The Conservative Intelligentsia And Palin

Mark Lilla has a must-read in the WSJ today. (Dislcosure: we were political theory students of Shklar and Mansfield at Harvard together years ago). It charts the collapse of the intellectual right from a pioneering attempt to re-think established nostrums about public policy to ... well the Caribbean cruise now floating around on a sea of denial and contempt:

The Palin farce is already the stuff of legend. [but] John McCain's choice was not a fluke, or a senior moment, or an act of desperation. It was the result of a long campaign by influential conservative intellectuals to find a young, populist leader to whom they might hitch their wagons in the future. And not just any intellectuals. It was the editors of National Review and the Weekly Standard, magazines that present themselves as heirs to the sophisticated conservatism of William F. Buckley and the bookish seriousness of the New York neoconservatives. After the campaign for Sarah Palin, those intellectual traditions may now be pronounced officially dead.

Irving Kristol's bitter capitulation to populism a quarter century ago was the harbinger. It's all been downhill since:

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.

One reason I believe the reconstruction of conservatism will require a generation's work is that the rot has gone so deep among so many with so much patronage. If it weren't for the blogosphere allowing new thoughts and debate to bubble up from below, and outside the Kristol-Lowry-Steyn axis, I'd despair.