Intellectual Conservatives Are Nostalgic for the Good Old Conservatism, But Don’t See Its Flaws

Bruce Bartlett has written an essay in Politico on how the Republican Party, in which he played an important role when he was working for the Reagan administration, has sunk to an anti-intellectual level in the Trump era that he finds terribly distressing.

The problem with Bartlett’s analysis, which displays his close connection with the party that he since abandoned and gives us a lot of valuable information, is that he doesn’t recognize that the “ideas of conservative intellectuals” such as himself don’t really benefit anyone but the Richie-Riches. Conservative intellectuals are prisoners of the free-market ideology: unleashing the immense powers of supply and demand will lead to an ideal society because society fundamentally consists of nothing but economically-rational individuals who rise to the top or sink to the bottom depending on how successful they are in monetary terms, and the risers and sinkers both deserve what happens to them because that’s just how the world is. As the king of conservative intellectuals, G. W. F. Hegel, put it: “The real is rational and the rational is real.”

They mask the cruelty and heartlessness of this concept to themselves by supposing that ultimately the Richie-Riches are softies at heart who will donate sufficiently generously to charities, etc., to help out the “deserving poor,” whereas the undeserving poor, who just lazily lie down on the bed of government welfare, should just be left to their fate, whatever it is. “Are there no workhouses?” as Scrooge shouts.

Intellectuals like Bartlett, whose intellectual credentials don’t really impress me that much, don’t see that, in the first place, the people who are suffering in this free-enterprise system won’t ultimately passively accept their fate forever, and some of them revolt against it even now. And in the second place, their idea that the mechanism of capitalism can be moderated, so that the grinding of its gears can be smoothed out enough so that there is only a tolerable degree of misery, just isn’t practical. Throwing the efforts of a few kind-hearted intellectual types such as themselves against that mechanism doesn’t have much of an effect, without the help of the government regulations and policies that they hate. 

That’s the ultimate reason for the decline of his beloved GOP into the Trumpism he is disgusted by; this is the basic flaw in his argument, it seems to me.

qedd© Jon Johanning 2011