Richard Posner blogs on what he calls "the intellectual decline of conservatism," which prompts some gleeful ruminations from Yglesias. The trouble with this (and it's a trope that's bound to be repeated elsewhere on the left) is Yglesias' claim that Posner is "definitely a political conservative."
Posner may have been a Reagan appointee, but you can't go by that (Eisenhower, after all, appointed Warren and Brennan). Posner may have been affiliated with the market-friendly wing of the law and economics movement, but you can't go by that either.
The bottom line is that Posner is not now and never has been a conservative in any meaningful sense of the term. I addressed this issue a long time ago, concluding that Posner's documented record puts him in opposition to virtually every major conservative principle.
In sum, the left is going to try to spin this as an internal critique (see, e.g., Jonathan Singer), but what Posner has to say about the state of conservatism is no more an internal critique of the movement than what, say, Yglesias has to say.
To say that Yglesias is wrong about Posner, of course, is a rather different thing than saying Posner is wrong about the GOP. His critique may be external, but some of it strikes home. As Steven Taylor notes, for example, Posner writes:
By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.
Steven then opines:
That, in two sentences, sums up the basic situation with the Republican Party at the moment.
Rick Moran focuses on the same point:
Posner’s real gripe - and the gripe of many less ideological conservatives - is that “the new conservatism [is] powered largely by emotion and religion and [has]for the most part weak intellectual groundings.”
Amen and Hallelujah. What Posner refers to as “new” conservatism (a term I will be shamelessly stealing from now on), calls on such intellectual luminaries as Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Beck, for sustenance. In this, the leading lights of the new conservatism dole out philosophy and rationale the way a Baskin Robbins ice cream server spoons whipped creme on to his concoctions. The result are that ideas and concepts with the heft of cotton candy, but extremely palatable to the narrow minded, are passed off as conservative dogma.
Having said that, however, let me immediately disassociate myself from the implicit assumption in Posner's post (as in so much else of his work) that religious discourse is inherently anti-intellectual (or, at least, non-intellectual).
It's been aptly observed of Posner's writings that:
Religion (Posner generally lumps all religions together) is generally relegated to the opposite end of the intellectual paradigm and is viewed by Posner as subjective, “local,” “provincial” and anti-intellectual. Throughout his article, Posner gives Christian theism the most severe criticism, which explains why it ranks at the bottom of his intellectual paradigm. This is because the good judge believes that Christian theism lacks the intellectual cogency to change the mind of any thinking person.
Personally, for example, I think a renewed conservative intellectualism would be deeply engaged with Catholic Social Thought.
Given the things Posner has had to say about religion over the years, I doubt he would agree. After all, as Martha Nussbaum noted of Posner's work on sex, Posner launched an "assault on religious moralism about sex' with the "strategic aim of shocking the pious." 59 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1689, 105-06. Of the same body of work, Jane Larson observed that "Posner's moral neutrality and hostility to religiously based morality links him to the broader economics tradition, as well as to a morally skeptical version of classical liberalism." 10 Const. Comment. 443, 451-52.
So excuse me if I take Posner's critique with a grain of salt.