George Will and Virginia Postrel seem to be creating a new fusionism in which true conservatism, like true libertarianism, turns out to be a celebration of Starbucks, manicurists and health clubs—not to mention “tattoo parlors and the emporiums where people get their bodies pierced in so many interesting places.” In a puff piece on Postrel’s new book, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, Will compares the “thoughtful people” who appreciate “the complex prerequisites—social, political and intellectual—of a society that produces … abundance, and honors … emancipation of choice and desire” with snobbish and spoilsport progressive intellectuals like Adlai Stevenson who complain about the consumer society and want something more elevated. It’s the former, he says, who have the better grip on “what exalts America and makes it inspiring.”
As the example he chooses shows, Will can pretend to say anything distinctive only by mindless anachronism. It’s notorious that highminded liberalism is as dead as the counterculture, the avant garde, high modernism, and anything in national public life that one could reasonably call principled conservatism. A postmodern progressive like Bill Clinton has about as much in common with Adlai Stevenson as Will does with Richard Weaver. In fact, the Left has a fusionism that is far more comprehensive that anything conservatives have dreamed of. The whole point of postmodernism is that oppositions have been abolished, so that commerce, public life, thought and art have become equal and indivisible manifestations of polymorphous appetite, with enough rationalism mixed in to keep the goodies coming and make sure everyone gets an equal share (with a little extra for those who are supervising the show). Inclusiveness and diversity are the name of the game, if you want to participate in the public conversation today you have to join in, and Will’s column is one sign among many that establishment conservatives have no intention of being left out.