Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A conservative responds to Ferguson

Edward Feser makes some good points about the selectivity of Andrew Ferguson's examples of current "mainstream" conservative thought:
Ferguson makes some good points in his article about the corrupting effects on conservative activists of ten years in power. But this particular passage is just silly. Granted, the contemporary writers and works he mentions are, shall we say, not of the highest intellectual quality. But why take these as representative of “conservative books”? Why not cite instead the sorts of books produced by authors associated with publications like City Journal, Commentary, First Things, The New Criterion, or any of a number of other intellectually serious conservative journals? It’s not as if people like Theodore Dalrymple, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Roger Kimball, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel stopped writing after 1994.

Or why not cite the many important works produced by conservative philosophers like Roger Scruton and John Kekes, several of which have been published within the last decade or so? Scruton’s many books on modern politics, sexual morality, aesthetics and architecture, globalization, and a host of other issues constitute as wide-ranging, systematic, and powerful a critique of liberal moral, political and cultural assumptions as has ever been produced. Kekes’s trilogy Against Liberalism, A Case for Conservatism, and The Illusions of Egalitarianism comprise a sustained challenge to the prevailing orthodoxies in contemporary political philosophy. And there are many other important authors and works in philosophy that could be cited, such as Anthony O’Hear’s Beyond Evolution and After Progress, or David Oderberg’s Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach, a pair of volumes that represent the most thorough and vigorous defense of traditional morality to have appeared within mainstream philosophy in decades.

I emphasize such philosophical works not only because this is a blog devoted to philosophy, but also because their existence shows that there are writers within the conservative movement who are capable not only of producing clever analyses of current policy questions, but also of taking things down to first principles in a way that meets the highest standards of rigor. Of course, there are many conservative authors and books in academic disciplines outside of philosophy that could also be mentioned, many of them much better known to mainstream conservative writers like Ferguson than the philosophers just mentioned probably are. Hadley Arkes, Robert P. George, John Lukacs, Thomas Sowell, Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, and James Q. Wilson would be a few examples, and they have all written serious books within the last decade. And then there are libertarian scholars like Richard Epstein, Randy Barnett, and many others, who have also published substantial works over the last ten years.

Yet the only authors Ferguson can think to cite are the likes of Michael Savage and Sean Hannity? This is the kind of thing I would sooner expect from the sort of ignorant academic leftist who seriously thinks that conservatives who call for a more balanced curriculum want to put Ann Coulter’s latest tome on the political philosophy reading list. Ferguson should know better.

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