I haven’t stayed up on the latest hand-wringing over contemporary conservatism’s woes as well as I would have liked, but Rufus’ examination of it in light of Plato is well worth your time, especially if you think that old books have nothing to do with contemporary problems:

I don’t think that Mark Levin is a psychopath, or even that he’s lying, just that it’s beside the point if he is. His job isn’t truth- it’s persuasion. The problem is the cross-odds: the Expert uses debate as a means of arriving at truth, but the Orator uses debate to persuade others of their position, regardless of its truth. When political movements start to treat Orators as Experts- or really as their superiors since that they get ‘better numbers’- it’s because they see persuasion- that is,power– as being roughly interchangeable with truth. ‘Epistemic closure’, I think, is really this problem of scale- an inability to tell the higher from the lower.

What conservatism needs, then, is probably more elitism. There really is a scale of value, after all. There are higher things and lower things, which can be measured in the soul. A hint: the higher things are the ones worth ‘conserving’. Otherwise, “conservatism” just becomes a knee-jerk defense of privilege and power.

Rufus takes a different route toward Ross Douthat’s conclusion that Levin et al. are best understood as entertainers.  But the expansion toward Plato is a significant, as their position as entertainers within the polis does not remove them from responsibility.  If anything, their broad appeal and ability to persuade entails a greater obligation, for they are truly (in Plato’s world) members of the polis in a way that the philosopher cannot be.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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