If you were around in the 1980’s and old enough to have noticed politics, then you probably recall the smug satisfaction of liberals when they criticized Ronald Reagan and the people who supported him. You see, conservatives were uneducated rubes easily fooled by a jocular actor who took naps during the day. Smart and educated people were not fooled by this stuff. It was mostly a coping strategy, of course, as Reagan was wildly popular so liberals could only grumble.
The claim was not entirely without support. For most of the 20th century it was the Left that could claim intellectual rigor. Smart people went into various forms of liberal politics and churned out new ideas and proposals. From the New Deal to the Great Society, liberal intellectuals drove American politics. It was in the 1980’s when that started to change, and the right started to be the place where smart people went to debate the issues of the day and the polices to address those issues.
In fairness, there were very smart people on the Right prior to the Reagan years, but it was a small club. James Burnham, for example, wrote his foundational work during the Second World War. Bill Buckley was challenging the Left in the 1960’s. In other words, there were conservative intellectuals before the 1980’s. It is just that Reagan’s success worked to legitimize the right as an intellectual endeavor, which in turn brought in waves of young smart people.
The truth is the American Left never recovered from the civil rights era. The arc of American progressivism begins with demands to end slavery and ends with the demand that fat naked men have a right to wave their genitals in your face. While it is reasonable to say that the Left is degenerate and evil, the reason they embrace this stuff is that they are morons. The Left is now dominated by credentialed idiots who think being loud and obnoxious is the peak of humans thought.
As is their nature, however, the people who continue to identify as conservative followed their friends on the Left into idiocy. There was a time when the flagship publication of conservatism, National Review, sported some of the smartest and most original thinkers and critics in the country. That was a long time ago. Today you will find jarringly stupid posts like this one. That post is an echo of this longer and much dumber post in something called Law & Liberty.
There was a time when a phrase like “right-wing Marxism” would have been met with howls of laughter. The reason is the term is ridiculous. More important, there was a time when conservatives knew enough about Marxism and what it meant to be right-wing to know the term is ridiculous. The person who posted that item at National Review does not know this. The author of the source item seems to think the word “Marxism” is just another word for “bad.”
Putting aside the stupidity of the key phrase, the original article is riddled with errors that should have been noticed by the editor. An easy example is his claims about Russell Kirk, who has been forgotten by modern conservatives. The reason National Review types sent Kirk down the memory hole is he sided with the paleos. He proudly supported George Wallace, for example. Kirk was also the Michigan chairman of the Pat Buchanan campaign.
The author of that Law & Liberty article is either an idiot or a liar. He clearly does not understand the material. He does not know the history of the intellectual tradition that he is claiming to defend. Worse yet, his main argument is that the paleos were unpopular, which is proof they were wrong. There is no form of conservatism that claims truth is determined by popular consent. In fact, the rejection of that idea is the very first principle of conservatism as presented by Russell Kirk!
This brings us back to where we started. There was a time when conservatism was a vibrant and dynamic intellectual space. There was room for Sam Francis to critique Russel Kirk and a place for Mel Bradford to rebut the claims of Harry Jaffa. Those days are long gone now as conservatism has suffered from a long brain drain. What has replaced it is a narrow conformism. Dimwits like Bobby Miller and Michael Lucchese are now what passes for conservative thought.
Proof that the universe has a sense of humor, this state of affairs was predicted by many of those old paleos hated by modern conservatives. Sam Francis observed that Buckley’s movement would inevitably have to compromise its principles in order to have a place at the table. The price of admission was accepting the moral claims of the people who controlled the political system. You could not be a critic of that system and be a beneficiary of it. Something had to give.
These moronic posts on conservative platforms are the inevitable result of the necessary brain-drain that started when conservatives joined the club. Smart people ask questions and asking questions is always a good way to fall afoul of the prevailing orthodoxy, so conservatism began to select for the incurious and dull. The long arc of conservatism ended with morons shrieking phrases like “right-wing Marxism” while they point at the intellectual debate to their right.
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