The new issue of the Weekly Standard celebrates the magazine’s tenth anniversary in grand style. Bill Kristol meditates with grace and humor on “The first ten years.” The issue carries the full roster of timely articles as well as a symposium convened in honor of the tenth anniversary. The symposium participants are invited both to reflect on the past ten years and to speculate on the future, specifically posing the question: “On what issue or issues (if any!) have you changed your mind in the last 10 years- and why?”
Among the many highlights are the contibutions of David Gelernter (with a kind mention of Power Line) and Harvey Mansfield (on relearning the significance of the distinction between friend and foe). Whereas Professor Gelernter observes postive cultural trends in the past ten years, Andrew Ferguson accentuates the negative. He describes the effects of the popularization of the conservative movement in a way that hits close to home:
I suppose any philosophical tendency, as it acquires power and popularity, will simplify itself, define itself downward. That’s democratic politics for you. But something more corrosive is also at work. Marshall McLuhan was righter than anyone ever would have guessed. The medium really is the message. Conservatism nowadays is increasingly a creature of its technology. It is shaped–if I were a Marxist I might even say determined–by cable television and talk radio, with their absurd promotion of caricature and conflict, and by blogs, where the content ranges from Jesuitical disputes among hollow-cheeked obsessives to feats of self-advertisement and professional narcissism (Everyone’s been asking what I think about . . . You won’t want to miss my appearance tonight on . . . Be sure to click here for my latest…) that would have been unthinkable in polite company as recently as a decade ago. Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the “author” on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman–all in little more than a generation’s time. Whatever this is, it isn’t progress.
Ouch! (In fairness, it should be added that Professor Jaffa continues to elevate the conservative movement. His great book A New Birth of Freedom was published in 2000.) Noemie Emery, on the other hand, provides the perfect pick-me-up:
One thing I changed my mind about in the last 10 years is the Democrats’ future. Ten years ago, I believed that they had one. They had lost Congress, but they had a president who, whatever his faults, was in touch with reality. He had campaigned and won as a “new kind of Democrat” who could build a bridge to the 21st century, and then coax the donkey across it, as he signed the welfare reform bill and went into Bosnia. He was no JFK–except in the wrong ways–but at least he seemed headed, if slowly, in that direction. Who could have dreamed it was all an illusion? Who ever dreamed that 10 years later, his party would be back where it had been 10 years before him, almost as if he had never existed?
And here I’ve only skimmed the surface of the rich issue the Standard has served up in honor of its milestone. Congratulations to Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and the rest of the crew that has made the Standard a must-read for ten years. Long may it run!
JOHN demurs, to put it mildly, as to Ferguson: I’m not sure to what extent he really means what he says or to what extent he is playing the part of the conservative curmudgeon with tongue in cheek, but any conservative who thinks it’s a bad thing that conservatism has gone from an intellectual cult to a successful, mass political movement isn’t serious about politics, about government, or, frankly, about life in this world. Conservatism isn’t an arcane philosophy that is accessible only to a few scholars. It’s about freedom and self-rule. Anyone can understand that. If this were not the case, there never would have been an American revolution, and Ferguson would certainly be doing something for a living other than writing for the Weekly Standard.
Ferguson’s criticisms of talk radio, cable news and blogs are silly. Are conversations on talk radio generally carried on at the level of Professor Jaffa’s works? Well, no, probably not; but then, neither are most college history and political science courses. It is disingenuous for Ferguson to use Michael Savage as his exemplar of talk radio. Savage is, to be sure, no philosopher; but, to be fair to him, his discourse–the least elevated of any conservative host I know of–is at least at the level of the New York Times editorial page. More to the point, what about Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and other talk show hosts [Ed.: I should have mentioned William Bennett, whom I overlooked only because I’m not a very early riser and usually catch the end of his show, at best.] who, with their listeners, carry on discussions that are far above the level you will find in newspapers and news magazines?
As for blogs, I leave it to our readers to discern whether there is content on sites like this one that falls outside the categories of “Jesuitical disputes among hollow-cheeked obsessives” and “feats of self-advertisement and professional narcissism.” It sounds to me as though Ferguson needs to get out more.
UPDATE: Noemie Emery comments:
Actually, the books Ferg complains about aren’t books in the real sense. They’re broadsides in hardcover, and belong to a different tradition of argument, and have plenty of counterparts on the left wing. Any book with the word “lies” in the cover is probably a broadside (and is probably read only by those who already agree with it.) Broadsides and philosophical arguments both have their places. Sometimes Ferg is too elegant for the rest of us plebes.
Reader Salim Balady (“known in some quarters as The Source”) writes:
Are elements of the Conservative movement becoming insufferable elitists? I thought it striking that your post and the conservative commentators you quoted on “The Weekly Standard at 10” did not make a single mention of the ultimate living conservative communicator–Rush Limbaugh. The Harvard/Yale/University of Virginia/Dartmouth, etc. incestuous cabal which is the cancer fomenting the demise of the distintegrating political left cannot be allowed to infect the Conservative movement. The Conservative body politic is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” More Eureka College (if college at all) than Ivy League in outlook, attitude, and demeanor. Limbaugh, who declined “college” in favor of an early start to a radio broadcast career, not only pioneered the Conservative mass communications movement, but also reigns as its premier practitioner–dare I say “Icon.” The achievement is all the more creditable (and stunning) when one appreciates that he conducts the broadcast business effectively stone deaf! That is pure gift, truly as Limbaugh proudly and rightly declares, “Talent on loan from God!”
We are justifiably proud of our “Right Legion.” The roster is impressive: Limbaugh, Hedgecock, Reagan, Medved, Gallagher, Hannity, Snow, Powerline, Malkin, LGF, HH–just to name the few who leap immediately to mind…To mention Savage and not Limbaugh is–to adopt a phrase–“180 degrees out of phase.”
Reader J.J. Solters (I think) writes:
Ferguson’s negativism stems from origins other than blogs or cable news. These media forms have, and will continue, to overtake the MSM in a vital venture disclosing ideas and facts either omitted or twisted by the previously monolithic MSM. The somewhat whimsical strutting and initial commercialism attached to blogs is a temporary, trivial offset to critically indispensible public benefits provided. Ferguson presumably wants to go back, but to what? MSM/DLC propaganda peddled as news? Blogs, talk-radio and cable have exposed the MSM as 100 percent DLC lickspittles by forcing them into open conflict on ideas and facts. Incredible public service at little or no public cost. American journalism is getting better, not worse. Hats off to the new thinkers.