Intellectual discourse in the American public square is bankrupt. Truth be told, there really is no discourse as properly defined. Any discussion that involves actual ideas has been supplanted by ideology and the form of this so-called conversation resembles more the Jerry Springer Show than a round table discussion. Calling supposed intellectual adversaries by ugly names passes as an option to win an argument.
The devolution of intellectual discourse has run concurrently with the devolution of intellectual life. This problem has many layers but one of the reasons is the general public’s distrust of intellectuals. You can’t really blame them because just like the word “liberal,” academe has appropriated the word “intellectual” when they’re anything but. Ideology reigns supreme on American campuses, and the general public is absolutely correct to reject this kind of theorizing. Not only is it devoid of proper knowledge, it’s far more seriously attempting to destroy the order of things, not to mention erase the riches of Western civilization.
At the same time, the media, as if taking a cue from academe, have decided that critical thinking is not necessary when engaging in a dialogue about politics and culture with others. Both the Left and the Right are not engaging with each other on a level that requires rigorous reflection of ideas. It’d appear that the members of both groups have yielded to the disappearance of one’s own individual identity in order to promulgate a set of recycled talking points.
People have had enough, I’d imagine. I can’t speak for others nor do I want to, but bluntly: I have had enough. I’ve had enough of groupthink, I’ve had enough of third-grade logic of who can outsmart whom with a snide remark, I’ve had enough of assumptions, and conclusion jumping. We’ve forgotten about the importance of a face-to-face encounter and that behind every word is a human being. The more we dehumanize one another, the less of a chance we have of proper exchange of ideas.
As much as we need a renewal of actual critical and philosophical thinking, as a conservative with libertarian leanings, I’m concerned about the future of intellectual conservatism, which has been replaced with populism. To be sure, there are many writers, academics, and intellectuals who share my concerns and are making efforts to disseminate conservative ideas. But those voices are drowned out by the endless clamor of ideologues.
I’m reluctant to call for a renewal because 1) I think conservatism is a disposition and not a movement, and 2) because renewal implies regress or going into the past while wallowing in nostalgia. But since we’re currently experiencing a historical amnesia, it’s important to remind people of the great richness of conservative intellectual tradition in order to awaken them from the slumber induced by social media.
As Russell Kirk observed in The Conservative Mind: “If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.” This was written and published in 1953, and we’ve reached a similar problem today.
I believe that the Left has inflicted much damage to the United States in a variety of ways, chiefly through the globalist ideology. And yet, the idea of America still endures but is threatened unless we revisit the texts that show us the uniqueness of the American experiment and experience.
I’m not saying this only as a conservative, but also as a former immigrant who survived the war in Bosnia, who has been a stateless person and a refugee, and who has made her way to America, and became an American citizen. I see that the foundation of this country is crumbling, and is in a need of repairs.
In order to repair the damage done by the Left (and that still continues), true conservatives need to go back to the texts that have presumably played a factor in the decision of their philosophical disposition. By doing this, true liberals might be challenged too, and perhaps we can have a discussion, a dialogue, a possibility of a discourse that is based on ideas and not on personal attacks produced by ideology.