How to get intellectually serious

Somewhere out there is a conservative thinker who has the potential to be the Right’s version of John Rawls–the great systemizer of our position as he was of liberalism.  I wish this person well; to acheive his or her destiny, I recommend the following:

  1. Work at a university, not a think tank, not a journal, not a newspaper.  That’s because the universities are where serious thought is done.  (Yes, I know I’m letting my academic prejudices show, but I’ve never seen anything from journalists or think-tank “scholars” to cause me to question these prejudices.)  Before presuming to guide nations, one should acquire the discipline that comes from PhD-level research in philosophy or a related field.  One should win respect in one’s field, as proven by peer-reviewed publications and promotion to tenure.  “That’s not fair!” you say, “the academic world is too biased against us.”  Perhaps, but it is still true that academia is the only place to mature and prove oneself as a scholar.  Besides, faculty bias need not be terribly bad, so long as the reactionary scholar’s writings don’t extend to advocacy.  Liberal professors don’t mind if one of their colleagues is studying the writings of French counter-revolutionaries, or pointing out flaws in the “original position”, just as long as it all remains “academic”, as the saying goes.
  2. Become thoroughly knowledgable in and comfortable with, but do not become overly intimidated by, modern thought.  Be an expert in opposing systems.  Study in depth the aspects of metaphysics, theology, anthropology, and sociology that touch your work.  Being in a community of scholars immesurably helps.  Somebody who doesn’t know Leftism and materialism inside and out, someone who just dismisses it as nonsense, will not be a useful critic.  On the other hand, too great an appreciation can be crippling.  Roger Scruton, for example, seems to me overly impressed by the Enlightenment’s and Kant’s critiques of traditional metaphysics and theology, and it hampers his reactionary instincts.
  3. Only concentrate on what’s true.  Don’t worry about what will swau voters and win elections.  If you write a book like “Towards the Next Republican Majority”, you have squandered whatever promise you had.
  4. The great right-wing synthesizer must self-identify as a reactionary.  Anyone else, no matter how clearly they reject liberalism, will be overcome by the desire to prove that he’s not one of “those people”.  Alisdair MacIntyre, being a communitarian Thomist, might have had the makings of a great reactionary, but he isn’t one, because he doesn’t see himself as a conservative.  He hates our guts.  (If you don’t believe me, reread his sickening attack on Aristotle’s sexism in Whose Justice?  Which Rationality?)  If you don’t want to be sucked down the Leftist drain, don’t ever forget that you’re one of “those people”.  Don’t try to win favor by shitting on the rest of us.
  5. Write a book.  Conservatism deserves a full book.
  6. Think positive.  Jim Kalb has written the definitive book on why liberalism is wrong; we don’t need another.  Now we need someone to present the alternative vision.
  7. Don’t waste your time trying to extract conservative wisdom from the founding fathers–deist traitors, all–or from communist civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King.  Put them in the same box you put Condorcet, Lenin, Gramsci, and Marcuse, a box labeled “Enemies who may have had some interesting thoughts.  Study, but don’t trust.”
  8. Don’t assume that everything liberals believe is wrong.  Evolution did happen.  Global warming is happening.  This has nothing to do with our dispute.
  9. Don’t assume that throwing away the pieces of conservatism that are most unpopular with the intellectuals will make conservatism more intellectually defensible.  Often, what the intellectuals really hate is the core of true conservatism, the truths that could really break their hold on the masses.  They don’t care what position you take on taxes, because that won’t affect anything fundamental.  Defending patriarchy gets to the heart of things.
  10. When you feel lonely, remember that most great thinkers are actually on your side.  They just can’t tell you, because they’re dead and often belonged to different civilizations.  It’s the Western liberals who are the weirdos.

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post.

    How would you count “new natural law” thinkers like Rbert P. George, Germain Grisez, and John Finnis? They are not, admittedly, classical with regard to their metaphysics, but they consistently uphold such all-but-forgotten wisdom as the moral depravity of contraception.

    Also, what think you of Christopher Dawson?

  2. Hello Leo,

    Thanks for asking; I think I enjoy this classifying conservatisms game more than most people.

    They’re the main contemporary examples of “natural lawyers” in my system. I say they’re followers of “Aquinas or Kant” to note the deontological direction they’re taking.

    My earlier post (“A taxonomy of the Right”) lists Christopher Dawson as a “cultural conservative” with Spengler, Voegelin, and some others.

  3. 8. “Don’t assume that everything liberals believe is wrong. Evolution did happen. Global warming is happening. This has nothing to do with our dispute.”

    Evolution is a central dogma of the Enlightment, rationalism and in turn liberalism. Don’t turn a blind eye to all of this. Maybe it’s not that the earth is really young (who knows) but there are flaws in evolution and it’s not foolish to be skeptical of global warming.

    Quite frankly since liberalism has in effect influenced a great range of thought in the last 200-300 years of the Western world why should I not assume that it has infected parts of science itself? Do I want to go all crazy on science? No. But to ignore the influence of liberalism on science is to walk blindly into a ditch for liberalism has affected large parts of society today. Perhaps it is not the central goal of our dispute but it should be included somewhere as a section of it.

  4. Hello Elizabeth,

    Thanks for focusing on this. You bring up a valid worry, but Newtonian physics was an even bigger inspiration to the Enlightenment, but that’s no reason to doubt the existence of intertia. We don’t accept evolution because the liberals tell us to; we accept it because of the fossil record, genetics, the fact that it would take constant divine intervention to *keep* natural selection from operating, and so forth. Similarly, to deny that the universe is billions of years old, one must reject the combined evidence of geology, radioactive dating, stellar evolution, and cosmology, despite the solid observational and experimental corroborations of these fields. Of course, it’s possible that God created the universe a few thousand years ago, organizing matter as if it had had this long past history (e.g. light “from” the Andromeda galaxy was actually created in transit to Earth), just as it’s possible that He created the universe five minutes ago and instilled us all with false memories. But why believe something so bizarre when, as you admit, it doesn’t matter to us one way or the other?

    On the other hand, you’re right that some of what purports to be science has been infected by politics. Usually it’s pretty clear that these things aren’t really science. So, while evolutionary biology is a rigorous, well-validated science, evolutionary psychology is mostly an exercise in “just so” reductionism. In fact, the whole field of psychology is humbug, as far as I’m concerned. (Psychiatry and neurobiology are real sciences; unlike psychotherapy, anti-depressants actually work.) Archeology is a real science; Biblical criticism is just atheist propaganda. Climatology is a real science. There is real experimental support for the atmospheric radiation transport models on which we base our claims on the effects of carbon dioxide. It’s true that feedback effects on photosynthesis, water vapor, the Earth’s albedo, etc are more poorly understood, but the scientists know and admit this, and they’re working to do better. The “Gaia hypothesis”, on the other hand, is pseudo-mystical claptrap. And so on.

  5. “We don’t accept evolution because the liberals tell us to; we accept it because of the fossil record, genetics, the fact that it would take constant divine intervention to *keep* natural selection from operating, and so forth”

    The facts are flawed in combination with the worldview that springs from it. Yes there are some things that seem to support evolution but it’s things like microevolution instead of macroevolution and so forth.

  6. Macroevolution is just microevolution carried on long enough that the two groups can no longer interbreed. It has been observed: There is no qualitative difference between the two phenomena (“micro” and “macro”).

  7. Bonald,

    Perhaps best to discuss over the phone. Email me at my email address from this comment, and I’ll send contact info.

    I’ve found myself becoming more and more of a reactionary; influenced by John Zmirak, I’ve decided the late Hapsburg Empire was the epitome of earthly governance.

  8. Maybe I will do this in ten years when I’ve finished all of my PhDs. In the mean time, I’ve been reading some of the more famous contemporary defenders of leftism, i.e. all of Rawls, Sen, Walzer, Analytical Marxism, etc., as well as the classics.

    In the mean time, what do you think of John Kekes? He is quite theoretical. On the other hand, how about some of the Communitarians? I like their ideas of organic society and loyalty to local community, but it seems they sometimes descend into a sort of cultural relativism whereby the moral order is *derived* from whatever your community teaches; I do not like this.

  9. Hello Alfredo,

    My problem with academic communitarians is something Christopher Lasch pointed out: they’re not serious because they refuse to disagree with liberalism in any practical matter. Theoretically, they will affirm that personal freedom has to be limited by the common good, but they will admit no restrictions when it comes to sexual behavior. They will affirm that community bonds are good, but one must never, ever prefer insiders to outsiders–that would be exclusion. Ultimately, their critique of conservatism is reduced to nothing. If they took their own principles seriously, they would become conservatives.

    Probably the best conservative thinker to read is Roger Scruton. He’s not perfect, but he’s probably the best we’ve got these days. I’ve tried to provide a reasonably concise exposition of conservative thinking on various matters in my essays, but unfortunately I didn’t add a bibliography.

    I haven’t read Kekes.

  10. Bonald,

    You may be interested in the developments here:

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