Writing in National Review, long-time publisher Adam Bellow has a message for conservatives:
"after its decades-long march through the institutions of government, academia, and popular culture, the Left has become the establishment. And like all establishments they are increasingly peremptory, high-handed, and sanctimonious.
How do we fight back against this liberal establishment with its politically correct regime of thought control? There is only one way that I know of and that is by turning their weapons against them and channeling the spirit of the Sixties counterculture."
The premise of Bellow's article [free adaptation here] -- which echoes much of what Glenn Beck has been saying in recent months -- is that while conservatives have focused on building nonfiction media sources, they may have reached the limits of "what facts and reasoned arguments can do," while ceding the culture -- where political battles are actually won -- to the left.
As a result of the left's expert use of "the media pulpit to turn the passions of the mob against their enemies," they can now "[create] a hurricane of politicized indignation that can be directed wherever it likes and levels everything it touches," forcing conservatives to self-censor and stifling dissent.
The end result is that conservatives run the risk of being completely suppressed, which cannot be remedied by mere political victories:
"We can win every election for the next 50 years and it won’t matter, if conservatives are not allowed to speak. Nor can we debate and argue this incipient totalitarian movement out of existence. We can publish all the polemics and blog posts we want. But if that is all we've got, we are still going to lose the larger war."
[sharequote align="center"]We can win every election for the next 50 years and it won’t matter, if conservatives...[can't] speak[/sharequote]
Examining the current landscape of the conservative movement, Bellow, the editorial director of HarperCollins' conservative Broadside Books imprint, sees a conservative mind that is "unbalanced — hyper-developed in one respect [tv and radio networks, newspapers and publishing houses and websites -- the dry, nonfiction realm] and "completely undeveloped in another."
What is urgently needed, and what Bellow surveys in his article, is the development of the other side of the conservative mind: that of the creative, fictional realm. Here, Bellow sees some signs for optimism:
"conservatives are making their own culture. They are writing and publishing their own books, recording their own music, and making their own videos and films...This outpouring of creativity on the right doesn’t just represent the emergence of a new genre or market — though it is both in my opinion. Taken together, it amounts to nothing less than the rise of a new counterculture. Only this time it is coming from the right, and not, as in the Sixties, from the left."
"The new conservative counterculture is a rebellion from below and from without. Fueled by the rise of digital self-publishing technologies, it is a simultaneous revolt against the hierarchical control of mass media and the ideological narrowing of acceptable discourse."
"the tide is turning. People are getting fed up with the humorless enforcers of the Left. This represents a golden opportunity for conservatives to reach people who otherwise couldn’t be reached, and even to make some converts for a change instead of simply talking to ourselves, which is basically what we’ve been doing since we hived ourselves off into our own politicized media bubble."
In terms of the medium through which Bellow feels countercultural conservatives should invest their time for the greatest return as measured in influence on the culture, perhaps unsurprisingly the publisher believes in fictional books. Bellow argues that books
"engage the reader much more deeply [than movies], 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."
"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."
Bellow is skeptical of the use of movies as a medium, at least initially, because they require heavy upfront investments and because in his view
"as a vehicle for political ideas and moral lessons, movies are simplistic and crude compared with the novels on which many are based...their effects are superficial and fleeting...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."
In his position as CEO of Liberty Island, which publishes conservatives fiction, Bellow sees a strong and growing presence of writers who are limited to the extent that they are scattered across the country, often writing under pen names for fear of being targeted and lacking any institutional structures to support their efforts.
Thus, in order to sustain these early countercultural figures, Bellow believes that in addition to diverting funds away from politics towards culture, conservatives need to construct a parallel ecosystem to that of the "think tanks, foundations, magazines, and publishing houses" which provided "crucial support to conservative thinkers who couldn’t get tenured jobs in academia" during the 20th century.
Bellow urges the development of a
"feeder system...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...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."