12 July 2011

Intellectual Insecurity

This has been a post I’ve developing for some time.  I first suggested it in a response to a comment the Social Pathologist left on this esteemed blog.  Then alcestiseshtemoa left this comment on a recent blog post:

In turn, the bulk of self-described conservatives rally around these same figures as if they were the saviors of America who would, like a sort of modern Republican St. Patrick, drive the snakes of liberalism from our shores. The truth is that Palin, Beck, and the rest are not any sort of threat to the dominance of liberalism, because they are themselves infected with a mindset very much shaped by liberalism.

I would also place Jonah Goldberg on that list.  My personal preferences notwithstanding, one thing that I have observed about most mainstream conservatives is that they seem to suffer from what I call intellectual insecurity.  Quite simply, some conservatives are concerned about being mocked for having “backward,” “archaic,” or “outdated” beliefs (and this concern is quite legitimate in Palin’s case, in light of how the media has treated her).  And so conservatives, in the effort to appear contemporary in thought, take on the assumptions and basic premises generally espoused by progressives.

Conservatives thus accept the premises of gender equality, racial equality, sexual-orientation equality, and other definitions of equality* generally accepted or proposed by progressives.  Of course, once one accepts the premises proposed by progressives, one must generally accept most of the basic conclusions derived from the assumptions.  And make no mistake: progressives are a very logical bunch.  That their policies fail time and again when put into practice should strongly suggest that the premises are flawed.  Nonetheless, conservatives seem incapable of following this rudimentary logic and so they accept the flawed premises upon which progressivism is founded.

Unsurprisingly, it is difficult, if not downright impossible, for conservatives to begin with progressive assumptions and end up with conservative conclusions.  Because they fear being mocked and ostracized by the intellectual elites, they buy in to the intellectual paradigm established by progressives.  In so doing, they bring about their eventual downfall.  If they accept progressives’ premises, they must also eventually accept their conclusions, which is why they cannot be trusted.

The solution to this problem, then, is for conservatives to simply begin with their own premises and stick to them no matter what.  This requires a great deal of intestinal fortitude, as well the ability to feel secure in their own beliefs.  If they can attain this, then they can be trusted, and maybe, just maybe, they can finally begin to get the results they keep promising.  Personally, though, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

* And here I use equality in the same sense that progressives do, which presupposes that all people are identical regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  This also requires a relativistic version of morality and ethics.  In contrast, paleo-conservatism (also known as “liberalism” in the good old days of the 18th century) assumes equality before the law, which simply means that the government, which administrates the law, is forbidden from treating citizens differently solely on the basis of sex, race, or sexual orientation (e.g. a gay man is not presupposed guilty of a crime while a straight man would be presupposed innocent if accused of the same.  Alternatively, a woman wouldn’t have her rights suspended simply because she’s a woman.) Of course, paleo-conservatives take a negative view of rights (i.e. the government doesn’t do x) whereas modern progressives take a positive view of rights (i.e. each person should have x).


  1. From what I've observed, the bulk of modern neo-conservatives could be described as intellectually insecure. However, there are also some conservatives who also appear to be intellectually insecure as well, which is why I lumped the two groups together. Not all conservatives are intellectually in secure, and thus this post would not apply to them.

    I usually identify three types of conservatives: paleo-conservatives (aka classical liberals) , conservatives (aka traditionalists), and neo-conservatives (leftists with traditionalist sympathies). Of course, these classifications are limited and therefore imperfect, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. And few people can be described perfectly and completely by these labels. They are simply meant for general use.

  2. The problem, I think, is more fundamental. It's a lack of courage.

    As you rightly point out, many conservatives really aren't conservatives at all; being liberals with traditionalist sympathies and so their confused thought is really to be expected. For example, these guys want to support stable marriages but do nothing to strike down no-fault divorce laws. Here the problem is a lack of intellectual depth, in not being able to see the connections.

    I suppose the ultimate ideal of our society is "agreeableness". Being nice is more important than being good. This poses as problem for conservatives, as many of the conservative positions are fundamentally good yet disagreeable.
    The conservative who preaches the "disagreeable gospel", is then socially ostracised at a fundamental level. (He has effectively transgressed the overarching principle of public morality)

    The case of Whittaker Chambers is a case in point. His friends dumped him, he lost his job and his public reputation as a result of speaking the truth. Amongst thinking conservatives, many of them do not want to pay this price, so they compromise.

  3. Agreeableness is certainly the modern ideal. I just hate how honesty is so universally reviled. And I hate the cowardice of neo-conservatives. Sometimes, this world just depresses me.

  4. It depresses me too. Still, God has has matched us with this hour and expects us to do our duty.