On Saturday night my wife and I eschewed our usual habit of clubbing ’til dawn and raving ’til noon and decided to stay home and watch C-SPAN. We caugt most of a Young America’s Foundation panel on conservative books. Despite the fact that I seemed to have fallen out of their rolodex, I thought it was great and in a real hokey sense it made me very proud of conservatism as a movement. The panel consisted of Mitchell Muncy, the head of Spence Publishing, Marji Ross the head of Regnery, Daniel Flynn of Accuracy in Academia and my editor Adam Bellow of Random House (who helped bring to the public The Bell Curve and The Closing of the American Mind among scores of others). What I liked about the panel was that it confirmed something I’ve been writing about for a very long time: conservatives take ideas very seriously. This was a serious, humane and highly intellectual discussion about books and their importance.
I think it is flatly impossible that a major gathering of “movement” liberals would spend a couple hours on the importance of reading good and great books — including by the “opposition.” I’ve been to enough liberal confabs to be confident that liberal activists would never be told to read their Marcus Aurelius, Aristotle and Xenophon and if they were told to do so most of the clipboard wielding lefty activists would laugh. Now, of course, not every conservative kid is going to go out there and buy Meditations or Aristotle’s Ethics. But the important point is that these kids understand that these works are still relevant and that a proper education includes them. More broadly, they take away the message that ideas matter. Intellectual history matters. Any moron can muster rage and sputter emotionally. The lesson these kids learn is the most profoundly conservative message there is: they are part of a tradition much larger than themselves and if they are going to further it, they must first learn about it and respect it.
On some other points, I was waiting to disagree with Flynn in his remarks about the history of conservative books, but I think he got just about everything exactly right. I also think he was basically right that conservative books have gotten a lot worse in the last decade. So many of them are simply polished-up talk-radio transcripts. Adam Bellow made a convincing point that one reason for this is that conservatives are victims of their own success. I was hoping that Ross would challenge them on that because while Regnery often puts out great books (and historically it was heroic in doing so), it’s also been at the forefront of the shlockification trend. Indeed, I suspect this trend is one reason why Spence (and Encounter) books were created.
I could have done without Adam saying that a thoughtful conservative book — like Closing of the American Mind or Dinesh’s The End of Racism — couldn’t be a bestseller today. What this says about my forthcoming book is a mystery to me, being that I’m unclear as to whether he thinks it’s thoughtful or a potential bestseller. But he seemed to be thinking outloud on the fly and perhaps he misspoke or was on the sauce. I’ve got a call into his office.
Anyway, you should check it out if you get a chance. And good for YAF (which isn’t YAF, but sort of is YAF).