The Death of Conservative Intellectualism (Some Say)

 

Warning: This post is not really about international law per se. It will, however, pretend to say something about globalization and the permeation of political ideals.

 

Yesterday’s WSJ has a thoughtful piece about the demise of conservative intellectual tradition in the US. See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122610558004810243.html. Mark Lilla at Columbia University reviews where the conservative intellectual tradition stands today, in the aftermath of Republican defeat in the US Presidential Elections. His prognosis, “(t)he Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.”

 

I am, by no means, a credible commentator on American politics. However, I know that American politics is not “the be all and end all” of, well, all politics. There is reason to believe that conservative political thought is alive and well in some parts of the world. (Definitely so, in parts of Asia and Europe.) In the event that Prof. Lilla is correct, is there opportunity for conservative political thought in the US to rejuvenate itself from the outside? Can American political thought gain from that of other states?

 

The logical answer is: Of course. It has from its inception. The US Declaration of Independence echoes John Locke and Montesquieu, as does the Federalist Papers. The fact is that political thought has time and again transcended territorial barriers. I think of Metternich during the Congress of Vienna as an old example. Some say that the Congress of Vienna was an international agreement to suppress revolutionary ideals in favour of conservative policy all across Post-Napoleonic Europe. Today, inklings of liberal political thought can be found in human rights instruments, international trade agreements etc etc.

 

Then, the pertinent inquiry shifts to whether American political thought has become so insular that it will resist the permeation of any values from the outside. In a “flat” world where information and discourse is transmitted seamlessly and rapidly, there is no reason why it should. Access to foreign sources of political thought is widely available to the American polity. To say that American political thought has nothing to gain from outside will be nothing short of intellectual arrogance. However, it would not be incomprehensible arrogance. The perception that the US has been a political “thought leader” for the past half century and beyond is a very palpable one. Nonetheless, if conservative politicians in the US consider that some intellectual rebirth is needed, there is no harm looking for it beyond American soil.

 

 

As for the ultimate question of whether the US conservative intellectual tradition is, in fact, dead? Perhaps, Prof. Daniel Drezner will have something to say about it on his blog (or even ours).

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