The Magazine

Andrew Ferguson

Older & Wiser? A Weekly Standard 10th anniversary symposium.

Sep 19, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 01
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The first issue of this magazine appeared in September 1995, part way through the Clinton administration, and less than a year after the Republican victory in the congressional elections of 1994. The pressing foreign policy issue of the day was Bosnia. The world seems a very different place today. To mark our 10th anniversary, we invited several of our valued contributors to reflect on the decade past and, at least indirectly, on the years ahead. More specifically, we asked them to address this question:

"On what issue or issues (if any!) have you changed your mind in the last 10 years-
and why?" Their responses follow.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD was conceived in the mad adrenaline rush that followed the Republican takeover of the Congress in 1994. The magazine seemed like a good idea at the time, and--you can decide for yourself how much to discount for self-interest here--even now it seems like a good idea, maybe now more than ever.

Back then, the genealogy of the conservative movement was still traceable. Its intellectual origins were always in evidence and almost entirely praiseworthy. For 40 years William F. Buckley and his colleagues at National Review had undertaken the periodic and exhilarating work of mucking out the stables. Poof went the anti-Semites, out went the Randians, the Falangists, the eugenicists, nutters of all kinds. Buckley's purges weren't merely for the sake of ideological purity. He and his allies were trying to maintain some kind of threshold of intellectual seriousness, too.

Anyone who's been paying attention will have felt forced to adjust his view of the conservative movement since then. The Republican takeover--which is to say, political success--dealt the mortal blow. Conservative institutions, conceived for combat, have in power become self-perpetuating, churning their direct-mail lists in pursuit of cash from the orthodontist in Wichita and the Little Old Lady in Dubuque, so the activists can continue to fund the all-important work of . . . churning their direct-mail lists. The current story of Jack Abramoff's lucrative self-dealing, involving as it does such movement stalwarts as Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, may seem lunatic in its excesses, but the excesses aren't the point. The point is the ease with which the stalwarts commandeered the greasy machinery of Washington power. Conservative activists came to Washington to do good and stayed to do well. The grease rubbed off, too.

Under the circumstances, it's not much of a surprise that the threshold Buckley tried to maintain has collapsed. I suppose any philosophical tendency, as it acquires power and popularity, will simplify itself, define itself downward. That's democratic politics for you. But something more corrosive is also at work. Marshall McLuhan was righter than anyone ever would have guessed. The medium really is the message. Conservatism nowadays is increasingly a creature of its technology. It is shaped--if I were a Marxist I might even say determined--by cable television and talk radio, with their absurd promotion of caricature and conflict, and by blogs, where the content ranges from Jesuitical disputes among hollow-cheeked obsessives to feats of self-advertisement and professional narcissism (Everyone's been asking what I think about . . . You won't want to miss my appearance tonight on . . . Be sure to click here for my latest . . . ) that would have been unthinkable in polite company as recently as a decade ago. Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman--all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress.

It's a lucky stroke for conservatives that we never believed in progress anyway.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.