TNI Hosts: Conservative Thought Salon

Edmund Burke, “The Father of Modern Conservatism”

On Saturday, (update: March 6th at 7pm), TNI will host a Conservative Thought Salon dedicated to exploring the conservative intellectual tradition. The event will take place in Brooklyn, NY; anyone in the area is welcome to attend. Please contact us at thenewinquiry@gmail.com for more information.

Why conservatism? Because conservatism is a serious political and intellectual tradition with continued relevance to the modern world. Though we balk at right-wing conspiracy theories about liberal indoctrination in higher education, we have come to the realization that there is a curricular imbalance when it comes to teaching the history of conservative thought in university. And so, we are educating ourselves. Cf. Mark Lilla’s 2009 article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed,“Taking the Right Seriously”:

The unfortunate fact is that American academics have until recently shown little curiosity about conservative ideas, even though those ideas have utterly transformed American (and British) politics over the past 30 years. A look at the online catalogs of our major universities confirms this: plenty of courses on identity politics and postcolonialism, nary a one on conservative political thought. Professors are expected to understand the subtle differences among gay, lesbian, and transgender studies, but I would wager that few can distinguish between the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, three think tanks that have a greater impact on Washington politics than the entire Ivy League.

Why is that? The former left-wing firebrand David Horowitz, whom the professors do know, has a simple answer: There is a concerted effort to keep conservative Ph.D.’s out of jobs, to deny tenure to those who get through, and to ignore conservative books and ideas… Over the past decade, our universities have made serious efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity on the campus (economic diversity worries them less, for some reason). Well-paid deans work exclusively on the problem. But universities show not the slightest interest in intellectual diversity among faculty members.

We will be discussing the relative virtues of hierarchy (the Right) and equality (the Left) in matters of:

Art
Sex
Society
Religion
& Politics

The discussion will be rooted in Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). If you are unable to read the book, please familiarize yourself with some (or all) of the materials listed below. E-mail thenewinquiry@gmail.com to have them sent to you. Of course, non-attendees are welcome to contact us for the readings as well. They’re really good:

Kirk: Intro and Conclusion to Kirk’s book

+ C. Wright Mills’, “The Conservative Mood” (Dissent, 1954)

Art & Sex: Camille Paglia, Chapter 1, Sexual Personae (1990)
Sex, gender, society, and the history of literature.

Philosophy: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorisms: 42-44 (1886)
Nietzchean conservatism: distilled.

Politics: Hannah Arendt, “Total Domination” (1951)
“The danger of the corpse factories and holes of oblivion is that today, with populations and homelessness everywhere on the increase, masses of people are continuously rendered superfluous if we continue to think of our world in utilitarian terms. Political, social and economic events everywhere are in a silent conspiracy with totalitarian instruments devised for making men superfluous.”

Religion: George Scialabba, “The Dying of Truth” (1982)
Scialabba’s essay about religion in modernity by way of Kolakowski, MacIntyre and Rorty.

Society: Allan Bloom, “The Failure of the University” (1974)
A short piece that would eventually become Bloom’s incendiary book The Closing of the American Mind. David Rieff has called Closing, “a book decent people would be ashamed of having written.” But doesn’t Bloom have a point?

These readings have been selected not for their centrality to conservatism per se, but for the questions they pose, which we hope may channel our discussion about conservatism in meaningful directions.

We hope to see you Saturday!

Redefining the Right Wing

Let me begin by agreeing that political conservatism is typically born in reaction and backlash...Postwar conservatism in America has certainly been defined by a series of reactions against rapid or large-scale social and political changes.