Brain death

A guest op-eder in the Washington Post asks: "Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?"  My immediate response is–so what if it is–it must be kept alive by heroic measures.  To be honest, my immediate response was: "Does that hyphen go there, I think not."  In any case, upon reading the article, I'm struck by the standard employed to determine brain death:

The best-selling conservative books these days tend to be red-meat titles such as Michelle Malkin's "Culture of Corruption," Glenn Beck's new "Arguing with Idiots" and all of Ann Coulter's well-calculated provocations that the left falls for like Pavlov's dogs. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these books. Politics is not conducted by Socratic seminar, and Henry Adams's dictum that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds should remind us that partisan passions are an essential and necessary function of democratic life. The right has always produced, and always will produce, potboilers.

Conspicuously missing, however, are the intellectual works. The bestseller list used to be crowded with the likes of Friedman's "Free to Choose," George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty," Paul Johnson's "Modern Times," Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind," Charles Murray's "Losing Ground" and "The Bell Curve," and Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man." There are still conservative intellectuals attempting to produce important work, but some publishers have been cutting back on serious conservative titles because they don't sell. (I have my own entry in the list: a two-volume political history titled "The Age of Reagan." But I never expected the books to sell well; at 750 pages each, you can hurt yourself picking them up.)

About the only recent successful title that harkens back to the older intellectual style is Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism," which argues that modern liberalism has much more in common with European fascism than conservatism has ever had. But because it deployed the incendiary f-word, the book was perceived as a mood-of-the-moment populist work, even though I predict that it will have a long shelf life as a serious work. Had Goldberg called the book "Aspects of Illiberal Policymaking: 1914 to the Present," it might have been received differently by its critics. And sold about 200 copies.

Jonah Goldberg?  Really?

10 thoughts on “Brain death”

  1. John, this is a very interesting op-ed.
    Usually the charge of the left is that the right is evil, not stupid. The “stupid-charge” is usually attributed by the right to the left.
    And what’s “intellectual pedigree”?

  2. “intellectual pedigree”:   That usually means things like where you did your advance studies, where you have and currently do your research, who publishes that research, etc. In more formal settings one might refer to it as “CV”.

  3. Wow. Hayward has an extraordinarily low standard for what constitutes “intellectual work” and he is willfully ignorant of the facts surrounding the current “populist” movement in conservative politics. The “tea baggers” are “authentic and laudatory”? It’s been made clear time and time again that the ringleaders behind this so-called populist movement are large corporate lobbies and Fox news itself (as Media Matters has taken great pains to point out).
    Something is rotten about this Op-Ed. The mere appearance of intellectual research does not make a work intellectual. The Bell Curve was a horribly racist and flawed study, but it had the trappings of intellectual research. Does that then separate it from the “populist” texts? Take, for example, the works of Victor Davis Hanson. He’s a history professor who writes with a distinct ideological bent. His affiliation with conservative think tanks notwithstanding, he has been criticized by his peers for his poor scholarship and overt agenda-pushing.
    The false dichotomy between conservative “scholars” and the obvious “populist” writers masks the real dichotomy that should be analyzed — that between truth and lies, and between objective research and ideological propaganda.

  4. The political left in the US pumps so much tax payer money into the university systems that it’s no surprise that the right wouldn’t bother to attempt to appeal to the pseudo-intellectual trappings of the “grey sciences” that litter the asinine dribble of leftist political literature.

  5. Hm.  This sentence is a grammatical and logical nightmare.  Perhaps you are indeed untainted by the asinine dribble of a leftist university education.

    But, for the fun of it, let me see if I get this straight:

    1.  The “political left” abundantly funds the university system with tax payer money (as a professor of philosophy at a state university, I’m deeply surprised by this claim).


    2.  Efforts by the right to penetrate an arena dominated by leftist funding (even, mysteriously, in private schools funded by wealthy individuals and corporations!) are fruitless.


    3.  In an unrelated matter: Leftist *political* literature is intellectually inadequate.

    Judging by your comments here, I’d say you probably don’t read much scholarship, leftist (whatever that means) or otherwise.

    As for the argument itself, I don’t see how 1 leads to 2, unless you think that some institutions being funded by some taxpayer money is sufficient to establish leftist tendencies in political scholarship across the entire public and private university system.

  6. John, in case you haven’t noticed (from my recent postings) I’ve taken a more sarcastic approach here.  I do enjoy a bit of the facetious hyperbole now and then, such as my comment on your post “The radio is the radio of its time.”  Shall I start labeling my posts to indicate when they are sarcastic?  I thought it was obvious (come on now, you should know that I wouldn’t make a run on sentence like that), but this is the second time someone has misconstrued what I was saying as serious.

  7. Sorry about that–there wasn’t really an indicator of sarcasm in there.  Sarcasm is hard to judge when one doesn’t have a good grasp of the background against which the sarcastic remark is being made.

  8. I can understand since I’m really a fairly right leaning individual and I was imitating a wacko hardcore right-winger.  I could sarcastically mock a different view point, but then I would fall outside the line of self deprecating humor and then it’s sarcasm with a touch of sincerity, which is little more than a backhanded attack in lou of a rational argument.   I’ll put a 🙂 or something on any sarcastic posts I make from now on.

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