Diagnosing contemporary conservatism’s ills.

“Conservatism–as a philosophical, cultural, and political project–does in fact have boundaries, and those have been set by the cluster of ideas offered by such giants as Burke, Lincoln, Chesterton, Lewis, Hayek, Chambers, Friedman, Kirk, Weaver, Gilder, Buckley, and Reagan. There are, of course, disagreements among these thinkers and their followers, but there is an identifiable stream of thought. It informs our understanding of human nature, families, civil society, just government, and markets.

“What contemporary conservatism has lost–especially in its Hannitized and Coulterized manifestations of superficial ranting–is the connection to a paternity that is necessary so that its intellectual DNA may be passed on to its progeny. The Hannitys, the Counters, and to a lesser extent the Ingrahams, of the conservative world are intellectual mules without deep knowledge of their own patrimony. They speak of their beliefs as if they were mere beliefs whose instantiation in the culture and government can only be the result of the willful exercise of power inspired by mobs organized by them via Talk Radio and Fox TV. I have no doubt that these political celebs sincerely believe their beliefs are true. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that they do not seem to have any inclination to present arguments for these beliefs in a way that is carefully crafted, cheerfully presented, and persuasively offered. Unlike the giants from whom they received their intellectual inheritance, they think only of today and tomorrow, but not of a decade or even three decades from now. Their point seems always to embarrass their liberal guest or opponent or to come up with a clever, sit-com like, one-liner to keep their audiences amused. They don’t seem to want to plant the seeds of intellectual curiosity to inspire others. They confuse moving people with a movement of people. They want a choir without a cathedral.

“On the positive side (for conservatives), the Left’s tactics reveal a lack of rigor on their part as well. They no longer feel confident in making an argument for their point of view with respect to those with whom they disagree. They feel the pressure, like many conservatives do, to bypass the mind and go directly to the gut. This is why, for example, they no longer believe they have to argue that the late-term fetuses whose skulls Dr. Tiller crushed were not members of the human community worthy of dignity and respect. Rather, they will focus on the injustice of Dr. Tiller’s murder and hold all prolifers by proxy responsible for it, and by this tactic drown out the compelling case for the unborn’s membership in the moral community.

“In my judgment, the party that plays for keeps and not for next week will eventually triumph. That means that you have to be a happy warrior, willing to make your case and to take your lumps with magnanimity and grace. It also means that you fight intelligently, and fiercely, for your point of view while resisting the temptation to attack others personally. (And yes, I have fallen short in that regard on many occasions). You can’t be a Keith Olbermann or an Ann Coulter and achieve lasting dominance in American politics. You may make a lot of money, become famous, and/or sell loads of books. Bill Buckley, by the way, achieved those very things without costing him his soul. Better to be a Buckley dissatisfied than a Hannity satisfied.”

Francis Beckwith What’s Wrong With The World June 20, 2009.

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