I found your interview last week with Sam Tanenhaus fascinating. Especially fascinating to me were Mr. Tanenhaus’ observations about the current state of the Conservative Movement. So, I thought I’d reply to them.
The American Left has been claiming, almost since the day Ronald Reagan left office that “American Conservatism was out of intellectual steam. There were no fresh or vital new ideas that would power Conservatism into the future.”
Well, setting aside the fact, that as far as I can tell the Last New Idea the Left had was “maybe, just maybe, we went a little overboard during the French Revolution”, I would like to reply to Mr. Tanenhaus and others who are saying the Conservatism is a Dead Letter.[# More #]
“Is the Conservative Movement in danger of collapsing from lack of
contemporaneous intellectual capacity? Has the intellectual side of the Movement become soft or flabby or acquiescent or has it gone drowsily navel gazing, dreaming only of Past Glories?”
I thought that the easiest way to evaluate the state of Conservative
intellectualism is compare “Political Science – Conservative Style” to the Physical Sciences – Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc.
The key to this analogy is how the different jobs and roles in the Physical Sciences mirror equivalent roles in the Conservative Movement.
A THEORETICAL PHYSICAL SCIENTIST – must know everything about her specialty – and having acquired that knowledge, the theoretician than examines the totality of their specialty from the outside and total systems viewpoint seeking new aspects, characteristics, behaviours, relationships and properties.
THE key point of theoretical breakthroughs is making an enormous
intellectual leap OUTSIDE the existing body of thought and knowledge about a given system.
To borrow a meme – the accomplished theoretician “Boldly Goes Where No Woman Has Gone Before” (wildly splitting infinitives and trashing grammar, wherever necessary, only for the sake of improving our human condition, of course.)
NEXT STEP — THE APPLIED PHYSICAL SCIENTIST – takes the newly discovered output of the theoretical scientist and says “Hmm, i didn’t know that about this system. Now that I have this new system property – what can i do with it in the real world?”
The applied scientist then goes on to take the newly discovered/emergent property and connect it to established processes/techniques/equipments/etc to find new capacities or to dramatically improve existing ones. These are the so-called “applications”.
NOW COMES THE ENGINEER – once the Applied Scientist had done her thing, and said “You can now make widgets or whatever at 10 times the speed/efficiency or 1/10th the time and/or cost of the OLD PROCESS…
The Engineer takes the Applied Scientists’ output and “boxes it for sale”…
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT.
This is how science and technology have progressed since the Scientific Revolution.
NOW APPLYING THIS CLASSIFICATION OF DIFFERENT ROLES TO CONTEMPORARY CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE…
William F. Buckley Jr., Frank Meyer, Willmoore Kendall, John Dos Passos, Samuel Insull, Andrew Mellon, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol, Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Albert JayNock, Wendell Wilkie, Andrew Carnegie, Pierpont and Jack Morgan, et al.
THESE were CONSERVATISM’S “THEORETICAL” POLITICAL SCIENTISTS.
They evolved the Basic Theoretical Framework(s) of Modern Conservatism. They POKED and PRODDED and INSPECTED and ARGUED and NAME CALLED and DESCRIBED THE
TOTALITY OF THE MODERN CONSERVATIVE SYSTEM – which has largely been an emerging process since one/other/both of the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson and the emergence of the American Progressive Movement.
By the time WFB launched The National Review in 1955, Modern Conservatism was ready to launch along with it and in it.
Well, after our Conservative Theories were developed, next came the APPLIED POLITICAL SCIENTISTS. They brought Modern Conservative Theory to the Political Marketplace as elected politicians and policy experts.
William F. Buckley Jr., in addition to his prior importance as a
Conservative Theoretician, would also fulfill a huge role, over FIVE
decades, in the emergence of Conservative practices and policies.
Other “Applied Conservative Scientists” would have to include Goldwater and Reagan and Gingrich and the group of Young Turks within (and without) the 70’s/80’s GOP that brought the “Conservative System” to “market”, that is they became the “Salesmen” of the Conservative System to the general public.
THE LAST STEP IS ALWAYS ***engineering*** – Limbaugh, Hannity, the Salem Radio Network hosts, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Fox News, et al are effectively the “implementers” and “educators” and third-party
“analysts” of the existing well-defined Conservative System, educating the public as to what Conservative Theory looks like in the Real World, “boxing it for sale” as it were.
SO NOW THE SPECIFIC QUESTION WOULD BE…
…”DOES CONSERVATISM NEED A NEW ROUND OF THEORETICAL ANALYSIS?”
I’d say, “No”
I’d further say CONSERVATISM DOES NEED a NEW ROUND of “Applied Analysis” to make up for our current “Real World”; New Media, alterations in the legal, geopolitical and financial landscape, both in America and Abroad, this is NOT Ronald
Reagan’s or FDR’s World.
This is commonplace in the sciences; new discoveries lead to reevaluation and tweaking of existing systems. I would say that is exactly what is happening in the Conservative Movement at this time.
In politics usually a new round of analysis will be driven by “marketing failure”, i.e., widespread rejection by the voters.
Which is WHAT happened to us in 06/08. The Political Marketplace rejected us for numerous reasons, most of which will be known by anyone interested enough in politics to read this far.
The GOP Elect are clearly struggling to adjust to a: Blackberry, iPhone, iPod, Zune, Twitter, DIGG, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, HDTV world. We now operate in a world where the Old Rules of political marketing and discussion have been radically altered or completely upended. And, as Conservatives we’ll have to adapt to that New World or else…
This is a world my Fellow Technologists and I couldn’t precisely predict only 3 or 4 years ago, and politics moves much more slowly then technology.
The Conservative Founders clearly recognized the dangers of intellectual stasis, but they also believed the dynamics of the political system would either catalyze change or the political marketplace would consume any party or political system that refused to adapt…
“March Or Die” as the Foreign Legion says….
I think Our Movement will be fine, if we, in a concerted and prudential fashion, take the “Wisdom of the Fathers” and adapt it to this New, All-Connected, All-The-Time World.
IF WE DO NEED NEW THEORIES…there are PLENTY of people such as; John Fund, Jonah Goldberg, Sean Hannity, Bill Kristol, Rich Lowry, Andy McCarthy, John Podhoretz, Jennifer Rubin Mark Steyn, and others too numerous to mention (My Apologies to All The Others, No Slight Intended).
If Mr. Tanenhaus would ONLY look at JUST the blog spaces Conservatives meet on the Web at; Commentary, National Review, Townhall, Twitter, the Weekly Standard, and the other thousands and thousands of personal blogs devoted to
Conservative thought, Mr. Tanenhaus would find 24/7/365 lively, vital, frenetic, occasionally splenetic discussions of who we are, what we stand for, and what to do next.
These thousands upon thousands of conversations are perhaps little streams, but they are coming together to form a Mighty River of Conservative Activism that will form the Rock upon which the New Generation of Conservatism will be built.
“Old”, “Tired”, “Worn Out”?
My advice to Mr. Tanenhaus – “Keep your eye out for that Mighty River.”