Something For the Weekend: Thomas Woods on Culture and Enterprise

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.



I’m in three cities over the next four days so posting will be brief. Two quick things tonight (or today, whichever it is) — here is the second part of Patrick Deneen’s talk from last weekend’s Charlottesville conference on Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition. Daniel Larison seemed a little surprised that I would not agree wholeheartedly with Deneen’s talk (the main decentralist thrust of which I do agree with). What would I object to? Well, I thought there was an undertone of something in that talk, and this later post by Professor Deneen makes it explicit. He detects “gauzy sentimentality” in the libertarian and generally anti-statist bent of some of the participants, as well as an overvaulting optimism about human nature. To me, it looks like the statists are the optimists about human nature: they believe that some people, given lordship over others, will not abuse their powers. I would contend that that view holds up neither in theory nor experience: with a very few exceptions, growth of state power comes at the expense of community and civil society. Taxes, wars, and red tape are not bulwarks of family and locality. But that’s something I’ll have to address at length later on. (My talk, or ramble as the case actually was, at Charlottesville centered on the anarchism and genuine conservatism of Dwight Macdonald and Dorothy Day, more topics to be addressed properly at a later date.)

The second subject for today is not very localist at all, except in that it’s about an American-made product: the Macbook. I bought one yesterday and it’s already exceeded my expectations. For one thing, the touchpad can be programmed to react to two-finger strokes differently from one-finger ones: moving your index and middle fingers over the pad will scroll on-screen menus. The screen is clearer than expected — it looks clearer than my desktop mac, actually, which makes me think that maybe the desktop is in need of a dusting. The CD/DVD drive, meanwhile, managed to import into iTunes a 20-year-old CD that desktop couldn’t read at all and that always skipped atrociously in the Sony. I’m uncommonly happy with this purchase. (Mine is the 2 gigahertz white model.)

Straussian Anti-Federalism?

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.

Power Plays

Stephen Greenblatt on “Shakespeare and the Uses of Power,” from the New York Review of Books. The best thing in the April 12 issue, though, is Hayden Pelliccia’s “Let Virgil Be Virgil,” which reviews the new Aeneid translations by Robert Fagles and Stanley Lombardo. (Maybe I should be more circumspect about claiming that the Pelliccia piece is the best thing, since there are a couple other promising essays in this issue that I haven’t read yet, such as Richard Holmes’s piece on Wordsworth and Coleridge.)

Jonathan Bate’s cover story on Shakespeare in the April Harper’s is also well worth picking up.

Apt Enough

The fortune cookie with my Chinese take-away yesterday (which was a very affordable $5 for white rice, pork fried rice, and an egg roll) informed me, “Your principles mean more to you than any money or success.” I prefer fortunes that actually make predictions, but I’ll settle for that.

My “daily numbers” were 007. I wonder whether that means I’ll soon run into fast women and a megalomaniac with a fluffy white cat…

No updates to the blog until Sunday or so — I’m off to Charlottesville.  Normally I’d have my laptop, but it expired, after five years’ service, last night.

Recent Reading

Ahead of this weekend’s “Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition” conference, I’m reading Thunder on the Right by Alan Crawford, who’ll be the lunchtime speaker. Thunder on the Right, published in 1980, is an anti-New Right book written by young conservative whose own sympathies lay somewhere between Bill Buckley and Peter Viereck. Crawford was critical of both the populist tilt of the New Right and the direct-mail methods by which Richard Viguerie raised money for the cause. As the back flap of the dust jacket puts it (in terms more overblown than anything in the book itself):

Discontent, anger, and insecurity fuel these efforts. The New Right has no positive program but flourishes on backlash politics, seeking to veto whatever threatens its way of life–busing, textbooks, women’s liberation, abolition of capital punishment, gay rights, gun control, loss of the Panama Canal. Not conservative, it feeds on social protest and encourages class hostility. Its heroes are rugged frontiersmen of the new Old West; its enemies are moderate, liberals, and true conservatives of whatever party.

That could just as well be ad copy for a book by Andrew Sullivan, but Thunder on the Right is better than all that makes it sound. The book has a point: often by their own admission, the New Rightists were “radicals” and “populists,” not traditional conservatives, and they did have a much tougher agenda (for good and ill) than Republican Party or the institutionalized conservative mainstream. The threat that Crawford envisioned from the New Right never materialized, though — partly because Ronald Reagan’s victory stole their thunder (and then sold them out to establishment Republicans and neoconservatives), partly because “white flight” from the cities dampened the outrage against busing, and partly because the New Right’s rhetoric and tactics were soon co-opted by the establishment. One could see in Bush’s myrmidon supporters in 2004 much of the spirit of the New Right — but in the service of a Bonesman. What little radicalism Middle Americans were capable of turned into so much fuel for the Bush machine.

I’m also reading Peter Viereck’s Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind, those roots being, in Viereck’s telling, Prussian militarism (“anti-democratic but not romantic nor racist”) and romantic nationalism. Richard Wagner, of course, emerges as a great villain. I’ll have more to say about Viereck, as I’ve long promised, in a month or so — I’m at work on a long-ish Viereck piece for a print outlet, about which I’ll say more when the time is ripe.

Is Australia All Just Croc Hunters and Kylie Minogue?

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 Strauss Story

Steven Smith, who himself has recently published on Leo Strauss, reviews two new biographies of the “skeptical friend of democracy.” Here’s a bite:

Central to Strauss’s understanding of the Medieval Enlightenment [of Farabi and Maimonides] was the claim that revelation is the medium of the moral and political life of the community. No community, not even the modern liberal state, can entirely escape theology. Philosophy must therefore pay its respects to religion by concealing its deepest and most disturbing truths by adopting a rhetoric of piety and obedience to the law. The model of this kind of “noble rhetoric” can be found in Plato. It was in Farabi’s interpretation of Plato that Strauss first discovered the famous doctrine of the “double truth” to which he gave expression in his famous 1941 essay “Persecution and the Art of Writing.”

Like every reader of Strauss, Mr. Tanguay wants to know whether Strauss’s recovery of esoteric writing was intended purely as a historical insight or whether he incorporated the techniques of Plato and Farabi into his own writing. “Why did Strauss,” Tanguagy asks, “who lived all his life in democratic regimes where freedom of expression is guaranteed by law, feel the need to employ an art of writing that is justified in part by fear of persecution?”

Strauss did not live in fear of persecution; he was not a paranoid. But his adoption of this “Farabian” rhetoric was his way of protecting his adopted homeland from the skepticism that is the mark of all true philosophy. Strauss’s use of a rhetoric of discretion was his way of showing respect for democracy.

Earth to David Broder, Come in, Cosmonaut Broder…

The dean of Washington Post political columnists says that reports of the GOP’s impending demise are premature. Maybe so. The evidence Broder gives, though, suggests just the opposite:

Support for President Bush and his policies remains high among Republicans. His overall job rating among GOP voters is 75 percent, “and by overwhelming numbers they approve of his handling of foreign policy, the war in Iraq and the management of the economy.”

That does not suggest a party wracked by anxiety or guilt…

Is it really a sign of health for Republicans that they still think everything is fine with the Bush administration and the Iraq War? Expressing such firm confidence in the leading lemming as he’s taking the herd over the cliff is maybe not a good thing.