Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The conservative intellectual tradition

Mark Bauerlein writes about how the conservative intellectual tradition is either caricatured or ignored in college curricula and in contemporary accounts of conservatism and politics, and he hits on something that I've noticed about liberal "engagement" with conservative ideas for quite a while. Many very clever liberals appear to treat conservatism as if its fullest intellectual expression were contained on The O'Reilly Factor and as though its founding father were Rush Limbaugh. Such "engagement" is either disingenuous, willfully ignorant, or downright lazy.

Here's Bauerlein's conclusion:

More important, however, the conservative tradition remains a vital resource of ideas and theories, a heritage that claims world triumphs. To gain it the full measure it warrants — and to bring it to bear wisely on the issues we confront — we need more than conservative pundits on television or in the blogosphere, more than conservative publishers or think tanks. We need to subject it to the full analysis — critical and appreciative — of the academy, to bring conservative works into the classroom and onto the syllabus. It would be healthy for everyone if the academic curriculum broadened its scope, if the lineage of conservatism were consolidated into a respectable course of study — that is, if Hayek won one-tenth the attention that Foucault receives.

And here's a short list of books that I never encountered on a syllabus in my entire academic career:

The Closing of the American Mind
The Conservative Mind
Natural Right and History
The Road to Serfdom
Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays

I did briefly encounter Hobbes, along with Nietzsche (absurdly recast as a man of the Left), Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Marx, Althusser, Benjamin, Said, Adorno, Geertz . . . and I'm leaving out lots of others whose work was arguably more narrowly focused on literary criticism, rather than "cultural studies" and political theory.

For those who accuse me of being the pot calling the kettle black, you're right. I tend, on this blog, to treat liberal ideas as though their most eloquent spokesmen were Howard Dean and John Kerry. What can I say? It's fun and easy. I like to think, though, that if I were designing a "cultural studies" or political theory syllabus, I would find more worthy and intellectually rigorous articulations of liberal political philosophy.


Anonymous deeni said...

Excerpts from Reflections on the Revolution in France is on most general western civ syllabi. It's usually contrasted with Thomas Paine (which makes perfect sense). But your larger argument is pretty much on target.

December 14, 2006 9:57 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Thanks, Deeni. My own experience is not really evidence of anything, obviously, and I made up the deficit in my education by reading Burke on my own.

December 14, 2006 11:29 PM  

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