The “Midwestern Libertarian Conservatism” of Russell Kirk

A pleasant surprise came in the mail today with the payment for my University Bookman article on Ralph Adams Cram: a copy of the Heritage Foundation’s July 10, 2007 Heritage Lectures newsletter, which reprints a June 22 talk on Russell Kirk by George H. Nash. Most conservatives — the literate ones, anyway — know of Kirk’s Anglophile sensibility. But Nash also drew attention to his earlier, Jeffersonian roots:

In the summer of 1941, Kirk found himself working at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. Even before his experiences at the Ford company, Kirk had developed a distaste for big business, big labor, and big government. His year or so at Ford did nothing to change his attitude. Indeed, his dislike of bureaucracy and what he called federal “parasites” was, if anything, increasing. He denounced the military draft as “slavery.” He published his first scholarly article, in which he advocated a return to “Jeffersonian principles.” All in all, his was the Midwestern libertarian conservatism of Senator Robert Taft.

Sure, but Kirk left all that behind after he went to St. Andrews, right? Not quite–not entirely:

It is sometimes said that as men become old, they revert ot the political mindset of their youth. In the final decade of his life, Kirk, it seems to me, returned more overtly–at least in his politics–to the noninterventionist, Taftite, bedrock conservatism of his boyhood. He did so, in part, under the stress of the growing quarrel between the so-called neoconservatives and their traditionalist right-wing critics, the most militant of whom took the label of paleoconservatives.

“Paleoconservative” is a fine label, I suppose, but I think Nash said it better the first time: “Midwestern libertarian conservatism” is about the finest label of all.


The Revolution Reviewed

The season of Kauffmaniana continues, as Bill takes a look at Ron Paul’s book over at Taki’s Magazine. Here’s a taste:

As for the word “isolationist,” which I’ve always thought had a nice pacific ring to it, Rep. Paul gives taxonomic reversal the old college try. He tags the unilateral bullies of the Bush administration “isolationists” and avers, “I favor the very opposite of isolation: diplomacy, free trade, and freedom of travel.” And ‘tis true that the “isolationist” Paul was the only GOP presidential hopeful to support lifting sanctions against Cuba.

He fires off this nice line: “Mine is an ‘isolationist’ position only to those who believe that the world’s peoples can interact with each other only through their governments, or only through the intermediary of a supranational bureaucracy.”

Update: Dave Weigel offers a Reason-ed review of The Revolution here, while Stacy McCain reviews Bill’s book over at The American Spectator on-line.

What Was Great About Goldwater

From Lou Cannon’s review of Pure Goldwater and Flying High in the Washington Post:

In 1958, as related in Buckley’s memoir Flying High, Goldwater charged that Walter Reuther and his United Auto Workers “are a more dangerous menace than the Sputniks, or anything Russia might do.” Goldwater hurled around the words “socialist” and “socialistic,” using them to describe domestic policies of FDR and Harry Truman, the attitudes of various reporters and columnists, and the relatively timid proposals of the Eisenhower administration to spend federal money on health care and education. Goldwater refused, in Buckley’s words, to “bend with the spirit of the age.”

Of course, Cannon considers these bad things, or at least stances that put Goldwater far outside the realm of electability. The latter is probably true, though in ’64 all it took to stop Goldwater from getting elected was the recent memory of JFK’s assassination. It was game over from day one.

Cannon doesn’t talk too much about either book. You can get my take on Pure Goldwater in the current (June) issue of Reason. I should have a review of William F. Buckley’s posthumous Goldwater book, Flying High running elsewhere a few months down the line, if all goes well. I’ll post the details on that at the appropriate time.

Antiwar Conservatism vs. Beltway Libertarianism

Mark your calendars: on May 8, Bill Kauffman will be debating Michael Tomasky (editor of the U.S. edition of the lefty Brit newspaper The Guardian) at the Cato Institute. Tomasky reviewed Kauffman’s book here. Orange Line liberventionist Tyler Cowen discusses the book here.

There actually are a number of anti-interventionist libertarians in the D.C. area, and I dare say they’ll be out in force to watch Bill lower the boom on the warmongers. It should be a fun event.

The Left-Rothbardians

Interesting couple of posts up at the Art of the Possible blog by Kevin Carson, who takes a look at Rothbard’s ’60s/’70s alliance with the Left and the wider movement of Left-Rothbardians, including Karl Hess and Samuel Konkin.

And over at the Left Conservative blog, a few thoughts from Dylan on paleo Right/decentralist Left common ground:

it is not the moderate Democrats that are worth looking at for support, but rather the patriotic, populist, American Left. There are many of them willing to call a truce in the culture wars on states rights grounds and a shockingly large number of them have a dim view of our nations immigration laws (for a couple of prominent examples compare Ralph Nader to the average Republican, or the great eco-anarchist Edward Abbey to anyone, Tom Tancredo included). Michael Kazin’s recent piece in World Affairs did a great job tracing the non-interventionist trend on the American Left (remember that Vidal and Norman Thomas were America First till the end) and Jeff Taylor’s great book “Where Did The Party Go?” suggests that their views on trade and monetary policy can be integrated into an explicitly paleo program. They have always been good on civil liberties and have been coming around on guns and internationalism for a long time now

I’m at work on an article at the moment but will put up some thoughts on all this in the next couple of days.

Senator Mencken

A few words of wisdom — true then and true today — from H.L. Mencken’s favorite politician, the great Sen. James A. Reed (D-Mo.):

Truth to tell, Washington has become the universal Mecca of human freaks. To that city protagonists of vagaries gravitate by all known routes, some by election, some by appointment, and some by “divine command.” The great majority, however, merely follow noses that itch for the business of others. There they bed and breed. They haunt the corridors of the public buildings, crowd into the offices of congressmen, and insist upon displaying their fantastic and sometimes loathsome wares. Consumed by passion for experimentation, they regard the public corpus as a legitimate subject for ceaseless exploratory operations and clinical vivisection.

To this array of freaks, the Constitution is not a bulwark of liberty but a shackle upon progress which they hold in contemptuous disregard. Congress itself is full of men who do not think of the Constitution save as an obstacle to their desires. They study it only to devise some plan for its circumvention. There is no subterfuge they will not employ, no deceit to which they will not resort, if peradventure the limitations imposed by the Constitution may be cheated.

A favorite device is, by a false recital of the real objects of a bill, to bring it apparently under some specific power granted to the federal government. Witness:

The Mann Act which, pretending to be an exercise of authority to regulate commerce between the States, in fact sought to regulate commerce between the sexes.

The penalization of doctors for prescribing beer as a medicine under the pretended authority of the amendment prohibiting liquor as a beverage.

The attempted prohibition of interstate commerce in the products of child labor on the pretext that the use of such goods was injurious to the public health.

The recent effort of the Nebraska Legislature to forbid the teaching of any other than the English language on the false recital that the child’s morals would be thereby impaired.

Under another grouping, but even more monstrous, is the proposal by Congress of a constitutional amendment empowering the federal government to pass laws denying to all human beings under eighteen years of age the right to work. Happily, that barbarous and tyrannical proposition is being rapidly rejected by the States. Evidently, there is an awakening of the States, if not of Congress.

A single further instance. Very recently, a joint committee of both Houses proposed a bill to send to jail in certain cases any citizen who failed to inform against himself or his neighbor. Seemingly no member of the committee ever heard of the constitutional provision: “nor shall [any citizen] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Instances might be indefinitely extended. The Capitol is choked with the advocates of changes.

What shall the end be? Will that race of men who for a thousand years have asserted the “right of castle,” rejected governmental interference in domestic affairs, proclaimed the right of free man to regulate his personal habits and to rear and govern his children in accordance with the law of conscience and of love, now become subject to a self-imposed statutory tyranny which from birth to death interferes in the smallest concerns of life? Shall we endure a legal despotism, the equivalent of which would have provoked rebellion amongst the Saxons even when under the Norman heel?

I doubt not these statutory bonds will be eventually broken. The right of the free man to live his own life, limited only by the inhibition of non-infringement upon the rights of others, will again be asserted. But before that day arrives, will the splendid symmetry of our governmental structure have been destroyed?

Read the whole essay, “The Pestilence of Fanaticism,” here. It originally ran in Mencken’s American Mercury 1925. As with most Mercury material of the time, the essay bears the imprint of the editor’s heavy hand. But Reed and Mencken were close enough of mind that I suspect the HLM flourishes don’t deviate much from Reed’s own thoughts.

William Jefferson Is a Crook, But…

… the Supreme Court has made the right call by refusing to hear the Justice Department’s appeal of a lower court ruling that held that the FBI acted unconstitutionally by raiding Congressman Jefferson’s office. It’s the best decision the Court could have made, in fact, since accepting the case would have involved giving an authoritative ruling on the latitude of the “Speech or Debate” clause of the Constitution, which says that Senators and Congressmen “shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

The letter of the Constitution says nothing about the sanctity of congressional offices. So is Jefferson really protected by this clause? Probably not, but “Parliamentary privilege” is older than the Constitution, and common law has generally taken a wide view of its protections. In this case, literalist interpretation of the Constitution may be somewhat at odds with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, depending on what the Framers intended. Did they intend for the “Speech or Debate” clause to anchor the wider customary protections of Parliamentary privilege in the Constitution? There’s nothing in the Constitution that denies broad Parliamentary privilege, though there’s nothing that affirms it beyond the narrow wording of the “Speech or Debate” clause.

My layman’s view is that the Constitution does not shield Jefferson’s office from search, but the common law  protections should remain in force. I don’t know whether the Supreme Court could even make such a ruling. What they have done is the safest course: broad Parliamentary privilege is sustained but not given a definitive constitutional review by the high court.

Without Parliamentary privilege, the legislative branch is at the mercy of the executive, and that’s much worse than any amount of congressional corruption.

Karl Hess: Toward Liberty

It’s amazing what you can find on Google Video. This is the Academy Award-winning (yes, really) documentary about Karl Hess, who was one of the founding editors of National Review and a key Goldwater speechwriter — and who later became a New Leftist and an outspoken (as well as tax-resisting) libertarian. A very interesting figure, though I can’t say I’m impressed with the film, which won the 1981 Academy Award for best short documentary.

I think I’ve described Hess in the past as a “crunchy libertarian.” You’ll see why in the documentary:

For good measure, here’s a link to Hess’s best-known essay, “The Death of Politics.”