My friend Steve Hayward is author of The Age of Reagan. In this coming Sunday’s Washington Post Steve asks whether conservatism is lacking at present in the cranial department. It is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking column.
In the column Steve discusses the current imbalance between the intellectual and populist elements of the conservative project. He concludes with some kind words for Glenn Beck, whom I have been inclined to view, perhaps unfairly, as a self-promoting buffoon with a touch of Lonesome Rhodes added for good measure:
Okay, so Beck may lack Buckley’s urbanity, and his show will never be confused with “Firing Line.” But he’s on to something with his interest in serious analysis of liberalism’s patrimony. The left is enraged with Beck’s scandal-mongering over Van Jones and ACORN, but they have no idea that he poses a much bigger threat than that. If more conservative talkers took up the theme of challenging liberalism’s bedrock assumptions the way Beck does from time to time, liberals would have to defend their problematic premises more often.
Beck and other conservatives can start by engaging the central argument of the most serious indictment of conservatism on the scene, Sam Tanenhaus’s new book, “The Death of Conservatism.” Tanenhaus’s argument is mischievously defective; he thinks the problem with conservatism today is that it is not properly deferential to liberalism’s relentless engine of change. In other words, it is an elegant restatement of G.K. Chesterton’s quip that is it is the business of progressives to go on making mistakes, while it is the business of conservatives to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. That won’t do. A conservative movement that accepted Tanenhaus’s prescription would be consigning itself to be the actuaries of liberalism.
But Tanenhaus is right to direct our attention to the imbalance between the right’s thinkers and doers. The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. To the left’s belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking “markets” and “liberty.” Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of fillinghttp://hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist halves of conservatism.
At NRO, Steve notes that considerations of space prevented him from taking up the case of Mark Levin, about whom he has characteristically thoughtful praise.
UPDATE: It is unfortunate in a sense that David Brooks’s column attacking popular conservative media figures has been published the same day that Hayward’s column appears online. Having gone native at the Times, Brooks himself is if anything illustrative of Hayward’s thesis regarding the somewhat moribund state of conservative intellectuals. As for Rush — one target of Brooks’s column — I yield the podium to Jay Nordlinger.