David Brooks' column today is a must read, particularly for us right-wing, would-be-intellectual types. A few excerpts:
Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. . . . William F. Buckley famously said he'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn't believe those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.I think Brooks makes several important and valid points about conservative anti-intellectualism. Just think about how otherwise intelligent conservatives embrace unscientific critiques of evolutionary theory and celebrate (instead of simply excuse) Gov. Palin's lack of academic credentials. It may well be the case that the smartest and most educated political candidates may not make the best political leaders, but this hardly makes the lack of formal education or intellectual curiosity a qualification in itself.
Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind. . . .
But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. . . .
What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect. . . .
The political effects of this trend have been obvious. Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone.
The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it's 2-to-1. With tech executives, it's 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it's 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community. . . .
And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.
I also think Brooks overlooks something quite important. Some of the central ideas in modern conservatism — such as the impossibility of central economic planning, the nature of spontaneous order, and the idea that longstanding social traditions embody vast stores of social learning — are inherently hostile to certain intellectual conceits, particularly the idea that if only the right people were in charge (the intellectuals themselves) most social problems could be solved. Further, most modern conservatives embrace an economic system — free-market capitalism — that does not reward intellectual achievement at the level many intellectuals would prefer. Thus, while conservatism does not need to be (and should not be) anti-intellectual, there may be a limit to the extent to which intellectuals, as a class, will embrace modern conservative ideas.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Conservatism, Anti-Intellectualism, and the Political Failures of the Republican Party:
- Brooks on Conservative Anti-Intellectualism: