Sunday, November 09, 2008

Still the culture of desire vs the culture of convention.

Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.
Neoliberalism is the new conservatism and the old conservatism has devolved into open reaction. Arguments for the collective construction of language and of language as foundation come now only from the left. Foucault et al. understand Tocqueville more than American conservatives, or liberals, ever have, and William Blake understood Edmund Burke more than Bill Buckley did. It's hard to overstate the importance of the transition in public discourse [that's been going on for decades] but it's hardly the end of antagonism, even temporarily. To use a phrase Lilla would be happy with it's hardly the end of dynamic tension.

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