Jonah Goldberg

It's hard for a lot of people, particularly on the right, to recognize that the conservative movement's problems are mostly problems of success. The Republican Party's problems are much more recognizable as the problems of failure, including the failure to recognize the limits of that movement's success.

American conservatism began as a kind of intellectual hobbyist's group with little hope of changing the broader society. Albert Jay Nock, the cape-wearing libertarian intellectual -- he called himself a "philosophical anarchist" -- who inspired a very young William F. Buckley Jr., argued that political change was impossible because the masses were rubes, goons, fools or sheep, victims of the eternal tendency of the powerful to exploit the powerless.

Buckley, who rightly admired Nock for many things, rightly disagreed on this point. Buckley trusted the people more than the intellectuals. Moreover, as Buckley's friend Richard Weaver said, "ideas have consequences" and, consequently, it is possible to rally the public to your cause.

It took time. In an age when conservative books make millions, it's hard to imagine how difficult it once was to get a right-of-center book published. Henry L. Regnery, the founder of the publishing house that bears his name, started his venture to break the wall of groupthink censorship surrounding the publishing industry. With a few exceptions, Regnery was the only game in town for decades.

That's hardly the case anymore. While there's a higher bar for conservative authors at mainstream publishers (which remain overwhelmingly liberal), profit tends to trump ideology.

And publishing is a lagging indicator. In cable news, think tanks, talk radio and, of course, the Internet, conservatives have at least rough parity with, and often superiority to, liberals. It's only in the legacy institutions -- newspapers, the broadcast networks and most especially academia and Hollywood -- where conservatism is still largely frozen out. Nonetheless, conservatism is a mass-market enterprise these days, for good and for ill.

The good is obvious. The ill is less understood. For starters, the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can only come with persuading the unconverted.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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