The most interesting aspect of the 2008 race on the Republican side was the discussion that emerged about the future of the party. Weighing in relatively frequently on the issue was Rod Dreher, whose perspective on issues I sometimes disagree with, but always admire.
Borrowing from that, is it too absurd to propose (as Tory Anarchist does) that the ideas that will reinvigorate conservatism as a viable approach to politics will come -- will have to come -- from thinkers who are willing to engage the conservative tradition outside the channels and forms (and forums) that have been created over the past 30 years or so? Or can the reform of conservatism take place within the framework of existing institutions (which is the temperamentally conservative response)? To what extent does the maintenance of those institutions within the movement politics of conservatism prevent the kind of fresh, even radical, thinking apparently necessary to revive intellectual and applied conservatism? Where will the new institutions come from, especially insofar as they are not likely to advance the interests of large corporations, which fund the existing institutions on the Right? Where will the new thinkers come from -- and the new journalists (like Buckley in his day) to publicize and popularize their ideas? (Well, easier to produce the latter than the former). Where will the patrons come from, men and women of means and conservative convictions that challenge the liberal economic order?
This is actually a great time to be a conservative, despite what it looks like. Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism!
UPDATE: Shorter version of this post: "More ISI, less CPAC."
If anything, what previous generations of conservatism had and what we currently lack is statesmen. Buckley, in fact, may have been the last conservative statesman standing (though I have hope for someone like Rick Santorum). Republicans have turned their focus toward practical ends while neglecting the theoretical virtue that ought undergird their prescriptions (hence the trend of pundits rejecting graduate school). Hence, when Rod concludes "More ISI, less CPAC," he has identified the core of the problem exactly right. If conservatives wish to recover their ideological mooring and discover plausible solutions to new challenges, they would do well to recover the robust understanding of human nature that they once founded their politicizing upon (see Kirk, Russell).
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.