Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?
The case of Glenn Beck, is interesting. His on-air weepiness is unmanly, his flirtation with conspiracy theories a debilitating dead-end, and his judgments sometimes loopy or just plain counterproductive. Yet Beck’s distinctiveness and his potential contribution to conservatism can be summed up with one name: R.J. Pestritto.
Pestritto is a young political scientist at Hillsdale College in Michigan whom Beck has had on his TV show several times, once for the entire hour discussing Woodrow Wilson and progressivism. He is among a handful of young conservative scholars, several of whom Beck has also featured, engaged in serious academic work critiquing the intellectual pedigree of modern liberalism. Their writing is often dense and difficult, but Beck not only reads it, he assigns it to his staff. « Beck asks me questions about Hegel, based on what he’s read in my books, » Pestritto told me. Pestritto is the kind of guest Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would never think of booking.
Okay, so Beck may lack Buckley’s urbanity, but he’s on to something with his interest in serious analysis of liberalism’s patrimony. The left is enraged with Beck’s scandal-mongering over Van Jones and ACORN, but they have no idea that he poses a much bigger threat than that. If more conservative talkers took up the theme of challenging liberalism’s bedrock assumptions the way Beck does from time to time, liberals would have to defend their problematic premises more often.
Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist sides of conservatism.