Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where did the conservative intellectuals go?

Today I've been researching this question.  The list of "conservative intellectuals, activists, and writers" at the wikipedia page (1st google result) is disappointing to say the least (and neither Rand, Hayek, nor Friedman - the most prominent intellectual figures listed there - were, or considered themselves, conservative; Rand was especially vehement about this whereas today's "conservatives" haven't taken the hint).  Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams are well into their retirement-age years.  How about anyone living today under, say, 65 years old who could qualify as a great conservative intellectual?  The field is catastrophically barren here.

Three years ago, Newt Gingrich (one reason the wikipedia list is so disappointing) lauded a 14-year-old Jonathan Krohn as the intellectual future of the Republican Party.  Not only has that not panned out (the intellectually precocious Krohn went on to read some philosophy and to realize how intellectually vacuous his earlier views were), but there's obviously something gone awry about a political party in which a 14-year-old is so highly touted by the adults (or is it "adults"?) in the room.

The second Google result quotes at length from a blog posting by jurist Richard Posner which paints quite the grim picture.  The original, in full - without paragraph break-ups - is here.

There was a time when modern American-style conservatism (or should I say, the package-deal under that label of some good and some not-so-good ideas) had appeal to me - at a couple years older than Jonathan Krohn was as a GOP celebrity.  This was somewhere around twenty years prior to that, a number of years before the GOP had definitively jumped the shark (the younger Bush's presidency).  It was also before I encountered a book titled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, which spelled the end of American-style conservatism as an intellectually viable force in my mind.  Note how Barry Goldwater went on to repudiate the recent incarnation of the GOP.

If you look at the GOP today, it is a party that remains politically viable due in great part to two factors: (1) The super-wealthy support them: call this the financial support network; (2) The grassroots base - call this the electoral support network - is comprised to an astonishing extent (as abundant polling data show) of very ignorant people, geographically tilted toward the South and demographically tilted toward the old.  These two forces meet at the leading media outlet for GOP memes: Fox News.  Much financial and intellectual (or is it anti-intellectual?) capital has been spent largely via this propagation source to oppose such things as climate science, same-sex marriage and healthcare reform, to call into question Obama's "American credentials," and to promote fiscal and foreign policies that have little empirical data in their favor.  I would not be surprised if a poll of registered Republicans, when asked whether Al Jazeera is a political party, media organization or terrorist organization, ended up in a three-way split.  It's that fucking bad.

Very recently, this graph showing the relationship between favorite websites and political affiliation has been making the rounds.  I don't know how statistically reliable it is - it appears to be based on the Trendsetter app's user "likes" - but assuming it's reasonably accurate (and it looks quite accurate for's placement), the most telling data point would be the location of the wikipedia logo.  This wouldn't even demonstrate how great Obama and the Dems are, instead of just how bad today's GOP and its candidates are in comparison.  (Keep in mind that book smarts and business smarts aren't the same; also keep in mind that plenty of business people support the Dems.)  If you look at the community of political philosophers, I'd expect the support for present-day American-style conservatism (not to be confused with, say, Hayekianism) to be close to (if not completely) nonexistent.

I will continue researching these Google results and encourage others to do likewise.

(EDIT: Note to self: try to keep the distinction between conservatism (and conservative intellectuals) and the GOP/Fox abundantly clear.)

(EDIT #2: The third Google result, a Wa-Post editorial, mentions Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning as a serious work.  Heck, it even scores 3.9 stars out of 5 at goodreads, way higher than similarly-titled Ann Coulter works score there.  A text search of the book brought up zero results for "Rawls" and one irrelevant result for "Chomsky," however.  So I'm skeptical about what "left" Goldberg is talking about.  Is this like writing a book on the crankery of libertarians by highlighting Ron Paul but not Robert Nozick?)