Are old-school conservatives in denial? Are they still standing athwart history, yelling Stop, but at the wrong crowd? Are they clinging to the prodigiously false hope that the radicalism of movement conservatism is but the right's latest ideological fad?
I ask because yesterday the NY Times' David Brooks, that lucid, Burkean voice of moderation and restraint, wrote in the future tense -- the future tense, mind you -- about the "intellectual tragedy" of modern conservatives believing that all of our national "challenges can be addressed by the spontaneous healing powers of the market."
Brooks then wandered farther and deeper into this, his metaphysical future: "Conservatism is supposed to be nonideological and context-driven. If all government action is automatically dismissed as quasi socialist, then there is no need to think. A pall of dogmatism will settle over the right."
Dogmatism will settle in and over? If all government action is automatically dismissed?
Even absent last night's primary returns -- a GOP now glowing in the embers of its O'Donnells and Paladinos -- Brooks had little justification to project modern conservatism as anything but a thriving case study in intellectual tragedy.
Aside from its genuflections to the liberating miracles of free markets, movement conservatism -- which is to say, modern conservatism -- requires only the catechism of "Obamian socialism," Big Brother thuggery, and some imagined Elysium of past Constitutional purity. Oh, you may of course toss in some cultural mention of the evils of, say, onanism, but that's optional. The surer path forward is a profound hatred of all things Other and a zealous love of bad, shadowy history.
The tea party's contribution? Not much, really. It is, more or less, an extension of, an updated version of, the 1970s' ultraconservative New Right, which ideologically cleansed the GOP throughout the Reagan and Gingrich eras, bullied moderate Republicans into right-wing submission, and in general made an intellectual joke of itself, which naturally held American anti-intellectual populist appeal.
As the New Right/Tea Party/GOP's base is strangled by demographic evolution, its leadership is bound to devolve into louder and louder stridency, lunatic polemics, and electoral-salvage missions of utter desperation.
In short, old-school conservatism's David Brookses are seeing the future, and it is now -- no matter how ardently they wish to see movement conservatism as merely a menacing, fringe conservatism.