In Search of that Rare Breed: A Conservative IntellectualPosted: August 21, 2012
I wrote about the Niall Ferguson article which was bombastic and wrong simultaneously. I didn’t even have to do any heavy lifting on it because the majority of well known economists and public policy wonks had already picked through all of his stuff and found it lacking per usual. Ferguson–like Brooks, Ryan and a shitload of nitwits–is a person that supposedly comes under the heading of “intellectual” and “conservative” these days. I don’t think those words conjoined mean what any one thinks they do. If there is such a thing as an “intellectual conservative”, it seems to have gone the way of the DoDo. However, John Cassidy at The New Yorker is on the hunt for one. I’m not sure he’ll actually find one because–quite frankly–being an intellectual takes openness, honesty, and the ability to think critically. None of these come in the conservative ‘toolbox’ . He pits the prowess of Krugman against the perpetually wrong Ferguson in this link. Ferguson loses as usual.
The cause of their latest spat: a characteristically overstated Newsweek cover story by Ferguson arguing that it’s time to replace Obama. (Headline: “Hit the Road Barack: Why We Need a New President.”) Krugman, who has been spending the last few weeks hiking through some pretty-looking hills, interrupted his vacation to accuse his old nemesis of misrepresenting the factsin claiming that Obamacare will add more than a trillion dollars to the deficit over the next ten years.
Nothing very surprising there, you might say. Ferguson, a prolific author whose “end is nigh” worldview makes him a popular speaker on the hedge-fund/Davos circuit, has been railing away at the Obama Administration since 2009, warning that its profligate spending policies were sending the U.S.A. the way of Greece. The equally indefatigable Krugman has been lecturing Ferguson for almost as long about his ignorance of elementary (Keynesian) economics and the bond market. (If people in the markets truly believed Ferguson’s analysis, the U.S. government would never be able to issue ten-year bonds with a yield of well under two per cent.)
What is pretty remarkable about the latest dustup is the weakness of the arguments presented by Ferguson, a streetwise public intellectual who, according to his Web site, now holds positions at four different élite academic institutions. If called upon three months before an election to pen a provocative cover story in a national newsmagazine clamoring for the President to be chucked out, most writers would make every effort to avoid giving the other side easy opportunities to tear down their arguments. And yet, here comes Ferguson blatantly twisting a report from the Congressional Budget Office and presenting numerous other distortions and half-truths that anybody with access to Google could discredit in a few hours.
The conservative–and business–backlash against intellectualism exercised through curiosity, critical thinking,and honesty is definitely with us. It’s what the yammering pundits and masses crave. It’s also creating institutions full of folks that are complete flakes that get hired just to appease conservative ideologues who want their doctrine pushed no matter what the “truthiness” of it. Intellectualism demands that you seek out the truth and adapt it once you find it. Conservativism demand that you ignore the truth and push the dogma no matter how many times it’s been proven wrong. Let me ask you a question. How on earth did any one decide Paul Ryan was brainy? I’ve never seen any indication of it at all. Since when has blind obedience to disproved dogma become emblematic of smarts? The only thing that gets trotted out on TV these days that can parse a sentence are the trio of Bill Kristol, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer. Neither of them holds a candle to Stiglitz, Krugman, or even Bill Clinton. Yet, if one needs pithy comment, one turns Kristol, Will, Krauthmer and prozac and scotch.
I’ve decided Cassidy’s search is fruitless now that I’ve read the last paragraph.
Reaganism/Thatcherism, for all its faults, was a genuine intellectual movement, or counter-movement. These days, the right seems unable to rise above rabble-rousing. The end of the Cold War robbed it of an external enemy. The tensions between its social and economic wings robbed it of any internal cohesion. The financial crisis and Great Recession robbed it of a creed—laissez faire. It’s still got plenty of willing foot soldiers, and a lot of big money behind it, but where is the fresh thinking and intellectual direction? All that’s left is anti-government posturing, waving the flag, and Obama-bashing. And even in pursuing this limited agenda, it often gets its facts wrong.
What he appears to recognize as the last throes of conservative intellectual movements is actually the beginning of the new group of conservative hacks. Maybe he believes in fairies too. Clap you hands!!!