After Rove There's Work to Be Done

The people who run political campaigns are a special breed.  It is a measure of their importance that they become political lightning rods.  

The Clinton-haters of the 1990s wouldn't have pursued PresidentClinton so much if he hadn't been such a superb political tactician. Today's Bush-haters hate Karl Rove for the same reason.  It is hard for them to acknowledge that a guy with a 5 for 6 record in major elections is just flat-out good at what he does.  They would rather think that he won by playing dirty.

But now Karl Rove is resigning, and  Democrats are wondering, like Talleyrand, what he meant by that. But where does that leave the conservative base and the Republican Party?  Where shall we go?  What shall we do?

Let us think about the future at three levels like good military planners: at the tactical level, the operational level, and the strategic level.

At the nuts-and-bolts level of practical politics the conservative movement is prepared with a full slate of policies to reform the welfare state, replacing its top-down one-size-fits-all government solutions with ideas that empower people.  Whether it's reforming Social Security, getting consumer choice into health care, or educational choice, conservatives are ready with good ideas to lead the American people to sunny green uplands.

At the operational level, the level of cultural criticism, the conservatives are also in good shape.  For over a generation conservatives have been publishing trenchant critiques of the welfare state and the self-indulgent society.  From George Gilder's 1970s critique of feminism, Sexual Suicide, to Allan Bloom's 1980s critique of elite education, The  Closing of the American Mind, and on to the 1990s rise of post-feminist women: Maggie Gallagher' The Case for Marriage, Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, Jennifer Roback Morse's Smart Sex, Wendy Shalit's Return to Modesty. Today there are even liberals raising questions about the benefit of extended adolescence and socialization of children in teenage gangs.

It is in the strategic realm of philosophy that conservatives lack heft.  You can get a measure of the problem if you read The Modern Mind by British broadsheet journalist Peter Watson. His "intellectual history of the 20th century" is divided into major sections like "Freud to Wittgenstein," "Spengler to Animal Farm," "Sartre to the Sea of Tranquillity," and "The Counter-culture to Kosovo." There's a clear message.  Conservatives need not apply.  Even at the second level in the table of contents the only recognizable names are Hayek and Nozick. There is no mention in the index of Buckley, of Kirk, or of Weaver.


The reason is fairly simple.  "We live," Jonah Goldberg writes, "in a progressive world" in which "mankind, not God, is the pilot of Spaceship Earth."  The Modern Mind is a progressive mind, molded by the French Enlightenment and German philosophy. 

If conservatives wish to advance from subculture to occupy the mainstream culture then we
must master the language of the progressive world and its secularist canon from Kant to Gadamer and Habermas. But is it possible to found a conservative response to the progressive world on Kant?  Many conservatives look upon the entire German canon with undisguised suspicion as the fount of liberalism and relativism. Is there any point in learning the intellectual material that gave birth to socialism and the mammoth welfare state?

British conservative Roger Scruton has built his life upon just that. He has written a book on Kant and a textbook on Modern Philosophy. His conservatism, he writes in A Political Philosophy, "arose in reaction to May 1968 in France."  Indeed, on reading the conservative canon he found himself  in "the exact position of Burke, who was stunned into articulating his beliefs, as I was, by a revolution in France."

Thus Scruton found himself in 1996 in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy founding a conservative morality upon Kant's categorical imperative and slaying the Cartesian ego -- and the whole cult of creativity -- with the private language argument of Wittgenstein.

Does this matter, when conservatism is concerned with eternal values beyond the superficial games that academics play? It certainly does.  Conservatives have a compelling story to tell, a story of hope to inspire ordinary people to take control of their lives and escape the grim dependency and moral squalor of the welfare state. What we need is a political philosophy with the power to propel conservatives from sub-culture to dominance, so that the chronicler of the Twenty-first Century Mind will find he is writing mostly about conservatives.  We need conservative thinkers with the talent to inspire the twenty-first century doers.

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com and usgovernmentspending.com websites. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.
The people who run political campaigns are a special breed.  It is a measure of their importance that they become political lightning rods.  

The Clinton-haters of the 1990s wouldn't have pursued PresidentClinton so much if he hadn't been such a superb political tactician. Today's Bush-haters hate Karl Rove for the same reason.  It is hard for them to acknowledge that a guy with a 5 for 6 record in major elections is just flat-out good at what he does.  They would rather think that he won by playing dirty.

But now Karl Rove is resigning, and  Democrats are wondering, like Talleyrand, what he meant by that. But where does that leave the conservative base and the Republican Party?  Where shall we go?  What shall we do?

Let us think about the future at three levels like good military planners: at the tactical level, the operational level, and the strategic level.

At the nuts-and-bolts level of practical politics the conservative movement is prepared with a full slate of policies to reform the welfare state, replacing its top-down one-size-fits-all government solutions with ideas that empower people.  Whether it's reforming Social Security, getting consumer choice into health care, or educational choice, conservatives are ready with good ideas to lead the American people to sunny green uplands.

At the operational level, the level of cultural criticism, the conservatives are also in good shape.  For over a generation conservatives have been publishing trenchant critiques of the welfare state and the self-indulgent society.  From George Gilder's 1970s critique of feminism, Sexual Suicide, to Allan Bloom's 1980s critique of elite education, The  Closing of the American Mind, and on to the 1990s rise of post-feminist women: Maggie Gallagher' The Case for Marriage, Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, Jennifer Roback Morse's Smart Sex, Wendy Shalit's Return to Modesty. Today there are even liberals raising questions about the benefit of extended adolescence and socialization of children in teenage gangs.

It is in the strategic realm of philosophy that conservatives lack heft.  You can get a measure of the problem if you read The Modern Mind by British broadsheet journalist Peter Watson. His "intellectual history of the 20th century" is divided into major sections like "Freud to Wittgenstein," "Spengler to Animal Farm," "Sartre to the Sea of Tranquillity," and "The Counter-culture to Kosovo." There's a clear message.  Conservatives need not apply.  Even at the second level in the table of contents the only recognizable names are Hayek and Nozick. There is no mention in the index of Buckley, of Kirk, or of Weaver.


The reason is fairly simple.  "We live," Jonah Goldberg writes, "in a progressive world" in which "mankind, not God, is the pilot of Spaceship Earth."  The Modern Mind is a progressive mind, molded by the French Enlightenment and German philosophy. 

If conservatives wish to advance from subculture to occupy the mainstream culture then we
must master the language of the progressive world and its secularist canon from Kant to Gadamer and Habermas. But is it possible to found a conservative response to the progressive world on Kant?  Many conservatives look upon the entire German canon with undisguised suspicion as the fount of liberalism and relativism. Is there any point in learning the intellectual material that gave birth to socialism and the mammoth welfare state?

British conservative Roger Scruton has built his life upon just that. He has written a book on Kant and a textbook on Modern Philosophy. His conservatism, he writes in A Political Philosophy, "arose in reaction to May 1968 in France."  Indeed, on reading the conservative canon he found himself  in "the exact position of Burke, who was stunned into articulating his beliefs, as I was, by a revolution in France."

Thus Scruton found himself in 1996 in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy founding a conservative morality upon Kant's categorical imperative and slaying the Cartesian ego -- and the whole cult of creativity -- with the private language argument of Wittgenstein.

Does this matter, when conservatism is concerned with eternal values beyond the superficial games that academics play? It certainly does.  Conservatives have a compelling story to tell, a story of hope to inspire ordinary people to take control of their lives and escape the grim dependency and moral squalor of the welfare state. What we need is a political philosophy with the power to propel conservatives from sub-culture to dominance, so that the chronicler of the Twenty-first Century Mind will find he is writing mostly about conservatives.  We need conservative thinkers with the talent to inspire the twenty-first century doers.

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com and usgovernmentspending.com websites. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.