Finding a Place for Intellectuals in the Conservative Movement

Steven Hayward asks whether Glenn Beck and tea parties have put the thoughts-leaders of conservatism in permanent retreat

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Steven F. Hayward, a leading intellectual among conservatives, asked in a Sunday op-ed for the Washington Post, "Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?" Hayward wrote, "the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas." Conservatism has indeed been troubled, with the deaths of William F. Buckley, Iriving Kristol and William Safire, now replaced by Glenn Beck and talk radio. "The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining." Hayward has sparked wide debate within conservative circles over the future of the movement and its leadership.

  • Oppose Liberals, But Present Alternatives, Hayward suggests. "Conservatism has prospered most when its attacks on liberalism have combined serious alternative ideas with populist enthusiasm," he writes. "Yet it was not enough just to expose liberalism's weakness; it was also necessary to offer robust alternatives for both foreign and domestic policy, ideas that came to fruition in the Reagan years." Nods of agreement came from Jonathan Adler, Powerline's Scott Johnson, Matt Lewis, and For Hayward, "about the only" person who approaches this formula today is Jonah Goldberg."
  • Populism Is Conservatism's Future Erick Erickson insists that protests, such as the "tea parties," are as much about challenging the GOP as the federal government. "What we see across the country are more and more people standing up realizing the direction we are headed is wrong. They are unorganized. They are unfocused. But they do not lack a 'connection to a concrete ideology,' they just are not skilled or trained in the ideology. There is no greater conservative sentiment than 'stop,'" he writes. "While no one should expect a revolution against government from the tea parties, we should expect and hope for a revolution in conservative thought and an upheaval of at least the Republican Party as the tea party activists start putting down their protest signs and picking up campaign signs."
  • Leaders Must Bring Seriousness, 'Dignity' Peggy Noonan laments the end of "dignity" in the leading "elders" of political discourse. "Everything has changed since the old ones came up--new platforms, new ways of communicating. Everyone has a mic now, from the guy making YouTubes to the anonymous drunk on the comment thread," she writes. "But it's still possible to set an example, encourage the helpful, stand for the good, pass on the lore, take responsibility. The new Elders will have to rescue America from the precipice. They'll have to be mature, think of the collective, of the country as a whole."
  • Push Out Party Elites Like Hayward Lori Roman slams current conservative thought leaders as the problem, not the solution. "The question is not whether conservatism is brain-dead; it is whether conservative elitists are brain dead," Roman writes, deriding "elitists" for disowning "regular folks" such as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. "By behaving in this manner and, frankly, by writing editorials insulting average Americans not fond of reading Hayek on weekends, the elitists in the conservative ranks may entertain themselves splendidly at cocktail parties, but they are doing little to bring liberty to people thirsty for it. There is a difference between being an elitist and being an intellectual." Kenneth Tomlinson agreed.
  • Bashing Populists Important But Not Enough Rod Dreher praises "conservative elites" who are finally "starting to wake up and speak out" against destructive elements of the party. "What is required is for thoughtful conservatives to find the gumption to stand athwart crude populism and say, 'Stop!'" Dreher knocks "crude populists" and "the decadence of the talk-radio right" but notes that populist-bashing alone won't work. "That won't be enough without new ideas. I have some! Well, I had some, but not too many people were interested, and the book went out of print. Oh well."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.