I’ll keep this WordPress.com site around for good measure, but everything here is now on a new server at www.toryanarchist.com, and that’s where new posts will be showing up. Please redirect links and point your browsers over there.
Archive for May 2008
I don’t anticipate any downtime for the site, but I’m about to switch servers, so expect the unexpected.
A pleasant surprise came in the mail today with the payment for my University Bookman article on Ralph Adams Cram: a copy of the Heritage Foundation’s July 10, 2007 Heritage Lectures newsletter, which reprints a June 22 talk on Russell Kirk by George H. Nash. Most conservatives — the literate ones, anyway — know of Kirk’s Anglophile sensibility. But Nash also drew attention to his earlier, Jeffersonian roots:
In the summer of 1941, Kirk found himself working at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. Even before his experiences at the Ford company, Kirk had developed a distaste for big business, big labor, and big government. His year or so at Ford did nothing to change his attitude. Indeed, his dislike of bureaucracy and what he called federal “parasites” was, if anything, increasing. He denounced the military draft as “slavery.” He published his first scholarly article, in which he advocated a return to “Jeffersonian principles.” All in all, his was the Midwestern libertarian conservatism of Senator Robert Taft.
Sure, but Kirk left all that behind after he went to St. Andrews, right? Not quite–not entirely:
It is sometimes said that as men become old, they revert ot the political mindset of their youth. In the final decade of his life, Kirk, it seems to me, returned more overtly–at least in his politics–to the noninterventionist, Taftite, bedrock conservatism of his boyhood. He did so, in part, under the stress of the growing quarrel between the so-called neoconservatives and their traditionalist right-wing critics, the most militant of whom took the label of paleoconservatives.
“Paleoconservative” is a fine label, I suppose, but I think Nash said it better the first time: “Midwestern libertarian conservatism” is about the finest label of all.
Retiring Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis has compared the Republican “brand” to a dog food that ought to be taken off the shelves. GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, writing in NRO, doesn’t seem to realize that the problem with the brand extends beyond the label — there’s something wrong with the product itself.
Catellanos, though, gets a fuzzy feeling thinking about the recent recovery of the British Tories:
Conservatives do have something to say about this. Our British cohorts, as [David] Brooks notes, are expressing it: “They want voters to think of the Tories as the party of society while Labor is the party of the state. They want the country to see the Tories as the party of decentralized organic networks and the Laborites as the party of top-down mechanistic control.” But the “Conservative Revival” that Brooks has discovered in the Anglo motherland is new only in expression, not in principle or practice. Conservatives have always believed in bottom-up self-government, not top-down, state-imposed administration.
Try squaring that with the Iraq War is one obvious retort. Another is that Britain has been suffering under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown even longer than American has suffered under Bush. Conservative leader David Cameron looks good by comparison to old New Labour for the same reason Barack Obama looks good next to McBush.
A bit more Castellanos:
What we believe in is people-driven, choice-filled, dynamic, flexible, equal-opportunity self-government. We should call it organic government. Want to know what your government is going to look like 20 years from now? Ask your children. They will say it will look a lot less like General Motors and a lot more like MySpace.
Good grief — has this guy ever seen MySpace? I’m not sure anyone who has would compare it favorably even to a corporate dinosaur like General Motors.
Castellanos ends on this note:
Fellow conservatives, let’s learn to say it: We need more government, lots of it, but we need the kind that actually works: Bottom-up self-government by a mature people. And we need that government in our hands — because it is not natural, efficient, or beneficial to leave something so powerful in the hands of anyone else.
Well, I take back what I say up above. Castellanos is not simply slapping a new label on the same old dogfood. This is the same old label on the same old dogfood, though normally it has the good sense not to declare that the ingredients include “more government.” He contends that government and the state are different — and actually, Nock said the same thing, albeit in coherent terms — but his idea of government is loopy to say the least: “The PTA governs. The Chamber of Commerce governs. Facebook governs. The Invisible Hand governs.” I’d rather not be governed by the PTA or Chamber of Commerce, thank you very much, and I don’t think Facebook or the invisible hand needs any help from the GOP to do whatever governing either one does. (What are the Republicans going to do, ban gambling on Facebook, too?) How is this pitch meant to make me want to buy brand GOP? I wouldn’t feed it to my dog.
My review of Pure Goldwater, a volume of Barry Goldwater’s journals (and some other odds and ends), is now up on Reason‘s website.
I’m reading Bill Buckley’s posthumous Goldwater memoir, Flying High, right now. Here’s one striking anecdote I hadn’t heard before:
… at this dinner [for the 1950s Freeman], Rand contradicted Mises on some doctrinal point, causing the eminent professor to stop eating and mobilize his scorn and fury on her. Ayn Rand thereupon burst into tears and exclaimed, “You are treating me like an ignorant little Jewish girl!”
Mises jumped up from his chair with joy. “That is exactly what you are! An ignorant little Jewish girl!”
Rand was not one to be crossed lightly. But even she might have known better than to gainsay Ludwig von Mises.
From Victor Navasky’s NYT review of two books by or about William F. Buckley (thanks to Scott Lahti for an early link to the piece):
It is probably no accident, as the old-left journals used to say, that both Buckley and Carey McWilliams, The Nation’s longtime editor, were fans of Albert Jay Nock, who after briefly working at The Nation in the 1920s went on to found his own libertarian magazine called The Freeman (the rights to which Buckley sought unsuccessfully to buy when he began National Review). Nock started out as a left-wing anarchist and bohemian, but he metamorphosed into an anti-egalitarian who believed that journals of opinion were aimed at what he called the Remnant, the enlightened few who would influence the many.
“Bohemian” is a better description of Nock’s one-time American Magazine colleague John Reed; Nock was more of an anti-institutionalist than a party animal, and he remained one to the end (just look at the passages on marriage and organized religion in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man). “Left-wing anarchist” is misleading as well: Nock was an individualist anarchist heavily influenced by Henry George. He was far from being an anarcho-syndicalist, which is what “left-wing anarchist” might be taken to mean. Navasky probably doesn’t mean to suggest that, but the contrast he wants to draw between the the early and the late Nock is not accurate. The sharp contrast is between the Tolstoyan sensibility of the pre-World War I Nock and the partly Cram-inspired pessimistic Nock of later years.
Buckley’s relationship to Nock is pretty well known — WFB Sr. was a friend of AJN, and WFB Jr. often paid homage to Nock — but I had not known about Carey McWilliam’s admiration for him.
Postscript: For what it’s worth — we Nock aficionados can be a punctilious lot — Navasky’s dates are wrong, too. Nock worked for The Nation during World War I, not the 1920s, and even got the magazined censored when he wrote critically about Samuel Gompers. Bad for the labor-business-government war effort, don’t ya know. He launched The Freeman, with Francis Neilson as co-editor (in name, at least), in 1920.
I missed most of the live broadcast, but here’s Daniel Larison’s write-up, and here’s Dylan Waco’s take at Left Conservative. I like what I’ve seen and heard of Steve Kubby. I might have to modify what I’ve said elsewhere about being for Barr or bust. A Barr-Kubby ticket might be ideal, especially since Kubby can compensate for Barr’s weakness on the drug war.
Addendum: Wayne Root made the worst impression on me of all the candidates. He tied with Ruwart and Barr in receiving the most tokens from delegates (candidates had to collect tokens to qualify for the debate), which suggests to me that Barr might court him as a running mate. I hope not, though — Root might as well be the poster child for ADHD.
One of the things I found dissatisfying about George Packer’s recent “fall of conservatism” piece was its establishment bias. He can’t be accused of talking only to neocons and movement thralls — Pat Buchanan was in the mix alongside Rich Lowry and David Brooks — but Packer only spoke to established names, when the most interesting developments on the Right are taking place on the margins. Most of the conservatives he interviewed (Mr. Buchanan excepted) are ready for embalming.
The Ron Paul movement is one obvious sign of new life on the Right. Just consider this recent New York Times piece on the Paul movement. (And take note: the NYT banishes Ron Paul to the Style section, while Brooks and Bill Kristol occupy the op-ed pages.) What’s important is not just the number and energy of the Paul converts, but their youth and radicalism. Not all of these young people will remain politically — and more important, philosophically — engaged, but those who do will, I suspect, count for a heck of a lot more than the yuppies who descend on Washington to take jobs in the conservative establishment. The latter have access to much greater resources. But they serve a dead and discredited orthodoxy.
What’s also impressive about the Paulists is that theirs is a confident and positive movement. As corny as it may be, the “rEVOLution” slogan tells us something important about the movement: it’s not fueled by resentment. For good or ill, angry white men were indispensable to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and to the Buchanan campaigns in 1992 and 1996. But that style of politics has long since burnt out, as the fate of Tom Tancredo’s mock presidential campaign shows. The Paul movement is hopeful.
The other encouraging development on the Right is similarly forward-looking. It’s harder to give this trend a name, because it’s not centered around one person or book, but Rod Dreher and his “crunchy cons” idea are a touchstone. It’s a new direction in traditionalism, away from post-industrial angst and toward a post-industrial way of life. It includes raw-milk enthusiasts and conservatives against animal cruelty; there’s also a real effort — or so it seems to me, anyway — among these conservatives to think locally and act locally. There’s a religious element to it, but it’s very different from the tired cant of the Falwells and Dobsons. And it’s brightest lights, unlike many traditionalists of old, are not anti-market.
I don’t know how big this second movement is; my sense of it comes from bloggers like John Schwenkler and Lee McCracken. You might call it the Wendell Berry-Michael Pollan Right. Like the Ron Paul movement, it’s antiwar, decentralist, and relatively hopeful. The Paulists and crunchies alike are “Hippies of the Right” — or Franciscans of the Right? — in that sense.
An article focusing on these trends would have been a lot more interesting than Packer’s survey of the usual suspects droning on about the usual Republican politics.
Keep an eye out for the June 2 issue of The American Conservative, which went to press today. It includes my article on the battle for Virginia’s Eighth Congressional District, which pits Ron Paul-inspired Republican Amit Singh against Mark Ellmore, a candidate sometimes compared to Mike Huckabee. In Singh’s case, the race puts to the test the ability of a new generation of limited-government conservative to appeal to voters in a difficult (read: Democratic-leaning) district. After its recent special election losses in Mississippi, Illinois, and Louisiana, the GOP is in desperate need of a new brand. The Eighth District candidates offer two possibilities.