Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Decline of "Intellectual" Conservatism

Judge Posner -- at his other blog -- has a fascinating post on the recent history of conservatism in the United States. He argues that, today, the intellectual underpinnings of conservatism are "weak." Conservatism now has no one filling roles comparable to those of William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, et al. It has grown "strident and populist."

Judge Posner puts this in autobiographical terms:

By the end of the Clinton administration, I was content to celebrate the triumph of conservatism as I understood it, and had no desire for other than incremental changes in the economic and social structure of the United States. I saw no need for the estate tax to be abolished, marginal personal-income tax rates further reduced, the government shrunk, pragmatism in constitutional law jettisoned in favor of "originalism," the rights of gun owners enlarged, our military posture strengthened, the rise of homosexual rights resisted, or the role of religion in the public sphere expanded. All these became causes embraced by the new conservatism that crested with the reelection of Bush in 2004.

* * *

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

The reactions to Judge Posner's A Failure of Capitalism demonstrate his point. So far, no one on the right, as far as I know, has engaged the book's arguments regarding market failure and re-regulation. Conservative magazines seem not even to have acknowledged that the book exists. It does not fit the conservative conventional wisdom and therefore must be either ignored or shouted down.

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