Sunday, November 09, 2008

The death of the conservative intellectual tradition.

Mark Lilla has a very good article in The Wall Street Journal which discusses how the Republican party's rejection of intellectualism finally led to the choice of Sarah Palin as VP, someone who he says, "we should all -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- be toasting the return of Governor Sarah Palin to Juneau, Alaska."

This all began says Lilla in 1976 when Irving Kristol publicly worried that "populist paranoia" was "subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government." Conservatives began to worry about "our disoriented elites," and the anti-intellectualism which has come to define the modern Republican party began.

The die was cast. Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.
He then goes on to state that conservative intellectual tradition is now officially dead.
Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.
McCain promoted Palin way above any position her talents deserved because of a populist desire to sell the public someone he thought was "just like them": a Hockey mom, an ordinary hard working mother.

The promotion of Palin was the crowning moment of the Republican war against intellectualism and it was a fitting place for it to finally shatter. Having no argument against liberal intellectualism, the Republicans foolishly declared war on intellectualism itself. They decided to portray intellectuals as "elites" and themselves as ordinary Joe's.

In this election we merely saw that practice reach it's inevitable conclusion when the man with thirteen cars, nine homes, a private jet and a wife worth over $100 million sought to portray the other guy as the elitist, hoping that the Hockey mom and Joe the Plumber would be enough to convince Americans that McCain was "just like the rest of us".

It was a spectacular failure because of the the inherent patronisation in that plan and a fatal misunderstanding of who working class Americans are and what they aspire to.

Obama hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the universal wish of all parents to give their children a better life than they had, to shape a future in which all prospered.

McCain campaigned on nothing other than slogans and fear of his opponent. He put forward a woman who publicly stated that she would want a 15 year old rape victim to be forced to give birth to her own father's child and thought that she spoke to "ordinary" Americans.

McCain, through his choice of Palin, revealed that he didn't have a clue what ordinary Americans want or need. Indeed, he revealed that he didn't care. He simply wanted elected and, according to the Republican play book, she was the best way of achieving that.

It backfired spectacularly and what's truly amazing is that there are a bunch of Republicans, like Malkin, who believe that Palin was not a mistake and that they have nothing to learn from their catastrophic loss.

I’m getting a lot of moan-y, sad-face “What do we do now, Michelle?” e-mails.

What do we do now? We do what we’ve always done.

We keep the faith.

We do not apologize for our beliefs. We do not re-brand them, re-form them, or relinquish them. We defend them.

Even in the face of catastrophic loss Malkin believes that self examination is weakness, that to even wonder why they lost is to indulge in self pity.

So they push on without re-branding, reforming or relinquishing a set of ideals which has been utterly rejected by the rest of the populace.

It does appear to be a movement from which intellectualism has been utterly removed, to be replaced by a faith in one's gut rather than one's brain.

As Lilla rightly states, we are witnessing the death of the conservative intellectual tradition.

Click title for Lilla's entire article.


daveawayfromhome said...

As far as I'm concerned, Malkin and her ilk can keep the faith all they want. Let them raise their fists as they sink, so that we'll know when they're heads are deep enough to drown. Then, good riddance.

Kel said...

I agree Dave. And she can run for the presidency any time she wants as far as I am concerned. Most people now accept that she's woefully unqualified.