My piece, titled as above, on the future of publishing, and particularly “conservative” publishing, is up now for subscribers at the American Conservative. You should subscribe. It’s worth it — not for my piece, but for the others. Here’s a bit of what I write:

Mainstream publishers’ biases against conservatives have been greatly exaggerated. Serious, right-leaning authors have always found homes. John Lukacs is published by Yale University Press and Basic Books. Andrew Bacevich writes for Holt and Harvard. Walter McDougall has published with HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, and Basic Books. Tom Wolfe. Pat Buchanan. David McCullough. Clearly, these authors have varying convictions and theoretical commitments. But what they have in common is more important: they are not partisan toadies, and they are all supremely talented. There’s your bias. Untalented liberal hacks can get published by the mainstream imprints, but conservatives burdened with mundane abilities and superficial insights must look elsewhere or keep the manuscript in the drawer. All to the good. How ironic that our publishing houses have kept the gates of culture better for conservatives than for liberals. Let us applaud their defense of high standards.

Even so, it must be confessed that there is a depressing similarity of vision and background at the major presses. Editors are drawn from the same Seven Sisters schools and country club pools. And they’re virtually all in New York, which is fine if you’re as smugly provincial as a New York Times editor, but some of us think that it would be nice for other provincialisms to have a cultural voice. As a result, it is certainly true that talented writers with unapproved views often find it unnecessarily difficult to reach the audience and to achieve the influence that their work deserves.

What to do? Consider this historical counterfactual: What if, as their namesake movement was coalescing in the 1950s and ’60s, conservative elites had decided to invest in culture rather than politics — in New York instead of Washington? What if their programs, scholarships, fellowships, conferences, and summer institutes had been geared toward identifying talented students and writers, exposing them to conservative perspectives, preparing them for entry into the world of high culture—including the worlds of serious trade and academic publishing? This would not have been a hopeless tack. After all, most publishers and many other high-culture institutions aim to make money, and if a prospective employee can advance that aim, intellectual prejudices are not insuperable. Besides, those prejudices may not have been very strong had conservatism not been so politicized, thanks to the Washington strategy. . . .

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avatar Josh Cooney May 4, 2009 at 10:49 am

I agree completely. I think conservatives were having too much fun fighting communism to be bothered with anything else. I can only imagine what might have been if they had invested their financial and intellectual resources on education and cultural renewal rather than the Cold War. In Russell Kirk’s book on T.S. Eliot, Kirk mentions a conversation where Eliot is highly critical of the new conservative movement, especially as it was being manifested in National Review. T.S. Eliot thought these young conservatives were ignoring the fundamentals of culture and he was right.

Despite his title as “The Father of American Conservatism,” Russell Kirk seems more like a symbolic figurehead for a movement that never really manifested his most important principles and ideas. Almost all the writings in The Essential Russell Kirk are related to the subject of education: The necessity of learning our ancient, classical, and Christian patrimony, and passing this tradition on to the next generation; and cultivating the moral imagination through the study of sound literature.

Needless to say this was not, as it turns out, the main thrust of the conservative movement. More accurately, it was a six decade exercise in apologetics for free market capitalism and virtuous America. My apologies to Pat Buchanan: But the conservative movement was wrong from the beginning.

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