Is Austin Bramwell the New Peter Viereck?

Daniel Larison wonders whatever became of my promised defense of Viereck. I’ll take a crack at that, and post some thoughts on the Austin Bramwell article that Larison discusses, sometime over the weekend. Meanwhile, TAC duties call: we’re scrambling to put together timely election coverage. By way of a sneak preview, I’ll mention that the books department for next issue contains another long-awaited piece of mine, my review of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, plus historian Gregory Schneider on Barry Goldwater and Ralph de Toledano on Bach. It prints tomorrow — subscribers and stores should have it in a week to ten days or so.

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4 thoughts on “Is Austin Bramwell the New Peter Viereck?

  1. Scott Lahti November 20, 2006 / 8:20 am

    No, thank Heaven, even were that possible – Bramwell is not the next Viereck – any more than Buckley, Vidal, Tyrrell or O’Rourke were the Next Menckens, or the late and justly lamented Mitch Hedberg was the Next Seinfeld – he’s the first and final Austin Bramwell. Though Bramwell’s essay is a bit jumpily all over the place, his frantic Houdini writhing to slip the straitjacket of Canonic Conservatism in all its ghettoed inferiority complexity seems healthy enough. Not for nothing did WFB once lament, over the diaspora of accomplished belletrists – Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Garry Wills, Guy Davenport, John Leonard, Arlene Croce – for whom National Review had served, honorably enough, as a farm team: “For a while I thought we were running a finishing school for apostates.” Give Bramwell a few years to regain his balance in washing off the stench of right-wing ideology…

    A good first step always comes in recognizing that one’s personal “conservative” canon can never consist – except as an early provisional springboard while in that pimply blue-blazer chrysalis from which the adult glides across a humanist meadow larger and brighter by leagues – of Hayek, Buckley, Weaver, Kirk, Chambers or Meyer, or any other such postwar provincial. For starters, one takes the Columbia or Britannica encyclopedias, and The Times Literary Supplement as a rough-drafted syllabus; and remembers that Barzun’s “great American tradition of the judicious eccentric” consisted of, e.g., Mark Twain, John Jay Chapman, Finley Peter Dunne, Albert Jay Nock, and H.L. Mencken – while a glance at the chapter epigrams marking Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man were taken not from the “paleocons” or “paleolibertarians” as they existed in 1943 – but from Goethe’s Conversations With Eckermann (an old Nisbet favorite, along of course with Nock himself), Spinoza, Montaigne and Sainte-Beuve; Nock’s longest block quotes therein came from Turgenev’s late and haunting short ghost story Clara Militch (“it’s all very lovely, but evil is coming”; “It’s nothing – it’s Death – good luck to you!”), from Dr. Alexis Carrel’s Man, the Unknown and from Carleton J.H. Hayes’s A Generation of Materialism

    Oh, and the greatest “conservative” of the last sixty years just happens to be also the greatest artist to have come of age during that time: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – and hats off to ISI over its issue this month of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005

    I was happy to see Bramwell’s scattered shots hitting bullseyes many of us had seen as ripe for target practice as far back as the late 1970s – which many of our elders outside the political right had of course backdated further in recognizing that, e.g., conservatism, whether “paleo” or “neo”, is as flyblown a form of ahistorical reductionist claptrap as its liberal cousin, the votaries of each side consisting of the same sort of naive and self-deluded do-gooder (think of the great hordes of Reaganites, Gingrinches, Dubyuks, Dittoheads and divers other right-wing nerds clogging the Beltway over the last quarter-century).

    The words of my landlady from 1987 in Wilton, Connecticut, (1911-1987) – former sister-in-law of Dwight Macdonald and Robert Penn Warren, granddaughter of towering economist John Bates Clark, first woman reporter for Fortune and translator of La Fontaine – still haunt me: “Stay away from Isms!”

    Until your Bramwell post to come, here’s a cognate thought courtesy of John Jay Chapman, from a graduation address delivered at Hobart College in 1900, as reprinted by The Brothers Judd and Crispin Sartwell

    “When I was asked to make this address I wondered what I had to say to you boys who are graduating. And I think I have one thing to say. If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you. Refuse to learn anything that implies collusion, whether it be a clerkship or a curacy, a legal fee or a post in a university. Retain the power of speech no matter what other power you may lose. If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course you become dampers, mutes, and hooded executioners.

    As a practical matter a mere failure to speak out upon occasions where no opinion is asked or expected of you, and when the utterance of uncalled-for suspicion is odious, will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity. Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Albany and watch what comes forward to shut off the sound. It is not a German sergeant, nor a Russian officer of the precinct. It is a note from a friend of your father’s offering you a place in his office. This is your warning from the secret police. Why, if any of you young gentleman have a mind to make himself heard a mile off, you must make a bonfire of your reputations and a close enemy of most men who would wish you well.

    I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. ‘In a few years,’ reasons one of them, ‘I shall have gained a standing, and then I will use my powers for good.’ Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. The man has lost his horizon of thought. His ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.”

  2. Scott Lahti November 20, 2006 / 9:21 am

    [Revised and corrected]

    No, thank Heaven, even were that possible – Bramwell is not the next Viereck – any more than Buckley, Vidal, Tyrrell or O’Rourke were the Next Menckens, or the late and justly lamented Mitch Hedberg was the Next Seinfeld – he’s the first and final Austin Bramwell. Though Bramwell’s essay is a bit jumpily all over the place, his frantic Houdini writhing to slip the straitjacket of Canonic Conservatism in all its ghettoed inferiority complexity seems healthy enough. Not for nothing did WFB once lament, over the diaspora of accomplished belletrists – Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Garry Wills, Guy Davenport, John Leonard, Arlene Croce – for whom National Review had served, honorably enough, as a farm team: “For a while I thought we were running a finishing school for apostates.” Give Bramwell a few years to regain his balance in washing off the stench of right-wing ideology…

    A good first step always comes in recognizing that one’s personal “conservative” canon can never consist – except as an early provisional springboard while in that pimply blue-blazer chrysalis from which the adult glides across a humanist meadow larger and brighter by leagues – of Hayek, Buckley, Weaver, Kirk, Chambers or Meyer, or any other such postwar provincial. For starters, one takes the Columbia or Britannica encyclopedias, and The Times Literary Supplement as a rough-drafted syllabus; and remembers that Barzun’s “great American tradition of the judicious eccentric” consisted of, e.g., Mark Twain, John Jay Chapman, Finley Peter Dunne, Albert Jay Nock, and H.L. Mencken – while a glance at the chapter epigrams marking Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man were taken not from the “paleocons” or “paleolibertarians” as they existed in 1943 – but from Goethe’s Conversations With Eckermann (an old Nisbet favorite – see his Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary – along of course with Nock himself), Spinoza, Montaigne and Sainte-Beuve; Nock’s longest block quotes therein came from Turgenev’s late and haunting short ghost story Clara Militch (”it’s all very lovely, but evil is coming”; “It’s nothing – it’s Death – good luck to you!”), from Dr. Alexis Carrel’s Man, the Unknown and from Carleton J.H. Hayes’s A Generation of Materialism

    Oh, and the greatest “conservative” of the last sixty years just happens to be also the greatest artist to have come of age during that time: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – and hats off to ISI over its issue this month of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005.

    I was happy to see Bramwell’s scattered shots hitting bullseyes many of us had seen as ripe for target practice as far back as the late 1970s – which many of our elders outside the political right had of course backdated further in recognizing that, e.g., conservatism, whether “paleo” or “neo”, is as flyblown a form of ahistorical reductionist claptrap as its liberal cousin, the votaries of each side consisting of the same sort of naive and self-deluded do-gooder (think of the great hordes of Reaganites, Gingrinches, Dubyuks, Dittoheads and divers other right-wing nerds clogging the Beltway over the last quarter-century).

    The words of my landlady from 1987 in Wilton, Connecticut, Eunice Clark Jessup (1911-1987) – former sister-in-law of Dwight Macdonald and Robert Penn Warren, granddaughter of the great economist John Bates Clark, first woman reporter for Fortune and translator of La Fontaine – still haunt me: “Stay away from Isms!”

    Until your Bramwell post to come, here’s a cognate thought courtesy of John Jay Chapman, from a graduation address delivered at Hobart College in 1900, as reprinted by The Brothers Judd and Crispin Sartwell; it demands tattooing unto the soul of every aspiring artist in words, setting the soul as it does “to dance with arms and legs”, to borrow from Nietzsche; this from the great lost critic of American letters, whose Biblically-prophetic lecture “Coatesville” – delivered in town and in person within days of a lynching thorough unto souvenir butchery – and whose character study of William Lloyd Garrison are as electromagnetic a century on as they were when wet:

    “When I was asked to make this address I wondered what I had to say to you boys who are graduating. And I think I have one thing to say. If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you. Refuse to learn anything that implies collusion, whether it be a clerkship or a curacy, a legal fee or a post in a university. Retain the power of speech no matter what other power you may lose. If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course you become dampers, mutes, and hooded executioners.

    As a practical matter a mere failure to speak out upon occasions where no opinion is asked or expected of you, and when the utterance of uncalled-for suspicion is odious, will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity. Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Albany and watch what comes forward to shut off the sound. It is not a German sergeant, nor a Russian officer of the precinct. It is a note from a friend of your father’s offering you a place in his office. This is your warning from the secret police. Why, if any of you young gentleman have a mind to make himself heard a mile off, you must make a bonfire of your reputations and a close enemy of most men who would wish you well.

    I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. ‘In a few years,’ reasons one of them, ‘I shall have gained a standing, and then I will use my powers for good.’ Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. The man has lost his horizon of thought. His ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.”

  3. Tim November 22, 2006 / 1:04 am

    I’m not sure about the Viereck comparison, but Austin’s recent Amconmag article with it’s outline of the Orwellian “IngSoc” nature of so much of modern conservatism is pretty powerful. Something along these lines, although with a more purely foreign policy focus, has been written by Murray Rothbard (see here) who was largely echoing Harry Elmer Barnes’ chapter / essay “How ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity” . The whole Orwell comparison is quite thought provoking.

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