May 26, 2005

The Decline of the Conservative Intellectual

Ross Douthat of writes about how much intellectually stronger the conservative books were around 1990, even though they sell a lot more in 2005:

But all in all, I think it's safe to say that the Right of the 1990s and early Oughts has produced an (often dispiriting, for a young Turk like me) excess of talented journalists, but hasn't done nearly so well when it comes to raising up a new crop of major-league intellectuals. Why, the most controversial, conversation-starting conservative book of the last two years was probably Who Are We?, by Samuel Huntington - and Huntington is 1) quite old and 2) a Democrat.

I responded:

I quite agree. The extinction of the "Public Interest" periodical is symptomatic of the decline of the heroic first generation of neoconservatism -- typically, domestically-oriented social scientists -- into a second generation of foreign affairs-oriented propagandists.

One major intellectual problem on the right is the that the alliance of convenience between neoconservatives and the Religious Right over support for the Likud Party has caused the neoconservatives to miss out on the great intellectual excitement of the time: the rise of Darwinian analysis of human behavior. Commentary, for example, repeatedly runs articles arguing against Darwin's basic theory of 1859.

This keeps the neoconservatives from recruiting fresh talent. The most obvious example is the spectacularly talented Steven Pinker, whose 2002 book "The Blank Slate" was probably the most important/influential big book of this decade so far.

The first generation of neoconservatives would have been crazy for Pinker, but the current generation is leery of him because he is a Darwinian, and that fact sets off complicated "Is it good for the Likud Party?" calculations in their minds about whether publishing Pinker in their journals will endanger the Religious Right's support for Likud (although I doubt that the creationists would even notice).

Commentary still has good people writing for them like Dan Seligman so all is not lost, but the opportunity cost is very large.

The Decline of the Liberal Intellectual: Matthew Yglesias of the liberal American Prospect magazine saw my comment on why neoconservatives missed out on Steven Pinker and his Crimethink! alarm went off. He blogged:

In Ross' comments, the always-intersting Steve Sailer agrees this has happened and blames the Jews.

Fortunately, some commenters called Yglesias out:

Not at all what Sailer said.


Matthew is flat-out LYING about Sailer's comment.

Yglesias then wrote:

UPDATE: Slightly kidding about Sailer. He doesn't blame the Jews per se, he blames the influence of the Israel lobby on the contemporary American right. I'd be mad if I blamed something on the influence of the Israel lobby on the contemporary American right and someone characterized that as blaming the Jews. So, apologies on that score, I just don't find his theory very plausible.

Human beings have a strong tendency toward mindless hatred, and in today's climate, much of it gets directed toward people who tell new and/or uncomfortable truths.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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