The Golden Age of Conservative Intellectuals

by on July 13, 2017 at 6:25 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

When was the Golden Age of Conservative Intellectuals? It is easy to say when the Golden Age began; April 1947 at the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin society. Among those in attendance were:

  • Maurice Allais, Paris
  • Aaron Director, Chicago
  • Walter Eucken, Freiburg
  • Milton Friedman, Chicago
  • F. A. Harper, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York
  • F. A. Hayek, London
  • Henry Hazlitt, New York
  • Bertrand de Jouvenel, Chexbres, Vaud
  • F. H. Knight, Chicago
  • Fritz Machlup, Buffalo
  • Ludwig von Mises, New York
  • Felix Morley, Washington, D.C.
  • Michael Polanyi, Manchester]
  • Karl R. Popper, London
  • William E. Rappard, Geneva
  • Leonard E. Read, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York
  • Lionel Robbins, London
  • Wilhelm Ropke, Geneva
  • George J. Stigler, Providence, Rhode Island
  • C. V. Wedgwood, London

(Full list here). It’s more difficult to say when the Golden Age ended. If I had to pick a date I’d say at a moment of triumph, November 9, 1989.

1 Rich Berger July 13, 2017 at 7:04 am

A very good list, Alex. I’ve read books and essays by quite a few of them, starting in the early 70s, but it reminds me that there are more to read and reread. The collapse of the Soviet Union did leave the right without a major goal, but last November a new goal was set in motion – the reversal of 100 years of “Progressive” rot from within.

Reply

2 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 9:25 am

Contradiction alert. How can 1989 be a peak and a valley?

My answer, it was a peak, glory in it, and continue those winning traditions.

Reply

3 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 9:51 am

Noah is still on it, and correct. This is how we got to 1989.

https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/885494078393114626

Reply

4 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:38 am

The collapse of the Soviet Union did leave the right without a major goal

Liquidating the Soviet Union (rather than arming against it) was seriously entertained for but a few years in the 1950s. And there’s no shortage of goals on the domestic scene. No serious dissident has been ‘deprived’ the last 25 years.

Reply

5 Bill July 13, 2017 at 7:34 am

You left out the famous

Conservative Entrepreneur and Thinker

Charles Montgomery Burns, Springfield.

Reply

6 Muddlehead July 13, 2017 at 8:05 am

Do you mean conservative rather than Conservative? I’m not sure many were either. Didn’t Hayek write an essay on why he wasn’t one? I would have thought liberal (or libertarian or classical liberal) was closer for many of these people.

Reply

7 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:35 am

Hayek was not a Church-and-country conservative. His viewpoint was antithetical to the prog-mind, however.

Reply

8 Locke July 13, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Not being one thing does not necessitate being some other thing.

Reply

9 Brian July 14, 2017 at 12:43 am

Hayek’s advocacy for social security and universal nationalized health care would just terrorize progressives. Didn’t he want antitrust and environmental and safety regulations, too? Wow. It’s certainly the progressives that are fighting against that kind of policy.

Reply

10 Art Deco July 14, 2017 at 9:42 am

Hayek’s advocacy for social security and universal nationalized health care would just terrorize progressives.

He said the Rule of Law was compatible with social insurance schemes.

You seem to have confused working Republican politicians with Ayn Rand.

Reply

11 Dave Smith July 13, 2017 at 11:44 am

My guess is that the context of this post is in response to Paul Krugman’s comments that there have never been any intellectual conservatives. In that context, these guys are conservatives.

Reply

12 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Paul Krugman’s comments that there have never been any intellectual conservatives.

Of course that’s foolish statement, but he is a foolish man.

Reply

13 y81 July 13, 2017 at 7:41 pm

Certainly any age that features Paul Krugman is not the golden age of leftist intellectuals. And any profession that features Paul Krugman as one of its most celebrated members is intellectually suspect.

Reply

14 rayward July 13, 2017 at 8:05 am

November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall came down. Is Tabarrok suggesting that this event (“moment of triumph”) was attributable to conservative intellectuals, or is he suggesting that this event left conservative intellectuals without a common goal for which to be motivated? In either case, isn’t it ironic that the Republican Party, the Party of the conservative intellectuals, now seems to embrace the Russians. Is it the fault of the conservative intellectuals for having lost their way after November 9, 1989? Or was the Golden Age of the conservative intellectuals merely a mirage, one that was based on the continued existence of an enemy? All social and political movements need an enemy that will motivate true believers, whether the enemy be Jews, Communists, or foreigners.

Reply

15 MOFO July 13, 2017 at 9:17 am

“In either case, isn’t it ironic that the Republican Party, the Party of the conservative intellectuals, now seems to embrace the Russians”

Communism was the problem, not the Russian people.

Reply

16 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 9:33 am

The poor Russians never had even one generation of democracy to set standards and expectations for their children.

To take a happier example, the Japanese self-organized a democracy in the 1910s, making it easier for occupation to put them back on course.

First experiments with democracy are hard.

Reply

17 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:43 am

It’s doubtful that the Japanese electoral system in place prior to 1938 was notably more ‘democratic’ than Russia’s institutions today. The political parties in Japan were subsidiaries of important financial conglomerates (up to the point they were junior partners of the Japanese military). Liberal parties simply don’t have much of an electoral base in Russia.

Russia suffered from a number of pathologies after 1989 that the other East Bloc countries managed to avoid or experienced only in attenuated form.

Reply

18 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

Perhaps, but Japan had her optimists. In the preface to his 1916 essay “On the Meaning of Constitutional Government,” Yoshino wrote:

“[T]he fundamental prerequisite for perfecting constitutional government, especially in politically backwards nations, is the cultivation of knowledge and virtue among the general population. This is not the task that can be accomplished in a day. Think of the situation in our own country [Japan]. We instituted constitutional government before the people were prepared for it. As a result there have been many failures. . . . Still, it is impossible to reverse course and return to the old absolutism, so there is nothing for us to do but cheerfully take the road of reform and progress. Consequently, it is extremely important not to rely on politicians alone but to use the cooperative efforts of educators, religious leaders, and thinkers in all areas of society.”

19 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Perhaps, but Japan had her optimists.

So what?

20 rayward July 13, 2017 at 10:04 am

Right, and the holocaust was attributable to Nazis not Germans.

Reply

21 Brian Donohue July 13, 2017 at 10:19 am

Exactly. We must mobilize against Russia AND Germany (Japan too.)

Reply

22 MOFO July 13, 2017 at 10:38 am

Uhh, yes.

Reply

23 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 9:38 am

The insidious thing is how the right, perhaps starting with libertarian intellectuals, abandoned the winning program of free markets and constitutional democracy. They convinced themselves that if the constitutional democracies did not produce markets as super free as their fringe preferred, it must be democracy’s fault.

Remarkable and destructive hubris, that.

Reply

24 MOFO July 13, 2017 at 10:15 am

he insidious thing is how the right, perhaps starting with libertarian intellectuals, abandoned the winning program of free markets and constitutional democracy. [CITATION NEEDED]

Reply

25 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:20 am

You are not familiar with Thiel on democracy? You really need me to look that one up?

Reply

26 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:22 am
27 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

“The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies is a 2007 book by Bryan Caplan, in which Caplan challenges the notion that voters are reasonable people that society can trust to make laws. Rather, Caplan contends that voters are irrational in the political sphere and have systematically biased ideas concerning economics.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Myth_of_the_Rational_Voter

Reply

28 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:31 am

in which Caplan challenges the notion that voters are reasonable people that society can trust to make laws.

Given the source, that’s rich.

29 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:36 am

As I say, remarkable and destructive hubris.

At its core, all anti-democratic thought is an inability to recognize differing opinion, even when it is majority opinion.

30 byomtov July 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Where “systematically biased” means, “They disagree with Caplan.

31 Thomas July 14, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Anti-market bias. We have a group on the right asking for handouts and then we have the majority of the left opposing markets outright. Hmm.

32 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:33 am

The insidious thing is how the right, perhaps starting with libertarian intellectuals, abandoned the winning program of free markets and constitutional democracy. T

No, Bryan Caplan did. Caplan is representative of Caplan.

Reply

33 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:40 am

Nope. “Jason Brennan: I’m against the bad voters, not the good voters. It’s just the bad voters greatly outnumber the good voters. When we look at how people vote, a very small number of people are well-informed about politics and they think and process information in a rational way. A large percentage of people have no clue what’s going on at all and for them, their votes are almost random. Then a big middle segment, they are heavily biased, rabid – I call them hooligans when it comes to politics and I have to suffer with their choices.”

Now the path not taken with these guys was good old reinforcement of democracy, with basic education, and restatement of foundational values.

But they decided to be cool kids, cynics, instead.

Reply

34 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:46 am

Nope.

Yup. You found one other person no one else has ever heard of . One of the more salient strands of conservative thought in this country has been the critique of the court system, which is a defense of democracy contra it’s New Class enemies. You’ve completely misunderstood the polarities of political debate in this country and pretend to instruct us. How very Canadian.

35 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:53 am

Three, for those who can count, but I think that “against democracy” was hosted by libertarianism.org should tell more than the numbers.

36 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:55 am

BTW, I may be polar bear, but I live in California. When I wear sunglasses no one even notices.

37 Thiago Ribeiro July 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm

https://www.google.com.br/search?q=democravy+god+who&oq=democravy+god+who&aqs=chrome..69i57j33.18387j0j4&client=tablet-android-samsung&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8

38 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Nice link Thiago (trimming urls back to the ? usually cleans them up, except in the case of Google searches etc, where you need to retain the “?q=xx” but can trim the rest)

https://www.google.com.br/search?q=democracy+god+who

39 Thiago Ribeiro July 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm

I see, thanks.

40 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 10:42 am
41 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Three, for those who can count, but I think that “against democracy” was hosted by libertarianism.org should tell more than the numbers.

Caplan, a spergtard libertarian who would be radioactive bar that few politicians would ever consult him for any reason, and someone named Jason Brennan, a business school professor whom no one has ever heard of bar the consumers of b-school literature.

Libertarians have very little influence in the political realm and have less than they did 40 years ago.

Reply

42 A clockwork orange July 13, 2017 at 2:38 pm

There was a golden age of intellectual conservatism. This of course was in 1790 or thereabouts when Ben Franklin issued his last public statement denouncing slavery. Thomas Jefferson likewise worked in the statehouse of Virginia, often caused, an Art Deco Algiers, to illegalize the trade. A Georgia Senator at this time could not publically be for slavery. That humankind god divined and owned (al-mulk) and not mamluke (possessed or owned). Indeed, the correspondence between Francis Scott and Muslim slaves is a story well told in Recolata.

But by 1830, even with the slave trade being illegal, the expansion of land into Indian territory and the advent of the cotton gin, has reversed the fortune. By 1835, the largest uprising in Brazilian history occurred in Bahia by deported Muslim slaves under Usman Fodio, of the Futa Tora generations.

And so it was that the army that enslaved Omar Said in Futa Tora in 1807, came to liberate him, lead by William Sherman

Reply

43 Josh July 13, 2017 at 8:21 am

What do those people wish to conserve?

Reply

44 Dots July 13, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Received order; spontaneity therein

Reply

45 Larry July 13, 2017 at 8:54 am

Except that F. A. Hayek is not a conservative in any sense, but what the German language (or British English for that matter) calls a ‘classical liberal’ which is imprecisely translated as ‘libertarian’ in American English. Same is true for Karl Popper, Ludwig van Mises, author of a book called ‘Liberalism’, and the other reps of the Austrian School. The dichotomy between liberal and conservative is an American formula, not used outside this Country. As Mont Pelerin lies in Switzerland and most of the attendees were European Born and educated, I would recommend to stick to the European terminology.

Reply

46 Muddlehead July 13, 2017 at 9:02 am

You are right Larry. Furthermore when Mises and Hayek came to America I think liberal still meant liberal in America.

Reply

47 rayward July 13, 2017 at 10:06 am
48 Larry July 13, 2017 at 4:45 pm

I agree, Muddlehead.

Thanks for posting the link to the essay, rayward.

Reply

49 Muddlehead July 13, 2017 at 8:57 am

At the top of the page on the Mont Pelerin Society, it says history of free order, so presumably they wish to conserve that.

At the bottom there is a link to “The Re-emergence of Liberalism? The Role of The Mont Pelerin Society” by R. Max Hartwell.

Reply

50 Niroscience July 13, 2017 at 9:03 am

IN what real way was Popper a conservative? He was pretty liberal, although not socialist or communist – also unsuccessfully wanted to invite democratic anticommunist socialists to the society

Reply

51 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:30 am

He was pretty liberal, a

Ha ha ha. A disgruntled student referred to one of his works as The Open Society by One of It’s Enemies.

Reply

52 Bob H. July 13, 2017 at 9:11 am

Not sure about this list. Karl Popper was not a conservative.

Reply

53 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 10:28 am

Leave it to Mercatus to locate the ‘Golden Age of Conservative Intellectuals’ at a meeting of libertarian economists (and a scatter of others like Karl Popper).

And there was no golden age. What you saw is the erection and maintenance of policy shops and magazines as a refuge for the dissenters being run out of academe. You also saw institutions with a mission congenial to conservative perspectives ruined by their custodians (the Catholic colleges most notably). Large swatches of the arts and science faculty, the law faculty, the teacher training faculty, the social work faculty are corrupt purveyors of the social ideology of the professorate and the academic apparat. Little tiles of the mosaic may be crafted in good faith, but the whole is not.

Reply

54 Slugger July 13, 2017 at 10:36 am

Isn’t “Golden Age” just an artifact of the rosy glow that nostalgia gives our memories? I doubt that anyone at that time was saying that they were living in a golden age. I also don’t recall anyone in 1958 calling it a golden age of rock and roll, nor anyone in 1933 call it a golden age of physics.

Reply

55 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Some things come to be evident only retrospectively. You lose bits of information with time, but you also gain perspective.

Reply

56 Ally July 13, 2017 at 10:41 am

The answer depends on how one defines ‘conservatism’.

The personalities on that list with which I am most familiar, namely Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, are both also commonly thought of and referred to as influential ‘libertarian’ or ‘liberal’ (in the original sense of the word) thinkers, especially Hayek.

Of course, it is possible for an individual to embody certain aspects of ‘conservatism’, ‘liberalism’ and ‘libertarianism’ simultaneously.

This is embodied in Edmund Burke, widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, he is also generally highly regarded amongst classical liberals.

Reply

57 Tyler Cowen July 13, 2017 at 11:32 am

You almost make it sound as if classical liberalism were a wartime ideology.

Reply

58 Alex Tabarrok July 13, 2017 at 11:51 am

No, it was a recovery from wartime ideology.

Reply

59 Tyler Cowen July 13, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Six of one…

Reply

60 Mises July 13, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Precisely. The goals of classical liberalism were (1) end Japanese concentration camps, (2) end the draft, and (3) end the war on drugs.

Reply

61 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm

No, those are your shticks which you impute to people who had other fish to fry and took only a passing interest in them.

Reply

62 shrikanthk July 13, 2017 at 11:34 am

There is an American definition of conservatism and a Continental definition.

I think in the continent, a conservative is someone who opposes change. That to my mind is a very limiting definition.

I prefer the American definition, which is best articulated by Thomas Sowell in his classic “A Conflict of Visions” –

Conservatives are men who subscribe to the Constrained vision. Man is flawed. There are no solutions. Only trade-offs. Wisdom and tradition often work better than reason. We need checks and balances. Power is dangerous. There is no Utopia.

Liberals are persons who subscribe to the Unconstrained vision. This is the intellectual tradition of Tom Paine. There are general principles that hold true for all societies and all times. Reason indeed is supreme. The world can be engineered socially to make it a better place. “Enlightenment” can help solve many human problems caused by outmoded customs and traditions and historical baggage. Economies can be “fixed” by the right policy makers.

I am inclined to think that by this definition most of the Mont Pelerin society members were conservatives.

Reply

63 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

If I can see truth in the Sowell and Paine (essentially, optimize where possible), I must be a moderate.

Reply

64 Locke July 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Your name is an anagram for “shit krank”

Reply

65 Chuck July 13, 2017 at 4:10 pm

LOL!

Reply

66 msgkings July 13, 2017 at 5:19 pm

But there’s two h’s

shit khrank?

Reply

67 byomtov July 13, 2017 at 5:16 pm

I see no conflict between the idea of relying on reason and recognizing tradeoffs.

On the other hand, it seems to me that it is libertarians who believe “reason is supreme,” not so much relative to wisdom and tradition, but relative to empirical observation.

And yes, I believe that,

“Enlightenment” can help solve many human problems caused by outmoded customs and traditions and historical baggage.

Does Sowell not believe this? Has some degree of enlightenment not helped ameliorate American racial problems, for example. (No. The market didn’t do it, no matter what Sowell thinks.)

Reply

68 shrikanthk July 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

“not so much relative to wisdom and tradition, but relative to empirical observation.”

Empirical observation is historical wisdom / tradition. Granny’s advice is based on the empirical observations of prior generations.

“Does Sowell not believe this? Has some degree of enlightenment not helped ameliorate American racial problems”

Sure. There is a liberal in each one of us. There is also a conservative in all of us. It’s a question of degree as to which element predominates. I am personally a moderate conservative, but undoubtedly influenced by Enlightenment ideals. I can’t deny their influence.

Mont Pelerin economists had a certain scepticism about the power of John Maynard Keynes sitting in a room, engineering multiplier equations, and dictating them to policy makers to get economies out of recession. That’s classic Enlightenment thinking. Full power to intellect.

Conservatives are sceptical that someone can actually do that. They are sceptical of human intellect. That doesn’t mean they hate / despise clever people. But they are sceptical. In contrast, they are more tolerant of forces of tradition in our society (eg : the church, the common law, conventional social mores like marriage) as these are not the output of abstract reason but institutions / ideas that have stood the vagaries of time and evolved due to the wisdom of crowds.

Reply

69 Bill July 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm

To the commenters above: I think you placed the emphasis on the wrong syl-A-ble

Alex claimed this was the golden age of Conservative THINKERS. In the English language this means one has to be both a conservative AND a thinker.

What Alex is saying, using my contextual subliminal Freudian analysis, is that today, while we may have conservatives, we do not have conservatives who are thinkers.

We are in the Dark Ages.

Reply

70 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm

we do not have conservatives who are thinkers.

No, you’re just ignorant of who they are. Cowen is not. He just doesn’t read them. As for prog ‘thinkers’, nearly all are academic specialists who do not pitch to general audiences. The one’s who write for general audiences tend to be damaged individuals (Krugman, Leiter, deLong). Harold Pollack is the odd exception.

Reply

71 Bill July 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Art, Name some current conservative THINKERS.

Reply

72 Bill July 13, 2017 at 1:18 pm

To make it more interesting, list those who match the quality of the list that Alex posted.

You may not include Charles Montgomery Burns because he is a cartoon character on the Simpsons.

Reply

73 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 2:28 pm

list those who match the quality

You can’t name one, but you fancy you’re going to make apples-to-oranges comparisons of scholars and publicists in a half-dozen different disciplines. Thanks for your wisdom.

74 Bill July 13, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Art, You disappoint me with your deflection in not answering the question so I must assume there are none.

75 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Art, You disappoint me with your deflection in not answering the question so I must assume there are none.

The answer’s right below. Of course, you no more looked for it there than you did any research into the question.

76 derek July 13, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Conservative thinkers? Lots of them. One just got onto the Supreme Court. One of them is running the Education Dept. Another one is head of the EPA.

Reply

77 Bill July 13, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Betsy DeVos and Rick Perry.

So obvious. Why didn’t I think of that.

78 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm

Robert George, Ryan Anderson, Peter Leithart, Joseph Knippenberg, Anthony Esolen, Barry Allan Shain, Robert Kraynak, Claes Ryn, Jason Richwine, Thomas Woods, Victor Davis Hanson, Mackubin Thomas Owens, Stanley Kurtz, Eric Hanushek, Thomas Sowell, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, RR Reno, Paul Gottfried, Heather MacDonald, and Glynn Custred.

Reply

79 byomtov July 13, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Mostly cranks and paid shills for the right.

George Will? Charles “WMD will be found” Krauthammer?

80 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Only in your addled mind.

81 Art Deco July 13, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Mostly cranks and paid shills for the right. George Will? Charles “WMD will be found” Krauthammer?

Without checking, tell me the institution at which each one teaches. Then tell me what you’ve read of their work.

82 msgkings July 13, 2017 at 6:18 pm

My mother thinks I need a hobby.

83 Ricardo July 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm

You spend too much time on the internet and not enough time reading books. Even within the economics profession, just for a start, you have people like Richard Thaler, Enrico Moretti, George Akerloff, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman and Claudia Goldin who have written for popular audiences and are left of center. If you expand beyond the economics profession to include law, philosophy, and all the other social sciences, the list becomes that much longer.

Reply

84 Mises July 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm

And since conservatives are the only thinkers (liberals are feel-ers), we have no thinkers.

Reply

85 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ July 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm

I would hope that we can all agree that the answer to bad episodes in democracy (and there have been many) is to improve the system, and obviously not abandon it.

Other than a few adult oddballs and many misguided teenagers on Reddit, no one really wants to abandon democracy (Douthat’s bizarre take on Game of Thrones notwithstanding).

Reply

86 TH July 13, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Haha, Karl Popper … he’d feel right at home with today’s Republicans … not!

Reply

87 byomtov July 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Even leaving Trump aside, I wonder how many of these people would be Republicans today.

Reply

88 Bob July 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm

None of these people are conservatives. They’re classical liberals.

Reply

89 Noah Carl July 14, 2017 at 2:17 am

That is a list of libertarian intellectuals. The Golden Age of conservative intellectuals was the 18th century

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: