The intellectual right is in the middle of a huge brouhaha, as some prominent right-wing commentators celebrate what they believe is the end of the "conservative consensus" around classical liberalism -- free markets, limited government, the sovereignty of the individual and even in some cases free expression.
While I'm friends with many of these people, including Carlson, and respect many of the others (though certainly not all), I think this is barmy codswallop.
But as I've written a great deal about the singular necessity of free markets, limited government and classical liberalism -- recently at book length -- I feel like coming at this from a different direction. This argument really isn't new, and there's no reason to think it's going away anytime soon, particularly so long as
Instead, it's worth thinking about how to think about such things.
It's axiomatic that intellectuals like to deal with ideas. Ideas are to the intellectual what paint is to the painter and stone is to the mason. And ideas are supremely important. As the late
I believe that. But reality -- i.e., the physical realm we live in -- is often what brings new ideas to the fore. We certainly understand this in the world of science. Newton, Einstein and Edison had ideas, and those ideas changed reality in ways that changed our ideas.
Ever since the word "conservative" has had any meaning, conservatives have complained about moral licentiousness. Where they once complained about rising hemlines, they now complain about widespread pornography or celebrity sex tapes. As a conservative myself, I share some of those complaints. But what's often left out of the conversation is the role technology plays in changing how we think about such things.
In the 1920s, conservatives complained about foreign ideas corrupting the youth, as if licentiousness was some virus that escaped a lab in
I have no objection to the claim that ideas played an important role in changing attitudes about sex. The problem is when you think the idea is the sum of the problem. Intellectuals tend to think this way because it's fun to argue with Voltaire or
The birth control pill has surely done more to create a culture of recreational sex than all of the writings of
Of course, this isn't just a dynamic on the right. One of the vexing problems for supporters of unalloyed abortion rights is that technology -- from in-utero MRI to miraculous innovations in neonatal care -- is making the claim that late-stage fetuses are merely "uterine contents" or some other dehumanizing euphemism less plausible to millions of Americans.
Many of the promoters of "economic nationalism" on the left and right, including Trump, cling to outdated ideas about how industry works. Manufacturing in
Among the myriad dangers in all of this is that intellectuals think they can somehow plan and direct the consequences of technological innovation to achieve a society that fits their theories about how everyone should live. That's not easy in an authoritarian society. It's not possible in a free one.
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