Richard Posner Throwing In the Towel on the Conservative Movement



I actually don’t know that much about Richard Posner’s political views, being primarily familiar with his (quite good, in my opinion) more abstract and philosophical work. But he’s definitely a political conservative, a Reagan appointee, and an important product of the conservative legal movement. He also seems about done with the whole thing:

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.

And then came the financial crash last September and the ensuing depression. These unanticipated and shocking events have exposed significant analytical weaknesses in core beliefs of conservative economists concerning the business cycle and the macroeconomy generally. Friedmanite monetarism and the efficient-market theory of finance have taken some sharp hits, and there is renewed respect for the macroeconomic thought of John Maynard Kenyes, a conservatives’ bĂȘte noire.

I don’t agree with this in every detail. I don’t see a lot of evidence, for example, that the GOP’s opposition to abortion rights suddenly became a huge political loser starting in 2006. But Posner is unusual, even among the dissident camp in the conservative movement, in his willingness to acknowledge that (a) conservatism is as conservatism does and you can’t just wash your hands of George W. Bush, and (b) that the failures of conservatism-in-practice were really comprehensive across a whole swathe of different policy domains.