Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

American character transcript

The transcript I promised here is available here (with essays) and here (without essays).

There are many interesting thoughts here--Yuval Levin’s distinction between the conservatism of continuity and the conservatism of (loss and) despair; a discussion of what happened to the Spirit of ’01 (Ross Douthat suggests that Southern evangelicals weirded everyone out; David Blankenhorn thinks we’re weren’t asked to do enough--a version of ann argument I made here); and lots of other stuff you’ll have to read for yourselves.

Here’s a provocative (almost) closing thought from Ross Douthat:

I think that one
of the things that conservatives need to recognize about the post-9/11 era is that there was a moment when conservatism had a change to essentially become the governing elite of the United States. I think that we’ve failed that test, and I think one of the reasons we’ve failed that test is
because we exist still in parallel institutions that have failed to become plausible as the dominant institutions of American life. And while Harvard University is less important than it was perhaps
thirty years ago, and the major national networks are less important than they were thirty years ago, they are still important. They are still close to dominant. And insofar as philanthropic dollars can change them rather than creating alternative paths, I’d like to see that path explored.

Discussions - 4 Comments

insofar as philanthropic dollars can change them rather than creating alternative paths, I’d like to see that path explored.

Philanthropic dollars, at least those from the philanthropic foundations, are precisely the problem. I assume I don't need to detail here all the left-wing causes these institutions help to fund.

I recall an observation from Murray and Herrnstein's "The Bell Curve."
They pointed out that, although new universities are sometimes built, new Harvards and Stanfords are not. We can talk all we want to about new media, alternatives in (or to) academe, etc., but there is no substitute for a presence in the institutions that count most. They will indeed be with us for a while, and important.

One of the reasons I like this forum is that it contains serious conservative thought. I think Ross is right on, but that conservatives still aren't ready to muster the intellectual and cultural rigor and devotion to combat the dominant ideologies in these institutions. We chipped away at them in the middle to late part of the last century, but we have fallen short lately. I guess the immediacy of the struggle was lost on us when we took the presidency in the 80s and the Congress in the 90s. It is much easier to preach to the talk radio choir than take on serious, established liberal intellectuals on their home turf. It speaks volumes that the best defender of the war in Iraq was not a conservative but a former Trotskyite from the Nation (Hitchens).

Joe, a real service (yet again) bringing these analyses and subsequent discussion to our attention. McWhorter captured a mood than many of us find ourselves in from time to time, but usually think ourselves out of (it was more punditry and red-meat offering - although of the despairing sort - than genuine analysis); Neuhaus had one the clearest, cogent-est statement of his view - (a view that many have or are coming to, e.g., Jim Ceaser, Peter Lawler, even Michael Zuckert in some way): that our regime is both informal and formal, religious and constitutional): keep the tension alive!; McClay had one of his better days (I don't always find him worth reading) and made interesting distinctions between good and bad version of quintessentially liberal tenets (and reminded us that an essential part of the American contract is the liberal tradition). S. Thernstrom had the stats to reassure us that most Americans are proud of their country; John O'Sullivan and Linda Chavez had their usual immigation debate, but which shed light rather than (primarily) heat; Y. Levin made an interesting framing distinction (conservatism of continuity and conservation v. of despair) and showed that he's not just really good on bioethics; and so forth. Thanks.

One last point: Matt Spaulding asked about government as a shaper of character; I was stunned that apparently all the panelists agreed that its less of a character-shaping factor than others. Where's "the regime"? Where's the shaping power of law? (including Supreme Court legislation!) My political science pride was hurt at that point.

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