The best response yet to Sam Tanenhaus’ new book, “The Death of Conservatism,” has arrived from one of my high tech captialist wizard friends. It is long but deserves a close read and a wide audience:
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.Login to Listen
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