Investing in Conservative Ideas
This past fall, shortly before the presidential election in November, some 300 friends and admirers gathered at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to pay tribute to John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the two aged warhorses of 20th-century liberalism. The event, sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, was billed as a “salute to democracy.” It was also an occasion to recall an era when liberalism ran at high tide in the United States—a tough-minded doctrine that stood boldly for the working man at home and against tyranny abroad. The contrast between the past and the present must have been painful to many in attendance that night: today, the decline of the faith is mirrored in the fact that there is simply no one on the Left whose influence or stature even remotely approaches that attained so many decades ago by the evening’s two honorees.
The long descent of liberalism in recent decades has, no doubt, been not just a painful but a perplexing development for those once convinced that the future would be shaped by their ideals. The rise of conservatism must seem doubly perplexing. Galbraith himself had remarked, in 1964, “These are without doubt the years of the liberal. Almost everyone so describes himself.” And both he and Schlesinger had dismissed conservative thought in the most derisive terms as without intellectual substance of any kind. Today, not only has conservatism risen to prominence in the electoral sphere, but conservative thought has seized the initiative in the world of ideas as well.
About the Author
James Piereson is the author of a new book, Camelot and Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, based in part on his article “Lee Harvey Oswald and the Liberal Crack-Up” in the May 2006 COMMENTARY.