A few weeks ago I went to see Dinesh D'Souza's America: Imagine the World Without Her in hopes of viewing a film that would represent a significant intellectual contribution to the current policy debates plaguing the American psyche. What's fascinated me since that viewing are the many accolades that D'Souza has received from conservative print publications and television shows. In fact, Human Events wrote, "Dinesh D'Souza does a fine job of conducting a classical American symphony in response [to the liberal viewpoint]," and National Review's Jay Nordlinger lauds, "D'Souza is highly skilled in defending his point of view."
I'm fascinated by this praise, because although some of the premises of D'Souza's film and, I assume, the corresponding book have great potential for fostering an engaging and meaningful dialogue around conservative viewpoints, the film devolves into a series of vignettes that lack any intellect. D'Souza's film fails to present conservatism as having anything to offer to today's policy debates and instead makes it out to be a cacophony of unsubstantiated statements.
Throughout the film D'Souza presents cherry-picked "experts" who, in many cases, could be described as amateurs when compared to the intellectuals he puts them up against from the left. For example, when discussing the economy, Dinesh relies on "experts" whom even a well-read conservative would likely have never heard of before watching the film. As a response to the dogma of the Piketty clan, Dinesh could have drawn on the likes of Niall Ferguson or Luigi Zingales to drive home his point regarding why capitalism works and how, even conservatives admit, it can be fixed.
Further, to justify each of the five theses that he presents throughout the film, Dinesh relies on hollow and overly generalized arguments. In fact, at one point in the film, Dinesh appears to be preparing to tackle the issue of border security but fails remarkably by instead insisting that the issue really comes down to how great America is, which, from D'Souza's viewpoint, is reinforced by the fact that "nobody is trying to escape to Mexico." It's arguments such as this, lacking any underlying data, presented as being the best conservatives have to offer, that serve only to diminish conservative thought. Conservatives need to move beyond political hyperbole masked with patriotic images and instead exhibit their patriotism by developing arguments that are rooted in facts and by using a language that doesn't hide behind our flag but hoists it up with statements that would make John Adams or Alexander Hamilton recognize their own political philosophy.
Conservatives are in desperate need of new voices, voices that resurrect conservatism from being a dormant perspective to one that is rich with much to offer to today's policy debates. We need voices like Bret Stephens and others to be brought to the forefront, while also fostering the next generation of Hayeks and Friedmans. Conservative doctrine can no longer afford to fall victim to poorly constructed books and films or, for that matter, "talking heads" who risk negating the very real contribution that this political philosophy has and can continue to make to our society.
At the end of D'Souza's film, he's portrayed as wearing handcuffs in what appears to be an apology to his "fans" and an awkward show of penance for recent improprieties on his part (campaign finance fraud). Perhaps it's this visual that could also be viewed as an analogy for his wrongdoing in producing this film: It handcuffs us to a representation of conservatism that restricts it from realizing its potential. What we need now is a new generation of conservative thinkers on the same level as celebrated liberal intellectuals such as Thomas Piketty (and, hopefully, with better data!). We need to celebrate and promote conservative academics and thinkers instead of those who only add fodder to the belief that conservatives have little or nothing to add. If conservatives seek to remain relevant, then we must challenge the stereotypes that we are at risk of succumbing to when we allow ourselves and our philosophy to be turned into political caricatures by voices like D'Souza. We need to stand up and challenge the view that we're "non-thinkers" by constructing well-informed arguments that shatter the belief that conservatives are uneducated that are only reinforced by films like America: Imagine the World Without Her.
Failing to foster a new generation of conservative thinkers thoughtfully engaged in policy discussions and, therefore, witnessing the disappearance of this perspective in our time is a shameful, and yet preventable, possibility that may yet come to be.
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