There needs to be, without a doubt, a significant rejuvenation of the intellectual basis behind the Conservative movement in America. This, of course, means that a much needed fostering of ideals similar to those advocated by famous Conservatives such as William F. Buckley and Leo Strauss need to put into play in order to create a new means by which Conservative rhetoric can begin to take root again. What am I so resolutely referring to?
In the past few decades American Conservatism has changed considerably from that found in the 80’s, 60’s and definitely the 40’s. This, of course, very much attributed to the dire and persistent need to evolve into a more popular movement in the last few years, as Micklethwait and Woolridge’s book, The Right Nation, so rightly argues for. Yet, despite these changes and rise of conservative ideals amid American society, there has been a steep and rather unfortunate fall in the preponderance of intellectual sources, such as the famous National Review, to continue to disseminate such ideas.
Essentially it has been a failure on part of earlier generations to extend-in my opinion- the right type of conservatism, that could be granted through historical mentors such as Buckely, whose main concern was to extend the Conservative mindset into the Libertarian zone of deliberation. Let us not forget that it was him, as the leader and the voice of America’s Conservative movement, that essentially transformed conservatism from a very much exclusive entity within the U.S into a compassionate form of thinking that included all Americans regardless of race or sex. Something which undoubtedly played a major role in the consistent triumph and pervasiveness of Conservatism as an ideology.
“It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly.”
-Buckley, National Review 1955
Yet Buckley did a lot more than just mold the Conservative movement into one with a “human face”, he in fact presented the wider public with easily understandable, but equally perplexing solutions to social and political issues both in America and around the world. Perhaps his greatest feat was the fact that he was one of the most pragmatic intellectuals in American history precisely because of his willingness to engage in debate with all sides in a manner that best depicted the Conservatives. It isn’t just the fact that Buckley was a prolific writer, having authored over 50 books and having contributed to countless journals and newspapers, but that his ideas had so much affect on conservative literature and writing.
It is interesting to note therefore, the many writers on the subjects such as Claes Ryn in his opinionated and rather polemical article, “The Decline of American Intellectual Conservatism” in The Imaginative Conservative, found it necessary to suggest that it has been the decline of the arts and philosophy, as well as the higher education which has led to the corrosion of intellectualism The truth is that Conservatism was once far more complex in form and manner than it is today. For instance, the old-age conservative Leo Strauss was a staunch opponent to the idea of relativism and it’s negative effects on the moral conditioning needed to maintain Western society afloat, only to show that today such rhetoric does not seem to be present amid conservative discussions.
He was also, mind you, one of the most important figures in the small, yet not so neglectable Jewish Conservative movement. He was, in other words, a philosopher who mainly proposed that individual liberty was always to be above collectivism. Strauss in fact has played such an important role on the modern political movement, that a great deal of his work which sourced from much older Enlightenment figure Conservatism has played a major part in establishing basic political theories surrounding both ideological camps.
All political action aims at either preservation or change.
-Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy, 1957
The point at which I am trying to arrive at, is that the decline in Conservative intellectualism has had extensive problematic effects on the manner in which the movement has been viewed by the rest of it’s political opponents, and in turn has led to a devaluation of its overall image. Although it is undoubtedly an extremely popular engine in the U.S today, and has been for the last few decades, it’s roots are fading swiftly which will lead to what I fear is a weakening of Conservatism. In other words, I am arguing for the most basic and simple of Conservative ideals: Preservation.
In this case the preservation of the very foundations that the Conservative movement built itself on since the 1950’s. A return to the intellectualism presented so candidly by those such as William F. Buckley and Leo Strauss might indeed prove to strengthen the ideals which Conservatives and Libertarians value so much in our own contemporary.
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 1, on June 18th, 2014.