Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Cultivating conservative intellectuals

I guess the NYT’s Jason DeParle wanted to spend some time in SoCal, so he pursued his apparently long-standing interest in the conservative cultivation of intellectual heritage by visiting the Reagan Ranch. There’s gobs of Russell Kirk floating around the article, but little mention of anything older. (The shining exception is Claremont’s Publius Fellows program.) Otherwise, one gets the impression from DeParle that there’s a lot of reading about old things through lenses supplied by Kirk and his rough contemporaries. I hope that’s not all there is.

DeParle quotes Charles Kesler and James Ceaser, the latter discussed here, here, and here.

Hat tip: The Remedy.

Discussions - 15 Comments

Well at the ISI "nerd summer camp" or undergraduate honors program in Big Sky Montana (a NYTimes reporter free zone), there were some words said about Russell Kirk. But also about Tocqueville and Heidegger (or good and evil) by Ralph Hancock, more about Tocqueville (by Aurelian Craitu--America’s most notorious self-Googler), an analysis of all the ambiguities involved in calling Ben Franklin the model American by Villanova’s Mark Shiffman, a fabulous analysis of the place of American virtue in the films of John Ford, a semi-dissident Claremont/Straussian ananlysis of the Americn founding by Brad Watson, deep comments on frontier novels by Brad Bercer, praise and criticism of Robert Nisbet by Dan Mahoney, not to mention talks on Orestes Brownson, Wendell (and the unjustly neglected Walter) Berry, Locke and the Locke box, alieation from St. Augustine to ETs. etc. So lots and lots of conservative and even non-conservative intellectual diversity etc. that the NYTimes failed to discover.

alieation is very fascinating, but obviously not for undergrads. I meant alienation in the previous post.

Thanks for reminding me of the ISI seminars, from which my students have profited immensely. Someone should invite DeParle to one of these shindigs, unless he’s just resolutely bi-coastal. I also forgot to note this post, dealing with last year’s version of roughly the same article, which focused on the Heritage Fooundation’s internship program.

I have a soft spot for DeParle, perhaps because he’s read my Reagan book and took me to lunch to ask questions. He inherited the "conservative beat" from David Kirkpatrick, and seems to relish it. There is this to be said in deParle’s favor: his tenure covering welfare reform, which he came to see largely as a success and reported as such (after initial skepticism), led him to a greater openness to conservative ideas than most reporters.

Maybe this year, I’ll finally be able to accumulate enought CLUB 100 ’points’ in order to be able to attend the Reagan Ranch.

That would be an experience of a lifetime.

I would like to give two cheers for Charles Kesler. I think both conservatives and non-conservatives should pay more attention to him. He has a fine sense of conservatism’s long intellectual and political history.

Jason DeParle plays the fiddle for the NYT, “Ms. Pajak, 18, who was home-schooled in Andover, Minn., will be a freshman this fall at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill. While her conservatism springs from her upbringing, the literature “helps me explain what I already believe,” she said. “ I don’t what to just say, ‘Oh, it’s because I was raised this way.’ ”

Slightly beneath the surface, DeParle is saying ‘even if conservatism has an intellectual base, it is among indoctrinated (Pajak was home-schooled, is young, and will attend an evangelical college), naïve (just an ol’ Midwesterner from Minnesota), simple-minded (give me a justification for what I already believe!!!) youths.’ God-forbid he find an individual from a city with a modest economic background that use to lean liberal and went to a bastion college of liberal thought, or even a conservative college (it may be worthwhile to learn) and has become conservative. If the NYT were to do so, what would become of their caricature of conservatives? Smashed to the ground.

On a lighter note, is there anything worse, as professors of political thought and philosophy, than to hear a student(?) proclaim, “I love him, he reaffirms what I already thought” instead of praising a teacher for how he taught him something?

Let me praise Fred’s comment: I didn’t like the NYTimes article at all because it conveyed the impression that the point of conservative nerd camps was to give home schoolers some intellectual ammo to defend their prejudices.

Of course, if DeParle was really interested in learning something about conservative intellectuals and the truly more rigorous education they offer, he should come see the Ashbrook Scholars.

Ha, that really would make for a good colloquium. I wonder what the readings would be? Probably excerpts from Michael Moore’s latest and some JFK speeches.

But Fred... isn’t that somewhat implied when the title is "Cultivating Conservative Intellectuals"?

As Julie noted when she talked about "liberal bootcamp"...people self select these sort of things...

I would say that the word cultivation... that implies planting seeds...growing something...obviously growing implies that you are growing from a foundation(What sort of foundation could it be other than that in which you were already confirmed?)... A christian who becomes a stronger christian moves on from whole foods...

In what sense are people capable of loving a knowledge (especially at a political type conference) that doesn’t reafirm what they already think?


My point was not to criticize the woman interviewed (with the exception of "I don’t just..."). There is no necessary problem with having her qualities and believing what she believes.

However, not for a second do I buy your implication that people are not " capable of loving a knowledge (especially at a political conference) that doesn’t reaffirm what they already think. To what extent, then, is education (especially in politics) possible? Seeing as learning is about discovering a "why" and a "relation to" some thing (truth, good), then every time a person has come to accept a conclusion to which he was originally oppossed as a result of the quality of an argument, is evidence that, to that extent, it is possible. For me, it began with Descartes, to Plato and others, and had all kinds of practical implications that eventually (pulled from the mystic) came around.

The campers were described as reading "old" (but not very) books. They were studying political philosophy, not policy agenda. So, rather than studying psycho-sociology or anthropology, they were engaged in the study (supposedly) of the nature of the communal man...they were studying politics. In that study, I would hope one would be willing to discard a former understanding in favor of one closer to the truth, if they were presented with it. If not, why waste the time? You can get the same warm, glowing feeling you get from having an authority figure agree with you by eating chocolate, having a good beer on the porch on a hot day, walking your dog, exercising, and doing any other number of solely self-interested things people engage in for pleasure every day.


Maybe it’s just that some of us have had certain facts and truths slapped up against our heads so hard and so often that we have to see them and pay our respects to their reality. Maybe wise men are just those who have had the power to stay awake and struggle. And who can blame those who don’t feel that they have to worry about the complicated truths we have to struggle with? In this country men can be born and live well and die without ever having to feel much of what makes their ease possible, just because so much is buried the mess that in their ignorance some folks accept it as a natural condition. But then again, maybe they just feel it would be a shame that the whole earth would blow up if even a handful of folks got to digging into it. It would seen a shame to expose it, to have it known that so much has been built on top of such a shaky foundation."

Ralph Ellison Juneteenth


JFK said many interesting things. He was certainly not the liberal of the old school like LBJ. Here’s a piece:

And today this nation -- conceived in revolution, nurtured in liberty, matured in independence -- has no intention of abdicating its leadership in that worldwide movement for independence to any nation or society committed to systematic human suppression.

As apt and applicable as this historic Declaration of Indepence is today, we should do well to honor that other historic document drafted in this hall -- the Constitution of the united States -- for it stressed not indepence but interdependence, not the individual of one, but the indivisible liberty of all.

Replace "interdependence" with "national security" and the speech is the hallmark of the Bush foreign policy.

I hear you Fred...and I definately want to believe that is true.

For me the turning point was not Descartes... but a certain strong reaction against Descartes(one that on a certain level may have contributed to an overall decline in my grades...and a coexistant realization that I didn’t care all that much about "grades".) In Dr. Tiel’s Human Nature Class I decided to henceforth commit all that I could not defend to the flames. I chose(did I?) a somewhat radical reading of Hume...And so unknownst to me at the time I embarked on my own version of a logical positivist phase. But then if this was the grounds for my future intellectual developement...Do I not feel more confirmed in reading Ayer as opposed to Plato? Certainly... But I trully believe that Ayer is more convincing...more viciously accurate.

What I am asking is how given a certain standard for identifying the can accept a "truth" that lies outside of this standard.

What I am saying is that I am not sure that we ever start out with anything but prejudices... the pure Cartesian skeptical project is impossible...and the idea that one can end up with a truth that transcends the cave is hard for me to swallow.

I suppose I am simply left with Pyrrhonism... But as Hume says...action subverts all such inquiry...and ultimately people pursue ideas for the sake of action...and action for the sake of some end.

We may well be born Tabula Rasa...but I shall never be convinced that one can return to such a state...nor that doing so would be desireable.

What I say instead is that people develop...they achieve a certain maturity of thinking...a calcification...from which point the consideration of other perspectives are of necessity excluded or impossible...the wheat upholds a standard of wheat and disciminates against the shaft...ideas beget actions which bear fruit or to some extent must be prunned away. The young conservative christians attending such conferences may be in stages ranging from milk to solid food...but they are armed with a certain truth, and a standard of truth. They struggle not simply against flesh and blood, but spiritually...It is in many senses an existential battle.

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