The Conservative Movement: ‘How Much Wisdom Have We Lost?’

By | 2017-11-19T13:51:49+00:00 November 18th, 2017|
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“The Poverty of Riches,” depicting aristocrats queueing outside a pawnbroker’s shop to sell their unwanted property. (1894)

In autumnal weather, one grows wistful . . .

As a member of Generation X, I remember how difficult it was to scrounge up conservative tomes, publications and—above all prizing—broadcasts. Indeed, if memory serves, in the Left’s last-ditch attempt to prevent America’s youth from learning why they instinctively liked President Ronald Reagan, bookstores placed National Review behind the porn.

Undaunted (if delayed), we nonetheless plucked and plumbed this seminal font of conservative philosophy, which led us to William F. Buckley’s television show, “Firing Line”; and, from there, we sojourned to the conservative works of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Sowell, Allan Bloom, and Robert Nisbet to name but a few. And though Bloom was warning about The Closing of the American Mind, it seemed impossible as we stood upon the shoulders of giants and received the collective wisdom of the species amassed over the generations of human endeavor, failure, and triumph.

But Bloom was prescient, if a bit precipitate in 1987; and, today, amidst the incessant, instant swirl of the communications revolution, with every tweet, post, and pic, the American mind is shutting tighter than a hair band’s spandex.

As Bloom warned, the Left’s cancerous political correctness has metastasized throughout America’s educational, political, economic and social institutions to chill the right of free speech and its intrinsic right to the freedoms of thought and conscience.

Yet, the Left alone is not to blame. The Right, too, contributes to this frigid clime.

In an ironic, wholly unconscious aping of the Left’s identity politics, we have witnessed the novel phenomenon of hyphenated conservatives.

“Libertarian-conservative,” “economic conservative,” “cultural conservative,” etc., are now routinely spouted as shorthand “brand” self-identification among the Right’s political actors. Such patchwork conservatism stems from a superficial exposure to the philosophy. (Conservatism is not an ideology; and, if one needs this explained, one is not yet truly a conservative.) Unmoored from a deeper understanding of conservatism, individuals can but cobble together a convenient amalgamation of checklist conservative talking points that suit their immediate and long-term ambitions.

True, conservative minds will differ on specific issues, what they do not differ on is the fundamental principles from which such decisions arrive. Bluntly, true conservatives could never conjoin their philosophy with libertarianism—the former is a philosophy preeminently articulated by Burke; the latter is an ideology springing from the intellectual cesspool of Rousseau. The question, then, is how could this dismaying diffusion and confusion of conservatism occur at the very time its unity is required to thwart the Left’s deleterious aims?

A poverty of riches, Eliot long ago bemoaned: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

In our Information Age, “the Rising Generation” has never had to search for and, upon finding, learn from bedrock conservative works. Like Madison Avenue to the Baby Boomers before it, to make a quick buck the establishment merrily pumps out degraded, lowest common denominator “conservatism” for the consumption of nascent conservatives deserving of so much better.

Never was the devolution of conservative intellectualism more apparent to me than a night I strolled the corridor of a conservative publishing house. On the wall in chronological order were framed covers of the conservative books the house had printed. The first was Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind; the latest was Chuck Norris’s Black Belt Patriotism. (Noticing my glancing at it, one of the executives asked what I thought of Norris’ book. I replied, “I’ll wait for the movie.”) Sure, in a cage match Chuck Norris could’ve kicked Russell Kirk’s ass; but, God love him, Chuck couldn’t beat Russell in a match of wits.

This is not to diminish Norris’s contribution to popularizing conservatism, especially as he does so from the Leftist fever swamp named Hollywood. Yet, while his book has its role to fill in casting about for new adherents to conservative philosophy; such books cannot have the starring role in “messaging” conservatism. But celebrity conservatism, TV talking points, and talk radio tirades are precisely what the Republican establishment’s racketeers are perpetually peddling for a profit at the movement’s expense.

For, in the wake of the Republican establishment’s torrential, 24/7 political tripe crawl the glassy-eyed, hyphenated conservatives who, armed with talking points from internet hit coveting pundits on the make who are equally ignorant of the true roots of conservatism, yearn to save the world – or what passes for it through the cracked lens of quasi-ideology.

And, as the kaleidoscopic leaves in a December breeze, they waver and waft to earth, devoid of purpose – dead in the winter of our discontent.

The wistful mood of the moment lost, it’s time to rake. Get the hell off my lawn.

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About the Author:

Thaddeus G. McCotter
The Hon. Thaddeus McCotter is the former chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, current itinerant guitarist, and author of Nain Rouge Blues.