Vox, derp, and the intellectual stagnation of the left

Talk about an epistemic closure problem

Klein
(Image credit: (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

Several long winters ago, when President Obama was thunderously elected amid Messianic fervor, and much of the right was in the throes of apoplectic confusion, some liberal writers warned of a phenomenon among right-wing intellectuals, which they called "epistemic closure." The charge was that conservative thinkers had lost the ability to process the idea that the world of 2008 was not the world of the Reagan Era, and more generally to consider new ideas or, really, reality. The word "derp" entered our lexicon to mock forehead-slappingly stupid statements, defined by the liberal blogger Noah Smith as "the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors."

Liberal writers overstated the phenomenon at the time, and there was always a bit of shadow-boxing and concern-trolling there. But they did have a point. Still, even as they were making that point, the smartest writers on the right were already rising to the occasion. A flurry of innovative young writers like Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Tim Carney, and Avik Roy put out fresh, 21st-century ideas on everything from tax reform to health care to social mobility to poverty to curtailing the power of Big Business. Many of these ideas are now compiled in a seminal new book. And many of these ideas have been adopted by the most prominent GOP politicians and presidential candidates. Only with the right leader will the GOP truly embrace what's been called reform conservatism, but it's clear that the GOP is becoming the party of ideas again.

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