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The Next Conservatives

David Brooks has a heartfelt but also confused column today on young conservative intellectuals, particularly his former assistant and erstwhile TNRer Reihan Salam and Atlantic blogger Ross Douthat. The occassion is the publication of Salam's and Douthat's smart new book, Grand New Party, which attempts to outline a new path for the GOP. Here is Brooks:

Among the many dark tidings for American conservatism, there is one genuine bright spot. Over the past five years, a group of young and unpredictable rightward-leaning writers has emerged on the scene.

These writers came of age as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude. Most of them were dismayed by what the Republican Party had become under Tom DeLay and seemed put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter. As a result, most have the conviction — which was rare in earlier generations — that something is fundamentally wrong with the right, and it needs to be fixed.

Moreover, most of these writers did not rise through the official channels of the conservative or libertarian establishments. By and large, they didn’t do the internships or take part in the young leader programs that were designed to replenish “the movement.” Instead, they found their voices while blogging. The new technology allowed them to create a new sort of career path and test out opinions without much adult supervision.

As a consequence, they are heterodox and hard to label. These writers grew up reading conservative classics — Burke, Hayek, Smith, C.S. Lewis — but have now splayed off in all sorts of quirky ideological directions.

There are dozens of writers I could put in this group, but I’d certainly mention Yuval Levin, Daniel Larison, Will Wilkinson, Julian Sanchez, James Poulos, Megan McArdle, Matt Continetti and, though he’s a tad older, Ramesh Ponnuru.

The rest of Brooks' column implies that with quirky and intelligent voices like these--and the Douthat-Salam agenda--the conservative movement and the GOP will eventually recover its footing. The problem is that Wilkinson, Sanchez, and McCardle are libertarians, and probably somewhat unsympathetic to Grand New Party's embrace of new social programs. Poulos and Larison are both interesting voices, but neither one is on the same ideological wavelength as Salam and Douthat. And many in this group do not even consider themselves Republicans or conservatives. In other words, Brooks has chosen a bunch of compelling young intellectuals (with varying agendas) who are quite removed intellectually and professionally from the conservatives who actually wield power (admittedly this isn't the case with Matthew Continetti, but he is, er, the opposite of "heterodox").

Sadly, then, Brooks column ends up leaving the reader feeling rather cynical about where the conservative movement is headed. 

Update: See Ezra Klein for more

--Isaac Chotiner