American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia — A Review or Two

My review of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia for Orion magazine is now on-line here. It’s completely different from my earlier review of the book for The American Conservative. I hasten to add that I did not work for ISI when I wrote either of the reviews…

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3 thoughts on “American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia — A Review or Two

  1. Tim May 9, 2007 / 8:36 am

    A geek moment: That link is an interesting example of page optimised for Internet Explorer browsers that shows up badly in Firefox.

  2. Tim May 9, 2007 / 9:11 am

    A contrarian note on your review for Orion Magazine…

    You are right to point out that “American Conservatism : An Encyclopedia” highlights many of the agrarian and decentralist thinkers who helped shaped American conservatism. You are also right in hinting that these “proto-crunchy cons” are a neglected source that those hankering for a more down to earth and ecologically sound way of life (whatever that is supposed to mean) should look into. Still the encyclopedia has a major omission for anyone trying to unearth the roots of paleo-crunchy con-istan, namely Louis Bromfield.

    As Joseph Stromberg has pointed out, Louis Bromfield, himself an artistic figure of note, combined concern for the earth, sustainable agriculture and opposition to US global militarism back when greens were something you ate.

    And L.B. was no armchair urban crunchy granola guy, he set up a model farm, Malabar Farm, that was something of a go to place for the Hollywood set. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were even married there. To top it off he regularly pushed a rural perspective on national affairs on radio and in the press.

    Despite his many novels and screenplays, he found time to pen an Old Right critique of the Cold War entitled “a New Pattern For A Tired World”, although not a foreign policy specialist, this 1954 book still reads rather well, and his ‘predictive’ track record wasn’t bad either. Here is an extract from a review…

    “His critique of US foreign policy was of course not strictly isolationist, few if any ‘true isolationists’ actually existed. Instead of the Atlanticist focus on NATO, Europe and the Marshall Plan, or the related ‘Internationalist’ focus on the UN and general foreign aid, Bromfield urged the US to look back towards the Monroe Doctrine and update it along the line’s of FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy, developing close and mutually beneficial economic cooperation with the nations of the Western hemisphere, particularly Canada and Brazil. Bromfield saw the “Good Neighbor” policy as a successful policy left to die on the vine, once war, Atlanticist and Internationalist concerns came to dominate. He believed this new Monroe doctrine would better serve America’s and liberal democracy’s interests in the long run than the actual strategy implemented by Truman and Acheson. America’s cold war strategy was he believed reactionary and counter-productive. In the guise of fighting communism world wide, America became in effect the military and financial underwriter of what was left of European imperialism. This “european” rather than “american” strategy put the US off side with the ultimately unstoppable nationalist movements of the Third World. This was really a tremendous ‘own goal’ in the struggle with communism, allowing Soviet and Chinese agents to appear as the banner carriers of nationalism. To compound matters American encirclement imposed an artificial unity on the communist bloc that itself was something of a ramshackle empire of diverse nationalities and interests. On net the Atlanticist / Internationalist vision undermined America’s and liberal democracy’s long term interests. Even had Soviet satellites come to dominate the Eurasian land mass, the very forces of emerging nationalism America’s cold warriors sought to tame as proxy enemies for the Soviets, would emerge as a local counterforce, resistance and reaction to communist domination.”

    “His alternative vision focused primarily on the cooperative economic development of Canada, the US and Brazil. These three could provide the ‘free world’ with a western hemisphere bastion. He wanted the same vision ultimated extended to the rest of the Americas. His focus was on economic cooperation not military alliance. He wanted US trade policies to promote the free movement of workers, capital and goods between the western hemisphere nations, with government policy aimed at promoting “American style” decentralised and competitive capitalism versus the top down “European Style” class and cartel dominated capitalism that government – to -government foreign aid promotes. He was not a strict continentalist in the sense of aiming for a pan-american trade bloc, he was too much of a ‘free trader’ for that. He believed the ultimate path to peace and stability for the world was for open trading communities to develop to link the smaller nations with the fewest natural endowments into cooperative relations with the several resource rich powers (eg America, Brazil, Russia, China) . This pattern would lead to a more balanced and stable world structure. 20th century Britain, for example, over-dependent on industrial exports and agrarian imports was an example of an unstable and unsustainable development, underlying structural instabilities of this type helped lead to the two, and nearly three great European wars. He argued that the solution to the economic and military problems of postwar West Europe (including Britain) was in the development of a european federation. He opposed economic aid and US military deployment (essentially aid in kind) as merely slowing the needed federal reforms. Both Washington’s cold war strategies and New York’s United Nations failed to deal with these fundamentals.”

    “He was quite scathing on the UN, he called the widespread view that the UN fosters or is responsible for world peace an example of the modern success of the “Big Lie” technique. Peace has both it’s origins and failures elsewhere. At the same time he also criticises the unprecedented rise of military leaders to positions of power within the US republic (notably the appointment of General Marshall as Secretary of Defense) and the power and ‘unreformability’ of the military and naval establishment. He says apart from the Kaiser’s Germany it is hard to find a comparable example of military dominance in a western nation. ”

    It’s a shame Louis Bromfield has fallen off the radar from “American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia”, a volume that otherwise does a great job in highlighting the agrarian tradition.

  3. Daniel McCarthy May 10, 2007 / 4:40 am

    I’ve been compiling (but repeatedly losing) a short list of entries that ought to be included in the next edition of the ACE. Bromfield is one that hadn’t occurred to me before, but you make a very strong case for him: I’ll keep him in mind.

    If other people have suggestions of overlooked figures, particularly interesting intellectual conservatives, who were missed, let me know. Can’t promise anything, but we can at least consider all the suggestions.

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