Right off, let me say that I agree with 85 percent of what you say, and that I for one applaud your willingness to shoot from the hip: the so-called 11th Commandment of conservatism, “Thou shalt speak no ill of a fellow conservative,” has done nothing but retard the intellectual and moral maturity of the right.

That said, I’d like to register disappointment with a few of your rather sweeping statements. The isolation of the intellectual right, as you yourself admit, is largely due to the polarized atmosphere created, or at least sustained, by the left. Percy and Bellow, to use just two names, not only would shun connection with our journals out of nervousness, but they rarely write for any journal of opinion and are themselves isolated. If the conservative estimate of the present as a cultural wasteland is true—and it is a point that has been made in every issue of Chronicles of Culture—then our lack of novelists and scientists should not be surprising. Thus to speak of the “great days” of Modern Age, if by that you mean the days when there were contributors like Weaver, Kendall, Kirk, and a few others who received attention outside conservative circles whereas now there are not, is unfair by your own standards.

Now the statement that “much of conservative academic journalism is less than first-rate” is very impressionistic, here substantiated mostly by the contention that a scholar quotes Strauss and Jaffa rather than Plato and Aristotle scholarship. Here we are on shifting sands; it seems to me that this kind of comment is not all that helpful, whether true or not. For instance, you mention The Intercollegiate Review; what would you say about the last two issues, which include Hallowell, Voegelin, Jaki, Jack Kemp, Marion Montgomery, Gottfried, Congdon, Morrisey, Shenfield, and Shapiro? Of the many names you mention the vast majority have long been associated with ISL. The next issue of The Intercollegiate Review, for example, will contain essays by Brad ford, Molnar, Stanlis, and John Chamberlain. Lukacs and McDonald are on my advisory board; Conquest is a past contributor; an essay on Lytle is scheduled.

I don’t want to dismiss your comments completely; but I do feel that your generalizations need to be substantiated or modified. For they do less than justice to your central concerns.

        —Gregory Wolfe
The Intercollegiate Review

Your closing article, “Thunder on the Right,” in the June issue of Chronicles of Culture reminds me of the popular leftist doctrine, dependency theory, in which the Third World blames every one but itself for its failure to prosper. You properly lament the paucity of younger conservative intellectuals and scholars to build upon the brilliant foundations laid by thinkers of Russell Kirk’s generation, explaining this in terms of our intellectual isolation, and discrimination against us. While you are correct in describing this grave aspect of the milieu my generation of younger conservative intellectuals faces, you hardly go far enough—as I think the obstacles are more within and among conservatives than vis-à-vis the outside, and you do not touch on this. We must avoid the liberal pattern of pushing responsibility for one’s plight off onto others.

As a “conservative” social scientist now with tenure in a major academic institution, I have found that the stultifying intellectual atmosphere—institutionally and interpersonally, though certainly not in print—which the older generation of mature conservative thinkers have themselves created for the younger generation coming along, has been far more discouraging at almost every step of my own development than have liberal and leftist antagonisms. Let me amplify this with illustrations from my experience over the 20 years of my philosophical and academic formation, the only “data” I have on hand about this disturbing situation.

During these 20 years, whenever a particular question arose in what I was probing, I approached personally or, where that was impossible, wrote a substantive letter seeking from one or several conservative scholars intellectual dialogue or philosophical guidance. Only in one case (Russell Kirk) in over a dozen such attempts have I ever received an encouraging—indeed, inviting—reply.

Listening to conservative students at various of the leading college and university campuses, one is tempted to generalize that the most antisocial professors teaching young people today are almost invariably those of conservative persuasion-especially of that generation. In my years at college and through graduate school, even on post-doctoral grants, from campus to campus conservative professors stood out as a group for their closed doors and intolerance even towards genuinely conservative students. Rather than seeking out or at least welcoming young minds of sincere inquiry, like Solzhenitsyn, many of our mentors seem to us to have retreated with undiscriminating arrogance—perhaps self-protection, self-pity, and bitterness?—behind a siege blockade, while we, the young seeking to prepare ourselves to carry on the challenge of our age, were left on the outside of the barricades.

To those of us who emerged in the 60’s this has been a test, indeed; as then as well as now we see our fellow students on the left wined and dined by the most distinguished old Socialist war horses and scholars, painstakingly guided to publishing success, the mentors within the older generation stimulating and encouraging their followers like fathers, through close interpersonal relations, joint projects, intense debate. Even when they differ, as they do, it is often through renewed interaction. They do believe that ideas change the world, and they believe, too, that social intercourse sustains intellectual traditions. In our cases it has frequently not been money one needed or access to publication, even, or to a job, but stimulating, sustained intellectual fellowship not with the left (which I, for one, enjoy) but with those who opened the road before us. That both the liberals and radicals have understood and provided to the cohorts who follow.

With such conditions prevailing among ourselves, only the toughest young conservative intellectuals will survive—in contrast to liberals and radical, who open their doors and paternalistically nurture whoever enters, selecting at least a core of students fur broadly ranging give-and-take. That only the fittest may persevere does not worry me much, although it will cost us some generations’ delay. The real loss we suffer lies in the lack of Socratic exchange and continuity between the generations. I often feel that I am probably making intellectual mistakes in my work now which my liberal and radical colleagues certainly will not call to my attention, which older conservative thinkers who have worked through these ideas might warn me against but will not, and which I will only realize when—too late—I have reached their maturity. In its very essentials, the structure of conservative intellectual thought right now, as new cohorts emerge, betrays the most fundamental principles of Burke’s vision of linking the generations to knit together the fabric more strongly. Modern Age and Continuity almost stand alone in providing a place for publication, but it is not on foot notes alone that thinkers thrive. Intellectual movements usually draw upon intensive and sustained fraternal interaction for rejuvenation and deepening: witness the Mont Pelerin Society originally, the Impressionists, the Royal Society during Newton’s time, Paris artists and writers in the 20’s, etc.

“Thunder on the Right” did not go far enough in analyzing why no brilliant cohort of younger intellectuals has emerged to follow Kirk’s generation. If I have seemed harsh in my criticism of the men of that generation, themselves, it is not for lack of sympathy and gratitude; the conditions they were up against were formidable, and who are we, of my generation, to judge them? Perhaps they will remain inaccessible to us. Perhaps each gene ration has to reinvent the wheel. But while the material limitations you cite have indeed been severe, for me they have not been as crucial as the break between the links of the chain. I am not sure an intellectual tradition can ever mature and sustain vitality through the press and periodic mass meetings alone; I doubt it. 

        —Grace Goodell
Washington, DC

The rendezvous with the Second Red Scare of 1948-57 is the blackest page of American conservatism’s otherwise respectable and often distinguished his tory. To laud Senator Joe McCarthy as you do in “Thunder on the Right,” to say that he “did a great deal of good in the world,” even to assert that he could have written a review of a Dean Ache son book in 1955 is to reveal a gross ignorance of the Senator. Worse, it slanders sensible conservatives.

Do you know absolutely nothing about McCarthy? I suggest that you study (not just skim or read) my 817-page The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (New York, 1982). How can conservatism prosper in our time when prominent advocates boast about a shameful and best-forgotten past?

        —Thomas C. Reeves
University of Wisconsin-Parkside

Your thoughtful remarks about McCarthy and the difficulties of conservative publications have provoked this personal response—written by some one at the age of 56.

McCarthy was a demagogue—as you tacitly admit by calling him a populist. Of course, there are demagogues on both the right and left. And the anti-communist campaign on which he founded his popularity dealt with a real and overlooked problem. There was a sound base of public support for his criticisms. But I believe that both the left and the right are equally responsible for resisting the easy temptations of demagoguery.

In addition, traditional conservatism is not terribly in favor of raising the masses, especially when lies and self-interest are important elements in the agitation process. If ideas are critical elements in our arsenal, we must hold to them, even at some cost. The cost may sometimes involve rejecting the easy temptation to agitate, to mimic some of the simplifications of the left, to play for short-run gains. If you wonder why good people are sometimes unwilling to become in vested in conservatism, you may reflect that they do not believe that resisting domestic communism after World War II necessarily meant accepting McCarthy in toto. The right should be able to create more pro found alternatives. I like to believe that Burke would have despised McCarthy.

To turn from the abstract to the concrete, I work with a select pool of honorable educators, many of whom (mistakenly) think of themselves as liberals. I try to show them the relationship between their generally sound conduct and conservative tradition. And, intellectually, this is not too hard. But so many contemporary conservatives are just so hot on coming down on public schools (a la McCarthy?) that the dialogue I am trying to conduct will stop if my position gets too labelled. Sometimes, I wish both the right and the left would stop trying épater les bourgeois.

McCarthy was a traditional American demagogue—like Huey Long and many others. There are significant reasons for the occasional popularity of such persons. But intellectuals should make it clear that we are very lucky our country has managed to keep such people in the wings. Anytime we appear ambivalent on that matter, conservatism is weakened. Keep being provocative. 

        —Edward A. Wynne
University of Illinois-Chicago

The Editor Replies:

Nothing ever printed in Chronicles has aroused as much controversy as “Thunder on the Right.” To Greg Wolfe and the others who complained of our harshness, I can only say we praised many of the scholars they would like us to praise. (Obviously we could not name everyone.) The times are out of joint, but it is not quite fair to blame all our problems on the degeneracy of the age. There are serious and lively minds in many fields, novelists and poets worth reading, films worth seeing, but few of the creative geniuses of these times find their way into the pages of our journals. It is naive to imagine that an important novelist is parochialized by not writing for us. It is our responsibility to reach out to them, not vice versa.

It may not be “helpful” to suggest that some conservative political scientists don’t know. beans about Plato and Aristotle-or the considerable work done on them-but how helpful is it to pretend otherwise? It is high time, as Jeffrey St. John suggested recently in another context, we began doing our homework.

Grace Goodell raises an important point about the continuity of generations, but it is not clear to me—or to Mr. Wolfe—that we whitewashed scholars on the right. ISI used to have a conspicuous presence on campus. Its place seems to have been taken in part by the many conservative reviews, but they too have their “succession” problems. (To be discussed by the publisher of The Northwestern Review in October.) Malevolent leftists sometimes suggest that conservatives fail to pass on the torch because they have given up on the future or—worse—are less confident of the wisdom they profess. In any case, politics is a perilous pas time for intellectuals-as the careers of Plato, Boethius, and Thomas More seem to indicate. The very last thing we aimed at, in our comments, was a resurrection of academic McCarthy ism-on the left or right. Still, it is difficult to believe that Joe was really that much worse than the average politician—than, for example, his nemesis, Senator Fulbright. One re members E. E. Cummings’ dictum that “a politician is an arse upon which everything has sat except a “man.