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A little help for the "conservative idea factory" (Part 1 of 2)

For those of us on the left, questions about identity (who are we and what do we stand for?) as well as strategy (what went wrong and what are we going to do?) have become so common as to constitute a rhetorical style or even a genre. Behind every small success stands a dozen perceived failures; behind every optimistic observation stands countless expressions of pessimism. Our forecast seems to be stuck on mostly cloudy with a good chance of rain.

I was interested and even refreshed, then, to see this symposium in the conservative Intercollegiate Review (, entitled "What is Wrong with Conservatism, and How can We Make it Right?" The issue opens with the bracing observation “The American conservative movement is facing a crisis,” and it goes on to list several symptoms: a lack of unity between camps, a corresponding drift in the direction of ambiguity, and the very real demographic and generational danger of irrelevance or even extinction. As we saw in 2012, the Republican strategy seems singularly unwise for the current electoral map as well as any foreseeable future. A new strategy requires new ideas, which frankly seem in short supply. Or to put it in the terms of one conservative strategist quoted in the first essay of the symposium, “The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it.”

Sadly, further evidence of this stagnation can be found in the same essay (, which makes yet another call for the “defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization.” Yes of course: that’s exactly what we need. The old canard of liberal/academic hostility to allegedly “Western” values is even older than Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, which was published in 1987. There’s nothing new or original here, and even worse, there’s nothing politically relevant. Presuming that a newly-aggressive "defense of Western values" will do anything to help forge a winning strategy in 2016 is tantamount to arguing that an abandonment of those values was responsible for the party's abject failures in 2012. Risible indeed.

It appears that the well really has run dry. Perhaps the ideas factory really has closed down, its workers downsized and outsourced; perhaps HQ was bought out and swallowed-up in a corporate merger. Whatever the case, in part two, I will try to help. I won’t offer any concrete or clear-cut solutions because I don’t think any exist. But I will try to address the “conservative idea factory” and what we kindly might call its productivity problem.

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.

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