Sunday, November 09, 2008

Is conservative intellectual tradition dead?

Mark Lilla makes the case in the WSJ that conservative intellectual tradition is dead and we are the poorer for it.
It's a sad tale that began in the '80s, when leading conservatives frustrated with the left-leaning press and university establishment began to speak of an "adversary culture of intellectuals."...the idea was taken up and distorted by angry conservatives who saw adversaries everywhere and decided to cast their lot with "ordinary Americans" whom they hardly knew...."

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.

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