The Decline of American Intellectual Conservatism

The Decline of American Intellectual Conservatism (Claes G. Ryn)

I’ve recently started reading essays by Claes Ryn, editor-in-chief of Humanitas.

Throughout my twenties, Leo Strauss was my “gateway drug” to ancient political philosophy, as well as to usual Straussian themes of “reason and revelation,” “ancients and moderns,” and more. Eventually, I found that my interest in Heidegger, and especially in a certain Russian Heideggerian, alienated some of the so-called Straussians I knew. I’ve tried to show elsewhere that that need not be the case, on Straussian grounds. But more generally, the philosophical unwillingness of my “esteemed partners” to get outside of the Straussian semantic universe from time to time has led me to consider other authors, like Ryn, who, as I’m learning, share some of my concerns. Today I’m reading the essay I’m linking to here, on “The Decline of American Intellectual Conservatism.” It’s a worthwhile read. The primary thesis is that American conservatives are overly pragmatic and insufficiently philosophical, to the detriment of conservatism.

“Whereas in France, for example, any self-respecting intellectual must at least feign interest in and admiration for the more advanced work of philosophy, among American intellectual conservatives the mention of such works, especially German ones, often elicits sighs, jokes and condescending smiles. How silly and tiresome that German obfuscation! If the most difficult, “technical” philosophy seems unappealing, the fault is assumed to lie with the philosophers, who are considered self-important and pretentious, and not with the reader’s lack of preparation. Conservative intellectuals have felt all the more excused from the exacting and protracted labors of philosophy as its “abstruse” notions have appeared to have no relation to immediate practical needs. Is philosophy not also chiefly the province of weirdos and leftists? Though American intellectual conservatism has had major thinkers, its development has been retarded by disinterest in philosophy beyond the level of broad generalities. As the movement never quite understood the significance of the most demanding philosophical work, it never really respected it and therefore never developed a mature philosophical culture.”

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