The End of Conservative Nonfiction?
"The conservative book market is saturated," a conservative editor recently told me. He's responsible for many right-wing bestsellers, so probably knows what he is talking about. Ann Coulter is claiming that her new book Mugged is being blackballed by the mainstream media, but the truth is probably that people, including not a few conservatives, have just grown tired of the arguments.
Mind you, they agree with the arguments. They just don't need to hear them yet again. The problems with liberalism have become so obvious, and indeed so immediately dangerous, that people don't need more angry dissertations. A $16 trillion debt and a government violating the First Amendment safeguard of religious liberty is enough to convince most rational people that the time for talk is over. They don't really need a lot more convincing.
This is a good thing, because it means that conservatives can move into areas aside from non-fiction political tomes, which have traditionally been their strength. Conservatives can now move into writing fiction, making documentaries, maybe even try and get into television. A new website named Liberty Island has just launched with the intent to have more conservatives engage with fiction. Founded by longtime conservative editor Adam Bellow, it will publish conservative fiction, seeing an opening in the liberal publishing world of New York.
It's about time. When I heard about Liberty Island I was working on an article about the upcoming 40th anniversary of the film The Exorcist. The film began as a 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty. If Blatty were a young orthodox Catholic today, instead of The Exorcist he may have written a nonfiction book defending the Catholic Church. It would have been easier to write, and would have been published by a conservative or small Catholic publisher -- and would never have had the cultural and artistic impact of the novel.
The promise of Liberty Island is that it will make righties stretch their legs a little bit. It will challenge them to create art, which is much more difficult than a political jeremiad. This may, ironically, argue the conservative case better than nonfiction. More people read The Hobbit, a thrilling adventure about courage and evil, than read National Review.
Still, if the fever for nonfiction right-wing books is passing, it has just offered up a wonderful coda: Future Tense: The Lessons of Culture in an Age of Upheaval, a just-published collection of essays by leading conservative authors. The essays were first published in the New Criterion, which is probably the best journal in America. Future Tense contributors include Michael Lewis on 9/11, James Panero on defining what a museum is, Andrew McCarthy on "totalitarian democracy," and David Bentley Hart on the end of religion in the West.
The essays are all uniformly well-written, and make familiar arguments. The overarching theme is that America could very well be in her last days, done in by nihilism, intellectuals, debt, softness in the face of radical Islam and just general spinelessness. The best of the lot is by theologian Hart, who in one paragraph distills exactly what will happen to the United States if the secular left takes over. Talking about cathedrals, Hart make the following observation:
Such places....are only the most concentrated crystallizations of a culture's highest vision of the good, true and beautiful; they are not isolated retreats, set apart from the society around them, but are rather the most intense expressions of that society's rational and poetic capacities. It is under the shelter of the heavens made visible in such places that all of a people's laws and institutions, admirable and defective, take shape, as well as all its arts, civic or private, sacred or profane, festal or ordinary. This is a claim not about private beliefs, or about the particular motives that may have led to any particular law or work of art, but about the conceptual and aesthetic resources that any culture can posses or impart, and those are determined by religious traditions -- by shared pictures of eternity, shared stories of the absolute. This is why the very concept of a secular civilization is nearly meaningless.
Sounds like a great idea for a novel.