Friday, October 02, 2009

Need More Intellectual Seriousness

"Is Conservativism Brain Dead?" by Steven Hayward laments the lack of intellectual muscle and stamina in the contemporary conservative movement, which is more populist and spectacular than it is substantive and philosophical. The author, however, is a conservative, not a liberal. I concur with many of his judgments.

My conservatism was formed by the like of folks that are lamentably absent from the scene, William F. Buckely, Ronald Reagan, Richard John Neuhaus, Francis A. Schaeffer, and others. My reading of Commentary, The Freeman, National Review, and First Things nurtured my judgments and sentiments. The new populist conservatives, while far more correct than contemporary liberals, do leave something to be desired. Part of the problem is the nonstop news and entertainment cycle.

The conservative movement needs some large, solid, and much-read treatises (and shorter manifestos) sparkling with intelligence, wit, and wisdom. (I do like Liberty and Tryany by Mark Levine as a smart manifesto.) Protracted study time in the woodshed is the order of the day. Then go on stage and show your chops. After that, go back and study some more, instead of posing for photographs.

3 comments:

Tom Wanchick said...

I agree with all your points. One important problem, though, is the culture to which today's conservatives must reach. It's a television culture, as you know, one that largely rejects serious reading and thought. How do you reach such a people with the deep truths of conservatism, if they're unwilling to read deep truths? I'm not defending the Glenn Becks of our day (though they do have some upside), but persuading a television culture that your political perspective is the truth can't be easy.

Steve Cowan said...

I agree, Doug. I also think that evangelical philosophers need to seek to influence the culture (and the conservative movement) by writing some political philosophy as I point out in my recent post on the EPS blog.

pennoyer said...

Keeping in mind we should be Christians first, and politically-minded second, I would say that Hayward’s article is very good overall. We certainly need more conservative intellectuals working on our current social and political problems.

Here are two observations:

First, on the search for intellectual respectability. No matter how brilliant the body of work, the conservative movement may never attain the kind of intellectual recognition that (I think) Hayward is seeking. That is because among the elites in our culture conservatism is stupid BY DEFINITION - and has been so for the past 100 years. Remember how Reagan was painted by the intellectuals and the media? The former "B movie" actor was too old, takes too many naps, and delegates all his important responsibilities. Contrast Clinton, who was fawned over by the same people as "brilliant" - so much so that (get this!) he was able to do crossword puzzles even during serious discussions in the oval office. Wow.

Second, on the spectrum of people and talent needed for the movement to succeed. We should "fight the good fight" in whatever station in life we may be in. The conservative movement needs intellectuals, populists, politicians and just plain regular folks who are first and foremost people of PRINCIPLE – constitutional principles in particular. And it should be to our advantage that we are not seeking to establish something entirely new, but rather to return to - or conserve - that foundation that has already been laid by the Founding Fathers. Case in point: You NEED a tour de force of hundreds and hundreds of pages to present a new and "progressive" philosophy like Karl Marx does in his Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. But in response, on a certain level you only need one person of principle standing up in the midst of that torrent of spilled ink and saying, "Hey, that’s stealing!" An intellectual may state that objection one way, a populist another, and a soccer mom another. We need all their voices.

- Ray