"Original thinking often flourishes under conditions of intellectual marginality," writes Austin Bramwell in The American Conservative [via Arts & Letters Daily], worried that "as the Right’s popularity has grown, its intellectual challenge to the Left has diminished":
Unfortunately, the conservative movement, having discovered a mass audience, risks squandering the intellectual marginality that once made it so interesting and daring.. . .Yet few worry that conservatism will go flabby. The tenets have already been settled, they think; all that is left is to promote them.
Few may worry, but some do, including ourselves. As we wrote here recently in a post about James Piereson's Opinion Journal capsule history of contemporary conservatism:
The forces of darkness are always waiting just beyond the campfire, and even as Hayek's individualism and the neoconservatives' cultural defense of capitalism are ascendant, this is no time to sit back and declare victory.
Bramwell recalls the rise and fall of the liberal project by way of warning:
Conservatives should not let the intellectual restlessness of their early years give way to decadent complacency. It has happened before in American political life -- to American liberalism—with unhappy consequences both for liberalism and the nation.
The story of liberalism’s decline is often rehearsed these days, by rueful liberals and gleeful conservatives alike. Few, however, tell the more interesting story of liberalism’s ascendance.
A few delectable details:
The people, in [the liberal elites'] view, remained stubbornly benighted, saw political problems in naïve moralistic terms, and could not carry out the project of reform. Accordingly, liberalism’s leading intellects began to fashion a new ideology that called for elite social scientists, rather than a virtuous populace, to address the problems of the modern world.
In his 1922 classic, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann argued that ordinary people lacked the intellectual resources necessary for even the feeblest grasp of modern complexities. A piqued John Dewey then responded with The Public and Its Problems, billed as a refutation of Lippmann. It turns out, however, that Dewey conceded nearly all of Lippmann’s points . . . elite social scientists should rule.
Hillary -- despite carefully orchestrated protestations to the contrary precipitated by her purposeful quest for the presidency -- exemplifies this mindset. Bramwell continues:
Liberalism came of age in the New Deal, which finally succeeded in replacing representative government with a European-style administrative state, staffed by the nation’s ablest, most idealistic men. After World War II, when the national mood no longer favored reform, liberals turned to an even more elite institution—the Supreme Court—to continue remaking American society. For a generation, liberalism so dominated American life that, while conservatives saw conservatism as the taste of a saving remnant, liberals became convinced that their ideology expressed the natural sentiments of the American people.
Intellectual sclerosis, however, soon set in . . . As Nixon put it, the Democrats became the party of acid, amnesty, and abortion. They have been losing power ever since.
Will intellectual complacency condemn conservatives to go down that same black hole? Bramwell cites three strands of original thinking on the Right -- all libertarian -- that offer hope. Our ears perked up at one of them in particular, "a loose network of what John O’Sullivan has called 'evolutionary conservatives' [that] attempts to understand politics in light of genetic science":
Unlike many conservatives, evolutionary conservatives remain undaunted by the apoplectic reaction of liberals to Charles Murray’s Bell Curve and Dinesh D’Souza’s End of Racism. Steve Sailer, for example, the most talented evolutionary conservative, writes with rigor and imagination on such scabrous topics as race, IQ, voting patterns, and national identity. Though other writers treat these ideas as taboo, perhaps because they seem to undermine American ideals of equality and self-reliance, evolutionary conservatives pride themselves on preferring truth to wishful thinking . . . Human biodiversity is important; we owe it to ourselves to try to understand it.
That's the same Steve Sailer of VDare.com who linked to our most recent Darwin vs. ID post a couple of weeks back in his provocative must-read essay "The Left Doesn’t Like Darwin Either." A few appetizers:
I'm not going to end that dispute, but please allow me to explain why it's not as dire an issue as most of the participants on either side assume. The logic of natural selection is widely recognized to be virtually tautological [and] most people seem willing to accept Darwinism as long as they don't have to believe in nothing but Darwinism.
A belief in miracles, unlike a belief in magic, presupposes a belief in natural laws, which is a necessary condition for science. Thus, Christendom could develop modern science, while China could not.
Yet what critics of Darwinism fail to understand is that this a priori dislike of miracles is the appropriate professional prejudice of biologists.
No matter what the metaphysical implications, we can't forget Darwin's great insight about our world: selection matters. Life is not 100 percent Lamarckian. People vary, and we can't always mold them into whatever we want them to be.
The left has long hated this insight because it suggests that there are limits to the effectiveness of social engineering.
Haven't we always said?
The leftist utopian dream was doomed from the start because it denied the economic logic of nature and human nature.