Richard Posner, a Reagan judicial appointee, writes:
My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.
By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.
Among the various gyrations of the Republican party over the past couple of years, and the past election in particular, the populist, anti-elitism worries me the most. The task of governing is a difficult one, one that requires a level of mental acuity that much of the Republican party seems to despite. Unfortunately, the majority of unsolved problems are unsolved because they are difficult and do not easily lend themselves to simple solutions that can be explained in a 30 second rant on talk radio.
However, I do feel the need to copy Stephen Bainbridge here in noting that religious discourse is not inherently anti-intellectual. Faith provides, for many of us, an underpinning of beliefs and ideals. That does not necessary mean we are anti-intellectual. I think Posner is simply seeking an easy target in explaining the right’s anti-intellectualism. Certainly the anti-evolution movement has led to some residual distrust in conservatives of science in general, but it shouldn’t. You should be able to say “I disagree with your conclusion in this matter, but the scientific method as a whole is sound.” The more damaging anti-intellectualism has come from the conservative media populists, who in seeking to expand and amuse their viewership, have dumbed the debate down and sought to market outrage and anger as a form of entertainment.