Will at Ordinary Gentlemen is puzzled by something:
I can’t offer any empirical evidence, but after trolling the dank alleys of the blogosphere for a few years, I’m always surprised by the lack of interaction between dissident conservatives and their mainstream counterparts. Which is odd, because if anything, the last eight years have highlighted the importance of decidedly non-mainstream perspectives, from the libertarian critique of Bush’s excessive domestic ambitions to the traditionalist take on runaway consumer culture to the renewed relevance of conservative non-interventionism.
Perhaps I can help explain. There is relatively limited engagement between the two because dissident conservatives have increasingly come to the conclusion that their mainstream counterparts have little or nothing of interest to say and that the mainstream conservatives have no interest in learning from any of their errors, and because the mainstream conservatives have concluded that the dissidents are crypto-leftists (or something else undesirable) who want to destroy America precisely because of most of the critiques Will mentions. To the extent that they refer to anything we say, it is usually to repeat this sort of trash as if it were a serious argument. The latter tends to reinforce the dissidents’ assumption that they are correct that the mainstream has nothing of interest to say, which is otherwise confirmed on a daily basis by a quick browse of the mainstream outlets and re-confirmed by their near-absolute deafness to any significant criticism from the right. Put another way, it is very difficult to talk to people who live inside a multi-layered cocoon and never want to come out.
In fact, the disengagement between the two has become more pronounced as mainstream conservatives have become more and more irrelevant to current debates over the last few years. They prefer to operate in their own universe where the “surge” has solved everything in Iraq, bankrupt petro-states threaten to dominate the world, and Jimmy Carter somehow created the housing bubble. The gap has widened still more as dissident conservatives have stopped bothering to attack mainstream conservatives with the same regularity as we once did. There was a time when refuting mainstream arguments or criticizing mainstream follies was a major, constant part of dissident conservative writing, but as their political fortunes have ebbed our attention has been turning elsewhere. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a fair amount of criticism, but there is less of it than there used to be. It has almost always been a one-way conversation in this way for the last 15 years and maybe more than that, so this state of affairs is not really anything new. Probably the last time there was real engagement or an alignment of interests was in 1992, and the divide has been growing ever since.
Simply put, I think the reason there is so little “respectful engagement” between mainstream and dissident conservatives is that there isn’t much mutual respect that would serve as the basis for such engagement. Instead of dissolving during the early years of renewed Democratic rule and liberal ascendancy, the lines have hardened. For my part, this is why I am much more interesed in talking to and engaging with heterodox, meliorist conservatives who tend to break with the movement in other ways, because at least they are interested in ideas and policy discussions, which seem to be incidental at best in mainstream conservative discourse nowadays. If that changes, there might be more engagement in the future, but I doubt that this will happen.