Peter Berkewitz’s excellent essay on the state of the Conservative movement identifies a serious gap between Left and Right in America:
On a variety of issues that currently divide the nation, those to the left of center seem to be converging, their ranks increasingly untroubled by debate or dissent, except on daily tactics and long-term strategy. Meanwhile, those to the right of center are engaged in an intense intra-party struggle to balance competing principles and goods.
Berkewitz seems unhappy with this intra-party struggle. After all, it stems from ignorance of the founding fathers of modern conservativism (Kirk, Hayek and Strauss) and is certainly disadvantageous to the short term goals of the political movement.
But while his exhortation to return to such authors must be heeded, there is a deeper temptation to view such intra-party debate as a negative, rather than a positive. To do so, I contend, would be a serious mistake for conservatives and would exemplify short-term thinking of the worst kind.
Why not view the culture of debate as a healthy positive from which new strategies and more clearly defined goals might emerge? Such debate might, in fact, go a long ways toward bridging the divide between the philosophers and the politicians that I am told exists within the halls of Congress. Asking larger philosophical questions is anathema–the only thing that matters is getting a certain bill passed, or damaging the opponent, etc.
The single best business book I have ever read analyzed several companies that went from good companies to great companies. What was true of most of those was that they had a robust and healthy culture of conversation, and were not afraid to step back and ask more philosophical questions about their business.
The question is, what would such a debate look like and how do we know when consensus has been reached? Here, it seems, the deeper problem with the conservative movement is not a dearth of ideas or opinions, but an unorganized and inefficient way of conducting the sort of debate that needs to be had. Let the debate happen, yes: but where and how?
To that question, I have no answer. And neither, it seems, do conservatives.