Populism explains dearth of intellectual conservative media
Has the New Orleans Times-Picayune woken up and smelled the coffee? Who would have thought that apparently a closet conservative lurked at what’s left of it? That’s the impression one gets upon reading James Varney’s first opinion piece, and, although the issue he brings up isn’t exactly a burning one of the day, it’s interesting and deserves investigation.
This space for many years has presented analysis of Louisiana politics through the lens of intellectual conservatism. Other sources have joined in this service. Hopefully, in a refreshing development, Varney will do the same.
Varney appears to have replaced the T-P’s rotund, pale female true-believing liberal columnist, joining the retained relatively thinner, dark male true-believing liberal one (and guest appearances seemingly planned from the aged, pickled leftist curmudgeon) on its opinion roster – which in and of itself is quite a statement. That balance now appears in the offing for the paper’s assigned opinion writers shows that T-P management perceives in order to catch the eyeballs that have begin deserting the printed word in droves, for the first time in decades it might actually want to present on a regular basis arguments sympathetic to the views of the majority in the metropolitan area, Louisiana, and in the country – in full contradiction to its reliably liberal (if not the state media’s worst offending) editorial page.
In his initial effort, Varney advances a question about why conservative opinion journals seem rare around the area, concluding that he doesn’t actually know why, only that digital offerings will increase access. Well, after 30 years of writing conservative opinion pieces and having spent about as long studying conservative philosophy in and out of the academy, some of this in New Orleans and most of it in Louisiana, I can answer that for him.
Understanding the human condition and the behavior of them requires considerable cognitive effort, for they are complex creatures. One can review the actions and history of human beings and in pretty short order come up with surface, facile explanation that play to certain emotions – the approach modern liberalism has taken. But a truly, intellectual understanding based upon logic, a comprehensive knowledge of history, and of the data that comes from it, that strips away the emotive aspect is a much more demanding process. Modern conservatism of the intellect demands that from thinkers.
However, that is something most individuals either, in some cases, do not have the ability or, most cases, do not have the interest to pursue, or both. Even many interested in politics don’t really want to think too deeply about first principles, and work through why they are first principles. The unexamined political life and coming to grips with verifying why you think what you think for most is none of easy, relaxing, or enjoyable to them. While the content of liberalism makes few demands in this regard, many with little interest in stretching themselves cognitively do not share its prejudices.
Thus, many who adopt the conservative label are more accurately described as “visceral conservatives,” or those who have an instinct telling them conservatism is the most valid understanding of the human condition, but who don’t really know why or can explain why it has the first principles that it does. For example, they know that an economic system that allows for success and minimizes interference is optimal, but can’t really explain why – unable to articulate that because the nature of the uncoerced transactions in a market direct capital in ways where its best use for society gets made according to society’s preferences, thus those by their use of the capital who create the greatest wealth for all in society in an absolute sense also individually acquire in a relative sense the greatest wealth, and vice-versa; in other words, you earn in proportion to what you have contributed to society, and any interference with this that by definition will dampen achievement by all for all comes as a function of willingness to trade off this better state of existing with other political values.
The distribution of political beliefs, including the conservative subset, is determined by the worth society places on classic, critical thinking-based education and on a political culture that puts merit on political decisions made on the basis of issue content, as opposed to personality, kinship, cronyism, etc. Unfortunately, historically Louisiana has deemphasized this kind of education and its political culture has thrived on a personalistic kind of politics that puts primacy of electoral decisions on the candidate’s qualities as individuals and their social placement, not on an intellectual parsing of issue preferences expressed.
Both have combined to produce a populist persuasion that plays to emotions, not reason, in politics. While the natural home of emotive politics is on the left, because populism makes as the locus of politics entities (individuals and collectivities) rather than ideas, it also can incorporate the surface elements of conservatism. For example, instead of “corporations” being the bane as by liberalism, which believes this out of lack of understanding, “big government” or other “special interests” become objects of negative political evaluation by visceral conservatives, who can see why but cannot explain that to any depth even as that does comport to fact and logic.
And the likes of National Review, The American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, etc., seldom show up on their reading lists as a result. So when you have a population that is majority conservative, but overweighed with those of the visceral kind, you won’t expect much call for this kind of reading material. To answer Varney’s query, it’s a demand function.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:45