I take issue with Julian Sanchez's recent blog post regarding a carefully constructed strawman -- constructed mainly by members of the political class, and uncritically accepted by too many people who apparently have unexamined biases. First of all, there isn't a common conservative, just as the "common man" doesn't provide much useful information except the broadest of similarities. We can speak of conservative ideas because they've been recorded and it's fairly easy to poll and determine how many people hold enough certain ideas to call them conservative, but it's much more difficult and perhaps impossible to determine how they came to accept these ideas.
It's also impossible to claim that a large group of people hold conservative ideas and ignore conflicting ideas. It's possible that this group holds ideas they've weighed against other ideas and have chosen the ideas they find more acceptable. Regarding a certain group of conservatives, Sanchez claims -
"Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted."
Is it not possible that these conservatives reject what they believe is untrue and wrong-headed? Is there really any question that the MSM is mainly liberal-minded? Sanchez then states that these people believe anyone who disagrees with the conservative position is obviously "liberal". But there's no way for Sanchez to know if these conservatives think disagreement comes from liberals, progressives, socialists, Marxists, libertarians, atheists, etc. Don't we all have disagreements throughout the spectrum of ideas?
Sanchez goes on to write:
This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter. If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation. A more intellectually secure conservatism would welcome this, because it wouldn’t need to define itself primarily in terms of its rejection of an alien enemy.
I will call the group to which Sanchez refers the IICs -- Intellectually Insecure Conservatives -- not because I believe his analysis, that they are intellectually insecure, but because it's simpler to distinguish them from others whom I assume Sanchez believes came about their ideas in a more intelletually open way. According to Sanchez, the IICs have hermeticaly sealed their conservativism to prevent the intrusion of external or internal criticism. In other words, the IICs no longer listen to moderates or others who criticize the IICs' version of conservatism. I'm not sure how Sanchez reaches this conclusion. Again, is it not possible that the IICs have studied all criticisms and found them wanting? Perhaps some the IICs don't have a full understanding of opposing views, but then I find some progressives and moderates who don't have a full understanding of libertarianism -- they dismiss libertarian ideas out-of-hand based on some cartoon version they heard somewhere in their hermetically sealed universe.
Sanchez's ideas regarding the IICs' charges of moderates "selling out" to gain respectablity rather than be associated with what the IICs fear is their lower cultural status are, I believe, misguided. Read his words below, carefully.
No, the insinuation is always that they’re angling for respectability, because even “one of us” might be tempted by the cultural power of the enemy elites, might ultimately value their approval more than that of the conservative base. It’s a much deeper sort of purported betrayal, because it’s a choice that would implicitly validate the status claims of the despised elite. You’re supposed to feel as though you’ve been snubbed socially—discarded for “better” company—which evokes both more indignant rejection of the quisling and further resentment of the liberal snobs who are visiting this indignity on you. In a way it’s quite elegant, and you can see why it’s become as popular as it has. But it’s fundamentally a symptom of insecurity—and a self-defeating one, because it corrodes the kind of serious discussion and reexamination of conservative principles and policies that might help produce a more self-assured movement.
This is amazingly misguided. To start with, Sanchez takes way too much liberty with his psychological diagnosis of "insecurity". This is a specious way to spin the IICs displeasure with the moderates and the faux-elites, and who knows if it's true for any given individuals -- but to assign this diagnosis of insecurity to a large group of people is amazingly misguided -- enough so that it makes me want to do a psychological work-up (this is my old line of work) on Sanchez, but I like him -- what I know from his writing and interactions with commenters -- so I won't take such liberty.
Let's see if there might not be an alternative analysis of the IICs' conservative position and displeasure with the internal criticism. All the people I know who might possibly fall within this group of IICs listen to MSNBC, read lefty blogs, take in all the moderates' trashing of Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Coulter, Levin, Hannity, Fox News and whatever other IIC-media outlets there are out there in IIC-land. I don't how many people I've talked to, or heard on radio talk shows or tv shows, who are basically common conservatives, who have said they don't agree with everything said by Limbaugh, Beck, etc., but they believe that most of the mainstream media have unfairly attacked them and have not fully addressed their ideas. This seems like a pretty reasonable assessment.
It's a mistake to believe the IICs are malleable mushheads who hang on every Limbaugh/Beck word and see any opposition to their ideas as the enemy. To use Sanchez's words, it's "quite elegant" to spin it this way, and it's comfortable to dimiss the ICCs as close-minded, insecure zealots, but then doesn't this reduction speak to another form of insecurity? I mean, aren't the moderates just as resistant to criticism from the IICs -- are the moderates insecure in ther beliefs? Should I spin this to frame the moderates as some soul-empty Ayn Rand characters tremblng inside as they come up against, strong-willed, intelligent men and women secure in their form of conservatism? It would just as amazingly misguided -- quite elegant, but misguided.
The fact is that American citizens have disagreemnts regarding the future of America. Yes, it's true that many of IICs have not likely read the list of books I've seen lately on different blogs, although some may have, but many of them are intelligent and are now turning their intelligence to politics -- many of them see through the facade of the faux-elite, and they aren't impressed. This is not to say there aren't many intelligent people writing and talking about politics wo could be considered elite in the field, Julian Sanchez being one of them, and their wisdom should be taken into account, but it's a huge mistake to take the caricature of the IICs as the real thing. And, I believe it's a mistake to think they are intellectually insecure -- some maybe, just as with the moderates or liberals, but as a group, they are equal to the task of political battles, and no more closed minded than moderates or liberals pushing their ideas.
Let's discuss these ideas and move past the psycholgical analyses and one-sided charges of close-mindedness.