The Conservative Lay of the Land

Over at the New Republic website, Damon Linker has a nice piece surveying the intellectual “right” in the age of Obama.

He divides today’s conservative thinkers into four camps:

1). The National Review:

Today NRO’s group blog The Corner is angry, sarcastic, cranky, irritable, grossly populist — miles away from the serene high-mindedness cultivated by founder William F. Buckley, Jr. Contributors compete with one another over who can offer the most obsequious encomium for Rush Limbaugh and turn instantly against anyone who dares utter a criticism of him.

2). Commentary and The Weekly Standard

Whereas National Review promotes Reagan worship, the Weekly Standard and Commentary have chosen to rally around Dick Cheney, proud champion of “enhanced interrogation” and thoroughly unrepentant advocate of the invasion of Iraq. There’s something admirable in this position, I suppose, since it can’t possibly flow from a belief that an embrace of the wildly unpopular and increasingly grouchy Cheney will improve the political fortunes of the Republican Party, at least in the short term. No, William Kristol and John Podhoretz appear to be standing tall with Cheney out of principle.

3). The conservative columnists of The New York Times. (Who have been appearing on the same day lately).

On David Brooks: Brooks believes the federal government has an important role to play in fostering the institutions (families, neighborhoods, churches) on which a liberal society depends for its health and vitality. If this reminds you of the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, it’s because that’s exactly what it sounds like.

On Ross Douthat: Douthat takes a similar approach and faces a similar challenge — namely, how to differentiate his ideas from the ones that got the GOP into its current mess in the first place — but he has the added burden of being a pro-lifer firmly committed to the agenda of the religious right.

4). Radical conservatives:
They are downright anti-modern in outlook. Delighted by Christopher Lasch’s indictment of the free market, enamored of Wendell Berry’s poetic agrarianism, romantically drawn toward “localism,” titillated by Alasdair MacIntyre’s praise of monasticism as an option for those seeking refuge from the moral impurities of modernity, open to radical environmentalism, hostile toward an idealistic foreign policy, disgusted at the overall tone of life in America since sexual revolution–these writers are interesting in the way all reactionaries are interesting: as a provocation to deep thinking, and as a warning about the (political and intellectual) dangers of indeterminate negation.

I don’t like labels and it has been a while since I thought of myself as person of the “Right,” but there is a lot I like about this fourth category of conservatives. Christopher Lasch and Wendell Berry have profoundly influenced my thinking. I like MacIntyre, although I must confess that his prose is so dense that I have yet to make it all the way through After Virtue. As readers of this blog know, I am “drawn toward” localism, place, and environmentalism. I am not sure if this makes me a conservative–perhaps it does. But I do have much in common with these so-called radical conservatives and I think I would prefer them as conversation partners over the other forms of the “right” that Linker describes.

Whatever the case, I found this to be a very helpful introduction to conservative thinking in American political life.