And now for something a completely—or at least a little—different. Adam Bellow makes the case that the conservative movement should do more to support conservative novel writers. He might be right. A couple years ago at a conference on social media when we heard a panelist overstate the case for Twitter by a little bit. The conservative movement, she claimed, doesn’t need 100-page think tank papers; it just needs cleverly composed tweets to get its message out. Let’s just stipulate that conservative scholarship has a role to play, too. For starters, it creates and sustains the intellectual climate that makes it possible to issue 140-character bursts that can be understood by a wide audience.
Bellow points to what might be a similar imperialism of method in the area of culture: He writes that conservatives are oversold on the idea that making a great movie is the next step in winning the culture wars. A great conservative movie, he points out, is often based on a great conservative novel:
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis both produced big-budget movies that reached millions of people with what most of us would probably agree is a subtly conservative message. Yet both of these successful movie franchises ultimately pale in comparison with the impact of the books. Even at their best, movies are essentially cartoons and their effects are superficial and fleeting. Books engage the reader much more deeply, at a level of identification with the characters and plot that can instruct the soul and edify the mind. A hundred years from now, moreover, these classic books will still be read all over the world in dozens of languages when the films on which they are based are long forgotten or superseded by new forms of entertainment.
In short, conservatives should remember that mainstream popular culture is still largely driven by books. Fiction therefore is and will remain the beating heart of the new counterculture. This is not just my bias as a publisher. It is a practical reality—and a fortunate one for us, since there are hundreds if not thousands of conservative and libertarian writers out there today producing politically themed fiction. The conservative right brain has woken up from its enchanted sleep and it is thriving. Instead of banging on Hollywood’s front door, a better approach is to go in the back by publishing popular conservative fiction and then turning those books into films.
Conservative funders, writes Bellow, should think about ways to nurture the fiction-writing wing of the conservative movement:
Conservatives must beware of taking too literally their own free-market dogma. Just as funders and institution builders were needed to grow the conservative intellectual movement to the point where it could sustain a commercial entity like Fox News, the conservative counterculture also needs an institutional base and a means of delivering its products to market. […]
We need to invest in the conservative right brain. A well-developed feeder system exists to identify and promote mainstream fiction writers, including MFA programs, residencies and fellowships, writers’ colonies, grants and prizes, little magazines, small presses, and a network of established writers and critics. Nothing like that exists on the right.
This is a major oversight that must be urgently addressed. We need our own writing programs, fellowships, prizes, and so forth. We need to build a feeder system so that the cream can rise to the top, and also to make an end run around the gatekeepers of the liberal establishment. [National Review, June 30]