Who closed the conservative mind?
Noah Millman has a very interesting post under the above title. It begins:
Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias are only the latest to wonder about a topic that ought to matter to folks who follow this blog: assuming one agrees (as I do) that the American right-wing is, these days, substantially more closed-minded than the American left-wing (as represented not so much by ordinary people as the intellectual, political and media leadership), why should we have come to this pass?
I find Yglesias’ answer both partly persuasive and generally unsatisfying. Partly persuasive because it’s true that the demographic base of the GOP is relatively narrower (as you would expect of any minority party, and particularly a minority party that draws its support overwhelmingly from the demographic majority), and if you have a more homogeneous group you’d expect it to be more “group-think” oriented. But generally unsatisfying because the Democrats have always been more of a hodge-podge coalition, yet the common perception of those who worry about the “closing of the conservative mind” is that something has changed – certainly since the right’s intellectual heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover, it’s not clear to me why demographic diversity specifically should lead to openness; you can just as easily have a series of closed-minded groups and a leadership with no mind at all, just a talent for balancing the interests of the closed-minded. That seems to be what many people thought of the Mondale campaign, anyway.
Sanchez’ main point is that a substantial contingent on the right is actively seeking epistemic closure as a response to the end of geographic isolation: relatively homogeneous communities that used to be able to keep the world at bay fairly naturally now have to fight to keep it out because of new communications technology that puts the world at their doorstep every day. I find this answer partly persuasive as well, but inadequate on two levels. First, the politics of resentment are nothing new, and neither is their utility in forging a right-wing coalition. The modern GOP was born in the fires of George Wallace’s 1968 run for the Presidency, and Nixon’s entire persona was wrapped around the politics of resentment. But this period was a period of great intellectual ferment on the right, emphatically not a time when people think of the conservative mind as “closed.” Rather, this was the era of Pauline Kael’s famous astonishment at Nixon’s victory, since nobody she knew had voted for him. Second, it’s an explanation of why a certain segment of the right-wing followership might be especially energized these days, but it doesn’t really explain anything about the state of conservative leadership.
Here are some possible additional explanations that I think are worth considering: …