Fifty years ago, two things were clear to those thinking and talking about politics at the higher level, what people call meta-politics today. One was the American Left was intellectually exhausted. It no longer had anything to offer for the problems facing late industrial age society, other than partisan sloganeering. On the other hand, the creative minds were all on the newly formed Right. There you had creative thinking about the problems of the present and hard thinking about the future.
Half a century on and it is the Right that is bankrupt. All of the old theorists that made the political Right dynamic and interesting have either died or been exiled. What is left of conservatism is a collection of mediocrities wearing the old cloaks of those who built the platforms on which they stand. The closest there is to an engaging thinker in conventional conservatism is Christopher Caldwell. Douglas Murray can be insightful on occasion, but otherwise, conservatism is an intellectual desert.
The Left, on the other hand, has descended into a partisan madness. They no longer even pretend to care about the problems of the age or even about reality. The American Left is now a weird cargo cult led by senile oldsters. At the top we have detached and delusional geezers reenacting what they think were their salad days. Below them are their children and grandchildren, play acting as if this is the Days of Rage. The Left is live action role playing for people trapped in the past.
The madness of the Left gets all of the attention, but it is the intellectual bankruptcy of the Right that should get the attention. Fifty years ago, when the New Left burst onto the scene and set the political world ablaze, there was a viable and healthy Right to provide a firebreak of sorts. The madness of the 60’s and 70’s was followed by the relatively sober minded 80’s and 90’s. This was due in large part to the Right having lots of smart people thinking hard about how to set things in order.
This is not the case today. You see this in the writing of the people considered to be the bright lights of conservatism. This is a recent piece from Ross Douthat about the state of American society. The word “obtuse” was invented for this sort of post. It is mostly a grab bag of talking points from cable chat shows. He claims Charlottesville was some sort of right-wing riot. Then he follows on with all the silly whoppers the Left has been peddling about the January protests.
At the end of the piece, he lets his slip show by hailing the new regime’s plans to push through a bunch of nation wrecking polices. It is the writing of someone with nothing to say but compelled to say something. The image that emerges is of a confused and frightened man, unable to think critically about the age and terrified that the mobs may decide to come for him. It is a pre-emptive struggle session that should probably be read aloud as he sits on a stool wearing a dunce cap.
Like the Left, the Right has a cargo cult quality to it. This post by Kevin Williamson at National Review is a good example. It’s the sort of bumper sticker rhetoric Jack Kemp would have used in the 1980’s. Today, it is as relevant as leisure suits. More important, it is factually wrong. The market had zero to do with the vaccine. It was government with its promises of blanket immunity and billions in credit money. No one this stupid should be allowed to own a pencil, much less write for the public.
Even fifty years ago, you could cherry pick columns from conservatives that were stupid and ridiculous, but they were exceptions. Williamson and Douthat are considered intellectuals of the movement. These are the guys standing where Buckley, Francis, Sobran and Kirk once stood. Conservatism is now the Stonehenge scene from the movie This Is Spinal Tap. The only thing preventing people from noticing the absurdity of the Right is the over-the-top lunacy of the Left.
It is popular to compare what is happening today with what happened in the 1970’s, as many of the performers were around back then. The gerontocracy is made up of people who still have some corduroy suits in their closet. The big difference is there is no net underneath the Left this time. There is no conservative movement ready to step in and make things right. When this clown car veers off the road, there is not rescue team ready to pull it out of the ditch.
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