Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative. But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli’s observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.
Matthew Yglesias heartily endorses this point:
Can anyone seriously dispute that the vast majority of America’s premiere institutions of education and high culture are located in the "blue" areas? That’s not to say the South is some kind of total wasteland -- I visited the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum earlier this year and it’s first-rate, albeit a bit small -- but on the whole this stuff is primarily in the Northeast and to a lesser extent on the Pacific coast. At the same time, these institutions used to be bastions of conservatism and now -- as conservatives are wont to complain -- go the other way politically.
This is a complicated issue. I want to respond first to Hart and then to Yglesias.
Hart’s argument seems to be that the "modern" (post-1964) Republican Party--the party of Goldwater and Reagan--gained votes and power at the expense of its contact with "prudence, education, intellect, and high culture." Given the fact that these four attributes are going by and large to be the preserve of a relatively small minority, any party that gains voters, wherever it gains them, will lose some of its cultivated aspect. As recently as the brouhaha over the Miers nomination, some commentators noted tensions within the Republican coalition between the intellectuals (neo-conservatives and NR traditionalists, among others) and the base, whether it be the business class or the evangelical social conservatives. What I’ve found remarkable, however, is how well they’ve gotten along over the years. "Cowboy" that he was, Ronald Reagan provided the principal conduit for the influence of conservative intellectuals of various stripes in Washington.
Of course, Professor Hart might reply that a policy wonk or an economist isn’t the same thing as a painter, poet, or critic. But not all the conservative intellectuals in Washington, D.C. were trained at Virginia Tech or George Mason. Some came from places like Harvard, Toronto, Claremont, and Chicago. (I hasten to note, lest I offend, that these are not the only universities in the country and that the study of public choice theory does not necessarily render one incapable of appreciating the good, the true, and the beautiful, nor, for that matter, does the study of Plato and his successors render one simply unappreciative of the way in which interests are often, if not always, appropriately understood.)
Now on to Yglesias, who makes a more narrowly geographic point, but one not properly informed by history or demography. Yes, the great museums, symphonies, and universities are by and large located in blue states. When you’re settled first, established first, and start building collections and endowments a century or more before the competition, that’s going to happen.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that most of those institutions, wherever they’re located, are now essentially national in their outlook. The top figures in Atlanta’s "regional" theatre, for example, are recruited from, or leave for, other parts of the country. To take another example from my little slice of the world: my department, consisting of seven full-time faculty members, counts Ph.D.’s from Harvard, Penn, Chicago, Ohio State, Toronto, and Emory; my colleagues hail from Cambridge, Providence, Eugene, Chicago, southern California, and Paris. In other words, you have to dig pretty deeply before you find a pronounced regionalism in cultural and educational institutions in even as red a state as Georgia.
Finally, Yglesias celebrates what I would hope Hart would deprecate as a kind of "treason of the clerks": our great cultural and educational institutions by and large no longer regard themselves as transmitters of a tradition, but rather as deconstructors and ironic critics of that tradition, often in service of a political agenda. By contrast, for example, classical learning is quite alive in "classical and Christian schools", the majority of which are located in red states. Higher education and the patronage of fine cultural establishments are certainly not inconsistent with a genuine appreciation of "the permanent things," but they have long since ceased being guarantors of that appreciation.
Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg, who has more.
Update #2: Armavirumque provides some helpful context for Harts WSJ essay.