As this article will discuss the state and future of the so-called "conservative movement," it is only fair to inform readers not familiar with the author's views that he has long been a critic of prominent features of that movement. He has complained about its obsession with politics and its disproportionate interest in public policy and economics. For a society really to change, its mind and imagination need to be transformed. The author has complained about the movement's propensity for formulaic thinking, its blithe acceptance of the anti-historical theorizing of Leo Strauss and the Straussians, and about purported conservatives' thinking and acting like French Jacobins. He has criticized the movement for being less and less attentive to philosophy and the arts. Its trend-setters have been intellectual activists, journalists, and heads of foundations and think tanks rather than serious thinkers. Intellectual and moral confusion made it susceptible to manipulation by people with access to money and the media. The decline of the movement and of America was put into relief by absurd claims that conservatism had "triumphed."
These arguments will not be repeated here; they are in print in various places. (1) It should also be stated that, needless to say, the so-called conservative movement has had many admirable features. Some of its members resisted the trends that brought it to its present low point. Unfortunately, as it tries to recover, it may ignore those voices again and repeat its old mistakes.
To understand the predicament of the conservative movement it is important to realize that it originated as a largely political alliance. It was cobbled together out of diverse intellectual currents. Some of these were philosophically remote from each other, but could agree on a limited range of political objectives, particularly opposing communism and defending limited government. But not even those objectives were understood in the same way by all. With the fall of communism the lack of intellectual coherence became more glaring than ever.
If self-described American intellectual conservatives were to be asked to give a summary definition of conservatism, most would probably say that it is a belief in freedom, minimal government and a strong defense. Advocating "principles" of this kind is what Rush Limbaugh means as he now stresses the need for more "philosophy." But this definition suggests an ideological rather than a philosophical frame...