Archive for the ‘Social criticism’ category

If You’re In the D.C. Area, Drop by the Taft Club Tonight

December 5, 2007

The Robert Taft Club is hosting a panel discussion tonight on the society, politics, and the biological sciences with Charles Murray (co-author of The Bell Curve), Tom Bethell (author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science and a senior editor of the American Spectator), John Derbyshire (of National Review), Ron Bailey (Reason‘s science correspondent).

The event runs from 7:30 (panel itself begins at 8, but arriving early is a good idea) to 10 pm in the Fillmore Room of the Boulevard Woodgrill, 2901 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA. Directions here. More event details here. It’s a free event — though we suggest a donation of $10 to help us defray costs — so if you’re in the area, consider attending.

Night of the Living Dead Ideologies

May 9, 2007

Brian Doherty argues that neoliberalism and (neo)conservatism aren’t nearly as dead as they ought to be.

Neoliberals by that name may be dead; neoliberalism reigns. Conservatism (especially minus libertarianism) may be out of ideas, but still commands enormous armies of dedicated voters—more than any other self-identified ideology.

To put it another way, the Soviet Union (to say nothing of Cuba and Red China) hung around long beyond Communism’s expiration date. The inertia of institutional power is nigh overwhelming in the short run.

I am encouraged for the future by the largley non-ideological bent of some of the brighter young people I know.  There doesn’t seem to be much appetite among them for grand projects to reconstruct society or the world. On the other hand, I sometimes detect among them a hint of indifferentism and a certain naivete about the hardened political doctrines that still rule the day — I know one or two promising, post-ideological young conservatives or libertarians who seem to think that everybody likes them because, hey, what’s not to like? The answer to that is: just wait until you’re in a position where your words or actions matter to the establishment.  You’ll find out very quickly why libertarians and paleoconservatives are so fractious and sometimes bitter.  The establishment can tolerate plenty of dissent when it doesn’t matter; as soon as it does, the knives come out.

On a tangential note, the situation in universities seems to be gradually improving as well, not just with the continuing decline of political correctness (any is still too much, but this isn’t the late ’80s / early ’90s: speech codes, for example, are fewer and fewer) but more importantly with the regeneration of several worthy fields of scholarship.  Classics is booming at several universities: when I was a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis at the beginning of this decade, there seemed to be about three times as much interest in classics among undergrads as there had been just a couple of years earlier, when I was an undergrad myself. I’ve heard of similar upswings at other campuses.  In economics, not only has Keynesianism fallen to a low ebb, but Austrian and at any rate “post-neoclassical” scholarship appears to be flourishing, even if Samuelsonian neoclassical economics still rules the day.  Whether these developments are just blips or a real turnaround, time will tell; but I’m cautiously optimistic.

From Harper’s Index

April 17, 2007

A fast fact or two from the May Harper’s:

Percentage of Pakistanis and Indonesians who say that attacks on civilians are sometimes justified to defend Islam: 3

Percentage of Americans who say that attacks on civilians are sometimes justified: 24

No doubt a great deal depends on how the survey question is worded. Even so, the latter number seems about right — if not an undercount.

The May Harper’s isn’t all that interesting, at a quick glance, but there’s a new reason to become a subscriber: the magazine’s archives going all the way back to the 1850s are now available to subscribers for free.

Something For the Weekend: Thomas Woods on Culture and Enterprise

March 31, 2007

Last Thursday I attended the Culture of Enterprise event at the Cato Institute, “What Should Be a Culture of Enterprise in an Age of Globalization.” Thomas Woods gave a talk that was an absolute tour de force and, fortunately, it’s available on-line. Hear it here (MP3), or watch it here (Real video). Those links also inclue Olaf Gersemann’s talk following Tom’s; Gersemann was thought-provoking in his own right, though he acknowledged that coming after Tom’s talk put him at a tremendous disadvantage.

The later panel with Ed Stringham, Bryan Caplan, and the Acton Institute’s Kevin Schmiesing is also worth a viewing or a listen, particularly for Caplan’s discussion of “political culture” versus “personal culture” as factors in producing prosperity.

Straussian Anti-Federalism?

March 27, 2007

Georgetown government professor Patrick Deneen was one of the speaker’s at last weekend’s “Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition” shindig in Charlottesville.  He made a very interesting case, drawing on Leo Strauss, for what he called America’s “alternative” tradition, of which the Anti-Federalists were the prophets.  Deneen has a blog and has posted the first segment of his remarks here. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the portion that cites the Anti-Federalists.)  Though I disagree with a great deal in the talk, it’s interesting enough to be worth flagging up for attention.

Is Australia All Just Croc Hunters and Kylie Minogue?

March 16, 2007

Of course not, though I’m not at all sure that Aussie journalist Guy Rundle makes much of a case to the contrary. He argues that the negative image of Australia put about by left-wing British journalists is a substitute for dealing with what a “slatternly disgrace” the British working class has become. That rings true but doesn’t say much about the real state of Australian civilization one way or another.

I like what little I’ve seen of Australia just from spending a month or two a few years ago in Alice Springs, an outpost in the middle of the outback. Admittedly, I wasn’t looking for culture there — I was content simply to look at rocks and wallabys. But that’s better than what passes for culture in most parts of the world these days.

The Wanderer Looks At “GOP And Man at Yale”

December 16, 2006

A friend brings to my notice this piece (originally from the Wanderer) which comments on my “GOP and Man at Yale” article from a few months back. It’s a fair piece, but it misses an important point: the difference between talk-radio conservatism and the political philosophies of a Kirk or a Weaver is not just a difference in intellectual rigor; on substantive questions of war and foreign policy (and much more as well) the popularized conservatism of today stands for something contrary to the thinking of the traditionalist Right’s founding fathers.

I don’t begrudge anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage for the entertainment or trivia value of their programs. But someone who looks to them for sound counsel on questions of war, ethics, or political philosophy is making a serious mistake.

Our Enemy, the Administrative State

December 7, 2006

Paul Gottfried on the difference between Right and Left:

While the Left rails against the bogus Right (that is, the neoconservatives) as the sponsors of a military state that is taking away popular liberties, it knows where its real domestic enemy is to be found. The media Left lurches fitfully into attack mode against the Militia Men as rightwing extremists, a reaction that is never apparent when it discusses the Black Panthers or Hispanic racial nationalists. One likely reason is that, in contrast to designated indignant minorities, “rightwing extremists” are not clients of the administrative state. In fact they would be happy to junk this entity entirely. And whenever the Left here or in Europe is promoting its social engineering policies, it urges obedience to judicial-administrative governance, as the appropriate democratic behavior. I doubt that the Left really believes that the worst thing about the Right is neoconservative militarism. The long-term enemy is those who want to get rid of the system of behavioral control that the central government set up in the twentieth century, in order to equalize it subjects through confiscation and threats as well as redistributed goodies and to fight every alleged form of discrimination.

Human Sacrifice, American Style

September 25, 2006

I’m looking forward to “Apocalypto.” While promoting the new film, Mel Gibson put the collapse of Mayan civilization in context:

In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, “The precursors to a civilization that’s going under are the same, time and time again,” drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America’s present situation. “What’s human sacrifice,” he asked, “if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?”

What Do You Call Yourself?

September 21, 2006

Twice last week I was asked whether I’d call myself a conservative, a libertarian, a paleoconservative, or what. Both times I said the same thing: “anarchist.” The first time I was drunk enough that nobody was likely to put too much weight on my words. The latter time, regrettably, I was stone-cold sober and on hearing the answer my interlocutor asked, “No, seriously…?” Did I just dislike labels or something?

Labels have their uses. But in Washington, D.C., especially, I won’t very well call myself a conservative; here the term denotes either a supporter of Bush or, at a minimum, an appendage to the conservative movement — or someone broadly sympathetic to that movement perhaps, even if not directly implicated in it. I don’t fit those criteria and wouldn’t want to be mis-identified as doing so. I think Bush should be in jail and that the conservative movement is about as inimical to the conservatism of the thinkers I admire as it’s possible to get, as I’ve suggested before. In writing, or when my listeners have a good deal to time to devote to a discussion of semantics, I might still be inclined to try to relate what I think conservatism properly is and how it differs from what it’s commonly perceived as being. And for that matter, in other parts of the country, where people are less inclined than in Washington, D.C., to believe that politicians and the movements that carry water for them are what truly matter in life, there may still be some value in the term “conservative.” Here, however, there isn’t.

I’m not a native libertarian, so I usually think it presumptuous to append that label to myself. I don’t mind if others do so. My politics are libertarian, but I don’t necessarily go in for all of the other social views commonly — rightly or wrongly — associated with libertarianism. Libertarians tend to be optimists, for example, which I am certainly not. The only truly pessimistic libertarian I can think of is Robert Higgs who, perhaps not coincidentally, would also, I gather, about as readily identify himself as an anarchist as a libertarian. I’m not a believer in “dynamism” or any inexorable march of liberty.

“Anarchist” has the advantage of being disreputable enough that no respectable person would call himself one. No Trotsky fan mugged by reality is going to label himself an anarchist, and no bomb-dropping patriot would even think of it. In some respects the term isn’t quite an accurate description of what I think, since I do acknolwedge the need for institutions of public order. But the modern state is, if anything, an institution of public disorder and a thing whose essence is coercion and the abrogation of property rights, and which is almost totally lawless to boot. The present administration gives about as much evidence of that last point as anyone might ask for. “Anarchist” has its own negative connotations and dubious history, of course, but it’s far and away better than to be a Beltway “conservative” and not nearly as presumptious as calling myself a libertarian. So I think I’ll stick with it.


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