Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

Big Money, Small Thinkers

Spring 1995

WHY INTELLECTUAL CONSERVATISM DIED
Michael Lind
Dissent, Winter, 1995, pp. 42-47

Michael Lind maintains that intellectual conservatism collapsed over the past decade. Before the collapse, the two main varieties of mainstream conservatism "from the founding of National Review in 1955 to the disastrous Houston Convention of 1992 were Buckley style fusionism" and neoconservatism, the former mainly Catholic and the latter Jewish (p. 43). William Buckley and his allies "effectively wiped out the major rival for the leadership of conservative white Protestant Americans" through a campaign against the John Birch Society (p. 43).

Alas, Protestant fundamentalists did not accept tutelage from those whom Lind deems their intellectual betters. With the onset of the Christian Coalition in 1988, the "institutions and the leaders of the older Catholic and Jewish conservatives suddenly became superfluous" (p. 43). In response, the intellectual right surrendered. They have sold out to the fundamentalists, abandoning the path of reason. Instead they act as "image consultants for Protestants fundamentalists" (p. 44). Standards have been abandoned, as intellectuals much as William Bennett and William Kristol become "middlemen between the uncouth fire-and-brimstone Protestant evangelicals and the world of serious journalism, policy, and scholarship" (p. 44).

Lind's analysis contains much of value, but the biased terms in which he encases it need to be pared away. Lind is clearly on target when he notes that the National Review crowd and neoconservatives no longer dominates the right. But why is this a mark of intellectual decline? Lind obviously holds certain views in contempt; only a "pointy-hand" would dare to criticize Darwin, for instance. But the intellectual stature of a group ought not to be rated by whether its opinions meet with Lind's approval. The academic credentials of the paleos at Chronicles, e.g. Tom Fleming, Sam Francis, and Paul Gottfried, easily outweigh those of Buckley and the Kristols. Nor is the right wing movement confined to Protestant fundamentalists - I do not think either Pat Buchanan or Murray Rothbard could be so described. And Pat Robertson hardly seems the central figure Lind make him out to be.

If one ignores Lind's value loaded descriptions, a striking point emerges. He has correctly seen that most American conservatives are fed up with the leadership that has been foisted on them. "The complaint of `paleo-conservatives' that their movement was being taken over by opportunistic (and in many cases weird) foreigners was not completely without foundation" (p. 47) Lind also notes another vital point. " One by one, every leading conservative publication or think tank over the past decades has come to depend on money from a few foundations - Olin, Smith- Richardson, Bradley, Scaife" (p. 46). Lind errs in thinking that these foundations have promoted a movement toward the so-called far right, but the judgment of someone who thinks that the natural home of conservatism after 1955 was the Democratic Party is hardly to be trusted.


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