The New Inquiry: Conservative Thought, is a single-issue publication addressing the social, aesthetic and political roots

and manifestations of conservatism. In the spirit of The New Inquiry (, this symposium advances a complex understanding of conservatism by fostering public discussion outside the university and beyond the political sensibilities of most print journals. The New Inquiry: Conservative Thought will be published digitally in the fall of 2010, and distributed widely to targeted institutions, publications, and individuals. We intend to publish in print early next year. We humbly invite you to contribute to this special initiative. Thank you,
Sarah Leonard, Rachel Rosenfelt, Mary Borkowski, Jennifer Bernstein & Helena Fitzgerald Editors, The New Inquiry

About The New Inquiry Thinkers and writers of our generation face an unprecedented set of cultural realities. The growing supply of career academics has flooded the university job market, and 21st century technologies have thrown traditional media into crisis. Although the future of higher education and print remains obscure, these cultural sea changes have yielded one clear result: an abundance of young thinkers and writers resolved to pursue a public intellectual life for its own sake—a pursuit facilitated by Internet technology. The New Inquiry is a space for discussion that aspires to enrich cultural and public life by putting all available resources—both digital and material—toward the promotion and exploration of ideas.


Introduction Since 2008, the founders of The New Inquiry have hosted salons in New York City. Anchored in selected readings, our gatherings have gained a reputation for cultivating vibrant and open discussions around a variety of themes. On March 6, 2010, The New Inquiry held a public discussion on Conservative Thought. This choice of topic was motivated by what we felt to be an endemic lack of curiosity in higher education and many urban centers, where even the most open-minded groups consider the notion of “conservative thought” a contradiction in terms. The foreclosure of critical thinking fuels a familiar logic described by Edmund Wilson: “Knowing this—knowing, that is, that we are right—we may allow ourselves to exaggerate and simplify." Thought is a high-stakes game when the consummation of political commitment is action. To concede even the smallest intellectual ground to the opposition (whoever they may be) can undermine the certitude activism requires. We evoke the words of Scott McLemee, who shows why the willingness to take this risk defines the social utility of critical thought: And so the strange fate of the intellectual is to be subjected to an almost obligatory form of self-questioning—the very sources and media of their power (words, symbols, ideas) turning back on them, reflexively. Perhaps bankers and politicians, too, have moments of doubt. Let us hope so. Still, money and power are not obliged to be introspective or to challenge the conditions of their existence. Critical intellect is. It is in this spirit of critical intellect that The New Inquiry has chosen conservatism as the topic for our first publication. The New Inquiry: Conservative Thought is an attempt to bring together minds from across disciplines, political affiliations, and cultural sensibilities to engage with conservatism as a case study in the life of an idea.


Defining Conservative Thought Because the term “conservatism” has meant many different things to different people across time and space, we will try to clarify our sense of its broad meaning. For the purposes of this publication, we define conservatism less as a political philosophy than an attitude toward art, society and politics. This attitude is paradoxical, at once pessimistic and (broadly speaking) Romantic. The conservative attitude often rejects enlightened rationalism as wishful fiction and egalitarianism as flattening naïveté, both bureaucratic impositions that misconceive and repress human nature. Conservative thought can be inherited as cultural tradition or animated by a reaction to perceived problems in society. This reactive tendency means that the political usage of the word conservatism is in perpetual motion, its manifestations variable. With this in mind, we have chosen not to anchor our publication in a specific historical context. Discovering the many faces of conservatism has been one of the most exciting aspects of our inquiry. We welcome participants to address whatever variant of political or cultural conservatism interests them most.

The Life of an Idea: At our salon March 6th event, we discussed readings from a diverse group of thinkers (not all of whom identify as conservative) to enable a wideranging dialogue. These selections were:        Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil Hannah Arendt, "Total Domination" from The Origins of Totalitarianism Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind C. Wright Mills, "The Conservative Mood" Allan Bloom, "The Failure of the University" Camille Paglia, Chapter 1 from Sexual Personae George Scialabba, "Dying of the Truth" from What Are Intellectuals Good For?

For your interest, we have used quotations from each text to draw a discursive thread through our selections. We offer these interpretations not as guidelines, but as examples of the diversity of possible approaches to conservative thought, broadly conceived. Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind Russell Kirk anchors the discussion with six canons of conservative thought, summarized here as:


1. Respect for the irrational and unknown in a cultural attitude largely beholden to scientific and rational thought, as well as a strong moral sensibility. 2. Human beings are products of a natural order that is hierarchical. The fervent insistence of liberal ideologies that 'all men are created equal' is a dishonest and ultimately ineffective way to approach the problems of society that continually arise from the diversity and mystery of humanity. 3. The inevitability of society’s orders and classes. The utopian ideal of total equality and obsolete social hierarchy is not possible. We are animals, and every animal in nature, including man, devises hierarchical divisions of labor and purpose to maintain harmony. 4. Belief in the importance of private property. Equality of economic conditions cannot be achieved in a society that is hierarchical. The problems that have arisen from industrialization are not ameliorated by the abolition of private property. 5. Respect for tradition. Rational thought, logic, and specificity of design in social progress professed by the liberal tradition do not account for the anarchic and lustful nature of man, who remains hungry for power at all costs unless he is checked by long standing institutions. 6. Conservation of the social and political foundations of Western society. Revision and evolution of custom are not anathema to the conservative mind, but they are to be approached with caution. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
 …[T]he LEVELLERS, these wrongly named "free spirits"--as glib-tongued and scribe-fingered slaves of the democratic taste and its "modern ideas" all of them men without solitude, without personal solitude…they are not free, and are ludicrously superficial, especially in their innate partiality for seeing the cause of almost ALL human misery and failure in the old forms in which society has hitherto existed—a notion which happily inverts the truth entirely! What they would fain attain with all their strength, is the universal, green-meadow happiness of the herd, together with security, safety, comfort, and alleviation of life for every one, their two most frequently chanted songs and doctrines are called "Equality of Rights" and "Sympathy with All Sufferers"--and suffering itself is looked upon by them as something which must be DONE AWAY WITH. We opposite ones, however…we believe that severity, violence, slavery, danger in the street and in the heart, secrecy, stoicism, tempter's art and devilry of every kind,--that everything wicked, terrible, tyrannical, predatory, and serpentine in man, serves as well for the elevation of the human species as its opposite…


Hannah Arendt, "Total Domination" The curious logicality of all isms, their simple-minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality and factuality…Nothing matters but consistency…. What totalitarian ideologies therefore aim at is not the transformation of the outside world or the revolutionizing transmutation of society, but the transformation of human nature itself. Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae Nature is always pulling the rug out from under our pompous ideals…Sexual freedom, sexual liberation. A modern delusion. We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first… Sexuality is a murky realm of contradiction and ambivalence. It cannot always be understood by social models, which feminism, as an heir of nineteenth-century utiliarianism, insists on imposing on it. Mystification will always remain the disorderly companion of love and art. Eroticism is mystique; that is, the aura of emotion and imagination around sex. It cannot be “fixed” by codes of social or moral convenience, whether from the political left or right. For nature’s fascism is greater than that of any society. 
 George Scialabba, What Are Intellectuals Good For?, "Dying of the Truth" Classical and Christian morality was based on the concept of telos, which means variously “goal,” “purpose,” “perfection,” or “essential nature.”…Then it was discovered (perhaps the founding discovery of the modern era) that science could only be done by dispensing with the idea of essential natures. In the riot of liberation, teleological reasoning was banished from the—as yet only putative—human sciences. And that, according to MacIntyre, was our cardinal mistake.... There is no God, in other words, and no telos. “Is everything permitted, then?” ask Kolakowski and MacIntyre, anxiously. “Yes indeed,” replies Rorty. “We must grow up or go under. Our culture’s childhood is at an end.” “Art and nothing but art,” wrote Nietzsche. “We have art in order not to die of the truth.” How not to die of the truth is what both Kolakowski and MacIntyre are asking… 
 Allan Bloom, "The Failure of the University" In the last years we have witnessed the failure of the university. It has become incorporated into the system of ideas and goals of the society around it…Philosophy and liberal studies, in


general, require the most careful attention to what are frequently called the great books Hardly any thought of the past has any continuing public significance in our country, so that if the universities were to act as the preservers of the tradition, they would have to resist the tide, insist on studies which go against the grain, appear to be troglodytic and irrelevant. C. Wright Mills, "The Conservative Mood" The intellectual core of the groping for conservatism is a giving up of the central goal of the secular impulse in the West: the control through reason of man's fate…[Yet] tradition is something you cannot create. You can only uphold it when it exists. And now there is no spell of unbroken tradition upon which modern society is or can be steadily based. Accordingly, the conservative cannot confuse greatness with mere duration, cannot decide the competition of values by a mere endurance contest. American conservatives have not set forth any conservative ideology. They are conservative in mood and conservative in practice but they have no conservative ideology.… political decisions are occurring, as it were, without benefit of political ideas; mind and reality are two separate realms; America —a conservative country without any conservative ideology—appears before the world a naked and arbitrary power. We hope you’ll consider contributing to this initiative. Please see accompanying submission guidelines to The New Inquiry: Conservative Thought.


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