Intellectual bankruptcy

INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY…. Noting the passing of Irving Kristol, Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg argued yesterday that the era of “intellectually serious conservatism” has also died.

Weisberg’s pitch is simple but persuasive: Republicans have given up on being the “party of ideas,” have no plausible alternatives to major policy challenges, and don’t take policy matters seriously at all. Conservatives, Weisberg said, have “devolved” so far, “ostensibly intelligent people [are] cheering on Sarah Palin.” With the rise of neoconservatives, the right’s focus shifted to political power, and away from interest in policy.

Now, Weisberg holds Irving Kristol’s work in much higher regard than I do — which is to say, Weisberg finds value in Kristol’s efforts and I don’t — but the larger point is compelling. The political right of the 21st century is obviously and shamelessly intellectually bankrupt.

It’s a concern Steven F. Hayward, a conservative writer at the American Enterprise Institute, also touched on today. Whereas the conservative movement used to strike a balance between “the intellectuals” and “the activists,” the right’s thinkers are now “retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas.”

Consider the “tea party” phenomenon. Though authentic and laudatory, it is unfocused, lacking the connection to a concrete ideology that characterized the tax revolt of the 1970s, which was joined at the hip with insurgent supply-side economics. Meanwhile, the “birthers” have become the “grassy knollers” of the right; their obsession with Obama’s origins is reviving frivolous paranoia as the face of conservatism. (Does anyone really think that if evidence existed of Obama’s putative foreign birth, Hillary Rodham Clinton wouldn’t have found it 18 months ago?)

Hayward laments the fact that Malkin and Coulter sell best-selling “red-meat titles,” but the “intellectual works” are “conspicuously missing.”

Which is not to say Hayward is despondent. He believes Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is an intellectual text, and he believes Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, and William Bennett are “brainiacs” with “popular” talk shows. Hayward is also impressed with Glenn Beck’s reading habits and choice of authors and guests. Beck, Hayward argued, has demonstrated an “interest in serious analysis of liberalism’s patrimony.”

Where Hayward finds hope, in other words, is with Jonah Goldberg, Hugh Hewitt, and Glenn Beck. Seriously.

If this isn’t proof of the right’s intellectual collapse, nothing is.