The University Bookman

 
 

Summer 2012

Searching while Blindfolded

Gerald J. Russello

Russell Jacoby’s piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on conservative “anti-intellectualism” purports to lament the absence of real conservative intellectuals. Instead, he says, conservatives have abandoned serious thinking and turned to ideology or class resentment against “elites,” including college professors and the educated in general. This, by and large, is a silly view, one already exploded by several writers including Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative (which Jacoby, no surprise, does not mention).

Of the five conservative intellectuals whose example Jacoby raises for us as worthy of emulation, two—Leo Strauss and Edmund Burke—are dead, and only Wilfred McClay is at the height of his powers and a truly important conservative intellectual figure. Needless to say (although apparently it does need to be said), the conservative tradition, even now, is broader and richer than those five figures suggest. Jacoby doesn’t think much even of Burke, demeaning his attacks on “lawyers and writers” for starting the French Revolution as the precursor to conservatism’s supposed anti-intellectualism. (Burke was largely right, but why let that stop a good story?)

This article could have been written today or twenty years ago—and indeed, it has been. Judge Posner wrote about a supposed conservative intellectual “collapse” only three years ago, and wasn’t the historian Richard Hofstadter warning about the “paranoid” style of conservative thinking fifty years ago?

These pieces would be more tiresome except for what they reveal about the limitations of the liberal mind. Liberals are always looking for the conservative intellectual tradition. They never find it. Such articles are written to comfort liberals that they do not actually have to look for a conservative critique of liberalism because all conservatives have to offer is resentment, anger, or mindless class-hatred. Take Jacoby’s assertion that conservatives “rarely mention hyperconsumerism or advertising or a rigidifying class structure—the byproducts of advanced capitalism. Rather, they dwell on the presumably corrosive ideas of the educated, especially the professoriate.” No mention here of the strong conservative critique of consumerism by such authors as my own intellectual mentor Russell Kirk or the folks at Front Porch Republic, Image, and The Imaginative Conservative, among many others. No mention of the vigorous thinking on display at such places as First Things or the Claremont Review of Books. Nor is there even a mention of the attacks on crony capitalism supporting unsustainable practices such as that revealed by, among others. Tim Carney. Just within the past few years, conservatives have published and discussed important books, as my own journal, The University Bookman, displays weekly.

But complaining about Jacoby’s missing the actual conservative intellectual tradition is to treat the article as a serious analysis, when it is nothing more than what someone once called an irritable mental gesture, meant to confirm existing conclusions rather than think about them.  

Gerald Russello is Editor of the University Bookman.

Posted: July 21, 2012 in Essays.

Did you see this one? book cover

(The Future of) Liberalism in Our Disordered Age
Ted V. McAllister
Winter 2013

All great systems, ethical or political, attain their ascendency over the minds of men by virtue of their appeal to the imagination; and when they cease to touch the chords of wonder and mystery and hope, their power is lost, and men look elsewhere for some set of principles by which they may be guided.

Russell Kirk

Share

Subscribe & Follow

RSS

More from the Bookman!

book cover book cover book cover


Four Acres in Herefordshire
Robert Grano

Hitchens: A Look at a Skeptic
Spencer Case

An American Arcadia Made Accessible
Sarah Phelps Smith

Our Real Constitution—And What Happened to It
Allen Mendenhall

Endo and the Challenge of Orthodoxy
Lee Oser

A Guide to the Nightmare Countries
Kenneth Hite


book cover book cover book cover

News

The University Bookman is joining Fordham University in hosting the award-winning poet and critic A. M. Juster on Monday, February 6, 2017 at 6:00pm on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus (McMahon Hall, Rm. 109; use the entrance on West 60th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan). Juster will speak on “Riddles, Elegies, and Satires: Adventures in Translation.” The event is free and open to the public and registration is not required. We are also planning a second event in May on the humanities. Watch this space for more details. (27 Dec 2016)

Other Sites of Interest

Publisher Sites

 

Copyright © 2007–2016 The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal