Ross Douthat: What the Right’s Intellectuals Did Wrong – NYTimes.com

[T]oday, three generations after Buckley and Burnham, the academy and the mass media are arguably more hostile to conservative ideas than ever, and the courts and the bureaucracy are trending in a similar direction.

Reflecting on this harsh reality has confirmed some conservatives in their belief that the managerial order is inherently left wing, and that the goal of a conservative politics should be to sweep the managerial class away entirely. This is part of the appeal of Trump to a small cohort within the right’s intelligentsia, who imagine that his strongman approach can unweave the administrative state and strip the overclass of all its powers.

This idea strikes me as fatuous and fantastical at once. But is there an alternative? Continetti’s essay hints at one: to make intellectual conservatism a more elite-focused project, to seek “a conservative tinged Establishment capable of permeating the managerial society and gradually directing it in a prudential, reflective, virtuous manner respectful of both freedom and tradition.”

This path seems considerably more appealing (and more republican) than the dream of a Trump-led Thermidor. But is it any more plausible? To begin anew, at such steep disadvantages, what amounts to missionary work?

Or, as another alternative, conservative elites might simply try to build a more intellectually serious populism out of the Trumpian wreckage and wait for a less toxic backlash against liberal overreach to ride back into power. But can the populist right actually be de-Hannitized, de-Trumpified, rendered 100 percent Breitbart-free? Or would building on populism once again just repeat the process that led conservatism to its present end?

4 comments on “Ross Douthat: What the Right’s Intellectuals Did Wrong – NYTimes.com

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. “More Intellectually serious populism” suggests a measure of the same elite whittling of acceptable opinion that populism classically reacts against. The conflict of American Conservatism between nods towards majoritarian cultural protectionism & praise of (ideologically defined…) Common Folks on one hand, versus defense of social & economic hierarchy to the extent of assumption that elites are essential to civilization itself on the other — it regenerates even in attempts to somehow destroy it. That snake will never go hungry off its own tail.

    In a way, the weird neo-monarchist type fringe of the fringe of alt-right has a point: if you like hierarchy so much, rulers might as well have crowns. Normal conservative thought continues this “let’s have hierarchy & tight social rules but call it liberty” dance instead.

    • What would your anarchism be other than an “intellectually more serious,” or at least intellectualized, type of anti-elitism or, in the way you and possibly Douthat are using the term, “populism”? As for the “regeneration” of the “elite,” unless you’re going to put judgment, selection, comparative logic to death, then an elite according to whatever value “hierarchy” you embrace, including the one that places non-elitism and non-hierarchical thinking at the implicit top, you cannot escape it. Makes me think of the line of Nietzche’s that an English professor of mine in ancient times was fond of repeating, to the effect that it’s clear we all still believe in God, because we all still believe in grammar.

      In any event, Douthat is interested in a more concrete problem here, I think. Continetti’s proposal (quite a transformation coming from a man who announced the Free Beacon as a project of “combat journalism”) seems to conceive of conservatism as an ethos unattached to any particular political program or standpoint.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Related

Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins

Categories

Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins