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Telling Us To Go Away

Robert Stacy McCain has missed something important here:

Brooks, then, has accomplished the neat trick of denouncing Republicans for abandoning a conservative intellectual tradition to which Brooks himself has never belonged, dragooning Kirk and Weaver from the grave as posthumous allies of the apostle of “national greatness.”

As I have made clear, there are a lot of problems with Brooks’ last column, but this isn’t really one of them.  Brooks’ point in invoking Weaver and Kirk was simply that the conservative movement was in the first place a movement of scholars and intellectuals, and that conservatives seem today to be rather too willing to cheer on candidates who are not particularly interested in ideas or specialized knowledge.  For all the reasons McCain outlines, Brooks could not credibly connect his ideas to Weaver and Kirk, but I don’t think he is trying to do this, nor was he trying to adopt them as forerunners of “national greatness” conservatism.  Brooks and everyone else know that there is no common ground there.  He is trying to make an argument that the conservatives who are praising Palin, for example, because she has good instincts but lacks understanding of policy matters and seems to have no particular appreciation for ideas are ignoring an important part of their own tradition.  To put in Kirkian, or more accurately Newmanian, terms, conservatives now seem to have excessive admiration for the illative sense (i.e., intuition) at the expense of imagination, intellect and knowledge.  Had Brooks invoked Strauss and Voegelin, there would still be a legitimate point here, which McCain’s characteristic reverse classism helps to make all the more powerful. 

It is unfortunately rather typical that McCain would harp on the different educational backgrounds of Brooks, Weaver and Kirk, which does nothing so much as make Brooks’ point for him that conservatives have been “telling members of that [educated] class to go away.”  To listen to McCain, unless you come from a small or Southern town and go to state university there could be something wrong with you.  It’s true that Brooks went to U of C, which did not use to be a mark of shame on the right.  I grew up in Albuquerque and now go to the University of Chicago, and I agree with Brooks on almost nothing–what does that tell you?  McCain consistently confuses his disagreement with the policy views of Brooks or, say, Ross Douthat, with his contempt for people who went to Ivy League schools to the point where he thinks there are the same thing. 

Now that we are on the verge of an Obama victory, it has become a bit more common to deride the University and claim that Hyde Park is a fanatical left-wing preserve.  To the extent that selective schools are largely populated by left-leaning students, and to the extent that the “educated class” is now predominantly left-leaning, this reflects a consistent failure of conservatives to compete for these minds and it is a product of the unfortunately very common preference to deride and dismiss the few right-leaning people come out of these institutions as prima facie incorrigible sell-outs.  It does take a certain talent to alienate educated middle-class professionals from the party ostensibly dedicated to representing middle-class constituencies, but some combination of Republican incompetence in government and an apparent hostlity to the education these people have received have done quite a lot to bring this about. 

Don’t take Brooks’ word or my word for it–just look at the election results from increasingly Democratic-leaning suburban districts filled with professionals who have no confidence in a party that celebrates hostility to expertise.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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