The Case for Middlebrow Conservatism

John Derbyshire, of the American Conservative, recently wrote a very provocative essay called, How Radio Wrecks the Right. (H/T to The Volokh Conspiracy) While not completely maligning talk radio, Derbyshire offers a healthy critique of it’s raucous flavor and populist inducing mania. His solution? One which seems much more suited for America, middlebrow conservatism.

Derbyshire, in the first half of his article, is quick to point out the boorish and garish nature of talk radio has devolved conservatism. Many on the right side of intellectualism do not seem to appreciate talk-radio’s, more specifically Rush Limbaugh, brand of marketing, which forms their message into spoofs, irony, and quick-witted insults of the Left. Doing little more than provoking reflexive reaction in listeners rather than thought. Of course, there is the other side of the argument that Limbaugh does know his enemy well and he seems to have an instinctive flare for deciphering the Left’s plans and motivation.

For many years, conservatism stood as the intellectual rebellion against the liberally indoctrinating members of academia and government. Writers such as William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol lashed out against the rise of the New Left, in the fifties and sixties, with some of the fiercest cerebral onslaughts since Burke in the late 18th century. Buckley is recognized and credited with single-handedly bringing together, conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals under one tent which became known as the National Review.

He encouraged his writers and editorial staff to explain their positions and to debate the issues. This in hopes of influencing conservative policy makers and politicians. Unexpectedly, the National Review gained popularity amongst working class conservatives who appreciated its intellectual, yet satirical nature. They offered, to the American public, cutting edge criticism of liberalism with stalwart evidence of its inadequacies, insightful commentary, and even humor. It made people think as well as smirk, nourishing their intellectual and emotional sides.

Derbyshire, in the last half of his essay , mentions a BBC radio program which he listened to while visiting his native country of England.

One of the few things I used to look forward to on my occasional visits to the mother country was Radio 4, which almost always had something interesting to say on the 90-minute drive from Heathrow to my hometown. One current feature is “America, Empire of Liberty,” a thumbnail history of the U.S. for British listeners. The show’s viewpoint is entirely conventional but pitched just right for a middlebrow radio audience.

Most Americans happily fall into the category of middlebrow, pragmatic enough to know when something is wrong, but dolefully lacking the avenues with which to back their hypothesis up with facts.

Now, providing this path is not incumbent on talk radio and since hype generates ratings, expecting this to happen in the near future would be adolescent.

As Derbyshire points out in his closing, lowbrow conservatism is fun. It is nice to listen or watch someone kick around stuff shirted elitists who would sooner swim in a lake of fire than mix with people whom they are actually fearful of. You know, us God loving, gun totting, illiterate, homosexual hating, racist, xenophobes.

Still it would behoove the conservative movement to seriously think about blending its formidable intellectual prowess with its equally capable marketing giants. A group of populist motivated semi-intellectuals would accomplish more than a thousand Heritage Foundations or Rush Limbaughs could ever dream of by themselves.

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