Friday, April 06, 2018


Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell believes he understands what conservative thinkers have been selling in the marketplace of ideas until recently -- and he thinks the selling is going to become more difficult for them very soon:
The conservative movement perceived the need for intellectuals, both to hold their own fractious coalition together through ‘fusionism’ and the like, and to justify their goals to liberals, who dominated the space of serious policy discussions, and could possibly stop them. Liberal policy types, for their part, needed to understand what was happening among conservatives, and perhaps hoped to influence it a little. The result was that conservative intellectuals were in a highly advantageous structural position, serving as the primary link between two different spheres, which didn’t otherwise come much into contact.
But now, Farrell says, there's not much reason to pay attention to these thinkers:
Conservative intellectuals defected en masse from Trump, thinking that it was a fairly cheap gesture of independence, but Trump got elected. Not only did this damage these intellectuals’ personal ties with the new administration and the conservative movement, but it opened up the way for a conservatism that basically didn’t give a fuck about policy ideas and the need to seem ‘serious’ any more. The result is that conservative intellectuals don’t have all that much influence over conservatism any more.

The problem is that without such influence over conservatives, these intellectuals’ capital with liberals and the left is rapidly diminishing too. If conservative intellectuals don’t have much of an audience within conservatism itself, why should people on the opposite side listen to them any more? ...

If this analysis is right ... [Bret] Stephens, [Kevin] Williamson (up until this afternoon) and the others are running on fumes.
So, Henry, why are there anti-Trump right-wingers everywhere I turn in the so-called liberal media?

Farrell thinks there's one circumstance under which editors should continue paying attention to these people, but in his view it's so obviously unlikely that non-conservative editors are sure to dump the righties any day now:
The only plausible case for paying attention to conservative-intellectuals-qua-conservative-intellectuals, is that perhaps the pendulum will swing back after Trump, and the old regime be restored. That might happen, but you wouldn’t want to betting serious money on it.
Well, I believe that's precisely what they're betting on. You and I know that the right has become crazier and crazier in the past forty years or so, but the mainstream media has spent so many years insisting that conservatives are fine, upstanding citizens who are acting in what they believe are the best interests of the American people that it's a sunk cost now -- they have to believe normality will be restored. They think everything was basically fine on the right until Trump came down that elevator in 2015; they shrug off the excesses of Reaganism, the extremism of talk radio and Fox, Gingrichian bomb-throwing, the Bush push for the Iraq War, torture, disastrously hands-off financial regulation, and disenfranchisement of non-whites, and then Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and the norm-shattering GOP Congress of the Obama years. They see the pre-Trump right through rose-colored glasses. It was fine. Surely it'll be fine again.

So they're just going to keep looking for more of anti-Trump conservatives, because even if Trump declares martial law and has Jim Acosta and the Parkland kids targeted for assassination, with no objection from Republicans in Congress, they'll believe in the possibility of a restoration of civility. In the meantime, as so many of the people they thought were nice (e.g., Paul Ryan) remain under Trump's sway, they'll want to hear even more from anti-Trump conservatives -- "What's happening to these people? Why did they suddenly go crazy?" they'll want to ask them.

Of course, Ryan and the rest always just wanted someone with enough digits to sign their tax cut and deregulation bills, and were never committed to American values. But as long as editors don't understand that, they'll want someone to explain to them what seems like a sudden descent into madness. So there are going to be more Kevin Williamsons, trust me.

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