Archive for February 2008

WFB RIP

February 27, 2008

I met William F. Buckley Jr. on just a couple of occasions. He gave a talk at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis back around 2000 — one of his last campus talks. He had some spare time in his schedule, including time for a chat with my conservative group at Washington University (which is almost next door to Concordia). What I remember most clearly of the event was a question one student asked about a local Missouri issue: whether the Ku Klux Klan should be allowed to adopt a highway. Buckley didn’t find the issue problematic — no, he said, and state governments are not under any obligation to treat such groups the same way they treat, say, the Kiwanis club or the Washington University fraternities that adopt highways.

Buckley was a brilliant writer and sparkling debater and public personality, especially in his prime. He could charm and disarm practically any opponent, and that quality allowed him quickly to win the approval of the liberal establishment he attacked — much of it, anyway.

His effect on conservatism — on what he still called individualism when he rose to fame in the early 1950s — was revolutionary. The lions of the Old Right were quite old by then, those who were still alive at all. The anti-New Deal Right needed new leadership, and Buckley seemed to be the most articulate and promising young man on the scene, by far. Buckley, however, was a committed cold warrior, a contrast to Old Right figures like Frank Chodorov, John T. Flynn, and Felix Morley, who were still active in the 1950s. Buckley usually — always, to the best of my knowledge — spoke fondly of them. But he took the Right in a very different direction, toward military intervention and a more imperial foreign (and, ultimately, with the concentration of power in the executive, domestic) foreign policy. A famous quote of Buckley’s from Commonweal magazine said that if we had to build a totalitarian bureaucracy on these shores to resist Soviet Communism, so be it.

As charming as he could be to his enemies on the left, when he chose to excommunicate a former friend or colleague from the respectable Right, he was ruthless. The anathemas he pronounced stretched to the grave and beyond, as witness his savage and inaccurate obituary for the libertarian Murray Rothbard, whom Buckley accused of being soft on Khrushchev. Without necessarily agreeing de mortuis nil nisi bonum (that one should say nothing but good things about the dead) even someone less of an admirer of Rothbard than I am might agree that the poor taste and manners on display in Buckley’s obituary reflect poorly on the man who wrote it.

Why would such a socially graceful individual as Buckley write such a thing? Maybe it was ideology: Buckley was so committed to the cold war and all the cliches of cold-war conservatism that anyone at variance with that creed, especially an outspoken “heretic” like Rothbard, could only be a monster. Buckley was a man of tremendous talents. Yet I wonder how much wisdom he had. Toward the end of his life, he found himself critical of the direction conservatism had taken in continuing to support the war in Iraq, a direction that National Review followed wholeheartedly. But the magazine Buckley founded was following the tradition he had set down. WFB may have wished that he had taught his own disciples differently. For my part, I wish he had listened more closely to Frank Chodorov in the 1950s.

When Students Were Individualists

February 16, 2008

This Time article from Feb. 10, 1961 shows some of the best and worst traits of the early conservative student movement.

As Editor Peter Stuart of the Michigan Daily puts it: “The signs point to a revival of interest in individualism and decentralization of power—principles espoused by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and rekindled by Senator Barry Goldwater.” Items:

Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative is selling best at 200 college-town bookstores across the land.

Youngsters, not oldsters, were the most exuberant Goldwater boomleteers at the Republican presidential convention.

Harvard’s newly re-elected Student Council President Howard Phillips, 19, is a stern conservative on a campus brimming with Democrats on the faculty.

In last fall’s mock election at the University of Michigan, Nixon defeated Kennedy, though Kennedy easily carried the state. At Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State, Nixon won by 2 to 1.

Exodus Shrugged. The campus conservatives subdivide into roughly three groups. On the far right is a small fringe of shouting, demonstrating fanatics who admire the late Joe McCarthy, favor colonialism, back such causes as the “right” to exclude Negroes from certain neighborhoods, demand that students sign loyalty oaths, picket the movies Spartacus and Exodus because Dalton Trumbo (TIME, Jan. 2) wrote them. They take as their philosopher Novelist Ayn (Atlas Shrugged) Rand, who for a brooch wears a gold dollar sign to symbolize the values of selfcenteredness. On the other end of the spectrum are Kennedy supporters who find in the President’s appeal to duty (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”) the essence of their conservatism.

In the middle of this stream runs the strongest current. Its members stand for the old verities, which they think the U.S. has forgotten. “Man has free will and reason,” says Victor Milione, 36, executive vice president of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. “Individual men should be their own agents in all things respecting their own lives.” These conservatives hold the right of private property as the best bulwark of freedom. They argue that unemployment should be alleviated by charity; that children should obey the Biblical command to honor parents by caring for them in their old age instead of leaving the responsibility to the Social Security Administration.

Read on. The book I always recommend on the history of the conservative youth movement (though it’s specifically about Young Americans for Freedom), is Gregory Schneider’s Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right. I’ve just loaned my copy of the organizer of Students for Ron Paul, in fact.

The youth element of the movement used to push the rather staid Republicans to the right. The young conservatives were among the first to agitate for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to run for the Republican nomination. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the decades since the youth movement has been overtaken by the career-oriented College Republicans, the conservative movement as a whole has failed to produce another Goldwater or Reagan. But I think there are good odds that Ron Paul, who is galvanizing the youth and who loves speaking on campuses, is going to change that.

Victor Milione, 1924-2008: A Scholar and a Gentleman

February 15, 2008

I was saddened to hear of the death on Monday of E. Victor Milione. He was president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for a quarter of a century, from 1963 to 1988; indeed, it would not be wrong to say that he built the organization. He had been one of the first scholarly young men recruited by Frank Chodorov in 1953 when ISI was still the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, though Milione was always more of a traditionalist than a libertarian. Meeting Mr. Milione and chatting with him at some length on two occasions was one of the true pleasures of my year at ISI.

He was an impressive individual: maybe a little over five feet tall, slightly built, and of course quite old, but titanic in the stature of his character and erudition. He had committed most of Tocqueville to memory, and he had a similarly commanding knowledge of 19th century British statesmanship. The first time I met him, for example, he explained to me Lord Salisbury’s concept of “military credit” and applied it to our present situation in Iraq. (Unfortunately, according to Milione, who opposed the Iraq War before it began, we now had to win the war at almost any cost, lest our military credit be ruined and other nations be emboldened to challenge us in the future. I can’t agree with Milione’s assessment, as much as I respect his learning.)

In our last conversation, in October, he asked me to look up a passage from Tocqueville that he remembered but couldn’t quite place. It’s a measure of the strength of his memory, and the feebleness of mine, that I’ve completely forgotten the passage that, age 83, he remembered very clearly. He remembered it clearly enough, in fact, that I was able to find the passage by putting it into the Google books search engine. His memory was superb, but not quite perfect: the passage he had recalled turned out not to be from Tocqueville after all, but from Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.

I didn’t get a chance to relay that information to him, regrettably, but it’s a small loss to a life that was as rich as Victor Milione’s. He wasn’t simply a gentleman of a breed that has since disappeared, because he was of an exceedingly rare breed even in 1953. He exemplified the Remnant that Frank Chodorov had set out to educate, and Victor Milione served that Remnant himself all his life.

Replacing John McCain

February 15, 2008

Perhaps there was more than meets the eye to the John Shadegg retirement story I linked to the other day. He, along with several others Arizona politicos, may be looking to take John McCain’s place if the senator steps down to concentrate on his presidential run. I’d rather see Jeff Flake get the seat, but just about anybody would be an improvement over the man who gave us an amnesty bill (thankfully killed), McCain-Feingold, and many other awful pieces of legislation — and who, despite his own experiences at the hands of the Vietnamese, earlier this week voted against on the ban on CIA waterboarding. From torturee to torturer — you’ve come a long way, John.

A Goldwaterite (of Sorts) Retires

February 12, 2008

John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) has announced he’s not running for re-election. He was no Ron Paul, nor even a Stephen Shadegg, but at least he thought of himself as a Goldwater Republican, and it would have been a sign of health for the party if he had beaten John Boehner in the contest to be House Majority Leader in early 2006 or beaten Roy Blunt in the Minority Whip contest later that year, after the Republicans lost Congress.  Still, Republican retirements are not a bad thing. What we need are Ron Paul Republicans to run to take their places.

Currency Competition

February 11, 2008

A classic Peter Brimelow article from Forbes on an eminently sensible idea that’s now getting more attention thanks to Ron Paul.

Two Takes on Twilight at Monticello

February 5, 2008

I bought Alan Pell Crawford’s new book, Twilight at Monticello, on Friday (along with Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right). I’m looking forward both to reading it and, I hope, reviewing it somewhere. But you don’t have to wait for my review: you can get two opinions of the book from Bill Kauffman, writing in The American Conservative, and Michael Grunwald in the Washington Post. Here’s a snippet from Kauffman’s review:

How wonderfully coincident that just as [Ron] Paul is speaking the hauntingly resonant language of the early Republic, Alan Pell Crawford, Hoosier boy cum historian of his adopted Old Virginia, has published Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, a superb and revealing study of Thomas Jefferson in retirement (if not ever repose) that makes Jefferson—the older, wiser, even more radical Jefferson—newly and provocatively relevant.

Crawford did his time on the Hill, working for Sen. James Buckley (“a genuine conservative”) and none other than Congressman Ron Paul (for whom he will vote). In 1980, he anatomized the swindle known as the “New Right” in Thunder on the Right, which made him, for a time, something of a darling of the liberal Left. He would later marry, raise a family, put down roots in Richmond—all those things the New Right claimed to support in those hysterical fundraising letters its bilkers-in-chief composed between cruises at the Brass Rail.

Crawford fell in love with Virginia, the Ancient Dominion, and in 2000 published Unwise Passions, an evocative study of the scandal-ridden Randolphs of Virginia.

Twilight at Monticello is Crawford’s best book and a humanizing corrective to the recent tide of Jefferson damning. This is Jefferson in his late autumn, brooding on the parlous state of republicanism, delighting in the presence of his family, tormented by boils on his backside. His death is rendered with especial poignancy. (In his final months, Jefferson used opium to allay a painful urinary ailment. Imagine the DEA breaking down the doors to Monticello! The medical marijuanans could do no better than to enlist Jefferson.)

Crawford will be giving a talk on his book at the CATO Institute on Feb. 19.

The Traditionalist as Postmodernist

February 4, 2008

My review of Gerald Russello’s The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk is in the current issue of Reason (March 2008). I think it’ll be put on-line eventually, but why wait? Pick up a copy at your nearest quality bookstore or newsstand.

They’re Not Out Yet

February 3, 2008

Reviewing Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right in the Washington Post, Ted Widmer refers to the neoconservatives’ “suffer[ing] a fall as unexpected as their rise.” Even some of my paleo friends, at least the ones who live within the D.C. beltway (and yes, beltway paleo is a bit of an oxymoron) believe the neocons’ day is done. It’s not, unfortunately, not even close.

After Iran-Contra many on the Left also thought the neocons would vanish, but they didn’t. Nor did the Democrats’ retaking of the White House in 1993 put an end to the neocons. Bill Kristol just moved over from being Dan Quayle’s chief of staff to launching the Weekly Standard and PNAC — and, of course, now he has a perch at the New York Times. The neocons do not need a friendly president to flourish. Not that Bush I or Clinton were exactly un-friendly presidents anyway.

Nor has scandal brought them down in the past. Iran-Contra ignominy did not prevent Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter from resurfacing in the Bush II administration a dozen years later. So even Scooter Libby might be poised for a comeback some day.

Are the neocons on the run in the Republican Party? Not hardly: John McCain, the candidate Kristol and company favored over George W. Bush in 2000, is contending for the Republican nomination, and his closest rival at the moment, Mitt Romney, has said he would like to “double Guantanamo,” might launch an undeclared war against Iran after checking with his lawyers, and has as foreign-policy advisors former AIPAC staffer Dan Senor and Blackwater vice chairman Cofer Black. Kristol, meanwhile, has written kind words about Mike Huckabee, a fellow who doesn’t know the difference between Jordan and Syria but who offered what John Podhoretz called a “passionately Zionist riposte” to a Ron Paul in the Jan. 10 Republican debate. What kind of foreign-policy advisors do you think Huckabee would turn to?

Neoconservatives still have institutions of their own — magazines, think-tanks, and foundations. They still hold great power in conservative institutions generally, and many conservatives who do not think of themselves as neocons or have institutional or family ties to the Kristols and Podhoretzes nonetheless toe the neocon line of an interventionist foreign-policy abroad and adulterated free-market policies at home. (The neocons are less interested in economics and social policy than they are in foreign-policy, but there are still some characteristic traits: they don’t like too much talk about immigration restriction, they like globalistic trade agreements, and they tend to see political economy as a means of engineering society — the last point is something I should write about at greater length some time.) So what makes anyone think that the neocons won’t continue to be a powerful influence on the country over the next decade? Who’s to say they won’t be even more powerful in some future George P. Bush administration? The neocons are hardly even down, and they’re certainly not out yet.

What would be a major setback for them, however, would be to lose their grip on the Right. The only truly anti-neocon candidate is, of course, Ron Paul. His success is one thing that can really drive a stake through the dead heart of neoconservatism.


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