Night of the Living Dead Ideologies

Brian Doherty argues that neoliberalism and (neo)conservatism aren’t nearly as dead as they ought to be.

Neoliberals by that name may be dead; neoliberalism reigns. Conservatism (especially minus libertarianism) may be out of ideas, but still commands enormous armies of dedicated voters—more than any other self-identified ideology.

To put it another way, the Soviet Union (to say nothing of Cuba and Red China) hung around long beyond Communism’s expiration date. The inertia of institutional power is nigh overwhelming in the short run.

I am encouraged for the future by the largley non-ideological bent of some of the brighter young people I know.  There doesn’t seem to be much appetite among them for grand projects to reconstruct society or the world. On the other hand, I sometimes detect among them a hint of indifferentism and a certain naivete about the hardened political doctrines that still rule the day — I know one or two promising, post-ideological young conservatives or libertarians who seem to think that everybody likes them because, hey, what’s not to like? The answer to that is: just wait until you’re in a position where your words or actions matter to the establishment.  You’ll find out very quickly why libertarians and paleoconservatives are so fractious and sometimes bitter.  The establishment can tolerate plenty of dissent when it doesn’t matter; as soon as it does, the knives come out.

On a tangential note, the situation in universities seems to be gradually improving as well, not just with the continuing decline of political correctness (any is still too much, but this isn’t the late ’80s / early ’90s: speech codes, for example, are fewer and fewer) but more importantly with the regeneration of several worthy fields of scholarship.  Classics is booming at several universities: when I was a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis at the beginning of this decade, there seemed to be about three times as much interest in classics among undergrads as there had been just a couple of years earlier, when I was an undergrad myself. I’ve heard of similar upswings at other campuses.  In economics, not only has Keynesianism fallen to a low ebb, but Austrian and at any rate “post-neoclassical” scholarship appears to be flourishing, even if Samuelsonian neoclassical economics still rules the day.  Whether these developments are just blips or a real turnaround, time will tell; but I’m cautiously optimistic.


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