The Spectacle Blog

Moving Forward Involves Moving Forward

By on 1.2.09 | 4:03PM

Julian Sanchez at Ars Technica:

What seems to be playing out on the right of late, by contrast, is a frenzy of mutual demonization. Pace some of my progressive friends, I don't think the recent flurry of activity in the fever swamps reveals any deep, eternal truths about conservatism per se; it's just what's filled the gap created by the paucity of useful leadership from conservative intellectuals. What's needed right now is less tactical refinement, and more conversation about the agenda tactics are supposed to serve.

That's a wonderful little bit of kicking the can down the road there, a common statement of intent from the journalistically inclined right. See, we need a discussion about "What We Believe." Forget for a moment how we define who "we" are. Or how "we" get into the conversation. "We" need to arrive at some kind of consensus, and these messianic intellectual leaders, whoever they are, will facilitate the process.

That's a problem. For one thing, I don't know who Julian is referencing when referring to these people, and I kinda doubt he does either. It would help if we could define intellectual leadership. All I know is that in the wake of William F. Buckley's death, there were all kinds of tributes as to how nice and smart a guy he was, but then people went back to doing the things that didn't quite follow the Buckley Model of Doing Good Works. What follows is not a criticism of what Julian Sanchez posted. My criticism for what he has written is only, "Clear that up for your readers."

I realize that people the world over love to reference how great Bill Buckley was, and all these cool things he did, but I'd like to stress that, particularly in Washington, it's all talk. Buckley is credited with assembling an ideological AND political coalition at once. This is a difficult thing to do, and his success should be a model for others. This means more analysis ought to be applied as to how he consolidated the respect of his peers, and how he enabled others to succeed.

Too often I'm overhearing conversations, however, where someone as "the next Buckley" is being contemplated. Right now, all you have to do to deserve a comparison to the patron saint of conservatism is to try to cast out some part of the right wing fever swamp or say that your own views are the ones that would make political victory possible. If your response to this is that "We all know Buckley was more than that," I'd like to remind you that it's not enough to assert that the man could write and think or sail a boat. It's not enough to say, "He had style." That doesn't nearly address the fact that he was, himself, an organizer of men, and did so with class, and further, did so with political goals in mind.

So what are the things we should expect of "intellectual leaders"? Hm. Well, let's compile a list of things gleaned from the various books written by or about him:

  • Don't cloister yourself from political activity and party causes. Political involvement provides insights into the process you're attempting to influence. How on earth would you expect to change it otherwise?
  • Mentoring younger people who, in all likelihood, may never have the chance repay your kindness. Interns can't impress you if you're not patient.
  • Maintain intellectually purity, but  become socially promiscuous; If all your friends are people inclined to agree with you, you're probably having boring, self-referencing, or maybe just ironic conversations. Also, nothing creates a healthy debate like a healthy relationship between opponents.
  • Bite your tongue: The temptation to become outraged over an issue can be strong, and blogging or email are a wonderfully passive aggressive weapons. Picking up the phone is a great olive branch and route to understanding.
  • Please at least be somewhat aware of when you're practicing the Dougherty Doctrine.

If these are the qualities necessary to be an "intellectual leader," then I'm all for it. All of these things trump the technological changes necessary to step forward. They are, after all, the human parts of a campaign to actually achieve something. You can snipe back and forth using blogs and social media all you like, but it takes more to move the ideas you agree with into the leadership of a movement.

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