« The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement-Becker | Main | Conservatism II--Posner's Comment »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

P.T. Carson

Dear Mr. Posner,

I mostly agree with your criticism of conservatives losing intellectual authority. I fully reject the belief that man-made global warming has strong scientific evidence. There are many other plausible causes of generallized warming of the average earths temperature. Disagreeing on global warming is now politically 'incorrect' and not popular, but that does not mean man-made global warming is proven to be true.

Best regards

Paul Carson


Paul, as a climatologist and academician, you are wrong. And I say this as a conservative.

We don't get to pick and choose the reality in which we live. Mad-made climate change has been overblown at times, many of those leading the charge are wacky, but the evidence has long since closed the book on the debate. Man caused global warming, and he did so very quickly and to dramatic, obvious, and measurable effect.

We can only hope man can undo it.


I am not american, but I live in Princeton, New Jersey. New Jersey is of course a Democrat state, but nonetheless I meet plenty of republican conservatives, who definately are to be considered intellectuals.

Saying that the Democrats have a more intellectual agenda than the Republicans is in my eyes a misstatement. I believe the correct words to use is that they have a more populist agenda. In the face of a crisis, the one who speaks for the poor, the elderly, the sick and the week will always prevail - this is far from unique. Just look back at the depression, when european leaders such as Hitler, Franco and Mussolini emerged by appealing to the same groups of people (this is NOT a comparison between the aforementioned leaders and D, I am just trying to show that appealing to the masses does not equal intellectualism).

Saying that greedy bankers (or back then, Jews) are the source of the crisis, and that government should heal the wounds is not intellectual. It is pathetic, and it is sad that the Republican party's answer to this was to put in McPalin and Joe the Plumber.

Conservatism is in no way dead, but the ideas should be restructured and conservative intellectuals should focus more on how to let markets flourish within the correct framework instead of screaming TAX/ABORTION/GAY all the time!


"Disagreeing on global warming is... not popular..."

Because denying anthropogenic global warming is no longer scientifically tenable. It is barely a notch above evolution denial. This is Posner's point.

The reasonable debate would involve global warming *action*. In particular, the estimated $37 trillion needed to limit global warming effects and the associated opportunity costs. This would be much more effective than ad nauseum repetition of long-since discredited claims and pseudo-science that appear to be preferred. "Weak in conception", indeed.

Uzair Kayani

I suspect that the "permanent campaign" paradigm had much to do with the intellectual decline of the conservative movement. I fear that it may also cause a decline of the liberal movement somewhere down the road. See the article below by Joe Klein:


The idea appears to have occurred to Democrats first: that most every administrative decision has the potential to win or please more constituents. In a sense, this makes a president a better representative of the people. The previous administration and FOX News may have carried it too far, though.

A permanent campaign is necessarily populist. Novelty, outrage, or flattery rather than intelligence comes to drive political decisions. As the best ideas lose their novelty, parties are forced to move down the quality curve to worse ideas. This is the same problem that 24-hour news channels face: we see them reporting on octuplet moms and brain-dead women in Florida. Soon enough there is a motion in Congress to address the issue.

When the next election looms, all the loyalists sit and wonder how they came to abandon their "core principles." It is because the core principles were old news about two months in, and so they went rummaging for minorities, immigrants, women, doctors, environmentalists, secular people, and, eventually "the elites."

The only real principle was to find the next windmill to tilt at. There is something intellectually degrading about politics but I have trouble articulating it.


Oh, really, the science is settled on global warming? For reals and for serious? Well, I'm glad science is so settled that it doesn't need to be studied any more. Just like evolution! I guess we can stop looking for a workable, verifiable, or useful evolutionary theory. That's what the late Steven Jay Gould was working toward, but never found.

Glad to know he wasted his time, as are thousands of biologists across the country. Because we don't need developing science and growing knowledge. We already "know" it. The science is settled! We can move all of that funding somewhere else.

As for global warming, two words, people: solar cycles.

No, anthropogenic global warming is not settled fact. It is not even a fact. Mainly because it's not reality.


"Solar cycles" don't come close to explaining the temperature changes observed over the last 50 years.

The problem with anti-global warming folks (and, admittedly, an issue with a lot of global warming proponents) is that they don't understand the science. They picked a side and are now rationalizing their view. Even if you are right, Ella, it is by chance, not because you know what you are talking about.


Were Becker's summary:

The roots of conservatism go back to philosophers of the 17 and 18th centuries, such as John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. They opposed big government, and favored private decision-making, primarily because they argued that individuals were generally better able to protect their interests than could government officials tied down by bureaucracy and special interests. They claimed further that making decisions for oneself and suffering the consequences were usually good for people, even when these decisions led to bad outcomes, because learning from one's own mistakes helps improve future choices.


and Posner's comments:

By the end of the Clinton administration, I was content to celebrate the triumph of conservatism as I understood it, and had no desire for other than incremental changes in the economic and social structure of the United States. I saw no need for the estate tax to be abolished, marginal personal-income tax rates further reduced, the government shrunk, pragmatism in constitutional law jettisoned in favor of "originalism," the rights of gun owners enlarged, our military posture strengthened, the rise of homosexual rights resisted, or the role of religion in the public sphere expanded. All these became causes embraced by the new conservatism that crested with the reelection of Bush in 2004.

......... the basis for a Republican platform, they'd have the foundation of a strong franchise (from my perspective) Were such a platform to be sold by someone rational and not a toady for corporate favoritism they'd be tough to beat. But! most of the above has been usurped by Obama, if not quite the rank and file Democratic Congress.

Over the last decades (since Ike?) the Republican cry for "smaller government" has most often been tainted by a call for more sacrifice for working folk than for those of the "owner class" for example a miniscule increase in the min wage or minor strengthening of collective bargaining rules would be uniformly denounced as "inflationary" or "redistributionist" while the massive actual redistribution of the past 30 years and HUGE increases in "compensation" for those nearest the pork barrel are just "market forces at work".

Worse yet, it appears that the cry for smaller government is just that; a cry from the back benches that goes silent once a Reagan or Bush is at the helm and if accompanied by a Republican Congress it's record setting expenditures.

Interesting here........ is that under both Becker and Posner's essays there are few comments about core values and many about the wedge issues of yester-decades, abortion, and the new talk radio led denialism of global warming and man-caused GW.

With those left in the Republican tent being more vocal on "right" social issues than on simply running the nation in a pragmatic manner, and cries of "cuthabudget" being both untimely and not particularly believable along with being "led" in default by the Palins, Limbaugh's and other horrors created recently, it would seem that it's going to be a long unpleasant slog back.

While I take some joy in the situation after seeing and living through the massive damages they've inflicted on our nation, I'd much rather they were a force for the rational debate that a democracy requires in order to make the best decisions. Hopefully there are younger folk examining the wreckage for items of worth that could be used to rebuild an honest and classical sort of conservative voice.

Thomas Brownback

This may sound odd, but I actually found this essay quite moving.

When conservatism loses its usefulness (whether because conservativism changes, or whether society changes), it should be jettisoned. We were conservatives because we were pragmatists, not the other way around.

The essay is a bit wistful and nostalgic, but moreso courageous and keenly insightful about the inevitable change of intellectual positions over time.


–£ –≤–∞—Å –Ω–∞ —Å–∞–π—Ç–µ —Å–∏–º–≤–æ–ª—ã –∫–∞–∫ –∫–≤–∞–¥—Ä–∞—Ç–∏–∫–∏- –∏—Å–ø—Ä–∞–≤—å—Ç–µ, –∞—Ç–æ —Ö–æ—á–µ—Ç—Å—è –ø—Ä–æ—á–∏—Ç–∞—Ç—å


I love when Democrats pretend they are intelligent on the global warming issue. The love to pretend Republicans ignore science on this subject and that science is the be all end all for policy.

But then they ignore the scientific fact that life begins before birth. They use judicial activism to come up with an UNSCIENTIFIC definition for life. They call it a constitutional definition even though it isn't in the US Constitution.

Think about this. Imagine what you Dems would call Republicans who made up new definitions in science...?

Partial Birth Abortion is murder. This is a scientific fact. Barrack Obama is the worst abortionist to ever step foot in the white house. While we debate how to "stimulate" the economy with his Keynesian, Barrack is sending our money overseas to fund abortion. The man supported infanticide. At what point, do all you brilliant democrats who preach science wake up and realize how crazy you all are...?


Man Made Global Warming is an unsettled theory.

It is a scientific FACT that partial birth abortion is murder.

Infanticide is barbarism.

Per Kurowski

The conservative movement lost steam and its compass when:

a) it let the Basel Committee slip by it the idea that lending to sovereign governments rated AAA to AA- did not generate any bank equity requirement... what would our fore-bankers have thought of making a zero-reserve when lending to a Crown?... and

b) when it allowed the Basel Committee to place so much market power in the hands of some outsourced government agents which the credit rating agencies really are.

In short conservatives of today are usurpers.


Who caused the global warming when the ice age ended? 3 guys in a cave? There are plenty of scientists who belive that CO2 increase is a result of warming not the other way round.

In terms of "intellectuals" are you referring to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton, rahm Emmanuel? I would rather be ignorant. The current Democratic crowd is basing their approach on John Rawls, Saul Alinsky, Cloward-Piven and Zbigniew Brzezinski. All radical but hardly new, fresh and enlightened. It has all been tried before and failed before. To professor Posner I would say that there are still plenty of conservatives around-some with intellects-but they are not allowed to live in Hyde Park.

Not to worry, the new crowd in charge is arrogant and over confident and will over reach quickly. When they do, the "other" crowd will be waiting and no doubt will call themselves "conservatices".

Remember the Alamo. Remember Jimmy Carter.


To add to your list, racism fed the conservative movement in the 60's.

Or is that what you mean when you talk about the "domestic disorder" and "excesses"?

The death of racism (and social "conservatism" in general) as a political tool is also one factor in the failure of the conservative movement.

Simply said, the kids aren't as bad as the parents.

Additionally, conservative economic ideas create a greater wealth disparity between the rich and the poor which ultimately leads to societal instability.

The flawed economic ideas of conservatives create the seeds for its own destruction.

The people will only allow the rich to tilt the playing field so much before they push back.

Conservative intellectuals of the past dressed up flawed ideas in shiny rhetoric but they were simply hiding shabby undergarments the stench of which would inevitably creep from underneath their well-pressed suits.



Barry's first deficit is going up to $3.59 trillion. No more playing the blame game for Barrack. His Keynesianism is HIS... and nobody else's. This is your baby...!

The CBO knows Obama's deficits will be disastrous.

Jimmy Carter interest rates, HERE WE COME!!!

Yes, another Reagan Revolution is just around the corner.

James B

The postings by "Anonymous" make Judge Posner's point as effectively (although much less eloquently and thoughtfully)as he does. This is a prime example of the sort of vitriolic rambling that is holding the conservative movement hostage today and preventing an honest debate about the future of the conservative movement in America. Of course, Dick Cheney isn't helping things either. I am a liberal and a "yellow dog" Democrat, but I still want to see true conservatism remake itself and rise from its current ashes. The existence of two distinct schools of thought on economic and social issues is healthy and necessary for our democracy. Ranting about partial birth abortion, global warming, or gay marriage compromises and demeans the true conservative movement. I have to go now. It's unseasonably warm here today and I want to go for a walk.


To add to your list, racism fed the conservative movement in the 60's.

Or is that what you mean when you talk about the "domestic disorder" and "excesses"?

The death of racism (and social "conservatism" in general) as a political tool is also one factor in the failure of the conservative movement.

Simply said, the kids aren't as bad as the parents.

Additionally, conservative economic ideas create a greater wealth disparity between the rich and the poor which ultimately leads to societal instability.

The flawed economic ideas of conservatives create the seeds for its own destruction.

The people will only allow the rich to tilt the playing field so much before they push back.

Conservative intellectuals of the past dressed up flawed ideas in shiny rhetoric but they were simply hiding shabby undergarments the stench of which would inevitably creep from underneath their well-pressed suits.

It's not that the intellectuals passed on, it's that the free flow of information is so much greater today that the same flawed arguments that passed as intellectualism in the past are quickly and thoroughly destroyed in short order.

Conservative "thought" will not be influential in an era where as soon as a National Review article pops up it is immediately exposed as flawed and lacking by dozens of people who are read by millions.

It's not that the conservative intellectual movement has lost its thinkers as much as it is that the world has moved beyond them.

Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin were Hail Mary passes thrown by the "intellectual elites" of the conservative party (just look at how Palin got picked) who spout the same nonsense that was spouted decades ago by Buckley et al. and they can't wash their hands of Joe and Sarah by simply saying "we have no party" as Joe and Sarah spouted what passes for conservative thought and ideas on a daily basis. Their messages are the messages of conservatives. They are simply bad messages and most can see that now.

As far as the flaws of conservative economic thinking being exposed by the economic problems facing us today, those flaws have been known for quite a long time. They've simply been ignored by conservatives. Conservatives tend to be ideologues not intellectuals and that means they'll simply ignore evidence which tends to show they're wrong. Thus we find ourselves in a time where their economic ideas have been thoroughly tested and found wanting and will ultimately be cast aside. Such is the power of the market.


Since someone brought up Barrack's deficits:

Does anyone realize Barrack Obama's military spending is a 4% increase...? This means he is spending more on the military than Bush ever did.

Barrack is escalating the war in afghanistan to a full blown occupation. NATO is not providing any support no matter how much barrack apologizes for America and begs them. Barrack is goinitalone in another war that is another quagmire, the exact same thing that Bush did in Iraq. He has sent in an occupational force with no exit timetable and zero plan to win the peace. All this, and Barrack has never missed an opportunity to drop bombs on Pakistan, even if it means taking out a few innocent civilians.

The difference in media coverage is simply amazing.

You Democrats live in a world that is not reality. You can pretend all you want, but you cannot hide from facts. You think only Bush was the aggressor and you think Obama is the savior of the world. There is not one muslim who sees any difference between the two. Barrack Obama is doing absolutely nothing to restore America's image in the world, it is just perception being funneled by propaganda. You think your guy is too intelligent to wage war, and you guys don't even realize he is waging it.

It is funny to me and funny to anyone who looks at facts and ignores the media's version of the story.


Why doesn't anyone ask Barrack this question:

"Does life begin before birth?"

Nobody in our media will ask this question because it is a simple yes or no question with no rooom for spin. I mean we know the answer is "yes". It is a scientific fact that life begins before birth. There is 100% consensus in the medical community on it.

Why does our media only ask this question only:

"When does life begin?"

I know the answer to this question is above Barrack's pay scale, as are many other questions about responsible economic policy. But this question allows slippery liberals to spin there way around the fact that their policies are wrong. Again, it is a scientific fact that life begins before birth, so there is simply no rationale for carte blanche partial birth abortion, and most certainly not infanticide.

Liberals preach science (and even manipulate science on MMGW) when it fits their agenda, but they discard science when it doesn't fit. This doesn't make you an "intelllect", this makes you a hypocrit.

Barrack can appoint infanticide judges all day long, just shows you how uncompromising and cold-hearted his ideology is.


To what degree have demographics had an effect on popular support for conservative ideologies? Although I have little data (and wish I did!), I do have some suspicions.

Look at the baby boom for example. After the boomers came of age and entered their wealth-producing years in their thirties, forties, and fifties the policies under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush gave them more limited govt, more free markets, less regulation, and lower taxation. These policies have greatly improved quality of life and prosperity for a large portion of our population and a large portion of voters.

But now, the boomers are either retired or are nearing retirement. Isn't it natural to assume that this group would act in its self interest and support greater government intervention and greater government services? Once you have made a decision to substitute leisure for work... then you may also have greater sympathy for others in the same circumstance and want to see the government step in and sustain that leisure. That could explain why my retired parents (once ardent advocates for limited government) are now so sympathetic for unemployed workers and those who do not have healthcare.

While this large slug of people enters retirement, their children are just leaving college and have limited job prospects. Their current lifestyles are inconsistent with entry level wages and they are laden with debt (student loans, credit cards, first mortgage, car loans) and see no clear path for repayment. Conservative ideologies offer little apparent relief for the boomers or their kids, so the liberal message of bigger government is easily embraced.

Here's a huge problem, though- the wealth producers in their 30's and 40's are demographically small and fewer of them vote. How can this smaller group possibly support the barbell ends of the population? Even if the group that generates the bulk of the tax revenue supports policies that favor economic growth and prosperity, they are currently outnumbered at the polls.

I doubt that this dynamic will change until the younger generation wakes up and realizes that they will be expected to pay for the profligacy of their elders. Do you know anyone in their early twenties? Do you really think that they will sacrifice to pay increased taxes to support their retired parents, the unemployed, autoworkers, etc? That's a pretty funny question when you consider that this is the coddled generation. I would be willing to bet that in another 10-15 years this group will once again be a voice for limited government and fiscal prudence.

Greg R. Lawson

Conservatism, especially an intellectually stimulating and worthwhile conservatism, needs to reassert itself.

A certain degree of populism is always an essential ingredient to political, electoral success, however, to rely on pure emotionalism lends itself to poroly conceived policies as Mr. Posner clearly states.

Therefore, it is important that those who believe that cultural conservatism is not retrograde, but a pivotal mechanism for avoiding the growth of nihilistic despair, must better articulate their reasoning.

It is not enough to say that "God says it's wrong" as there are too many interpretations of what God means. However, conservatism, as in conserving tradition and allowing progress to move slowly and pragmatically, as opposed to radically, is an emminently defensible position.

The loss of the culture wars has led to too many single household families and many economic hardships that correspond to that reality.

The loss of the culutre wars has a bred a post-modernist sensibility in too many youth that now seems to believe that any judgements made are by definition "oppressive" and or/ignorant.

The loss of the culture wars has unmoored legitimate capitalist instincts from ethics and allowed greed to run rampant and the disadvantaged to seek salvation in unrealistic messianism.

The loss of the culture wars has been an unmitigated disaster for this nation and it was lost during the conservative ascendancy. That is a strong rebuke.

Today, the remaining culture warriors, disillusioned by the decline in values, too often come across as angry and unwilling to engage is reasoned debate. This makes it too easy for them to be caricaturized, delegitimzed, and stigmatized.

For the conservative movement to rise again, it must use reason to bolster its arguments and find intellectual champions who can battle the new rise of leftist "Liberalism" on its own terms.

To be pro-life, pro-family, pro-second amendment,strong on national security are not backwards looking positions. They are forward looking, we just have to present them as such.

Franck Boizard

The global warming issue is far from settled.

Furthermore, can I remind you that science is not demcratic ? Einstein was right not because of the number of people who believed he was, but because he proved his theory with a scientific method.

I have strong reasons to think the man-made global warming is bogus.

In fact, what interests me more is why so many people absolutely want to believe in a theory so weak ?

A partial answer is : if men can change the climate, it means they are strong and powerful, and everebody like to hear being strong and powerful, even if it implies nastiness.

It's much more appealing than to hear the men have no more influence on the climate than flies.

Another bit of answer is that it reminds ancient myths : the good but irritable Nature disturbed by the presomptuous industrial man.


How can Barrack Obama be a Keynesian and also not accept responsibility for the deficits he runs...? If you think govt. spending is "economic stimulus" be a MAN and take responsibility for your policy.

Blaming Bush for everything isn't going to work. Obama is bankrupting our country and pointing fingers while it goes down. This is what extreme ideologues do, they put party before country.

Who in their right mind thinks government can afford nationalized healthcare when it is currently running a $1.8 trillion deficit with a $3.6 trillion estimate for 2010?

Seriously, if you think Capitalism and Free Markets are failures and if you think Government spending is the solution to everything, then how on this earth can you not accept responsibility for expansion of government and deficits???

Obama needs to stop being a child. This man is a worldclass liar. He increased the military budget by 4% for crying out loud. These are HIS deficits, and if he thinks running deficits is economi

David Drake

This subject has been debated ad nauseum on Volokh Conspiracy.

Both Professors conflate the Republican Party with conservatism, and conflate conservatism with libertarianism.

Re global warming. When I see reasonably convincing proof that (a) the climate today is ideal (b) that global warming will have enough bad effects to outweigh the good PLUS the cost of attempting to reverse global warming PLUS the cost of potentially sending the economy back to before the Industrial Revolution AND (c) that there are not relatively inexpensive ways of avoiding most of the bad effects of global warming (e.g. moving people out of coastal areas), then I will support plans to deal with a warming that (x) is taking place and (y) seems to be correlated with human economic activity.

However, discourse today seems to jump from (1) the climate is gradually warming to (2) we're all going to die unless we move carbon emissions back to where they were before the Declaration of Independence.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan

May 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31