David Frum makes a great point on the need for intellectualism in the conservative movement during a Bloggingheads diavlog – then provides an excellent example by senselessly deriding Matt Lewis as non-intellectual for using common online tools to advance ideas.
The comment to which Frum takes exception was a suggestion that those looking for an introduction to conservative thought start at the Wikipedia entry for Russel Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Wikipedia, Frum rightly points out, is a flawed informational resource – and thus, he concludes, Matt Lewis promotes a lightweight, pop-culture conservatism.
This completely ignores the strategic value of Wikipedia.
Have you ever read The Conservative Mind? My grandfather gave it to me for Christmas a few years back. It’s not a pamphlet; I’m relatively sure the third little pig could have gotten away with building his house out of several copies without worrying about the big bad wolf’s lungs. If I’m trying to convince someone of my political philosophy, I wouldn’t give them a volume that they need a pushcart to carry.
I might, however, start them off on a place like Wikipedia, which is a familiar, non-threatening environment for a political novice. It also contains links and citations to more reputable resources. As a gateway to information, Wikipedia is a very good resource.
And, as any communications professional will tell you, a Wikipedia entry has value. Many people – rightly or wrongly – use it as as their first read on a subject which is unfamiliar to them. (Lewis’s comment on learning conservatism might even be interpreted as advice on which Wikipedia entry to start with – and recommending an entry about Russell Kirk over a more generic “conservative” entry is actually quite learned.) Given the way most voters consume information, Frum’s criticism seems a little dated.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Matt Lewis for a while and worked with him at two different companies – so I can understand a bit better than Frum how much Lewis reads, and the variety of sources he consults to educate himself. Of course, when I think of an intellectual conservative, Matt Lewis’s name is not the first that pops into my head. That distinction belongs to another former colleague, Dan Flynn (who points out flaws in Frum’s own brand of “intellectualism”).
But as with any political movement, ideas are only half the battle; the other half is convincing people to buy into those ideas and vote for candidates that support them.