Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

They Said It:

Society’s regeneration cannot be an undertaking wholly political.  Having lost the spirit of consecration, the modern masses are without expectation of anything better than a bigger slice of what they possess already . . . How to restore a living faith to the lonely crowd, how to remind men that life has ends – this conundrum the twentieth-century conservative faces.  Along with the consolations of faith, perhaps three other passionate human interests have provided the incentive to performance of duty – and the reason for believing that life is worth living – among ordinary men and women:  the perpetuation of their own spiritual existence through the life and welfare of their children; the honest gratification of acquisitive appetite through accumulation and bequest of property; the comforting assurance that continuity is more probable than change – in other words, men’s confidence that they participate in a natural and a moral order in which they count for more than the flies of a summer.  With increasing brutality, the modern temper – first under capitalism, then under state socialism – has ignored these longings of humanity.  So frustration distorts the face of society as it mars the features of individuals.  The behavior of modern society now exhibits the symptoms of a consummate hideous frustration….

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 1953.



As most of you know, way back in1955, William F. Buckley founded National Review, a new conservative journal dedicated to the propagation of a new conservatism.  Though only 30, Buckley had already enjoyed quite an extraordinary life, having lived in Texas, Mexico, Connecticut, and England; having served in the U.S. Army during World War II, as a member of the color guard at FDR’s funeral, as an FBI informant during his days at Yale, and as a CIA officer in Mexico City; and most importantly, having made himself a serious conservative intellectual figure, writing God and Man at Yale and co-writing McCarthy and His Enemies with Brent Bozell.

National Review was, in large part, inspired by Russell Kirk’s classic, The Conservative Mind, which resurrected and legitimated a conservatism that had, more or less, been consigned to the dustbin of history.  Three years before Kirk’s book and five years before Buckley’s magazine, the proto-neoconservative literary critic Lionel Trilling had buried the conservative tradition, arguing that:

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.  For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation . . . the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not . . . express themselves in ideas but only . . . in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

Kirk and then Buckley changed all of that.  George Nash, the renowned historian of conservatism, wrote that Kirk made conservatism “unvulgar,” and “respectable,” that he had made it possible for conservatives to “claim an intellectually formidable and respectable ancestry.”  As for Buckley, Nash called him “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century.”

National Review – founded by Buckley with much input from Kirk – became a hub of both conservative thought and of intellectual rigor.  We simply cannot overemphasize this point.  National Review became an intellectual powerhouse, a journal that sought immutable and eternal truth and intended to convey that truth to a discerning audience.  And it did so at a time when notions such as “truth” and intellectualism had fallen out of favor in the West, when academics and other public figures no longer believed in, much less searched for, anything resembling objective truth.

In the early 1960’s, Frank Meyer, a onetime Communist turned libertarian, tried to reconcile the various factions in the conservative movement, particularly the Burkean conservatives and the libertarians.  This task was difficult enough in and of itself, but was made even more so by the fact that Meyer had led the intellectual attack on Kirk and the “New Conservatives” just before he became one of Buckley’s first editor’s at National Review.  Nevertheless, Meyer managed to achieve something of a consensus in his “fusion” project (even though it was not necessarily recognized as a consensus at the time), which George Nash described as follows:

First, they all believed in “an objective moral order” of “immutable standards by which human conduct should be judged.”  Second, whether they emphasized human rights and freedoms or duties and responsibilities, they unanimously valued “the human person” and opposed liberal attempts to use the State “to enforce ideological patterns on human beings.”  While they disagreed about the extent to which the State should be circumscribed, they all thought that it should be circumscribed.  They were deeply suspicious of “planning” and attempts to centralize power.  They joined in defense of the Constitution “as originally conceived” and shared an aversion to the “messianic” Communist threat to “Western civilization.”

Now, we won’t pretend that Buckley et al. were mere disinterested observers seeking truth just for truth’s sake.  They were conservatives, obviously, which placed them in direct political conflict with the “liberals,” the “progressives,” and the other soft and hard Leftists of the age.  And as Buckley himself admitted in his magazine’s statement of intentions, “We shall recommend policies for the simple reason that we consider them right (rather than “non-controversial”); and we consider them right because they are based on principles we deem right (rather than on popularity polls). . .”

That said, the conservatives of the era were different from the left-leaning contemporaries in that they didn’t seek to promote an ideology or to allow ideology to direct their study of society and its governance.  As Kirk put it, “Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata . . . there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.”  There was no conservative “plan,” no blueprint by which conservatives sought to address the world’s problems or change its inhabitants’ behavior.  Conservatism, though political, was not concerned specifically with the promotion of political programs or with the establishment of partisan enterprises.  Conservatism remained, first and foremost, an intellectual pursuit.

By contrast, most of the rest of the public intellectuals – the authors, the journalists, the artists, and the academics – had long since traded their pursuit of knowledge and fundamental truths for power, comfort, and the self-satisfaction and false esteem of political “triumph.”  By the time Kirk wrote his book and Buckley founded his magazine, the educated classes of the West had been eagerly pursuing partisan power and accolade for nearly a century.  As Nietzsche had predicted some 75 earlier, the intellectuals had ceased to be “lighthouses or sanctuaries in the midst of all this turbulent secularization.” Rather, they had “become more turbulent by the day, more thoughtless and loveless,” thereby ensuring “the coming barbarism.”

Of course, Nietzsche was not the only observer to have noted the intellectuals’ failure to maintain their historical role.  In 1927, the French historian Julien Benda wrote a scathing account of the intellectuals of his day, warning that their seduction by secular politics would have severe and far-reaching consequences.  The “clerks,” as Benda called them, were historically “those whose activity essentially is not the pursuit of practical aims, all those who seek their joy in the practice of an art or a science or metaphysical speculation, in short in the possession of nonmaterial advantages, and hence in a certain manner say: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”  He described their role in civilization as follows:

Throughout history, for more than two thousand years until modern times, I see an uninterrupted series of philosophers, men of religion, men of literature, artists, men of learning (one might say almost all during this period), whose influence, whose life, were in direct opposition to the realism of the multitudes.

To come down specifically to the political passions – the “clerks” were in opposition to them in two ways. They were either entirely indifferent to these passions, and, like Leonardo da Vinci, Malebranche, Goethe, set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence; or, gazing as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms, like Erasmus, Kant, Renan, they preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.

Although these “clerks” founded the modern State to the extent that it dominates individual egotisms, their activity undoubtedly was chiefly theoretical, and they were unable to prevent the laymen from filling all history with the noise of their hatreds and their slaughters; but the “clerks” did prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities.  It may be said that, thanks to the “clerks”, humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good.  This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.

As it were, however, the clerks of Benda’s age had not upheld their end of the civilizational bargain.  Benda claimed that they had betrayed their vocation of gathering and enhancing knowledge in order to pursue other, more secular and material ends.  They had jettisoned their pursuit of “the good” in favor of the pursuit of their own righteousness:

Civilization, I repeat, seems to me possible only if humanity consents to a division of functions, if side by side with those who carry out the lay passions and extol the virtues serviceable to them there exists a class of men who depreciate these passions and glorify the advantages that are beyond the material . . . . Today the game is over.  Humanity is national.  The layman has won.  But his triumph has gone beyond anything he could have expected.  The “clerc” is not only conquered, he is assimilated.  The man of science, the artist, the philosopher are attached to their nations as much as the day-laborer and the merchant.

As befits a man of his era, Benda was specifically concerned with the rise of the Fascists in Italy, the National Socialists in Germany, and the Communists in Russia.  All three had their intellectual champions.  All three promised otherworldly outcomes in this world.  And all three validated their positions and their claims with the aid of the “clerks.”  The result, Benda predicted would be utterly disastrous for the human race:

Indeed, if we ask ourselves what will happen to a humanity where every group is striving more eagerly than ever to feel conscious of its own particular interests, and makes its moralists tell it that it is sublime to the extent that it knows no law but this interest – a child can give the answer.  This humanity is heading for the greatest and most perfect war ever seen in the word, whether it is a war of nations, or a war of classes.  [Emphasis added]

The bad news, obviously, is that Benda was unnervingly prescient in his prediction, with “the most perfect war ever seen in the world” breaking out just over a decade later.  The worse news is that this “perfect” war didn’t alter the intellectuals’ perspectives terribly.  Indeed, as the Trilling quote above suggests, the West’s intellectuals exited the Second World War not merely undaunted in their pursuit of politicized “knowledge,” but nearly unanimous in their belief about the course that their politicization should follow.  The soft-Leftism of the post-war American political consensus was bolstered, enhanced, and universalized by the soft-Left-supporting intellectuals of the day.  From John Kenneth Galbraith to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; from Norman Mailer to Edmund Wilson, the most powerful and best known intellectuals of the era all supported and, indeed, advocated on behalf of the same thing:  globalized American secular liberalism.  The clerks learned nothing from their predecessors’ betrayal and, indeed, pursued the same ends only with more vigor.

It is, in this context, important to remember that William Buckley’s entire motivation for pursuing a heterodox, truth-seeking, conservative enterprise was his revulsion at the Leftist group-think that dominated academia in the post-War era.  It wasn’t simply a case where academics pursued knowledge, and some, inevitably, stumbled into support for Left-leaning policies.  Rather, it was a case where academic intellectuals all agreed that there was only one possible answer to the economic, social, and political questions raised by the war and its aftermath, and collectively determined that their students must be indoctrinated with the niceties of this answer, lest they be swayed by less acceptable ideas.  Buckley famously described this process his opus God and Man at Yale:

What are the perils of deficit financing?   Prior to understanding this subject, certain superstitions about money must be overcome.  First to be dispelled is any untoward faith in gold or the gold standard, which Tarshis (author of an economic text used by Yale) compares, by no means favorable, to a limburger cheese standard.  It is a good thing that gold certificates no longer exist, Samuelson (another favored textbook author) tells us because the gold standard “made each country a slave rather than a master of its own economic destiny” . . . Let the student constantly bear in mind that there is no practical limit to government debt: . . . Samuelson underscores this, as he concludes his analysis with the statement: “In short, there is no technical financial reason why a nation fanatically addicted to deficit spending should not pursue such a policy for the rest of our lives, and even beyond.   There is no disagreement from Bowman and Bach (authors of another economic text used at Yale), who assert: The fear that increasing the public debt will make the nation go bankrupt is almost completely fallacious” . . .

The college graduate is a potential entrepreneur.  If he decides to start a business of his own, he must bear in mind the warnings of the economists at Yale.  The first of these is that to enter business is not a basic right.  Whatever business he contemplates must be justified in terms of “social good.”  He reasons that the social good, as seen through the price system, is determined by whether or not consumers will buy his products; and that seems reasonable, since if no one buys his products — if he isn’t therefore working for the social good — he’ll go broke anyway.

But that is not good enough for he must remember that money costs do not tally with social costs, and that therefore it is quite possible that the enterprise he is considering, regardless of its financial success, will militate against the social welfare.  Since he already knows that private property and entrepreneurship, not being individual rights, must be justified in terms of the “social good,” and the social good cannot be affirmed by the existence of satisfied customers, he must proceed cautiously.

Buckley, Kirk, and the rest waged war on this consensus and, more to the point, on the notion that consensus can or should exist among the intellectuals.  They vigorously and effectively argued the same essential point that Benda made, that excessive self-interest among the intellectual led to politicization of thought, and that, in turn, led to consensus, advocacy, and eventually unspeakable horror.

One would be foolish, of course, to pretend that the efforts of the post-war conservatives were purely altruistic and disinterested.  They were not.  But they were, nevertheless, more concerned with ideas than with self-interest.  They were concerned specifically with denying the consensus and with offering at least the semblance of the eternal role of the public intellectual, to pursue truth for truth’s sake.  And in so doing, they shook up the world.

The Buckleys and Kirks of the world did what intellectuals were supposed to do.  They affected the debate and afflicted the comfortable.  They taught society a few things, converted a few former enablers of the consensus, and resurrected the notions of objectivity and reality in the social, economic, and political debates.  It may have taken another quarter century for their impact to be fully felt in the public arena, but it was, undoubtedly and eventually, felt.

Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends.

You may, at this point, be wondering why we’ve bothered to tell you all of this and what pertinence it has in the current political milieu.  As you know, the rest of the story has both ups and downs but is, in the end, sadly typical.  The conservatives of Buckley and Kirk’s generation changed the world.  They influenced the likes of Goldwater and Kemp.  And then, in turn, they spawned a revolution in the person and presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan himself said that the journey of self-discovery encapsulated in Whitaker Chambers’ Witness prompted his own journey.  Buckley and Reagan were friends for more than four decades.  And, of course, Chambers worked for Buckley at National Review.

Reagan’s presidency represented the pinnacle of the advance of conservative ideas.  After he left office, conservatism persisted, but it was changed.  It was no longer purely about ideas, knowledge, and truth.  It was rather also about power, influence, and political triumph.  This was inevitable, we suppose, but no less tragic for its inescapability.

We have been thinking a great deal about this phenomenon of late and especially about National Review’s role in the conservative movement.  As you may know, Buckley’s creation has been among the most prolific and consistent sources of NeverTrump opinion.  Syndicated columnists George Will and Charles Krauthammer – both NeverTrumpers – are published prominently by National Review Online.  Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at National Review and a columnist at NRO, made a rather notable public production of leaving the Republican Party once Trump secured its nomination.  Kevin Williamson, a “roving correspondent” for the magazine and a columnist at the web site, has been among the most outspoken and unrelenting Trump critics.  NRO’s first editor – the man who brought it to national prominence – and perhaps its best known columnist, Jonah Goldberg, has also been one of the NeverTrump movement’s most visible thought-leaders.  David French, a staff writer for both the magazine and the web site, was so fundamental in the formation of NeverTrump sentiment that he was the first person whom the anti-Trump forces sought to “nominate” as a third party candidate, back in May of this year.  All of which is to say that the NeverTrumpers clearly have a home at National Review.

On the surface, this would seem to bolster the notion that National Review remains true to the spirit that Buckley envisioned, that conservatism should be about ideas and not about political expediency and power.  Jonah Goldberg, for one, has repeatedly lamented the fact that his determined NeverTrump position has hurt him personally and professionally, making enemies of friends and turning him into a pariah in circles where he was once feted.  Just last week, David French sparked a great deal of conversation and controversy when he lamented that too many conservatives have become enamored with power and self-interest and are thereby damaging the conservative movement.  While he didn’t mention Trump or his supporters at Fox News by name, it was clear that French meant his complaint to strike the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity the hardest.  He put it this way:

It’s hard to overstate the power of Fox News for those seeking a career in the conservative movement.  I’ve seen the most accomplished of lawyers suddenly become “somebody” only after they regularly appear on Fox.  I’ve seen young activists leave senators or representatives languishing alone in rooms as they flood over to Fox personalities, seeking selfies.  Fox has become the prime gatekeeper of conservative fame, the source of conservative book deals, and the ticket into the true pantheon of conservative influence.

It’s killing the conservative movement. . . .

The result is clear: Conservatives gain fame, power, and influence mainly by talking to each other.  They persuade each other of the rightness of their ideas and write Fox-fueled best-selling books making arguments that Fox viewers love.  The sheer size of the audience lulls minor political celebrities into believing that they’re making a cultural and political difference.  But they never get a chance to preach to the unconverted. . . .

The conservative movement is a victim of Fox’s success.  The network is so strong that conservatives who ignore it risk obscurity and irrelevance, even as it remains far too weak to truly transform the landscape.  So long as Fox continues to make more than $1 billion per year, that’s unlikely to change.  It will be up to conservative leaders to wean themselves off the cheap high and intentionally engage the vast majority of Americans who don’t turn on Fox, don’t follow Sean Hannity, and think “The Factor” sounds more like an old game show than the most-watched news program in America.

This is an interesting argument on French’s part, but it’s also a bit overwrought and more than a bit misdirected.  It is true that Fox is a big deal among conservatives.  But the question is why is Fox News such a big deal?  Is it because it has changed the conservative movement?  Or is it because it reflects changes that already occurred in the conservative movement?  We’d argue that it’s the latter.  And we’re not alone.  In a response to French, journalist and entrepreneur Ben Domenech wrote the following:

Isn’t it possible that the problems French identifies with Fox News’s programming are merely reflections of the same problems infecting the rest of the conservative movement, not the cause?  Aren’t its nagging issues indistinguishable from the problems plaguing every other conservative movement institution run by older folks for older folks, from think tanks to activist organizations to magazines?  Doesn’t it say something that the aspects French identifies as being reflections of the lure of being “Fox News Famous” are also aspects found in talk radio, in fundraising appeals, and in candidates themselves – even when they aren’t on Fox?

Fox News is not the moral and intellectual heart of the conservative movement, nor is it built to fulfill that role.  It’s a news channel.  A big news channel, I grant you, and a very profitable one.  But it is also just a news channel.  It has just had a better institutional understanding that TV is a visual medium, and has been better at producing appealing content compared to its cable news competitors.  So good, in fact, that it is watched by a massive number of Democrats as well as Independents.  French’s declaration that appearing on Fox means you are appealing only to the conservative cocoon is bereft of fact.  The Pew data from two years ago showed that at the time, 55 percent of the Fox News audience did not identify as conservative.  To suggest that Fox’s audience is a conservative cocoon is definitively false.

There are a couple of other significant problems with French’s argument.  For starters, not everyone who appears on Fox News – or even on talk radio and the like – craves attention or is seeking only to advance his or her own reputation and fame.  Some people actually use that medium – like they use all media – to explain both conservatism and the ideas on which it is based to a receptive though not necessarily “unconverted” audience.  The inimitable Mark Steyn, for one, has always used the major media – including Fox and the Rush Limbaugh Show – far more than they have used him.  He has written and published successful books, arguing and articulating the finer points of social and political order and has never compromised his ideas just for the sake of convenience or fame.  Indeed, French’s own magazine parted ways with Steyn specifically because the latter refused to take the former’s advice about taking the easy way out of the difficult fight for free speech.

More to the point, this prostitution, if you will, of ideas for fame and fortune long preceded Fox News and the current Trump campaign.  Once upon a time, for example, George Will was among the most thoughtful and influential writers in the conservative movement.  He wrote important books and important columns on important issues.  He made clear and concise points and argued for truth and modesty in public policy.  Heck, Will was an editor for National Review for several years and even won a Pulitzer Prize while he was working there.  And then he became a TV star – not on Fox, mind you, but on ABC, where he started appearing 35 YEARS ago.  For twenty years now, we, among others, have lamented the fact that George Will was once a great writer but is now a TV guy who occasionally writes some good columns.  Of course, he works for Fox now, but that’s not because he wants to impress the people at Fox, but because the people at Fox knew that he would impress their viewers – precisely the opposite of French’s argument.

Consider as well Charles Krauthammer.  For decades, Krauthammer was among the most insightful and daring writers in the political world.  Like Will, he won a Pulitzer Prize for political commentary.  In 2006, Krauthammer was named the “most influential commentator in America” by the Financial Times.  David Brooks has called him the “most important conservative columnist” working today.  And indeed, Krauthammer was once a must-read for any conservative.  But when, exactly, was the last time that was so?  When, precisely, did Krauthammer last make an argument that was profound, notable, or even quotable?  Searching our archives, we find that the last time we cited him was more than five years ago.  Krauthammer too works for Fox now, but like Will, he was hired by Fox to bring his audience to them, not the other way around.

Then, of course, there’s Jonah Goldberg, French’s colleague and the original National Review Online celebrity.  Goldberg was, early in his career, one of the most engaging and edifying writers of his generation.  Anyone who can tie Edmund Burke to National Lampoon’s “Animal House” and explain the connection as clearly and wittily as Goldberg did is both talented and brilliant.  He turned NRO into a conservative internet powerhouse.  He wrote a very influential – if not entirely original – book on the intellectual connections between “liberalism” and “fascism.”  And then he too became famous.  Like the others, Goldberg became a household name, syndicated a newspaper column, and then became a TV star.  And like the others, his writing about thoughts, ideas, and truth took a hit.

Now, it’s not that we blame Goldberg or Will or Krauthammer.  They are all busy men.  And they all have a multitude of obligations, personal and professional.  They are all rightly considered among the best and brightest of the conservative lot.  And they all have done their best to convey conservative ideas to the masses.  Still the fact remains that they don’t do what they used to do, and certainly they don’t do what Buckley and Kirk and Bozell and the others used to do.  And they don’t do this because they can’t.  They don’t do it because conservatism is no longer a mere temperament.  It is a full blown political movement that demands policies and opinions and “winning” arguments.  They also don’t do it because the 24-hour-news-cycle doesn’t allow it.  We’re not usually ones to sit around and lament the decline in the attention span of the average American, but it’s clear that the manner in which we live our lives today doesn’t permit us to develop the desire for or dedicate the time to serious ideas.  Fox News may be part of the problem David French laments, but it is not the cause of it.  In fact, it was created specifically to cash in on the problem, which was already well established before Fox ever went on the air.

In a recent piece for National Review Online, Maggie Gallagher, a social conservative activist and a “longtime contributor to National Review” argued, in essence, that ideas are passé and that only legislation and activism matter.  To wit:

Unlike a great many of my friends and colleagues, I no longer see the next election as the most important political question.  The most important political question affecting the future of this country is whether we can build an effective political movement to protect gay-marriage dissenters and abortion dissenters from the Left’s efforts to use government to punish, marginalize, and exclude us; to take away, via legal and economic pressure, our basic rights to organize, to speak, and to form associations that are seen as legitimate actors in the public square. . . .

Almost every effort to build a Christian social-conservative political movement has failed to date.  The Moral Majority failed.  Ralph Reed failed. Even the National Organization for Marriage, which I helped found, has failed to build a political machine that raises money to help elect our friends and defeat our enemies, especially at the federal level, which is where you have to fight if you want to matter culturally as well as legally.  There must be deep reasons why it is so hard to do something so obviously necessary. . . .

In my view, the single most important thing we need are candidates willing to fight for real religious-liberty protections, repealing the Left’s lawless reinterpretation of discrimination law, which is why some version of the First Amendment Defense Act is, to my thinking, so key.

With all due respect to Miss Gallagher, this is the problem, not the solution.  This is real source of the issues that befuddle and annoy people like David French.  Gallagher openly states that it is not about ideas so much as it is about legislation.  It is not about convincing the masses so much as it is about winning Washington’s battles.  It’s not about changing the culture so much as it is about changing the laws.

Now, we understand the impetus here, but THIS is precisely what has gone wrong in conservatism and precisely what has caused the movement to flail and sputter.  Go on TV; change the minds of the insiders; wow and woo the staffers; preach to and energize the converted.  Focus on policies, not on ideas.

We have long argued in these pages that, contra Gallagher, Washington is NOT where these battles are won or lost, but merely where the score is kept.  If you want to defend traditional marriage or end abortion or . . . well, do anything, you first have to convince the people.  You first have to win and change the culture.  You have to start at the local level, and you have to start with IDEAS that are both convincing and TRUE.  If you try to do it the other way around, you can’t help but fail.

The post-war conservatives built a movement from the ground up by focusing on ideas and truth.  They first convinced the American people that their ideas had merit and then allowed the people to support political candidates who embraced those ideas.  Today’s conservatives have it backward.  They wish to act first, convince later.  They talk to those who agree with them.  They fight for laws before convincing the people why those laws are necessary or beneficial.  They are, more or less, no different from the clerks whose betrayal Benda cited and bemoaned.

And while this may not be their fault – given the nature of politics and entertainment today – the fundamental problem is never going to be addressed unless and until ideas and thoughts become preeminent again.  In his piece last week, the aforementioned Ben Domenech wrote that “The reason Republicans won the popular vote in only one of the past six presidential elections is because their policies and candidates have failed to be popular and they have failed to adjust them.”  This is absolutely right.  But instead of adjusting their policies by focusing on the knowledge and truth on which they should be built, the clerks instead tilt at windmills, rage against imaginary enemies, and focus on the small details rather than the bigger picture.

Not all of the today’s conservatives are complicit in this betrayal, of course.  Our old friend Angelo Codevilla and the ever-eminent Charles Murray are two among many who have resisted the lure of self-interest and have instead focused on ideas and truth.  Ironically, though unsurprisingly, the most notable recent ideas both men have articulated – the connected notions of the ruling class vs. the country class and Fishtown Vs. Belmont – were adopted (and then bastardized) by the Trump campaign.  Donald Trump may be a political neophyte, but even he understands what the contemporary conservatives seem to have forgotten.  Ideas matter.  And when you convince the people of the virtue of your ideas, their support will follow.

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