Ever growing numbers of self-declared “conservatives,” whether in the media or elsewhere, no longer think twice about assaulting the characters—rather than the arguments—of their opponents. Equally disturbing is that it is virtually always other conservatives for whom they reserve their vitriol.
The reaction to Gottfried is a classic illustration of all of this.
Mainstream conservatives tirelessly—and rightly—complain that they are denied a voice in much of the popular culture, the news media, and, particularly, academia. For instance, not long ago the syndicated talk radio host and self-described conservative Dennis Prager lamented that while those on the right are always willing to debate at any time and place their leftist counterparts, the reverse is never the case.
But when it comes to supplying those to their right with the same “equal time” for which they beg the left, these very same personalities are having none of it. Those with any doubts on this score will have them quickly dissolved by simply recalling the last time they heard an exchange between, say, Prager, Bill Bennett, or Hugh Hewitt, on the one hand, and Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul, on the other.
This is an impossible task.
There are plenty of extraordinarily insightful, Constitution-adoring, right-leaning libertarians, classical conservatives, and other assorted figures on the right that promise to enrich the dialogue within the conservative movement. Yet the latter’s more visible (or audible) representatives treat them as if either they didn’t or shouldn’t exist.
In other words, toward those to their right they express the same contempt and incivility routinely shown by leftists toward their enemies.
During this time when the conservative movement appears to be undergoing an identity crisis of unprecedented proportions, when lines are being drawn in ways that perhaps they haven’t been drawn before, this crude conduct on the part of self-sworn conservatives has no place. What’s needed is dialogue that is at once civil and rational.
What’s needed are people with the intellectual and moral temperament on display in Paul Gottfried’s Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.