“Conservatism Is [Not] Dead”: Northwestern Edition
February 19, 2009
So the promised “no-holds-barred intellectual debate” between Ramesh Ponnuru and Rick Perlstein over the question, “Has the Hour of Conservatism Passed?” was not nearly as “no-holds-barred” as my e-mail inbox seemed to promise, probably due to the fact that “conservatism” was never actually defined. Perlstein, in many senses, recounted Sam Tenenhaus’ case about movement conservatism from a somewhat different perspective; Ponnuru countered with the usual.
I suppose I was disappointed in that it didn’t touch on anything that might revitalize conservatism — or any discussion other than the usual boilerplate of where it might have gone wrong. Perlstein gave a brief introduction to Kirk’s “6 canons” but a recognition of limits was very quickly glossed over — there wasn’t much space (or time) in the room for consideration of a Bacevich-type critique; and even if not that particular angle, an angle that is something more than either party’s talking point(s) is needed for the conversation about conservatism to be effectively meaningful.
But then again, I also suppose that I was never expecting the intellectual issues to be solved in a single two-hour session in that creepy lecture hall at Northwestern with portraits of former presidents and board chairmen peering down on us (and mauveish panelling).
But afterwards, I was chatting briefly with an acquaintance much more involved in the campus political scene than I. He’d sent me a link to this article, by Christopher Lasch, about a week ago; and there, we agreed, would be a good starting place for the discussion (a part of the discussion, at least) of where conservatism goes now. So I present the link, with the only comment that it was written in 1990 — which makes it seem rather prescient.