The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in with an interesting, but somewhat muddled, version of that old song: "Low Down Conservative Academia Shutout Blues." Yeah, ev'rybody's talking 'bout Foucault, religious right, corporate whores, needless wars, but all Mark Bauerlein is saying is, Give Hayek A Chance.
The biggest muddle, in a piece complaining that academic and popular books assessing conservatism don't treat it as a coherent intellectual tradition, is his casual linking of disparate thinkers, thus: "Count the names Hayek, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, etc., on syllabi in courses on "Culture & Society." Tally how often, in left-of-center periodicals, those names are linked to moneyed interests. The framing is complete. Heralds of conservatism start and finish in the messy realm of politics and finance, never rising into the temple of reflection."
The complaint about the association of conservative and free-market thinking with moneyed interests is apt. That Hayek, a classic 19th century liberal and apostle of the knowledge-spreading and dynamic powers of free markets and the unrestricted price system, Kirk with his tradition-rooted mistrust of untrammeled capitalism, and Kristol's bellicose nationalism and love of censorship can be so casually conflated is a sign that even at the highest levels, academic understanding of conservative is deficient.
This is not to say there are no interesting ways in which the three can be compared; Hayek shared with Kirk an interest in the defense of rooted tradition that cannot necessarily be rationally justified, and with Kristol an interest in dynamic economic growth, but the differences between all three are more important than the similarities, and merely linking those three together does not a defensible and coherent intelellectual tendency make. The main reason for this, as Hayek pre-emptively told Bauerlein and all the rest of us over four decades ago, is that Hayek is "not a conservative ."
Indeed, as Hayek wrote, in language that sounds quite a bit like the unnamed and innumerable liberal professors who keep conservativism from a position of respect in the academy, "conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas. Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality."
Of course, in large part thanks to the influence of libertarians such as Hayek and Milton Friedman on conservatism as popularly understood, the conservative of today is far more respectful of liberty and markets overall than was the conservatism of the 1950s that Hayek wrote about here. Still, it won't help further academic understanding and appreciation of either Hayek or conservatism to lump them together as Bauerlein does.
UPDATE: I misspelled the name of the author of
the linked story in my original post (now fixed).
Reason's editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie had earlier discussed Bauerlein's calls for "a little less Foucault and a little more Hayek" in his report on the 2005 Modern Language Association meetings at TechCentral Station; and readers should also check out a great essay Bauerlein wrote for Reason, reviewing the Anti-Chomsky Reader (edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz) in our April 2005 issue