April 09, 2008

Conservative Intellectuals

As I’m one of those “conservative intellectuals” who was safely ensconced in grad school but then succumbed to the lures of DC, I guess I should respond to Larison’s last Snipe. While reading Dan’s thoughtful blog, what I found most interesting was not the “should I stay or should I go” dilemma of grad school and Washington but the fact that those who’ve left academia to join the conservative movement are so mediocre. Whatever criticism we might have for Kirk, Meyer, Burnham et al., I think we’d all agree that they tower above any movement figure writing today. As Dan and I have discussed in the past, the triumph of the Conservative Movement has resulted in many a $60,000 salaried position in the Beltway, but then not much in the way of serious thought. Real statesmen are even harder to come by. 

I disagree, however, with Daniel in stating that there’s any dilemma with regard to staying home or becoming a deracinated cosmopolitan and going off to the capital or some grad school far away. Remaining within a 50-mile radius of the Volksgemeinschaft qualifies an intellectual for nothing. I prefer the rootless wander to the … wait was there ever any great artist or thinker who actually stayed put? 

What I truly hope happens is that more conservatives with brains forego the Movement and do some great work that has little to do with DC politics. We already have way too many young people giving us their instopinions on Hillary’s latest gaffe. We need more serious, untimely cultural observations. We need intellectuals, rootless or rooted, writing the next great conservative novel or a deeply reactionary film. And here, I’m of course not referring to some “support the troops” propaganda flick, but something that expresses the tragic view of life. When I watch a great John Ford film like “The Man Who Shot LIberty Valance” or “The Searchers,” Ford’s deeply conservative, disturbing worldview comes through—I don’t need to ask where he stood on the the issues of school vouchers or defense spending. “Valance” itself forecloses the possibility of any easy, technocratic answers to the big questions of justice and social order anyway.

We need more more conservatives to do work like this, and less of those defining intellectual success as being designated as pundit #3 in the No Spin Zone.

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