November 12, 2015


Triumph of the Will? Bill O'Reilly & Snake-Oil Conservatism (Bradley J. Birzer, 11/10/15, Imaginative Conservative)

[T]he fight is a fight about the old guard (moderate, conservative, or otherwise) acting with dignity and the new guard (moderate, conservative, or otherwise) hoping to bully its way into the mainstream of the conservative movement. By old guard, I do not mean age. Mr. Will is only eight years older than O'Reilly, and not enough to make them of different generations. By old guard, I do not mean educationally, either. Each is a product of the Ivy League. Regionally, there is a difference as Mr. Will grew up in Chicago, while Mr. O'Reilly grew up on the East Coast.

By old guard, I mean those who wish to approach the most important subjects of the world with reason and deliberation. These are the Russell Kirks, the Leo Strausses, the Eric Voegelins, and Robert Nisbets. The new guard are those who use the media not to promote conservatism, but to sell it, searching for an ever-broadening base of consumers. For the sake of argument, let us leave these people nameless. They tend to be very loud and very plastic, and my guess is that you, The Imaginative Conservative readers, could list them instantly. These are the "conservatives" who use their media access to denounce the liberal arts and the classics, demean women and minorities, and spew their hatred against all who disagree with them. They don't converse, they scream. They talk in the language of bullet points and bumper stickers. And perhaps most importantly, they never listen.

As scholar John Willson so wisely cautions, in recognizing that Mr. O'Reilly is a bully, one should not canonize Mr. Will. Frankly, I am not a huge fan of either, and I find each somewhat lacking in his own personal life as well as in his thinking. Neither has lead an exceptionally virtuous life, and Mr. Will labels himself a soft atheist. All well and good: Mr. Will can believe or not, but I am not willing to designate such a person the current leader of conservatism. Still, whatever Mr. Will's faults and gifts, he has always approached the public arena with dignity. He has always been a gentleman.

So, yes, the battle is over the soul of conservatism, as Salon explained. To me, though, if a conservative consistently behaves badly, he really is not a conservative. A true conservative behaves with dignity--for his own sake, for that of his opponent, for the movement. 

Posted by at November 12, 2015 5:08 PM