hope otherwise.

45

Chet Murthy 04.07.18 at 3:11 am

Murali@4,

MPAVictoria accurately if a little tersely dismissed your argument. Let me be a little more wordy. TL;DR we end up at the same place, with the same place: “It is about them being fucking monsters.”

If abortion is murder, then rape and incest are not decent reasons for allowing it. A human is a human, and if a fetus is “a human”, it is also innocent of whatever crime was perpetrated upon the woman that gestates it. To visit punishment on that innocent “human” would itself be a crime. So you can EITHER {believe that abortion is murder AND outlaw it completely} OR {believe abortion is a medical procedure that is not murder under reasonable restrictions (like until viability outside the womb)}.

Similarly, if abortion is murder, then in almost all cases both the doctor and the patient are equally culpable. Hell, in the case of chemically-induced abortions, clearly the doctor is at some remove, and the patient is really the only one committing the act. So if you really believe abortion is murder, and you only plan to punish the doctor, you are, again, allowing equally-or-more-culpable perpetrators to escape. And there is no evidentiary issue at stake: the evidence of the crime is written on the body of that unindicted co-conspirator (the patient), right? So again, EITHER {you charge and punish equally both doctor and patient} OR {neither is guilty of any crime}.

Does that help? People who believe abortion is a routine medical procedure, and not a crime, think that denying such medical procedures to patients is monstrous. They DO NOT believe that the doctor performing such a procedure is a murderer, nor that the patient receiving the procedure is a murderer. It’s that simple.

I’ll give Williamson this much: he’s at least consistent in his beliefs. Just like his little essay about poor white folk (in Garbutt NY), wherein he told them that their plight was their own fault, and they needed to rent u-hauls and get themselves to where the jobs were. As far as he’s concerned, poor white folk can just die off, they’re not his concern. Just like poor people of color.

The man’s got a (“refreshing” to some, I suppose) consistency in his trolling, I gotta give him that.

46

Chet Murthy 04.07.18 at 3:25 am

One of the problems liberals have with “conservative intellectuals with morally outrageous positions, just pretending to providing needed intellectual diversity” is that liberals are *never* afforded the same lattitude.

For example, I remember a Saudi cleric arguing that women should wear a one-eyed niqab (b/c a woman’s eyes were too enticing). Nowhere, never, is it proposed that instead, men should be blinded at birth, and women left free to do whatever they wished. I can understand that this is an imposition on men and their freedom of movement, but really, women have been imposed-upon for over a millennium by Islam alone, not to speak of all the other impositions all the other religions have made. It seems a small sacrifice for men to make, to all be blinded now, and for the next, say, 1300 years.

This seems like a reasonable position to take: the problem is that men cannot resist the well-turned ankle, the shapely (I suppose) eyelid — so let’s make it impossible for men to see those things. And the most direct way to do that is blinding. It could be a rite of religious initiation, like the briss today.

I eager await solicitations for my essays in National Review and The American Conservative. Truly, I do.

And for those who think this is beyond the pale, oh don’t worry, I was just trolling, I didn’t really mean it, please don’t fire me from my comfy and deluxe perch at …. The Heritage Foundation, we don’t want to be depriving me of my free speech, do we?

I have other suggestions, too. For instance, young men could be mandated to provide a decent number of sperm donations within a year after puberty, and then neutered. Think of the massive improvement in public safety, and esp. for women, who would no longer suffer from the depredations of rapists and men simply blinded by testosterone. And the reproductive possibilities for these men would be entirely unaffected — since they would have those donations in sperm banks waiting for when they wished to have children.

Of course, the penalty for a male found after the deadline with his genitals intact, would be death, as would also transpire for any doctor who was faking the operations, and any person conspiring to help a male avoid the operations. It’s only fair, right? Males, and specifically testosterone-poisoned males, are the root cause of most crime and violence. Anyone standing in the way of this obvious public safety measure is clearly a monster.

And again, if I’m called on this, I’m just providing needed intellectual diversity. If you’re staying within the boundaries, you’re not trying. You need to get out past the boundaries, out where it’s hard to breathe (someone wrote that in defense of Williamson recently).

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Kurt Schuler 04.07.18 at 3:34 am

“The only plausible case for paying attention to conservative-intellectuals-qua-conservative-intellectuals, is that perhaps the pendulum will swing back after Trump, and the old regime [will] be restored.” Really? Is the only plausible case for paying attention to liberal-intellectuals-qua-liberal-intellectuals that perhaps the next Democratic president will listen to some of them? Do their ideas (including yours, Prof. Farrell) have no value apart from how they might serve powerful politicians?

Patrick Deneen (#19 above) mentioned some conservative thinkers he considers noteworthy. Here are some conservative publications that a professor of political science should know, through which you can find other thinkers: American Affairs, American Spectator, City Journal, Claremont Review of Books, Commentary, First Things, Modern Age, National Review, New Criterion, Weekly Standard. As is the case on the left, many of the most interesting people are only known to the readers of the smaller-circulation publications and their accompanying blogs.

And of course Washington has a number of conservative think tanks: American Enterprise Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, and Hoover Institution (has a Washington office and events), to mention those that focus on a wide range of issues rather than just one or two areas. They have intellectuals on staff and they bring in people from around the United States to give presentation on books they have written and ideas they are promoting. Get out of the echo chamber and meet some of them; you might enjoy it.

48

Brian 04.07.18 at 4:03 am

The line about Goldberg is priceless. Somebody tell NPR.

49

Brian 04.07.18 at 4:09 am

For exhibit A, go listen to historian Timothy Snyder debate the heritage foundation spokesperson Steven Moore on one of the final Diane Rhem Show episodes (on the history of fascism) Its quite revealing. Witness historical understanding versus shibboleths.
https://dianerehm.org/shows/2016-12-13/the-history-of-fascism-and-its-relevance-to-u-s-politics-today

50

John Quiggin 04.07.18 at 5:34 am

It’s worth pointing out (as Corey certainly would if he were commenting) that conservative intellectuals have been becoming more and more irrelevant for a long time, as the Repubs have lost any interest in intellectual credibility. I pointed this out in 2013, and it wasn’t exactly news then

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/05/31/the-last-three-on-the-island/

Responding to Patrick Deneen @14 wrt some of those mentioned there and also in my 2013 piece

* The “reform conservatism” pushed by Douthat and Levin is a dead duck, as Douthat has admitted himself. And, to restate the point of the OP, it was only interesting as a putative program for the Republican party. No one starting from scratch would present it as a policy progrram
* Michael Lind left the conservative side of politics years ago
* Dreher’s arguments for the Benedict option aren’t really ones with which the left can usefully engage. It’s scarcely likely that CT posts are going to convince conservatives to withdraw from politics.

51

John Quiggin 04.07.18 at 6:45 am

I should mention again the liberaltarians around the Niskanen Institute

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/08/13/whats-left-of-libertarianism-2/

who have broken with the political right, while still maintaining a (US-version) libertarian perspective on a lot of issues. They are worth engaging with on the strength of their ideas, even if they don’t represent a significant political force.

There doesn’t seem to be anything comparable among what’s left of the conservative intelligentsia. Most of them have either capitulated to Trumpism or become anti-anti-Trumpists.

52

Hidari 04.07.18 at 7:35 am

@51
You mention Corey Robin in passing and it’s worthwhile following that thought up, although you might not like where his thought leads. Corey’s thesis (and yes, not following in the standard CT tradition, I have actually read his last book) is what one might call ‘pessimism masquerading as optimism’. It’s the ‘optimism’ button he continually presses and of course, that’s understandable. We would rather live in a world of hope than a world of despair, and like most people on the Left I live in hope that the long nightmare of the ‘Two Neos’ (neoconservatism and neoliberalism) which we in the West have been living in since about 1981 (1979 in the UK) will soon come to an end.

And perhaps it soon will. Who knows? But in order to build a new society you have to have intellectuals who prepare the groundwork. Everyone now knows the story of the Mont Pelerin society, and the other right wing intellectuals who did the intellectual ‘dog work’ of laying the foundations for the New Right counter-revolution, in the 1950s and 1960s. And everyone knows that the current bunch of right wing nutters etc. are hardly in the same intellectual league as Hayek, von Mises, Drucker, Nozick et al. Even, God help us, Ayn Rand, seems like a ‘genuine’ intellectual, albeit a crushingly minor one, compared to the likes of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris.

But why? Why are the current bunch of right wing intellectuals so barren of ideas, so unscrupulous, so unable to create even the basic lineaments of a logical argument, so hostile to empirical evidence, so crushingly, self evidently, second rate?

The answer is, I believe, stated clearly in Corey Robin’s last book.

What is ‘the right’?

Another phrase for ‘rightists’ are ‘reactionaries’ and that’s exactly what they are. They ‘react’. They are not, in an of themselves, ‘active’ thinkers. They don’t think up new ideas. They react to the ideas of others.

Whose ideas?

Why, the ideas of The Left, obviously. Remember who came first. FIRST came the left, then came the right. If one goes back to what one might term the ‘ideal world’ of many on the Right (and then likes of T.S. Eliot and ‘Chesterbelloc’ were quite explicit about this), the 12th and 13th centuries, there were no right wing intellectuals because there were no left wing intellectuals. Because in that time ‘there was a place for everything, and everything was in its place’. And there was a place for everyone and everyone was in their place.

It was only when that world started to disintegrate, first with the plague which led (horrors!) to the various Peasant Rebellions and then with the ‘discovery’ (and then invasion/colonisation) of the Americas that we had the first right wing intellectual in the modern sense, Thomas Hobbes. It would take too long here to describe why Hobbes is the first true Conservative intellectual. Suffice to say, he was reacting to currents of thoughts (and political actions) which predated him. He was updating the defences of hierarchy in a way that had not been necessary before, as (e.g. in the 12th century) hierarchy had needed no defence: no one was questioning it, and if anyone did have any questions, well, there was the Bible to shut them up.

Conservatism sorta sputtered in and out of existence after that point. But the true Conservative tradition only began in the late 18th and early 19th century with the French Revolution. Suddenly there was a real, intellectually coherent and consistent threat to traditional hierarchies.

Therefore, the right wing intellectuals had to up their game.

Still more did they have to up their game after Marx. Whatever one might think of Marx, he was vastly erudite, and his arguments were not stupid. Therefore rightists had to read as much as him, and polish their arguments as much as him.

In terms of the Anglo-American political tradition, what was the one main theme of the 19th century?

It was, simply, the French Revolution, and why did it ‘fail’?

There were a number of answers to this: one could answer it didn’t fail, not really (liberals) or one could answer it failed because it was far too radical (rightists) or one could answer it failed because it wasn’t nearly radical enough (leftists). But it was a phenomenon about which no one could be neutral. And as a result of this intellectual warfare everyone ‘had to be’ super clever, super-erudite, super ‘good’ at debate.

In the same way, what was the one intellectual theme of the 20th century, politically speaking?

It was this: Why did the Russian Revolution fail? Again, there were a number of answers. One could answer that it failed because it was far too radical (liberals and rightists). Or one could argue that it didn’t fail. Or one could argue that it wasn’t radical enough. Or whatever. But in any case, an answer would require at least a passing knowledge of the works of Marx, and Marx is difficult.

Hence the reason that von Mises, Hayek etc. are so good. They had to be. They had to ‘up their game’ to meet the new intellectual threat. They were reactionaries. They reacted to Marxism (and associated traditions).

That all ended in 1991/1992.

Why is the current intellectual world so awful, so bereft of true ideas, of such a low intellectual level? Because, I would argue, our current intellectual (political) debates are not really about anything. In the 19th century almost all political debates were ‘about’ The French Revolution, in that almost everyone in that period could be assigned a position, relating to that event.

In the same way, in the 20th century, almost all political debates were, implicitly or explicitly ‘about’ the Russian (or possibly the Chinese) revolutions. It was simply impossible to be political and not have an opinion about these events.

What is the equivalent event of the 21st century? The answer is, there isn’t one. Despite the (covert) hopes of the Democrats, Trump is no Hitler. And Bernie Sanders is no Lenin. Almost literally no one (not even Corbyn) seriously questions the neoliberal/neoconservative worldview (Corbyn probably would if he could, but his own party won’t let him). The basic political fact of the 21st century, American hegemony, remains essentially unchallenged, and this will remain the case for a good 30 or 40 years.

There are no revolutions, because there are no revolutionaries. And in the absence of revolutionaries, there is no need for counter-revolutionaries.

Again, why were 19th and 20th century reactionaries so smart? Because they had to be, to meet the threat from the left. Why are 21st century reactionaries so dumb? Because they don’t have to be. You don’t have to fight a battle when you have won the war. The war is over. The only left that mattered, the radical left, is totally crushed (in the West, outside it the situation is different but not by much). There are no young Marxists now, in their teens or 20s, pushing forward Marxist theory. There are no young revolutionaries. ‘Everyone’ accepts the system. The few who don’t (Chomsky, Alain Badiou, David Harvey) are old men in their 70s or 80s.

So, to repeat, the right will remain dumb until a new, intellectually challenging radical challenge to the status quo emerges. Until then, the right will remain dumb.

Because there was a war, and they won it. You don’t need right wing intellectuals advising the Generals about how to win the war when your left wing enemies are waving the white flag.

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jack strocchi 04.07.18 at 9:01 am

Pr Q said:

conservative intellectuals have been becoming more and more irrelevant for a long time

Steve Sailer is certainly “conservative”, by the intellectual “standards” of 2018. He seems kind of relevant, given half the NYT op-eds seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to bury the “hate thinker” without name. More generally, who cares about conservative “intellectuals” of today? Most of them are “cuckservatives” who long ago sold the pass for a pocketfull of mumbles and 30 pieces of silver.

There are more than enough Dead White Male conservative intellectuals, from Aristotle right up to, say, EO Wilson, to handle the post-modern liberal “intellectual disaster area” (Stove).

54

Peter T 04.07.18 at 12:04 pm

Hidari

Ah, but the right does have a powerful enemy – the environmental movement. With effective thinkers (and a great many scientists). Yet the response so far has been intellectually puerile, if often distressingly politically effective.

55

bob mcmanus 04.07.18 at 12:45 pm

Hidari :Why are 21st century reactionaries so dumb? Because they don’t have to be. You don’t have to fight a battle when you have won the war.

They have such complete control that they contemptuously send their jesters, mountebanks and wastrel sons out in “ideological battle” and the liberals think they shine in comparison. The Left keeps saying “You’re wrestling with a pig, dude, and I am not jumping in that sty with you.”

Note: Williamson got fired for a social Kinsley gaffe not an economic one. We should always be clear as whose power is being demonstrated in his firing.

56

bob mcmanus 04.07.18 at 1:18 pm

Okay, so what is going on. What if Farrell is right and conservatism as an ideology is withering away, with no intellectual legitimacy. OTOH, if I hang around the Democratic/Labour blogosphere, we are mere days away from expropriating the expropriators and getting back to the good ole days of trente glorieuse.

Not. The oligarchs have won. There has been no freaking future since Lydon sang it.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, but Jameson Adorno it goes way back. As capitalism achieved totality and global dominance, TINA, it became natural and a subconscious ontology. We can’t think outside it anymore. The ideas of the ruling class don’t compete or work hard, they rule. Property and individualism need no intellectual justification, and they can finally move the circuses into the center ring of the spectacle.

57

ph 04.07.18 at 1:19 pm

@53 “Almost literally no one (not even Corbyn) seriously questions the neoliberal/neoconservative worldview (Corbyn probably would if he could, but his own party won’t let him).”

This seems almost fantastically wrong. I regret to say I feel you’ve missed the point entirely and have failed to distinguish clearly between the ‘right’ and the ‘intellectual right.’ There are a number of states that maintain strong state interventionist policies: Japan is one. From the time of the Meiji revolution the state has sponsored/supported/directed a number of industrial co-operation policies. The Saudi family seems extremely unlikely to simply allow the market/polity to exercise any unconstrained operations. China, India, and Mynmar seem decidedly illiberal and anti-neocon. First world nations benefiting from hemispheric-inequality are keen to ‘explain’ exploitation in rather more flowery and elegant terms, but economic rape seems a better fit. What the OP recognizes is that there’s now a certain open ugliness to the exchanges we see, and a very welcome one I might add. As others have pointed out here, there’s a great deal of difference between Trump and Obama in the details, but when it comes to stewarding the system there’s nothing to choose between the two aside from rhetoric.

When I’m getting screwed I much prefer not to dress it up as some sort of venture in which I have much/any agency. We’re commanded to bend-over and we do. We can tell ourselves otherwise, but the systemic constraints allow very little freedom other than inviting those on the receiving end to smile and lick the glove.

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bob mcmanus 04.07.18 at 1:28 pm

And of course as Capitalism became uncontested reality, socialism and social justice was driven to the ontological status of fantasy, Utopia, religion, science fiction, Wikanda and superheroes. Star Trek ToS and 1968 probably marked the point at which the oligarchs discovered they faced no threats and could let the plebs let off steam

59

Barry 04.07.18 at 1:33 pm

Henry: “… associate editors of the New Republic were real associate editors of the New Republic. …’

And remember that back in The Day, the New Republic was the magazine that defended the book ‘The Bell Curve’, due to its editor either (a) thinking that it was truth , or (b) being a racist faux-intellectual-with-a-British-accent who delighted in racism.

60

Patrick 04.07.18 at 3:51 pm

I used to constantly see libertarian conservatives do this thing where they shrieked and wailed about how unfair it was that liberals didn’t take them seriously. A liberal would say something like, “conservatives believe X and are doing Y as a result, so I think…” You know. Basic political discussion. And a libertarian conservative would show up in the comments and whine about how unfair it was that liberals just assumed that all conservatives believed X and wanted Y.

And the obvious response was always, “I made that ‘assumption’ because X is the arguments of the Republican Party, and Y is a policy they are passing through Congress right now in real life, so if you want me to take you seriously as a constituent member of the conservative movement worth discussing, GO GET A CONSTITUENCY because right now you’re impotent and irrelevant and I’ll spend my time addressing the actual real life conservative political movement with actual real life political power, thank you very much.”

A few months after the election, I started noticing that the libertarian conservative’s role in that dynamic was being overtaken by Never Trump Conservatives.

Which is kind of a shame because a lot of Never Trump Conservatives have very good reasons for being Never Trump, and because Trump is garbage. So I’d really like for them to succeed.

But in terms of national conversation… they really don’t matter.

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Patrick 04.07.18 at 3:54 pm

I mean, look at the people being floated as valuable conservative voices. Rod “I whine all the time about how mean people are to Christians but I also call everyone I don’t like a degenerate and I really, really mean it in the nastiest way possible when I say it” Dreher? Come on. Irrelevant with respect to his good traits, relevant only with respect to his worst traits, and a dick.

62

PatinIowa 04.07.18 at 4:20 pm

Hadari @51

Interesting. Plausible.

Like all broad historical narratives we can then start pushing things backward in time. Surely Martin Luther threatened traditional hierarchies in a dangerous way; we could imagine the counter-Reformation as a paradigmatic conservative reaction. Thomas More’s career is instructive in this regard.

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lumpkin 04.07.18 at 10:21 pm

The Atlantic wanted to be provocative, and they were! So many were provoked that they had to call the whole thing off early. Success!

64

ph 04.08.18 at 1:26 am

One last. I very strongly object to the notion that we can do nothing in the face of what seems like overwhelming power. The ideological debate has, in fact, rarely been more important.

What Trump/Sanders/Corbyn and Europe teach us is that a great many are indeed extremely unhappy with the status quo and are willing to bet (as I do) on characters whose transparent failings and short-comings ordinarily would prevent them from ever achieving power. The Facebook ‘crisis’ and the Amazon Prime nascent class-action suit provide further evidence that rebellion and insurrection is in the air.

I support all three above ONLY because the filtering systems prevent other more regular folks from attaining power. Corbyn seems decidedly unreceptive to calls to purge ‘offending’ members. Flouting ‘demands’ from bubble-heads in the press and parties of faction is precisely what an unhappy polity demands.

Real political and economic opposition to non-stop consumption through collective economic action is a real alternative and highly potent one – which is the main reason we hear so regularly that the ‘battle has already been last.’ It hasn’t. We’re right in the middle of it. The ruling class regularly wins, but not always, and perhaps not this time.

Identity politics is destroying any possibility of unified opposition on a class basis and is a weapon fashioned as much by elites as by circumstance, handed to the unhappy, who then turn the weapon upon potential class allies. It’s happened again, and again, and again, throughout history. When we support Hillary over Bernie we’re NOT being pragmatic, or realistic. This issue is one of political survival, not principle.

When Dems surrendered over single-payer they signaled to everyone that the left would happily accept NOTHING. The message was loud and clear to anyone paying attention. And so, the left continues to get NOTHING, because in the end NOTHING will do just fine. Until we’re ready to rally around the imperfect we can expect much more of the same only worse. The knight in shining armor (of either gender) ain’t coming.

But helping the elites set fire to our own homes and stables isn’t really in the cards. Is it?

65

Henry 04.08.18 at 2:16 am

@19

This piece appears to be written by someone too long in the academic echo chamber. … Ross Douthat, Yuval Levin, Dan McCarthy, Michael Lind, Mary Eberstadt, … any number of libertarians (e.g. Tyler Cowan, Bryan Caplan, Jason Brennan, etc.), but a good number of very thoughtful social/religious conservatives who doubtless don’t break through the bubble surrounding this author, but might include a goodly number of my colleagues at Notre Dame (orthodox Catholics like Christian Smith, Brad Gregory, Cyril O’Regan, John Cavadini, Richard Garnett

I wouldn’t want to be disrupting the acoustics your own own echo chamber now, but a desultory google search might have told you that I’ve some tolerable familiarity with many of these names. And I imagine that some of them – Tyler for instance – would likely be a little bemused to find themselves described as conservatives. I’ll admit to not being especially familiar with your “orthodox Catholic” colleagues at Notre Dame, but my upbringing in Ireland has provided me with sufficient acquaintance with orthodox Catholic apologetics that I’ve no particular inclination to seek out more of it (though I’m happy to engage with people like Adrian Vermeule who combine their ultramontanism with acuity of wit).

even yours truly

While I cannot claim to have been completely immersed in the plenitude of Patrick Deneen thought, I have some familiarity with that too. Indeed, I’m fairly sure that I have a cached version of your intriguing farewell encomium to Georgetown University on some hard drive or another. Given its quite remarkable and sudden disappearance from the Internet very shortly after its publication, I imagine it must be some class of a collector’s item by now.

More generally, you appear not to have read this post particularly carefully or well. The “ferment” (or any other microbiological process you might care to describe, imaginary or real) among conservatives at the moment is irrelevant to the argument, which is about the political economy that sustained conservative intellectualism and its influence among liberals rather than the qualities thereof. It’s an empirical claim, which may be wrong, but one for which the evidence you produce is quite irrelevant.

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Faustusnotes 04.08.18 at 2:46 am

Oh kidneystones. The Dems didn’t “surrender” on single payer, they had a Medicaid expansion plan that would have ensured every American had access to healthcare regardless of ability to pay. But the heritage foundation – the very”intellectual s” being discussed here who you think are the same as the Dems – spent a year and a fuckton of money destroying it in the supreme Court. Then Hilary floated a public option to fix the damage those intellectuals – who you think are the same as her – did, but Trump won and proceeded to do more damage. But idiots like you still think the two parties are the same.

67

LFC 04.08.18 at 3:09 am

There have long been different levels of intellectual debate. On one level, that of sweeping ideological divides, the great clashes may be less central than they once were, for reasons some of which have already been suggested upthread. On another level, that of detailed debate over policies and specific issues, debates that are ideologically inflected but not ideologically determined (if one can draw that distinction), it seems to me there is still a lot of probably useful discussion around.

Also, the big ideological divides tend to recur, even if it appears that one side has won. The victory of one side may not be permanent. Moreover, movements of mass protest may have, to some extent, a cyclical quality. Daniel Bell famously proclaimed ‘the end of ideology’ and then the 1960s happened. (Oops.) The protests against the WTO meetings in Seattle and in Milan (I think it was) are almost 20 years old. Perhaps a new wave of counter-corporate-globalization activism is in the offing. I don’t think anyone thinks, contra mcmanus’s reading of ‘the Dem/Labour blogosphere’, that the trente glorieuses are around the corner, much less that the expropriators are going to be expropriated and the integument burst asunder, but that doesn’t mean that, in mcmanus’s words, “the oligarchs have won” and that is the end of the story. Which is only to say that mcmanus’s confident and sometimes cryptic (or do I mean gnomic?) assertions are usually, at a minimum, debatable.

68

Alex SL 04.08.18 at 3:29 am

Some of this thread illustrates the problem of how ill-defined “conservative” is, leading to a lot of No True Scotsmanning.

69

Chet Murthy 04.08.18 at 4:07 am

Identity politics is destroying any possibility of unified opposition on a class basis and is a weapon fashioned as much by elites as by circumstance, handed to the unhappy, who then turn the weapon upon potential class allies. It’s happened again, and again, and again, throughout history. When we support Hillary over Bernie we’re NOT being pragmatic, or realistic. This issue is one of political survival, not principle.

When Dems surrendered over single-payer they signaled to everyone that the left would happily accept NOTHING.

I know, I know, don’t feed the troll. But this is just too rich! I mean, brilliant! “Identity politics is a weapon fashioned by the elites”!! As if poor men can’t be racists and rapists! ROFL!

70

ph 04.08.18 at 5:17 am

@69 You don’t really appear to know very much about how political elites sow discord among classes.

The fears exist and are exacerbated by say…Donald Trump…and Nigel Farage! Is this starting to make sense now? And because working-class and low mobility workers DON’T have anybody on the ostensible left giving more than lip-service to their fears and concerns (or roundly abusing them for ‘not getting with the globalization program’) these workers in Europe increasingly and to a degree in the US to leaders like Trump and Farage because Hillary and company couldn’t even be bothered to TURN UP in Wisconsin.
Identity politics is the politics of division – you’re welcome to disagree.
And in negotiations when you fold on single-payer, you fold on Wall St. bailouts, big-pharma and transforming full-time low-paying jobs into part-time low-paying jobs, as the ACA did – not that many these parts noticed at the time. Here’s the report of Kucinich selling out for a ride with O on Air Force One, at least he got a chance to play president for a day. Whee! (Yes, I supported Kucinich up to that point.)
“In a private conversation aboard Air Force One, en route to Ohio on Monday, President Obama pressed Mr. Kucinich for his support for the bill. The White House did not know what the congressman had decided until earlier today, when his aides advised administration officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of his plans.”
https://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/kucinich-switches-vote-on-health-care/

The ACA made insurance companies and big pharma rich – and played a key role in destroying the credibility of Dems on health care as the GOP ran endless ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor’ loops in 2016 and premiums spiked making health care unaffordable for too many middle-class Americans right before the November election, who held their nose and voted GOP.

Making Obama president cost the Democrats an enormous number of seats, destroyed the African-American middle-class, and confirmed that when it comes to the big stuff, Dems will screw the 99 percent just as happily as the GOP. His pay-out per speech post WH? 400k and do you think he’s going to trade in those suits and go back to a ‘modest’ home in Chicago? Please!

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ph 04.08.18 at 5:48 am

I’ll disengage on this note.

Trump should never have won. Brexit should have lost. Victor Orban should not be cruising to a third term election victory. Significant sections of middle and working class voters in these nations DO NOT feel that the ostensible left gives a fig about their concerns. Pre-2015 any dissent with the ‘globalization is inevitable’ was met with scorn, derision, and worse. Take a stand on borders, mention that local communities were struggling with assimilation, and guess what? You’re racist mofo! Explicitly.

And guess what ordinary folks took a look and saw that trans-gender bathrooms seemed more important to Dems than jobs. It’s that frigging simple. Identity politics paints a big yellow line down the middle of every issue, forcing people to choose ‘the good’ over the ‘evil.’

This thread is an excellent example of faux moral claims of superior virtue which may sound nice to the ears of some but frankly confirm only hubris and ignorance of the plight of the for-too-long-mocked-and-ignored – who turned out on November to overturn the coronation of the ‘heir’ to Obama.

Dems aren’t going to be able to offer anything positive to voters if the only argument ‘the left’ makes is that those on the ‘other side’ are ‘fucking monsters.’ Voters couldn’t give a shit. Ordinary people want jobs for themselves and their kids, not rhetoric from the right, or posturing from the left – some of whom seem never to have ever met anyone on welfare, or food stamps. Dems couldn’t come up with a better economic message than MAGA and, as a result, lost. For them, a job was far more important than making a woman president. But the identity politics folks assured us that everything was going to turn out just fine, except that women voters (other than African-American women) preferred Trump.

Henry’s point, I think, is that words increasingly don’t matter, and probably shouldn’t. That’s it from me.

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Hidari 04.08.18 at 8:28 am

@54

‘Ah, but the right does have a powerful enemy – the environmental movement. With effective thinkers (and a great many scientists). Yet the response so far has been intellectually puerile, if often distressingly politically effective.’

Absolutely you are right. But I would make two points.

1: So far at least, the environmental movement (I mean the ‘New’ environmental movement, i.e. the post-climate change environmental movement) has not produced any major intellectuals in the standard sense of that word, no Marxs, Habermas’, Foucaults.

2: So far the environmental movement has been totally marginalised in contemporary discourse. Observe the sort of stunned silence that commonly follows yet another news story about how bad things are, environmentally speaking. These stories rarely go viral, or provoke debate (compare and contrast the obsessive concern with trivialities that commonly dominate the news headlines). Instead the standard policies of the Right have worked: marginalise the ‘crazies’ (i.e. those who won’t, ahem, ‘sell out’) and co-opt those who are prepared to be co-opted.

This will change, and if I had to make a prediction as to how the radical left will ‘appear again’, it would be because of the developing environmental apocalypse. But that probably won’t become obvious to most people until the latter half of the 21st century.

@62

Yes doubtless you are right. As E.P Thompson pointed out, probably the first ‘radical’ thinkers in the Anglo-Saxon thinkers were radical Protestants in the British Civil War period (the Diggers etc.). Although the grand-daddy of them all is Wat Tyler (whose ‘financial’ demands, so to speak, were radical, although is ‘political’ demands were, of course primitive). One could doubtless do a PhD (perhaps one has already been done) to Conservative Reactions to the various Peasant Revolutions. This would be the first time that conservatism/hierarchy would really have to justify itself.

The choice of Hobbes as the first Conservative thinker in the modern sense wasn’t mine, by the way, it was Corey Robin’s, just in case that wasn’t clear.

73

Hidari 04.08.18 at 8:30 am

@55, 56.

Yes.

74

nastywoman 04.08.18 at 9:51 am

nastywoman – I have asked you multiple times to stop commenting on my posts. Please desist. HJF

75

eg 04.08.18 at 10:06 am

Helen at 10

In Canada we feel your pain. Here the Fraser Institute and its noxious propaganda is an inescapable feature of public discourse.

76

Lee A. Arnold 04.08.18 at 10:24 am

“The Democrats are to blame for the fact that I voted for Trump,” may become a subgenre of,

“The left is to blame, not me, for the fact that the world isn’t a better place,” and,

“All is lost for capitalism’s won, even although I am easily confused into agreeing with the proposition that money should be artificially kept scarce, because supposedly otherwise, people will be lazy and greedy,” etc. etc.
_______________________
Meanwhile, the US abortion rate has been declining continuously since around 1980, perhaps it’s due to something in the mix of liberal and conservative policies, researchers aren’t sure — But that won’t stop an “intellectual” like Williamson from blaring his emotions thus piling his own hurtful baggage on top of some poor scared confused teen somewhere who’s already been abused and impregnated. So thanks for the head’s-up, there’s another writer whom I will never read.
_______________________
On the issue of the current political economy of the conservative writers, I think they will have no current coin until they fully repudiate their own approval of the total blockade and obstruction practiced by conservative Congresses since the time of Speaker Newt Gingrich. These writers have been hiding behind the Bible while playing footsie with the devil. It their favored party the US Republicans had compromised with the Democrats to help the workers and the poor, they now wouldn’t be in the position of having Trump destroy their own party. Conservative writers DESERVE Trump.

77

Lee A. Arnold 04.08.18 at 10:54 am

Fix that typo, “IF their favored party the US Republicans had compromised…” Because compromise in a democratic republic ain’t what it’s about, for them. Conservative writers are as absolutist as anyone they find on the liberal side. Conservative “intellectuals” to the last word are fully on board with the delusion that free market capitalism is the cure to society’s spiritual degradation. How? Because individuals should be compelled to stand up for themselves and then the market will find them a productive place. And the poor people who happen to get chewed up in the grinder? Well, they will be looked after by their faith in Jesus and by private charity judiciously applied. — This is ungodly and half-witted, and so it is that Trump is their own worse manifestation.

78

Faustusnotes 04.08.18 at 11:53 am

While there is no point in arguing with ph about facts, since he is immune to them, for anyone reading who might mistake his vituperation for seriousity, here are the facts about how Obamacare benefited insurers: https://www.factcheck.org/2017/10/trump-misleads-insurer-profits/

In fact the ACA put profit restrictions on private insurers, and regulated them at the same time. It was not an insurance industry bailout.

79

roger gathmann 04.08.18 at 12:53 pm

Williamson did bring something new/old to the table. Executing women for abortion was the ‘reform” instituted by the Ellenborough act of 1808. Not many people have gone back to that bill as a summit of legal reasoning. Even in 1808, it was immediately thought to be a mistake, and repealed in 1828. So there is that. Proposing to hang about ten to twenty million women is definitely new in that sense. I do wonder if Williamson will give a TED talk about it.

80

Layman 04.08.18 at 1:15 pm

Patrick: “Which is kind of a shame because a lot of Never Trump Conservatives have very good reasons for being Never Trump, and because Trump is garbage. So I’d really like for them to succeed.”

I’m having a hard time imagining what it would look like for Never Trump Conservatives to succeed. Would it mean they get their massively regressive tax cuts, ever-growing economic inequality, assault on the social safety net, racism and endless war in the Middle East, but without the rude tweets?

81

Lobsterman 04.08.18 at 4:37 pm

“When conservatives claim that abortion is murder but make exceptions for rape and incest or refuse to prosecute women you call them inconsistent and hypocritical. When they are in fact consistent, you tar them as beyond the pale and not serious thinkers.”

This is because the arguments for non-medically-based restrictions on abortion are a combination of stupid, inconsistent, hypocritical, and emblematic of brutality beyond the pale.

It’s not a game. The pro-forced-birthers are just that far wrong.

82

Donald Johnson 04.08.18 at 4:44 pm

Layman—“I’m having a hard time imagining what it would look like for Never Trump Conservatives to succeed. Would it mean they get their massively regressive tax cuts, ever-growing economic inequality, assault on the social safety net, racism and endless war in the Middle East, but without the rude tweets?”

This is mostly true, but the endless Mideast wars also applies to some Democrats. I think a chunk of the Beltway Resistance is composed of people who want a more competent mentally stable warmonger in charge.

I said mostly true because there is a small subset of Republicans and/ or conservatives who seem genuinely opposed to endless Mideast wars, or some of them. They sided with the Sanders- Lee attempt to end our support for the Saudi war on civilians in Yemen. ( Lee is one.). You can find some of them writing for The American Conservative website. Daniel Larison has become my favorite anti interventionist writer. I wouldn’t vote for these antiwar Republicans because on other issues they are Republican, but they are good on this one issue.

The storyline in some places is that Trump got some votes from people who genuinely thought he would pull us out of our Mideast wars. Suckers. But if so, there are at least a few votes he might lose next time.

83

LFC 04.08.18 at 5:04 pm

bob mcmanus @56 (endorsed by hidari @73)

What if Farrell is right and conservatism as an ideology is withering away, with no intellectual legitimacy.

This is a misreading of the OP. As I read it, the OP makes two main points or arguments, related but distinct:

1) conservative intellectuals have lost most of whatever influence they had w/in the conservative movement (and thus their claim on liberals’ and leftists’ attention);

2) the ideas of conservative intellectuals “are not that strong,” i.e., their main claim on attention was their strategic position, not their ideas.

Neither of these arguments equals the claim that, in mcmanus’s words, “conservatism as an ideology is withering away, with no intellectual legitimacy.”

So bob mcmanus has misread the OP.

84

Millian 04.08.18 at 5:31 pm

The main audience for conservative idea thinkers is their rival idea thinkers. Wasn’t it ever thus?

And the beam in your own eye, friend? The front page today is complaints about conservative thinkers, complaints about liberal/rationalist thinkers, nostalgia for FDR, nostalgia for Keynes and nostalgia for the high blogger era of the Iraq War, oh and a piece about academics striking. Who needs new ideas anyway?

85

Wild Cat 04.08.18 at 6:07 pm

19. Dreher’s a closet case (seriously, dude, who would obsess over gay people as much as he otherwise?) who hides behind his religion-of-the-week. Lind told “conservativism” to fug off eons ago; he also loathes “libertarianism.” Bacevich is my go-to guy for satirizing conservatives; his obituary for Tom Clancy is a classic. “Why Liberalism Failed”?—it was outspent, ratfugged, and gunned down (with actual bullets) for decades by the rich fuggers.

Congratulations, you thug.

86

steven t johnson 04.08.18 at 7:01 pm

Hidari@72 wrote “The choice of Hobbes as the first Conservative thinker in the modern sense wasn’t mine, by the way, it was Corey Robin’s, just in case that wasn’t clear.” Whatever specialized modern sense Corey Robin has cobbled up strikes me as far, far too limited. Aristophanes’ character bitching about freeloaders on welfare (jurors getting paid) can easily be envisioned as played by Carroll O’Conor doing Archie Bunker. Or you can imagine Juvenal’s Satires read aloud by William F. Buckley. Josephus’ getting huffy about “innovation” in The Jewish War has the authentic ring even if you arbitrarily redefine “reactionary” to exclude mere conservatives, or God forbid, the religious.

Even in sixteenth century terms, it’s hard to see why Hobbes is deemed the first. Even if you limit yourself to revolutionary times, Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha was potent enough to provoke Algernon Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government, a major work. Even before that Eikon Basilike was hugely influential, provoking Milton’s rebuttal in Eikonoklastes. It wasn’t so long before that James I &VI had gifted humanity with The True Law of Free Monarchy and Basilikon Doron. In many respects the true predecessor to Hobbes is the Machiavelli of the Discourses on Livy and The Prince. I can’t say I’m seeing the modernness of the modern conservatism here, not at all.

As to ph’s latest nonsense as to the cryptorevolutionary message in Trumpery? You want to vote for the full employment economy, vote for the Communist candidate of your choice! Monica Moorehead, Gloria La Riva, even Jerry White. Who? you murmur in strangled voice? Precisely. Like everyone else at CT, you have zero interest in really breaking the system, so quit pretending. You’re every bit as antirevolutionary as the others. One thing Polanyi did get very right is the shamness of the fascist revolutions.

And, by the way, claiming insurance companies and big pharma weren’t rich before ACA? Who does need a conservative intellectual for plausible ideas when you can get away with stuff like that?

87

steven t johnson 04.08.18 at 7:07 pm

PS Since Martin Luther has been mentioned, Martin Luther on the peasant rebellion has an authentic claim to be the first reactionary, no?

88

chris s 04.08.18 at 7:14 pm

@69

Note that the original statement was about elites AND circumstances creating these types of politics.

While I wouldn’t subscribe to what ph said, it’s nevertheless true that market based neo-liberal orders find it easier to grant certain individual freedoms (which can be treated as an extension of consumer choice) over substantive social change.

At the level of race, this amounts to admitting a few members of the appropriate race into the upper-managerial classes (the so-called ‘brown faces in high places’) rather than the elimination for the need of a sub-altern class, be it defined by race or otherwise.

89

Leroy 04.09.18 at 1:06 am

Paul Krugman’s article takes up the same theme as Henry’s post.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/opinion/unicorns-of-the-intellectual-right.html

“As others have pointed out, the real problem here is that media organizations are looking for unicorns: serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence. Forty or fifty years ago, such people did exist. But now they don’t.”

90

LFC 04.09.18 at 1:44 am

s t johnson

In many respects the true predecessor to Hobbes is the Machiavelli of the Discourses on Livy and The Prince

In a couple of respects, ok, but on the whole I’d say H & M were up to rather different things and operate within the framework of quite different assumptions. YMMV.

91

Patrick 04.09.18 at 2:27 am

Layman- Yes. Those are regular conservative positions. Trump style conservatism (not just Trump, Trump did not arise from nothing, and acts as the avatar of the specific type of conservatism to which I refer) gives us regular conservative positions, plus naked corruption, personal enrichment of government employees, contempt for institutions and procedures, willingness to burn down democratic norms for momentary convenience, open race baiting instead of racist dog whistles, and occasional completely random policy making due to momentary bouts of egoism.

Regular conservative positions are bad. They will make the world a worse place. Regular conservative positions plus cynical contempt for norms of governance and civil society is worse. A lot of Never Trump conservatives dislike Trump because he pushed all those extras beyond the point where they could tolerate. That is a valid reason to oppose Trump, and I would rather deal with a bad political party that lacks those additional flaws.

92

Hidari 04.09.18 at 6:01 am

@86
No. This is obviously wrong. What no one had, literally no one, before, about, say, the 17th century, was the concept of ‘progress’. Before then even ‘progressives’ were so to speak ‘reactionaries’. All ‘progressives’ wanted before then was a ‘return’ to some vaunted Golden Age of the past.

It was only after the Renaissance (which, as the name suggested, was, in fact, a ‘reactionary’ movement) and the invasion of the Americas that the idea began to be developed that history was not cyclical, or a ‘fall’ away from some previous Golden Age, but that, potentially, things might get better. Hence ‘progressive’.

But this was only an idea. It was really only with the Industrial Revolution (and the accompanying political revolutions) that ‘progressivism’ became a concrete possibility, as opposed to a fantasy. Orwell gets the point:

‘(by) the beginning of the twentieth century, human equality had become technically possible. It was still true that people were not equal in their native talents and that functions had to be specialized in ways that favored some individuals against others; but there was no longer any real need for class distinctions or for large differences of wealth. In earlier ages, class distinctions had been not only inevitable but desirable. Inequality was the price of civilization. With the development of machine production, however, the case was altered. Even if it were still necessary for human beings to do different kinds of work, it was no longer necessary for them to live at different social or economic levels. Therefore…., human equality was (now a real) danger to be averted. ‘ (i.e. for the first time)

This is conservatism. It is an intellectual reaction against the idea of human equality and its replacement by, as Orwell states, ‘hierarchy and regimentation. ‘

The difference is, of course, that in the past ‘conservatives’ if you want to call them that, argued that ‘we had no choice’ but to ‘choose’ hierarchy and regimentation. Now we do. So the modern conservative must argue that hierarchy and regimentation are somehow better than egalitarianism. And that is where the conservative intellectual steps in.

And now that that battle is won (no one, nowadays, argues in favour of radical egalitarianism. No one argues in favour of a classless society. No one argues that markets (and their inevitable consequence, hierarchy, inequality) should be abolished). So there is no need for the Conservative intellectual any more.

The battle is won. We now live in a world of hierarchy and regimentation. And essentially no one challenges it.

93

Chet Murthy 04.09.18 at 6:57 am

The battle is won. We now live in a world of hierarchy and regimentation. And essentially no one challenges it.

Yes, Hidari. Yes yes yes. erm, YES! I read this and remembered my freshman philosophy class (1982) and Prof Temkin discussing the moral basis of differential income (that there isn’t one). Today, Teh Free Murkit (derp derp) is such an assumed moral prior, that such a philosophical discussion is beyond the pale. [What’s that line from Vonnegut?] So it goes.

I’m grateful for Brad Delong’s work to remind us all about the moral underpinnings of economics, and that when the effects of economics diverge from prior moral goals, it’s the market that is to be suspect and remedied, not the moral goals.

94

Z 04.09.18 at 12:13 pm

The contingent (or maybe not so) irruption of Donald Trump certainly plays a role, as does maybe Brexit in England (it would be interesting to compare the British and American intellectual scene in that respect), as Henry explains.

But as I too was reading the second edition of Corey’s book these last weeks, I must say I find Hidari’s comment 52 cogent. Hidari follows closely Corey so takes an intellectual approach. I would rephrase his point from a sociological position. “Conservatism” writes Corey “is a meditation […] on the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, an trying to win it back”and later “[it] is the theoretical voice of the animus against the agency of the subordinate classe […] the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their political will.”

But that “experience of having power, seeing it threatened, an trying to win it back” is not that common these days. The modal experience of the élite is on the contrary the experience of having its power and privilege being increased – and being increasingly entrenched and transferrable to the next generation – while the subordinate classes are indeed increasingly devoid of political agency. As Hidari asks, in the absence of the historical challenge, why would there be a conservative meditation, let alone a deep one?

Last but not least, I think it is important to note that for all the historical ebbs and flows of the actual share of political and economical power accrued to the lower orders in the last 250 years, our current situation is historically unique in that a powerful diverging educative force is driving different blocks of the society apart, whereas an equally powerful converging educative force was pushing them together in the last two centuries (for instance, even though the level of economic inequality is comparable to what it was in the 1910s, the current situation is much more unequal, as many advanced Western societies then achieved universalized literacy; hence the markedly different social response to comparable economic inequalities).

95

LFC 04.09.18 at 1:05 pm

@92
If no one were arguing in favor of radical egalitarianism, one wonders why books like this, intended for use in philosophy and pol theory courses, wd be published:

https://www.amazon.com/Egalitarianism-Problems-Philosophy-Iwao-Hirose/dp/0415783194

96

LFC 04.09.18 at 1:07 pm

I’m grateful for Brad Delong’s work to remind us all about the moral underpinnings of economics, and that when the effects of economics diverge from prior moral goals, it’s the market that is to be suspect and remedied, not the moral goals.

A great many people have argued this, not just DeLong.

97

steven t johnson 04.09.18 at 2:09 pm

Hidari@92 I think finds its original errors in taking people like Orwell and Robin as serious people with genuine leftist aspirations. Orwell thinks hierarchy and regimentation are the order of the day in politics and society, rather than the workplace, which as I recall was never a concern of his. Consumerism is the very opposite of regimentation. And hierarchy is a system of ranks, where the higher gives orders to the lower. Again, this is largely true of the workplace (but Orwell likely would have been baffled by Japanese-style team management.) But in society, class is replaced with socioeconomic status, so that we can all be “middle class.” This is a fraud, but it isn’t hierarchy, which is formal. Orwell’s folly and malice barred him from any but an accidental relation to anything true.

I think the selective commitment to the Robinesque moralizing psychology leads to elementary mistakes. More’s Utopia and Bacon’s New Atlantis alone long predate the industrial revolution, yet it would be false to label them reactionary fables of a Golden Age. It seems absurd to think King James and Sir Robert Filmer weren’t reacting to the progress towards a future they found distasteful.

The great political revolutions were none of them were directly related to industrial revolution, which is notoriously a commonplace aimed against the Marxists. Or the Jacobins before them. It is notoriously controversial to claim that industrialization in the US, a process beginning before the Civil War (its great revolution,) was prerequisite. Indeed it is commonly held that the waste of life and treasure slowed the process. And who today defends the protective tariffs and internal improvements?

The Renaissance was not reactionary in any sane conception because the Roman Empire was a more advanced society than late medieval Europe. When you’re that far back, catching up to the past is progress. It takes a vast complacency to see the Renaissance thinkers as grubby reactionaries harking back to a Leaden Age transmuted into gold by their nasty self-interest and hidebound timidity.

The implicit idea that revolutionaries are only revolutionary if they explicitly tout the novelty of their ideas forgets that every great revolution was rife with men claiming precedents in the past. They may have been imaginary or overblown, whether Anglo-Saxon moots or Greek democracy or Roman republic. But even if Thomas Muentzer or the Anabaptists of Muenster talked of the ancient church, I daresay that on some level they knew full well they were doing something different, moving forward into an unknown future, making progress…and that Martin Luther reacted just like a modern conservative unhinged by the Jacobins. Or the Commune.

It is true that nobody here rejects mainstream economics or biology as represented by the Evolutionary Psychologists et al. And equally it is true that they share a vehement repudiation of revolution. But CT is not the world.

LFC@90 Machiavelli is to Savonarola as Hobbes is to the civil war. And Machiavelli is to an independent Florence as Hobbes is to a strong England. In my opinion, this is quite a lot. Near as I can tell, this resemblance is overlooked, so it’s worth saying, not arguing.

98

Ian Maitland 04.09.18 at 2:52 pm

I think you don’t grasp the real tragedy here. The real losers are not conservative/libertarian intellectuals who will be deprived of “actual influence and an actual audience.” The real losers are the readers of the Atlantic (etc.) who are in desperate need of a leavening agent for the tired party line that they call ideas.

99

Hidari 04.09.18 at 3:45 pm

@95
I notice in the ‘If you liked that…you might like this…’ section on the webpage you linked to there is also a book entitled ‘Against Democracy’, which has a large number of positive reviews.

The point is not that people buy such books (and the one you linked to). The point is, in both cases, there is no large, mass, political organisation that wants to put these ideals into practice.

Liberal pro-egalitarianism is, in any case, a contradiction in terms. Capitalism manufactures inequality. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. You can suppress this inherent tendency of capitalism’s for a while (as Western Europeans did in the Trente Glorieuses) but eventually, it seems, it will overwhelm you.

That’s why conservatives (most of ’em, anyway) love the free market. It creates hierarchy and regimentation. So, to propose egalitarianism, you must, to a greater or lesser extent, oppose capitalism. There is no way out of this dilemma.

And the vast majority of political parties in the West, even those on the Left, do not oppose capitalism (most, to be fair, don’t even pretend to). So….that’s why there are no first rank conservative intellectuals opposing the pro-egalitarian, anti-capitalist trend.

Because it doesn’t exist.

100

bekabot 04.09.18 at 6:33 pm

And anyone who thinks that plans to execute women for having abortions would work retroactively is themselves not a serious thinker.

Anyone who thinks that draconian laws can’t expand to become still more draconian hasn’t examined history.

101

Chet Murthy 04.09.18 at 7:21 pm

A great many people have argued this [the relevance of morality in economics], not just DeLong.

LFC, I didn’t mean to imply that Brad’s alone in this. Just that …. he blogs about it in a (to a non-economist software guy) very accessible way. And he does so daily, over years and years. I’m thinking specifically of this post regarding Takashi Negishi, but also many others.

102

TM 04.09.18 at 8:39 pm

Hidari 52 and Z 94:

The claim that the current political situation is uniquely terrible,
compared to the last few centuries of history, is cringeworthy.

The claim that ever since about 1981, we have been living a never-ending
“nightmare” in “a world of despair” is – well, the word “reactionary”
comes to mind. These views are not that different from Trumpians’
nostalgia for the good old 1950s.

103

casmilus 04.09.18 at 11:16 pm

@97

“Orwell thinks hierarchy and regimentation are the order of the day in politics and society, rather than the workplace, which as I recall was never a concern of his.”

You forgot the stuff about mineworkers. And the stuff about hop-pickers, and how they aren’t allowed to unionise. And about teaching in shitty downmarket private schools. And then there was the bit in his manifesto about restricting the range of incomes.

The tone of your opening paragraph is Dreherish surmising and suspicion masquerading very badly as insight, so I don’t have any use for the rest of the post, like the works of the conservative intellectuals of the OP.

104

Peter T 04.09.18 at 11:39 pm

Ian Maitland

Shit is not a leaven.

105

bruce wilder 04.10.18 at 2:12 am

@ Hidari

Liberal egalitarianism makes sense as an apology for a capitalist order that has a positive function for the boss.

Hobbes was subversive because he argued that the King had a social function in service to the secular interests of his subjects, in the organization of mutually beneficial social cooperation. Hereditary social rank is a feature of feudalism, but liberal capitalism called into question whether it was obsolete and parasitic.

That was then, and this is now of course.

Jeffrey Goldberg (the man who fired Kevin Williamson — see the OP) famously went to Cuba to interview Fidel and was told, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”.

The conservative’s Pragmatic Sanction — the conviction that capitalism and by extension, capitalist hierarchy “works” — is the core of neoliberalism.

106

Chet Murthy 04.10.18 at 2:37 am

Ian Maitland,

The real losers are the readers of the Atlantic (etc.) who are in desperate need of a leavening agent for the tired party line that they call ideas. learning once and for all that women are chattel.

FTFY. B/c that’s what Williamson’s argument boils down to: “women are chattel”.

107

Dr. Hilarius 04.10.18 at 3:24 am

Ian Maitland: No need to worry about the absence of Williamson from the Atlantic, the internet abounds with trolls holding similar opinions.

108

steven t johnson 04.10.18 at 3:27 am

casmilus@103 prefers Orwell’s tone to mine.
Truly, Orwell damages the morals as well as the mind.

For the mythical neutral on-looker, Casmilus has forgotten the plea for middle-class respectability in pt.2 of Road to Wigan Pier; the accusations of anti-Semitism in Down and Out in Paris and London; the bizarre Homage to Catalonia where revolution is rated by how festive people feel while political discussion is deliberately left out; the prurient revel in proletarian squalor in 1984; the vile whitewashing of the Great War in the opening of Animal Farm…all tone Casmilus approves.

109

Z 04.10.18 at 5:30 am

TM @102 The claim that the current political situation is uniquely terrible,
compared to the last few centuries of history, is cringeworthy.

That’s not a claim I made, as a fair (re)reading of my comment will show.

What I claimed is that the direction of social (not political, and not predominantly economical) forces is towards greater entrenchment of power (and consequently that the historical impetus of reactionary thinking as identified by Corey Robin is lacking), whereas a couple of decades ago, the direction of the same social forces was towards greater equality (this is indeed unique historically, though not uniquely terrible, just unique). Such an evaluation is fully compatible with the belief that the situation in the past was incomparably more brutal, unjust, cruel… Note also that this is an empirical claim, and as such does not much depend on my (or your) political preferences.

These views are not that different from Trumpians’ nostalgia for the good old 1950s.

And conversely, blinding yourself more or less willingly to the effects increasingly inegalitarian forces have on those on the wrong side more or less ensures that politicians like Trump can gain power (via a long sociological detour, this is more ore less mclaren’s point @18).

110

Wild Cat 04.10.18 at 2:40 pm

Ian Maitland: Perhaps the Soft-Boiled Egg with a Brillo Beard will sing the praises of thee, another 3/5 Ayn Rand–wannabe in an academic monkey suit, on one of the hundreds of other forums that will spill his seed on their website pages.

111

Hidari 04.10.18 at 4:00 pm

Incidentally, the claim I was making above was, again, taken from Orwell who noted that: ‘…new doctrines arose partly because of the accumulation of historical knowledge, and the growth of the historical sense, which had hardly existed before the nineteenth century. … history was now intelligible, or appeared to be so; and if it was intelligible, then it was alterable.’

The idea that history is intelligible and therefore alterable is, essentially the core of what we call ‘progressivism’.Few, if any thinkers before about 1800 had any sense of ‘the historical sense’. Enlightenment thinkers wrote history, yes, but few of their words have survived, except as historical curiosities (e.g. the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, which has literary, but, nowadays, little historical value). It was only with the rise of ‘the historical sense’ and its guru, so to speak, Hegel, that the idea rose that History might be rationally comprehensible and progressive. Strictly speaking, almost all thinkers before Hegel (even those we would now term ‘left wing’) were reactionary, positing a return to some ‘Golden Age’ of the past (‘When Adam wove and Eve span, who was then the gentleman’). It was only after Hegel that these desires for justice and peace were, so to speak, fused with the idea that history was not a long Fall from some prelapsarian paradise, but that it could be rationally understood and its ‘tendencies’ controlled and altered.

In a sense we are all Hegel’s children, with most of the left being left-Hegelians, and many on the right being right-Hegelians (of course Fukuyama made this link explicit in his best known work).

112

bekabot 04.10.18 at 8:35 pm

Patrick Deneen 04.06.18 at 12:05 pm

Not to get tendentious about it, Patrick Deneen, but at least half the people you mention have spent the past half-week defending Kevin Williamson and representing his ouster as a terrific defeat for free speech, which indicates to me that Kevin Williamson is intended to be the Next Thing, not Douthat or Dreher or any of that gang. What Douthat and Dreher and the rest of the boys (plus the very few girls) are there for is to pave the way for Williamson or for whomever the next Williamson happens to be. They’re not there on their own account (though this, admittedly, may not be something they’ve been aware of from day one). I think the original poster (‘Henry’) is making a point somewhat along the same lines: that the people you mention are not there to make names or do work on their own behalf, but rather to secure a future for others who will turn out to be more radical and more clickbaity than themselves, and who will be less invested as being perceived as ‘intellectuals’ (whatever that means). A tradition which is intent (for whichever reason) on bringing itself to an end is a tradition with a limited shelf life, which is why I (for one) am less interested in what highfalutin’ publications Dreher/Douthat/et cie. are writing for now or even in what they’re saying up front than in what they appear to be anticipating in the future. JMO.

113

Richard Mulliken 04.11.18 at 6:30 pm

But I say in all seriousness, conservatives are’t supposed to have idea or policies. The word tradition is enough. To be reflective or analytical about society is to give in to that Age of Reason outlook. The workings of things are not to be questioned Utterances shoiuld be limited to “hrumph” and “Another glass of claret?”

114

J-D 04.12.18 at 1:41 am

Hidari

Even, God help us, Ayn Rand, seems like a ‘genuine’ intellectual, albeit a crushingly minor one, compared to the likes of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris.

Does Ayn Rand still seem like an intellectual, even a crushingly minor one, after you have learned the following facts?
Introduced to a graphic designer at a party, she asked about the design of ads. The graphic designer could not understand why Ayn Rand became enraged by the explanation. Somebody else had to tell her that it was her use of the second pronoun to say something like ‘this is how you do it’, because nobody was supposed to presume to tell Ayn Rand how to do anything.
She wrote and published condemnatory reviews of films she had not seen.
She asked a friend who visited her in hospital how there could be a tree outside the window nine stories tall. Her friend explained that, under the effects of morphine, she had mistaken the reflection in the window of her IV pole for a tree. Rand insisted that the evidence of her senses was infallible and remained angry for months about what she considered to be her friend’s attempt to undermine her rationality.

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Peter T 04.12.18 at 8:45 am

Richard

surely that should be “another glass of port”?

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.13.18 at 2:25 am

Conservative intellectuals have found themselves in a predicament very much of their own making.

With the increasing professionalization of the universities came the opening of higher education to many groups that had previously been denied it, either by material circumstances or prejudice. The first expansion in higher ed came in the interwar period, and the second one came following WW2; each of these waves brought people who had previously been shut out of higher education and owed no allegiance to the dominant WASP mentality that controlled all political and educational power in the country. Many of those people in turn became academics themselves.

It turns out that the kind of people who gravitate towards “the life of the mind,” or, in other words, a career where you spend most of it asking questions and maybe answering one or two if you’re lucky, are generally inclined to all kinds of heretically skeptical ideas about received verities such as power, race, gender, class, and all those other fun subjects*. They begin to do things like subject a lot of those alleged truths to rigorous scrutiny and try to figure out whether those ideas match reality in any way. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that virtually every conservative idea that has been subjected to these tests has failed them thoroughly.

It was clear decades ago to, among others, William Buckley that academic freedom, in its modern understanding, would naturally drive out conservative ideas. Buckley was absolutely correct that a secular education would undermine the sort of American Christianity that he espoused, along with much else. Conservatives may be terrible when it comes to actual ideas, but they do have a good eye for self-preservation, and Buckley could see the demise of university conservatives coming from a mile away.

The rapidly diminishing theoretical and empirical credibility of conservative ideas in academia resulted in a problem: as academia liberalized, where were conservative ideas going to come from? The conservative solution to this problem was to create an alternative intellectual infrastructure. The ideas were going to come from right-wing foundations, supported by right-wing millionaires and billionaires like the Kochs, and the reason that they were going to come from those places is because those were the people willing to pay for them. It’s no accident that almost any remotely-well-known conservative academic is attached in some way to one of these institutes, where conservative propaganda is produced on spec. Charles Murray holds the Endowed Chair in Phrenological Race Science at Heritage because no respectable institution would hire him.

The problem with this parallel faux-academia is that it completed the divorce of conservative ideas from reality. Since these institutions of course did not value anything like true academic rigor (they would have collapsed, as they say, under the weight of their own contradictions had they done so), there was no longer any requirement that policy proposals be tethered to the realm of possibility. And as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to maintain the pretense that e.g. your Very Serious White Paper about how less taxes means more growth is for anything but advocating the upward redistribution of wealth. So the mask keeps slipping and slipping and all that shit that you try to keep hidden just keeps leaking out the sides because the effort is too much and anyway here’s Fox News telling everyone that MS-13 is coming to murder them in their sleep, and pretty soon it’s obvious that no one is really trying.

But once the degeneration is complete, it turns out that all those white papers and conferences and reformicon books about how we should force poor people to get married aren’t really of interest to anyone. What sells is a) looting the commons, b) misogyny, and c) naked racial resentment. And since every conservative idea essentially boils down to some combination of the above, what’s the point in reading all that academese when you’ve got the unadulterated thing itself ready for consumption? On the other hand, an increasing number of liberals are (finally. Finally!) starting to realize that perhaps all of this hand-wringing about intellectual diversity has not been entirely in good faith! And that the so-called “conservative intellectuals” are not engaged in a disinterested pursuit of the truth, but are rather a useful front for injecting morally noxious ideas into public debate. And even though a number of legacy “liberal” publications (including The Atlantic, the Times, and the Post) continue to be run by people infected with centrist brain parasites who seem to believe that giving racist and sexist idiots a platform is their mission in life, their time is very, very limited.

If it’s true, as Corey Robin has said here and elsewhere, that modern conservatism is most intellectually weak at the moment of its greatest political triumph (and I think it is true), it’s because conservatives have worked for decades toward this precise end. Most of their “intellectual” class consists of rank apologists for cruelty, but a few of them probably did think they were discussing important ideas. Well, the society they helped create has no use for their ideas anymore, because they were never anything other than a fig leaf for monstrous policies, and now we can just have the real thing without the facade.

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J-D 04.13.18 at 6:26 am

Jerry Vinokurov
Your comment reminds me of this, which I have quoted on Crooked Timber before:

‘… Oh, of course, they never thought anyone would act on their theories! But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own.’

‘… I agree … Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes.’
(CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength)

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Z 04.13.18 at 11:30 am

Jerry Vinokurov, bravo!

What sells is a) looting the commons, b) misogyny, and c) naked racial resentment

What worries me is that I tend to think this also holds for policies development, and as b) and c) are (thankfully) harder to implement, it’s a) all the time (and not only from proudly Trumpist governments).

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.13.18 at 2:58 pm

Well-found, J-D.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.13.18 at 3:17 pm

Jerry Vinokurov 04.13.18 at 2:25 am, in part:

It turns out that the kind of people who gravitate towards “the life of the mind,” or, in other words, a career where you spend most of it asking questions and maybe answering one or two if you’re lucky, are generally inclined to all kinds of heretically skeptical ideas about received verities such as power, race, gender, class, and all those other fun subjects*.

I like the entire post, and have bookmarked it for future review; it says something I’ve been thinking during much of the noise claiming “conservatives are the victims of academic bias”, but says it better than I think I would. Another thing that I think of, particularly when thinking of those econ majors I knew from university, is that my more-right-wing classmates showed no desire to pursue academia – their picture of success was to gain as much money as possible in the shortest time possible.

*I was looking for a footnote, too.

OT: Regarding the Claret-vs.-Port issue (Richard Mulliken @113 vs. Peter T @115), I suspect that the two of you are simply in different time zones, and that you are both correct.

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bruce wilder 04.13.18 at 4:48 pm

even though a number of legacy “liberal” publications (including The Atlantic, the Times, and the Post) continue to be run by people infected with centrist brain parasites

“centrist brain parasites” — isn’t that just another name for billionaire?

The Post is controlled by Jeff Bezos, The Atlantic by Mrs Steve Jobs, and the Sulzbergers — not quite in the billionaire leagues I guess — enjoy the support of the largest N.Y. Times shareholder, Carlos Slim Helú.

If you want a better politics, you will have to pay for it. And, if you want to control a major media outlet or a political party, be prepared to bid against some very deep-pocketed dudes or dudettes. (I expect that dictum also applies, should you dream of buying a major university back from its administrators.)

PR reps outnumber journalists four or five to one, and are better paid.

Idiocracy is bought and paid for. And, at this point in time, it has spread across the entire partisan spectrum in the U.S.

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Stephen 04.13.18 at 7:10 pm

Jerry Vinokurov @ 116
“people who had previously been shut out of higher education and owed no allegiance to the dominant WASP mentality that controlled all political and educational power in the country.”

You do realise, I hope, that if outside the US the WASP mentality (or its equivalent in non-Anglophone countries) was dominant, that was because most citizens were actually WASP (or equivalent). USA =/= world.

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Mario 04.13.18 at 9:08 pm

Since these institutions of course did not value anything like true academic rigor (they would have collapsed, as they say, under the weight of their own contradictions had they done so),

If you spend enough time in academia, you will see well-entrenched fields that are intellectually bankrupt. Some of them quite disastrously so. Especially in the social sciences, but also in the natural sciences. These fields don’t seem to be collapsing under the weight of their own contradictions, so I’d say you are wrong on that.

Maybe the disappearance of conservative thought from academia is due to lower intellectual quality. But, given the low quality of some of the academically successful stuff out there, I would say that there is reason to believe that other factors are playing the decisive roles.

Whatever they be, I don’t see much reason to be happy about the fact that conservative voices were displaced: it means in the end that there is no dialogue, and I don’t think that that is a positive outcome. Because a sizeable section of the population is going to continue being homophobic, transphogic, ableistic, nationalistic, racist, mysoginistic etc. (especially by the very broad definitions now in use) no matter how many papers are recited in the echo chamber. That the echo is now pristine, unperturbed by the cacophonies of dissent, doesn’t change that one iota.

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ph 04.14.18 at 12:01 am

More ‘white people’ talking about ‘white people’ as if all academics and people of the mind are think like ‘us.’

The term ‘conservative intellectuals’ seems positively Murray-like in its lack of precision, and stability. The term is used in many of the comments and for the same reasons as Murray and his supporters deploy their own weaponized arguments (so aptly laid out by Layman): to marginalize, to dehumanize, and to ultimately eliminate (figuratively, or in fact) a particular subset of humanity.

The latent and active bigotry comes into sharp relief when we start examining what conservative intellectual means in the African-American community which is considerably broader. Much as T. Coates, for example, is lionized by wealthy white liberals and is regarded as a hero to a subset of activist academics of various ethnic backgrounds – Coates is regarded as either a dunce, a very second-rate thinker, or a racist bigot (like Murray et al) by academics such as Glenn Loury and John McWhorter. https://bloggingheads.tv/videos/50070

The general ignorance of the contours of conservative African-American thought is equally clear when faced with the naked anti-Semitism and misogyny of the Nation of Islam and its many admirers. Yet, the Nation of Islam and traditional black Christian churches grew out of the failure of all ‘white’ communities to provide something better than Jim Crow and Jim Crow.2.

Whatever their flaws, African-American intellectuals of the Loury McWhorter type very much believe that sociol science matters – that statistics matter, that the incidence of single mothers is connected to Africa-American male incarceration rates has had devastating consequences for generations of African-Americans, and that, in short, all the ‘truisms’ pooh-poohed and giggled at by mighty-whitey liberals with their tenured sinecures and blind-eye reaction to drug abuse, sexism, violence, and criminality celebrated in ‘African-American’ music and culture, might actually help provide much-needed long-term stability and benefit to a community still on the margins – as any current economic stats can confirm.
Conservative philosophy and ‘intellectual theory’ as expounded by Burke and others has, at best, been an uneven success. And has largely been used to rationalize exploitation and cruelty. But the the implementation of Marxist approaches has offered similarly uneven results – with economic and material gains very much coming at a steep social cost. As a fan of socialism, I favor such an approach to political systems. But the Canadian model advanced by the prairie socialists of the 1930s allows for a high level of religious social conservatism. So there.

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Faustusnotes 04.14.18 at 12:15 am

Wow Mario, please give us an example of an intellectually bankrupt field in the natural sciences!

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ph 04.14.18 at 12:18 am

Henry, sorry about the typos. Boils down to this:

Conservative intellectual thought can rationalize exploitation; yet, in many communities conservative thought provides a framework for social cohesion and survival. That’s it.

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ph 04.14.18 at 12:24 am

And finally (sorry for not putting all this in one comment) from the NYT (2012: republican socialists on the prairie:

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/31/opinion/pragmatism-on-the-prairie.html

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Dr. Hilarius 04.14.18 at 12:38 am

Mario at 123: Not being in the social sciences I won’t offer an opinion about any of them being intellectually bankrupt. I am curious about your assertion concerning the natural sciences. Where lies the rot?

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