Archive for the ‘Conservatism’ category

The “Midwestern Libertarian Conservatism” of Russell Kirk

May 28, 2008

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.

Nockians Left and Right

May 25, 2008

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.

What’s Right With the Right

May 25, 2008

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.

A Conservative History of the American Left

May 14, 2008

One more review to plug today: my take on Daniel Flynn’s A Conservative History of the American Left, which is now up (and going on the main page tomorrow, I think) at the American Spectator‘s website.

A Conservative History of the American Left

The Revolution Reviewed

May 14, 2008

The season of Kauffmaniana continues, as Bill takes a look at Ron Paul’s book over at Taki’s Magazine. Here’s a taste:

As for the word “isolationist,” which I’ve always thought had a nice pacific ring to it, Rep. Paul gives taxonomic reversal the old college try. He tags the unilateral bullies of the Bush administration “isolationists” and avers, “I favor the very opposite of isolation: diplomacy, free trade, and freedom of travel.” And ‘tis true that the “isolationist” Paul was the only GOP presidential hopeful to support lifting sanctions against Cuba.

He fires off this nice line: “Mine is an ‘isolationist’ position only to those who believe that the world’s peoples can interact with each other only through their governments, or only through the intermediary of a supranational bureaucracy.”

Update: Dave Weigel offers a Reason-ed review of The Revolution here, while Stacy McCain reviews Bill’s book over at The American Spectator on-line.

Fewer Bases, More Baseball

May 12, 2008

My review of Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism is now on-line. And here’s author Bill Kauffman’s review of Ginger Strand’s Inventing Niagara, from Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.

Antiwar Conservatism Comes to Cato

May 9, 2008

Bill Kauffman’s event yesterday was great fun — a provocative talk from Bill, a friendly rejoinder from Michael Tomasky, and about 20 minutes of audience Q+A, plus a reception afterwards. Catch up if you missed it by listening to the MP3 or watching the RealVideo.

About three-quarters of the TAC office trekked down to the event, where we found, as expected, a great many familiar faces: Jeremy Lott and Stacy McCain of the American Spectator, Jesse Walker of Reason, my Robert Taft Club associates Richard Spencer and Marcus Epstein, Twilight at Monticello scribe Alan Crawford, as well as Cato’s own Justin Logan and Gene Healy, and many others. Lots of people Dick Cheney would like to see in Gitmo, in other words.


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