In Print: Ron Paul, Bill Kauffman, and Ralph Adams Cram

The 4/21 issue of The American Conservative, which should be showing up in bookstores and subscribers’ mailboxes right about now, contains my article “The Ron Paul Evolution,” on the future of the Ron Paul movement — already there are candidates, a youth organization, and nonprofit ventures rising out of the Paul phenomenon, and there’s much more to come. I relate a few of my own experiences with the campaign in the piece, too. Hunt down a copy.

The next issue of the mag, out in about two weeks, should contain my review of Bill Kauffman’s terrific new book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism. The book is every bit as good as you would expect from the Sage of Batavia–and even better. If you need any convincing, just check out my review.

Gerald Russello, the editor extraordinaire of the University Bookman tells me that my review of Douglass Shand-Tucci’s recent biography of Ralph Adams Cram is in the current issue of that venerable (and Russell Kirk-founded) quarterly. It’s on-line here, but I’d recommend tracking down a print copy as well — or better yet, subscribing. Under Russello’s able editorship, the Bookman has gone from being a neglected cousin of Modern Age to becoming essential reading.

(The revivified Bookman is hardly Russello’s only notable achievement in recent years: he’s also the author of The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk, which I reviewed for Reason a while back.)


Another Post Paleo Post

Paul Gottfried extends and revises his remarks on the “post paleo” generation of the Right here. Helen Rittelmeyer of the Cigarette Smoking Blog comments on Paul’s original thread and some of the reactions it elicited.

Both Gottfried and Rittelmeyer note the Nietzschean interests of the postpaleos. Paul suggests that these, along with fewer inhibitions about “discussing topics which for the paleos have been clearly off the table since the death of Sam Francis,” are a defining trait. Rittelmeyer agrees: “‘constitutionalism, decentralism, immigration restriction and rejection of democratist hegemony’ — remain the same,” she writes, “but the tone is more postmodern than pre-modern (or, if you prefer, more rock ‘n’ roll).”

I don’t know about “rock ‘n’ roll.” And I’m not sure whether the philosophical distinctions between paleos and postpaleos are as pronounced as they might seem at first blush. For one thing, the paleos of the 1980s were quite different philosophically from the paleos of today. Twenty years ago paleos took a much greater interest in sociolobiology and German philosophy — although Curtis Cate published an important volume on Nietzsche as recently as 2005. The philosophical complexion of paleoconservatism has changed over the past two decades as the ranks have thinned (with the deaths of Cate, Sam Francis, and others) and as many of the first generation paleocons have converted to Catholicism — this, by the way, is part of the background to Paul’s remarks about Catholic-Protestant tensions among the paleos.

Paleos have become more pre-modern and less postmodern over the years, and the postpaleos might follow a similar trajectory. Furthermore, it is not clear just how Nietzschean the postpaleos really are. Of the postpaleos I know — and since the paleo and postpaleo universes encompass only about a hundred people, I think I know most of them — just one is a serious student of Nietzsche. Others take a passing interest, as I do. That might not disprove Paul’s point, however, since he suggests that an interest in the pre-war Old Right is also characteristic of the postpaleos, and one can argue that there’s a broadly Nietzschean undertone to the libertarian Old Right. Certainly there is in Mencken, though Mencken has a peculiar take on Nietzsche.

I suspect there are many young rightists — budding postpaleos whom I don’t yet know — who like Nietzsche for the wrong reasons. I remember in high school attending conventions of the Junior Classical League — Latin geeks — and not infrequently encountering bookish types whose version of teenage rebellion was wearing Nietzsche t-shirts, typically with one or another of his more cliched aphorisms (“That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger,” “God Is Dead”) emblazoned upon them. Slightly older specimens of the same genus were much in evidence in my undergraduate days, only they added to their catchphrase Nietzsche a sophomoric veneer of sophistication. Nietzsche was death metal for nerds.

Nietzsche appeals to smart, cynical (or cynical-posing) young men, and even quite sound conservatives are not necessarily immune to the temptations of bastardized Nietzscheanism or clever-dick postmodernism. I wrote in an earlier post on a related topic that I had doubts about whether the postpaleo generation was applying itself seriously enough to education. Especially with the temptations of blogging, we’re in danger of becoming a generation of Bill Buckleys, spurning rigorous, long-form grappling with ideas and instead spouting off shallow quips and impressing ourselves with rhetoric. That can be a quick path to Internet fame, but it won’t produce work of lasting significance. The postpaleo generation doesn’t necessarily have to go back to graduate school — but even its brightest lights ought to apprentice themselves to older, wiser thinkers, and not get too intoxicated with potent but cheap ideas.

(I’m referring, of course, to cod Nietzscheanism, not the genuine, and more elusive, article.)

Notes on Nationalism

Here’s the link to my piece at Taki’s Magazine on nationalism and patriotism. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth in the comments section.

In a nutshell, I say that patriotism has been taken to excess, particularly by conservatives, and nationalism (which is not simply excessive patriotism, but a distinct idea) is actually something that the United States could use a little more of. At least one commenter thinks my goal is to rehabilitate the word “nationalist,” but that’s not the case: I don’t like the word, and as I say in the piece, I’m not a nationalist. But nationalism, of the sort I describe and of the sort advocated by Samuel Huntington and Pat Buchanan, is much to be preferred over democratic imperialism (which is what patriotic sentiment has lately been annexed to) and anti-Western multiculturalism.

Most of all, though, I’m agitated by what I think is a dishonest use of language — the idea that patriotism can never be in error and that nationalism must always be a great evil. It seems to me that some truly nice, patriotic people can be driven by their patriotism to support folly. The Iraq War was not made possible just by the deceits of a handful of neocons. It was made possible because ordinary Americans thought that America could do no wrong from noble motives.

The Right Strategy

I have a rather discursive post up at Taki’s Magazine that draws together a few recent threads about Obamacons, Jim Webb, and the futures (such as they are) of conservatism and paleoconservatism.

Addendum: Memes relating to the subjects above have been making the rounds on several blogs. I’ll just link to three threads here: Ross Douthat, Stacy McCain, and Rod Dreher.


I think Paul Gottfried is altogether too optimistic when he says that the neocons won’t control the Right forever in his post-paleo piece up at Taki’s Magazine. I’m not one to discount “changing historical conditions,” but I wouldn’t count on any changes in the cards in the near future to rid us of the neos. They’re nothing if not adaptable, after all. Gottfried is also more exuberant about “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists” being “a counterforce to neoconservative dominance” than I think is warranted. I see some hope for the future in the younger generation — I have a piece in the April 21 TAC talking about that — and I certainly see cause for hope in the Ron Paul movement. But all of that has to be weighed against what I said in this post. I’m not sure that a small cadre of journalists, bloggers, and political activists is much of a hook to hang a movement upon. But I don’t know who all Gottfried might have in mind when he writes of “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists.” Maybe I’m overlooking someone in my own, more pessimistic analysis.

Two Takes on Bill Buckley and a Look at the Future of the Right

WFB’s memorial service was yesterday. Matthew Richer and Austin Bramwell offer some reflections on the man they knew — lightly in Richer’s case, somewhat better in Bramwell’s. As you might anticipate from the venue, Richer’s VDARE commentary is rather scathing. Bramwell is affectionate but also judicious; this bit from his article is particularly revealing:

The net result of his divesting himself of control of National Review was to turn over ownership of the magazine to its employees. Today, Rich Lowry is the editor-owner of National Review to nearly the same extent that Buckley himself was. Lowry is by no means an untalented journalist. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that anybody would have chosen him as the man to control NR for the next fifty years. This result could have been avoided, if Buckley had cared enough to prevent it. As far as I could tell, however, he did know enough about NR even to begin to have any influence. His ignorance of the affairs of his own magazine at times astonished me. Although Bill congratulated me on my criticisms of movement conservatism and spoke candidly of its failings, its future simply did not concern him.

Meanwhile, the American Spectator blog has several items up — by Christopher Orlet, J.P. Freire, and Jim Antle — on Jeff Hart’s recent Buckley reminiscence in TAC and what it indicates about the future of the conservative movement. Daniel Larison comments as well.

Orlet asks whether a movement with as much young talent as conservatism has can really be doomed. Of course it can. Young journalists are one thing, but there’s no young Willmoore Kendall or young James Burnham or young Frank Meyer on the scene. No, I wouldn’t expect a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old to have the gravity of any of those thinkers — but even looking at our 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds, I can’t think of too many who are of much significance as theorists or academics. Some of the “Catholic Straussians” fit into that age cohort and are notable, but the best of them, Patrick Deneen, is at his best when he’s furthest from movement conservatism. There are some keen minds among the generation of conservatives ages 25 to 60, but few of them seem as keen as the minds of the conservatives who are in their 60s or older. (Maybe that’s not quite right: you could get another Stephen Tonsor or another Jeffrey Hart. But you won’t get another Robert Nisbet, I suspect.)

Part of the problem on the theoretical side is that too many of the best young minds in conservatism have followed Buckley’s example by shunning grad school and embracing journalism or the movement instead. That’s what I’ve done. (Daniel Larison is one of the few who hasn’t — he’s somehow writing more than anyone else and getting a Ph.D. too.)

In politics, the situation is even more embarrassing for conservatives. The failure to produce a single conservative leader of a caliber even close to Goldwater or Reagan (as flawed as both of them were) over the course of some five decades — for that’s how long the movement has been around — is conspicuous. Nobody who came out of Young Americans for Freedom went on to become a leading politician. Former College Republicans heads turn into backroom strategists like Ralph Reed and Karl Rove, advisers to awful politicians rather than awful politicians themselves. It’s ironic that a movement that become increasingly political over time has never become any better at cultivating young statesmen. Mostly, it just creates hacks and para-politicians; campaign managers rather than candidates.

There’s a silver lining to all of this. The conservative movement has gone so far off the rails over the last half-century that a wholesale reconstruction is in order, if not a replacement of the movement by something else. There’s some real intellectual fermentation going on in the exile quarters of the Right — among reactionary radicals and some of the more daring libertarians. This fermentation actually looks a lot like the Old Right, in the sense that it’s producing journalists who are more than just journalists (I’m thinking of people like Mencken or Bill Kauffman) and may yet produce some theorists. With the Ron Paul movement, it may have created some statesmen, too, though it will take some time to find out who they might be. For now, this alternative Right is more hoped-for than apparent, but it has the right ideas, and that’s more than can be said for the Bush-McCain movement.

The Neocons’ Bid for the Pro-Life Movement

I have a new piece up at Taki’s Magazine in which I take a look at the efforts of neocons Ramesh Ponnuru, Joseph Bottum, and James Hitchcock to win over the antiabortion movement — and why pro-lifers should reject them and follow the lead of Ron Paul and Benedict XVI instead. Check it out.

The Right Choice for November?

Tying in somewhat with the discussion of Jim Webb below, here’s Andrew Bacevich’s conservative case for Barack Obama.

I’m not going to join the Obamacons — 2008 seems like a good year to vote third-party — but I’m rooting for Obama against Clinton and McCain.

Postscript: There’s one more round of Webb blogging here.

The Conscience of a Paleoconservative

Princeton University Press’s deluxe re-release of Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative last summer has apparently brought forth a slew of other, cash-in re-releases of the book as well. (I’m not sure who controls the rights to Conscience, but whoever it is appears to be very generous.) Editions of the book are proliferating, and just yesterday I ran across a rather interesting one from MJF Books.

The MJF edition has two things going for it. First, it’s hardcover, though affordably priced. Barnes and Noble has it on sale for $5.98 — compare that to the $14.95 cover price for Princeton’s paperback edition. Second, it includes not only Patrick Buchanan’s 1990 introduction to the Regnery edition of the book but also a chapter from PJB’s Where the Right Went Wrong, “American Empire at Apogee.” That makes this in effect the paleocon edition of Conscience.

On the downside, this edition suffers from editorial negligence. Although “apogee” is spelled correctly on the title page of the Buchanan chapter, it’s misspelled in the running head on subsequent pages — “epogee.” That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t mitigate the value of the book. It’s worth six bucks just to have a hardcover of Conscience, and the PJB material sweetens the deal.

Here’s what it looks like:

Conscience of a Paleoconservative

Buying it on-line is a little tricky: doesn’t seem to have it listed at all, and the Barnes and Noble listing doesn’t provide any edition-specific details, though I know it’s the right one because the ISBN matches. (The ISBN is 9781567319033.) In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s only available from Barnes and Noble. A rather mysterious edition — I’m not familiar with MJF Books — but a good one.