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Conservatism Does Not Equal Anti-Liberalism

In 2005, the rightist historian John Lukacs wrote that America’s political future might well be decided on the Right, in a contest “between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals.”

That line came to mind last night, reading the paeans to Trump for giving the news media hell in his press conference yesterday. As I’ve said, I simply don’t get why so many conservatives think that performance is anything to be proud of. It was not the performance of a strong man, but rather of a weak one. What brought it to mind specifically was reading an advance copy of The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the Western Tradition [1], by James Matthew Wilson, who teaches literature at Villanova. It will be published in June. This book will undoubtedly propel Wilson into the first rank of conservative public intellectuals.

The Vision of the Soul is a defense of Christian Platonism, which Wilson says is at the core of the Western intellectual tradition. What he sets out to do is to go to the fundamentals of thought that today we call culturally conservative, but which is really an attempt to keep faith with Western civilization in modernity. I don’t want to say too much about it so far out from publication, but I will say here that Wilson’s book gives a defense of the Western tradition that is breathtaking in its depth and clarity, conveyed in prose that genuinely delights with its elegance, lucidity, and splendor. I have never read a book in which content so profound takes flight with such lightness and style. It’s like watching a 747 maneuver with the grace and precision of a hummingbird. Future generations of conservatives will look back to their encounter with The Vision of the Soul with the same sense of gratitude and awe that we today remember the first time we read Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk. This book is not only true and good, but also beautiful. I know that I will be reading it, and re-reading it, for the rest of my life. The Vision of the Soul should be a cornerstone for every classical school. This is one of the ten books you take to your Benedict Option monastery, and around which you build the rest of your intellectual life.

Why do I bring it up here. Because you only have to read a few pages of Wilson to exult in what the conservative intellectual and artistic tradition has been and can be, but to despair over what it has been reduced to in our time. This is not a book about politics, or rather, it’s a book in which politics are but one expression of deeper convictions about the nature of things. But exulting in the book also induces despair at how far from our roots we have fallen. Trump is not in this book, but in a way, he’s all over this book. He is a symbol of decadence — as is the establishment against which he rails (and yes, this includes the media establishment). In classical culture, disorder of the soul produces disorder in the polis. This is why, most fundamentally, we are in the trouble we’re in today.

Lukacs, the historian, proudly calls himself a “reactionary,” and a decade ago, he foresaw the rise of populism displacing the institutions and customs that had served our Republic for over two centuries. From an interview he did in 2006 with Jeet Heer: [2]

In conversation, he’s willing to grant praise to a certain form of populism, citing the mass movements that have brought democracy to Central and Eastern Europe. ”The people are often right,” he notes. ”Just think of my country. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a real popular uprising. Although it was defeated it had very salutary consequences in the long run. It was the Stalingrad of international communism. The repression in Hungary afterward was much less. They did not quite restore 100 percent terror. That is why in 1989 the change of the regime came along without bloodshed.”

But even when pressed, Lukacs has difficulty finding any good words for populism, American-style. To him, the rise of right-wing populism here is troubling because it means that the conservatives no longer serve as a shield against the dangers of mass politics. Instead, ”conservative” has come to mean simply ”antiliberal.”

”Nationalism is a very low and cheap common denominator that unites people,” he says. ”It is hatred that unites people. People take satisfaction from the idea that we are good because our enemies are evil. This is a very American syndrome but it is also universally true of mankind.”

”In this country the Republicans are the nationalist party,” he continues. ”That’s why they won the election-on the basis of symbols. I think the importance of economics in people’s political choice of vote is vastly exaggerated. We live in such an age of intellectual stupidity that people use the wrong terms. People think this is a ‘cultural issue’ or a ‘moral issue.’ These are half-truths.”

Although Lukacs has won his share of esteem in a career that spans more than five decades, he now finds himself oddly isolated as someone who criticizes the Republican party from a traditionalist vantage point.

”What is there traditional in George Bush?” he asks with exasperation. ”Nothing. Nothing.”

The old reactionary’s point, you might say, is that Trump didn’t come from nowhere. George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and movement conservatism bulldozed the field for Trump without even knowing what they were doing.

Anyway, for those for whom conservatism means something more than anti-liberalism, for those who wish to dive deep into the conservative tradition in search of pearls, pre-order The Vision of the Soul. [3] We’re going to need it. Here’s a snapshot from its introduction:

Traditional conservatism, in contrast, strikes the contemporary breast only in those brief moments when the loneliness of the modern individual breaks forth and leads him to question the normally unquestioned good of technological and media-saturation; when he sees for a moment that the material ugliness of our civilization cannot be solved by “green” technology but only by a fundamental readjustment of the human person’s attitude toward creation and acquisition to antique standards; when, ever more rarely, he reads a book that stirs in him an image of genuine heroism unmotivated by mere trauma and realized in a form more lasting than the bloody phantasmagorias of contemporary Hollywood; or when he senses that the heart’s deepest longing is for a permanent happiness, and that happiness is possible only in an extended natural community with ties that bind but ties that uphold as well.

At these margins, and in these fugitive moments, can some restored literary conservatism be revived? Does our age have within it a Burke, a Coleridge, an Eliot? The historical record does not give us cause for optimism, and the present age of relativist skepticism and consumer spectacle, of pornographic anti-culture and enthralled senses, gives us positive grounds for doubt. But the chapters that follow are founded on hope: hope that the defense they make of a culture of truth, goodness, and beauty—and indeed, of the reality of that trinity as ordering reality as such—will resonate with the sensibility of its readers and help them on their sundry roads to living well in the world; hope that its arguments will be sufficiently compelling to cause a few souls to rethink our present cultural regime; and hope, finally, that its resources may help the conservative voices of today and tomorrow to find a language adequate to express the passions of their breast.

95 Comments (Open | Close)

95 Comments To "Conservatism Does Not Equal Anti-Liberalism"

#1 Comment By The Autist Formerly Known as “KD” On February 17, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

BTW Austro-Hungarian nostalgia infects not just Lukacs and Popper, but much of the Austrian economic ideas like Ludwig von Mises.

I can understand the appeal of Fin-de-Siecle Vienna, I do, but I don’t see how you can transplant that political form to America, and more than you could resurrect fascist Italy here. So a lot of the “right intellectuals” are useless, hocking ideas that have little mass appeal or ability to compete in mass democracy.

Mass democracy comes down to nationalism or socialism because there are only two ways to slice things, vertically (nationalism) or horizontally (socialism). Of course, in reality it is mixed.

The Democrats have moved from a social democratic party to ethnonationalist party against the ethnic majority (hence, it is also anti-nationalist and anti-traditional as it aims to destroy and displace the old nation and replace it with a new one).

Hence, their enemies, the people the harm and alienate on the way, will naturally congeal into a counter-nationalist movement against them. Some of us hope to see a revival of class based politics, but emphasis on hope.

#2 Comment By Jonathan Scinto On February 17, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

cite=””>Nationalism is about loving one’s own, not hating the other. Nationalism is about striving to improve your own people, not lazily assuming they are perfect.

I’m sure glad nationalism didn’t lead to a major world war in which seventy two million people were killed.

#3 Comment By Bob Taylor On February 17, 2017 @ 3:02 pm

I don’t see Wilson/Benoppian change carrying the day,or the next century, I’m afraid to say. I’d have some hope for it if I didn’t see, as something of a polling sample, the children in my homeschooling/church schooling church taking to the Internet with the same breathtaking ease and dexterity as I imagine to be true of their little heathen contemporaries. The visual tends to overwhelm the verbal, as everyone knows, and I wonder if these very fortunate children will be as avid for Great Books and others in neighboring classifications in ten or fifteen years as they are now. On the other hand, a man in my church, who teaches computer science at Notre Dame and who was born in 1985 is deeply nostalgic for the little bit of the world he can remember pre Internet and wistful he can’t remember more such years. Me, I’m reading “The Brothers Karamazov,” having just finished “The House of the Seven Gables,” and increasingly glad for my misfittedness, and I often look at this phone with hatred, but I’m past 60 and won’t be around to contribute much to our rescuing anything, I’m afraid.

#4 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 17, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

Neither option is sustainable, since both are predicated on a radical individualism which is hostile to the very concept of a Common Good. So if “conservatism” is to have any meaning in this country, it must be illiberal.

I’m all in favor of a common good. I just disagree with some of y’all what that entails.

For instance, I don’t think that the common good involves coerced sexual morality, ethno-nationalism, commanded fealty to Yahweh, or worship of the prerogatives of capital. Likewise, many of you think that the common good is not furthered by environmental protection, a progressive social safety net, laissez faire social policy, or income redistribution.

At least paleoconservatives and the Left agree that a common good exists and is worth striving for.

#5 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 17, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

One other thought. A recurring theme, even in the first comment, is unmitigated glee over liberal despair: even if Trump is an incompetent buffoon, the wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Left makes it worthwhile. As a Facebook interlocutor said, “we suffered eight years of Obama, now it’s your turn”.

Really?

Do you all suppose Obama was elected in order to enrage “rednecks”? That millions of Americans voted for him twice, just to spite downscale whites?

Perhaps some did, and I am sure examples can be found. But I found his politics far preferable to those of either John McCain or Mitt Romney, and voted for him on that basis alone. Raising a middle finger to white conservative America was the furthest thing from my mind.

#6 Comment By JonF On February 17, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

Re: But look at how Romney was treated by the press. And he never fought back. He played their game by their rules, and acted all respectable, and didn’t become president.

Romney was doomed not because of any exchanges with the Press, but because his agenda was ultimately, well, if not a 1% agenda, then a 10% agenda, and the working class knew it and lacked enthusiasm for him: He was the boss they once had who demanded employees log the time they spent in the restroom and whose first response to any downturn was a flurry of pink slips. Contrast him (And Trump!) with Ronald Reagan. Reagan got tons of bad press: he was portrayed as an unhinged warmonger, a heartless plutocrat intent on starving the poor, as senile and a dumb-ass. And for the most part he let all that vitriol slide right off him (he was the original teflon president). And while he could get angry at whiles, his default attitude was fairly genial and pleasant– the basically nice uncle who may be a bit old-fashioned and opinionated, but whose visits are never the strain you fear they might be. When Reagan thought the Press was getting it all wrong– and also when it involved something that mattered to him– he went right over the press’ head and talked to the American people directly (something by the way that is much easier to do today than in the 80s). It was for this reason, and not because of a bunch of televised tantrums, that a Democratic Congress was willing to work with him as often as not. Whatever people here think of Reagan’s agenda (and I think less of it now than I did when I was 16 and often saw the world through my Republican’s father’s eyes) Reagan got things done while never stooping to the same level as his critics. Reagan was a high class act. Donald Trump may have a lot of class too– but it’s all low.

#7 Comment By JonF On February 17, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

Re: Islam ravaged Christendom for centuries before they did something about it.

Huh? The Byzantines fought the Arabs for centuries and even pushed into Syria during the 900s. The Spanish Reconquista began as soon as Moors were pushed back from the Pyrenees. No, Christendom did not wait for the Crusades.

Re: but in fact, our conservatives are collaborators with a socialist/managerial liberal regime,

Our left-wing (with very few exceptions) is no more socialist than I’m a Hittite.

Re: Nationalism is about loving one’s own, not hating the other.

No, Patriotism is an honest love of country. Nationalism is the corruption or excess of patriotism.

Re: The French revolution was unstoppable, until it provoked the nationalism of surrounding countries

Um, the French Revolution was itself a nationalist movement– the Bourbons were consummate cosmopolitans. Marie Antoinette wasn’t even French. There’s a reason Bastille Day is France’s great national holiday.

Re: And they [conservatives] should help Trump succeed on the elements of his platform that are conservative.

Good luck with that. It sounds like the Quest for the Holy Grail– Monty Python version. Truth is, Trump is NOT conservative.

#8 Comment By John Gruskos On February 17, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

Nationalism didn’t cause the world wars; imperialism did.

Imperialism is the desire to rule over the other.

Nationalism is the desire to conserve one’s own.

Nationalism is rooted in self-respect; imperialism in arrogance.

WW1 began when the Hapsburg monarchy, a multicultural empire, engaged in aggression against the independent nation state of Serbia.

WW2 began when Nazi imperialists, motivated by a desire to rule over the Poles and steal their land, invaded Poland.

Imperialism is the disease; nationalism is the cure.

#9 Comment By Sam Haysom On February 17, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Let’s look as this from the perspective of motives.

For all his lamentations Dreher really isn’t faced with the gloomier prospects of defeat- for one his livelihood won’t be threatened (in fact the bulk of Dreher’s readers are likely left wingers themselves) nor does he have to deal with the encroaching leftism of corporate America. Secondly, he maintains a long standing lifeline to the leftist power centers. The eye of Sauron is never going to cast its beligerent gaze at him because he as enough powerful left wing friends to prevent that.

So naturally someone who is insulated from the reprecussions of defeat is going to most fear a ratcheting up of political emotions such that his lifeline to left wing power centers is compromised.

I’ll also add when has an issue that Rod supports ever won? From a practical perspective- when winning or losing really matters- people are just not going to look to perpetual losers for advice on what strength and weakness look like.

[NFR: It’s a wonder I can get out of the bed in the morning, having to miss all those Georgetown Cocktail Parties™ to which I am invited, owing to my sucking up to the left and all. — RD]

#10 Comment By Art Deco On February 17, 2017 @ 5:20 pm

[NFR: It’s not a pointless word game at all. Alasdair MacIntyre makes a very similar point, as do today’s neoreactionaries. — RD]

No, it’s a pointless word game, and it was a pointless word game 60 years ago when it was up for discussion among people inclined to the philosophical and intellectual history wing of political science. Terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are useful shorthands to categorize clots of ideas. Shorthands is all they are, and terms are repurposed.

That word-merchants retail notions which might be characterized as ‘radical individualism’ has only a tenuous relationship to how people actually lived in various epochs.

#11 Comment By Sam Haysom On February 17, 2017 @ 6:51 pm

“It’s a wonder I can get out of the bed in the morning, having to miss all those Georgetown Cocktail Parties™ to which I am invited, owing to my sucking up to the left and all.”

Of course no where did I imply you suck up to the left- clearly that is something you have a twinge of guilt about it though or it wouldn’t have sprung to mind. The fact is you have personal connections to a lot of powerful and influential media leftists- there is nothing wrong with that- but it lessens the stakes for you. There is no chance for instance that you ever get hauled before a human rights tribunal. So naturally your biggest fear is any kind of situation that ramps up emnity to the point where those connections are threatened.

It’s important to keep that in mind because your impression of what is excessive is always going to lean towards accomdation and quietism. It’s just good sense that people with stakes in something shouldn’t let people with no stakes in something set the terms.

It’s also for people contemplating pursuing your Benedict option to keep in mind. Most Benedict options won’t have well-connected writers amongst their midst and in the USA a lot of proto-BOs have a tendency to catch fire with the FBI around.

[NFR: I’m waiting for Katrina van den Heuvel and the psychic who channels the ghost of Katharine Graham to get back to me to let me know what to say to you without harming my deep and substantial network of powerful and influential media leftists. — RD]

#12 Comment By Lllurker On February 17, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

“Reagan got things done while never stooping to the same level as his critics. Reagan was a high class act. ”

Agreed.

Another lesson that I dearly wish conservatives would learn from Reagan is the practical approach he took towards legislation. In one way or another he said multiple times that he didn’t really understand people who would get upset when on a given day they could only get half a loaf. Count it as a win and go back for the other half another day. (My words, his thought.)

The other lessons to be learned from Reagan are in the way he went about things, his persuasive abilities, his sunny disposition, etc. Sadly the business interests have been able to convince virtually all of the right that what really mattered from that era were tax cuts and deregulation and the like. The agenda of the rich, the Grover Norquist agenda. It’s all backwards.

#13 Comment By Jones On February 17, 2017 @ 7:49 pm

@Lllurker

Reagan: “I ask you not simply to ‘Trust me,’ but to trust your values—our values—and to hold me responsible for living up to them. I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of freedom.”

Trump: “I am your voice.” “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

Wow — what I would do for a Reagan right now.

#14 Comment By Jones On February 17, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

One big problem is the lack of a coherent understanding of what we are facing right now. For that we have to look back at the history of populism.

Hayek:

“This difference between collectivist aims and collectivist impositions is accentuated by “the general demand for quick and determined government action.” Citizens are “dissatisfied with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure” and this “makes action for action’s sake the goal.” Such a demand naturally elevates “the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough ‘to get things done.’” Such a leader must operate on broad popular appeal.

Who, Hayek asks, is likely to provide it? The answer is that “such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society.” He gives three reasons why.

First, as knowledge spreads, views become more differentiated, so a homogeneous group is likely to have remained so because its members are less educated.

Second, a demagogue will obtain the support of “all the docile and gullible” who will accept “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”

Finally, it “seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program—on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off—than on any positive task.”

[4]

There is no point in addressing the zombies. The question is — what about the rest of us? Do you see what is happening before your eyes? We have to forge new links, and to hear each other’s voices even amid the shrieks of the extremists.

#15 Comment By MB On February 17, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

It’s interesting to me how many here seem to be arguing in favor of the notion that Conservatism must, at its heart, be essentially anti-Liberalism. And how many on other threads lately have joined the following chorus: “They hate us.”

It almost doesn’t even matter who “they” is. I would say that if you have come to a point in which you sacrifice your self/individuality in favor of despising a politically expedient other, then you have been masterfully played by someone (or many) who seek to profit off your fear and hate.

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 17, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

Barack Obama had a good deal more support among working class whites than Hillary Clinton. That’s how he won, and she lost.

#17 Comment By Lee On February 18, 2017 @ 12:48 am

My intention is not to be critical, however curious…

Exactly how does the sentiment of nationalism, differ from the Benedict option? Beyond the scope of Macro and Micro. Why does a Christian community seek to border itself off from the rest of society? Is it not that they seek to maintain and create something, they perceive cannot exist in the midst or with the influx of outsiders?

Seems contradictory to me, to desire the creation of those small communities, while denying the macro an expression of a similar sentiment.

#18 Comment By Nelson On February 18, 2017 @ 1:57 am

WW2 began when Nazi imperialists, motivated by a desire to rule over the Poles and steal their land, invaded Poland.

Of course the Nazis were nationalists. Even the term Nazi stands for National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Invading Poland was the natural result of a “Germany First” policy. Yes, it was also imperialism, but nationalism and imperialism are not mutually exclusive.

#19 Comment By Nelson On February 18, 2017 @ 2:14 am

In the medium-to-long run, running against the media won’t accomplish anything Trump’s voters want him to get done.
It won’t bring the jobs back.
It won’t stop the opioid crisis.
It won’t reverse social decline in white working class communities.
It won’t give people a sense of purpose (for very long).
It won’t fix healthcare (it won’t even repeal the ACA, to be honest).
Why is it so appealing? It’s completely hollow.I don’t know. But blaming others instead of fixing problems is a time-tested strategy Latin American strong men use. Here’s an article stating as much:
[5]

#20 Comment By JonF On February 18, 2017 @ 7:33 am

Re: Nationalism didn’t cause the world wars; imperialism did.

It’s short step from “We’re the greatest” to “We’re going to prove it”. Nationalist regime have taken that step again and again throughout history.

#21 Comment By Rob G On February 18, 2017 @ 9:27 am

“it was a pointless word game 60 years ago when it was up for discussion among people inclined to the philosophical and intellectual history wing of political science.”

You say that only because you do not like the “philosophical and intellectual history wing of political science.” If it can’t be put on a graph or chart to you it’s hokum.

#22 Comment By Art Deco On February 18, 2017 @ 9:46 am

“Reagan got things done while never stooping to the same level as his critics. Reagan was a high class act. ”

Agreed.

Another lesson that I dearly wish conservatives would learn from Reagan is the practical approach he took towards legislation.

Reagan got little accomplished via legislation, and hardly anything after 1982. Reagan’s important accomplishments were undertaken through executive action. The President has a great deal of discretion in foreign policy and he made use of that. He also had a personnel operation worthy of the name and put his people on regulatory commissions and in the federal courts, a task Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford bollixed. By way of example, liberals had used the Fairness Doctrine to suppress dissent by keeping public discourse in the hands of that generation’s Judy Woodruffs. The Reagan era FCC put an end to it so you could have real public discourse.

Reagan’s accomplishments via legislation included his 1981 tax bill, the military build up, and the 1986 tax legislation. For the first, he took advantage of a temporary (and quite narrow) majority in Congress to do something which had a popular constituency (reducing marginal tax rates). For the second, he made use of that temporary majority to secure a higher baseline of expenditure, a platform on which he could negotiate in future budget battles. Re the third, he appropriated an idea that had been promoted by Sen. Bill Bradley (D – NJ) that was crucially dependent on some unexpected and out-of-character behavior on the part of Daniel Rostenkowski and Robert Packwood.

One should note, re his appointments, that the Republicans had a majority in the Senate for six years and prior to 1987 it was unusual for the opposition party to make a big stink to the point of filibuster re appointments.

#23 Comment By Colonel Blimp On February 18, 2017 @ 9:56 am

Rod – It wouldn’t matter if a politician came along who did exactly what you wanted; you would still consider him beneath your approval and snipe and rail. This is the real world, for goodness sake, and since when has the real world ever been governed by high-minded sentiment? Only on paper and in dreams. Do you think 15th Russia was all noble and highfalutin, like some medieval version of the West Wing? Or renaissance Florence? Or classical Athens? Take my advice – if you want to withdraw from the world then actually do it. Spare us the endless equivocation.

#24 Comment By Art Deco On February 18, 2017 @ 10:06 am

@ Sam Haysom:

He writes for an opinion magazine with 1/10th the circulation of the one he resigned from in 2002. I really don’t think he’s all that well connected.

It’s a reasonable wager that most of his readers are what Thomas Sowell calls ‘one-uppers’. That’s the whole point of The American Conservative. What’s different about TAC is that they have a forum for the entire smorgasbord of one-uppers rather than limiting themselves to the usual sort you see on the arts and sciences faculty, in the school apparat, and in the media (though this last sort does seem to dominate the discussion to a degree they did no three or four years ago).

#25 Comment By Art Deco On February 18, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

You say that only because you do not like the “philosophical and intellectual history wing of political science.” If it can’t be put on a graph or chart to you it’s hokum.

My point’s pretty simple. People who play around with explicit cogitations tend to have a very high estimation of the autonomy of cogitation from the influences rest of life and the effect of these ideas on the dynamic of social life. I’m occasionally in attendance on a blog which discusses the ideas animating John Adams, Thos. Jefferson &c. and their implication today. It doesn’t take long to come by two thoughts: (1) these guys would attempt to understand a love letter by a chemical analysis of the ink and (2) half of them are exploiting historical matter to score points in their crappy little culture wars (which are distinct from the moderator’s cultural struggles, details at 11).

A formulation like ‘conservatism does not equal anti-liberalism’ is of use only in explaining to students how to use shorthand terminology (and how it can trip you up). You also see formulations like ‘the proper conservative response’ or ‘that’s not a conservative position’. To be ‘conservative’ is not an aim for anyone except accountants. ‘Conservative’ should be a rough descriptor of what you do advocate such that people have a general idea. Whatever you advocate may be crude or sophisticated (and most of us cannot handle normative questions at all). What you advocate incorporates an element of response to what others advocate. It should not be highly conditional on what others advocate.

Now, the fellow in question was channeling a formulation you might have seen out of Richard Hofstaeder or the (normally sensible) John Roche 60 years ago: that ‘conservatism’ in an American context was a stupid pastiche because America’s ‘tradition’ was ‘liberal’. Other people tangling with the term (e.g Peter Viereck and Clinton Rossiter) came up with diluted chicken broth that looked like pointless contrivances. Whatever America’s ‘tradition’ was (in the realm of discourse), Whittaker Chambers and Wm. Buckley were critiquing the pretensions of elements of the New Class, a worthwhile activity whether you called it ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, or ‘stickball’.

#26 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 18, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

Yes, it was also imperialism, but nationalism and imperialism are not mutually exclusive

I would go a step or two further: Nationalism, along with a few other ideologies which hold themselves to be superior and thus worthy of conquest, are the handmaidens of imperialism.

Marching off to war solely to add to the local warlord’s domain is far less stirring than doing so for God, country, or das Volk.

There is a very good reason that it, apart from patriotism, is held in disrepute–and it’s not so the 1% can have cheap domestic help and good ethnic cuisine.

#27 Comment By Jones On February 18, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

@Lee

“My intention is not to be critical, however curious…

Exactly how does the sentiment of nationalism, differ from the Benedict option? Beyond the scope of Macro and Micro. Why does a Christian community seek to border itself off from the rest of society? Is it not that they seek to maintain and create something, they perceive cannot exist in the midst or with the influx of outsiders?

Seems contradictory to me, to desire the creation of those small communities, while denying the macro an expression of a similar sentiment.”

One of the great insights of conservatism is that Macro and Micro are not at all the same. The community and the state are inverse to one another. As one gets stronger, the other gets weaker. Historically, conservatism has always meant valorizing the community over the state. The state usurps the functions of the community, and therefore undermines it.

Of course, conservatism perfectly predicts what is going on right now. The distress in America right now is not a function of “the economy,” but of the breakdown of community. Now alienated and alone, (a group of) the people seek a replacement in the state for what they have lost in the community.

The history of totalitarianism shows that this doesn’t lead down a good path. The state invades further and further into the areas of life where the community should be. It uses brute force and coercion to achieve what should be achieved through the ethical concern of and responsibility toward one’s community. This is dystopia.

Conservatism was, in large part, an attempt to learn these lessons from the 1930s. What we are seeing now is a mass un-learning of these lessons.

[NFR: Well, what’s the difference between the ummah and everybody else? And, the ummah is not restricted to/defined by Egyptians, or Syrians, or Pakistanis, right? — RD]

#28 Comment By Jones On February 18, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

@Art Deco

What are “one-uppers”? Are those people who are too cool for neofascism?

#29 Comment By Lllurker On February 18, 2017 @ 2:33 pm

Hey Art Deco good post.

“. It doesn’t take long to come by two thoughts: (1) these guys would attempt to understand a love letter by a chemical analysis of the ink and (2) half of them are exploiting historical matter to score points in their crappy little culture wars”

This.

I do prefer a good thorough analysis of things but the older I get the less patience I have with anything theoretical. Most of the time, after one spends the time to sort through it all, it just turns out to be a wordy sales pitch anyway. I’m especially down on think tanks these days, although it’s gotten to where I can usually spot their work in the first couple of paragraphs.

Of course I get even more irritated by folks who think a talking point is actually an argument …

Give me the practical explanation! In the small words!

#30 Comment By Rick Penner On February 18, 2017 @ 3:09 pm

Re: “Conservatism Does Not Equal Anti-Liberalism”: “That line came to mind last night, reading the paeans to Trump for giving the news media hell in his press conference yesterday. […] It was not the performance of a strong man, but rather of a weak one.”

I’d say it was the performance of neither a strong man nor a weak man. It was the performance of a brave man who’s fighting off the unrelenting attacks from the establishment so he can get something done. It was a man reaching out to his only ally–the people who voted for him–because people like you, Rod, are not defending him in his hour of need.

You remind me of the generals who always fight the last war. It seems the generals have gone to their stations only to die of bullet wounds. Their battle plan didn’t work and they didn’t know how to improvise. With headquarters almost completely demolished, a mere sergeant walks in and grabs the radio and starts giving orders.

He doesn’t have the polish and perfect language of the “professionals,” and little of their understanding of the tradition of the “True and Beautiful”; but he knows something they didn’t: that their battle plan failed and something else needs to be done in a hurry.

The Trump phenomenon is a last-ditch effort to prevent complete catastrophic defeat for the GOP in the Presidency. Trump’s the neighborhood boy with his finger in the dyke. Uneducated and rowdy and even obscene, he doesn’t watch his p’s and q’s. He has dirt on his fingernails. He’s someone you turn down your nose at. But, the people sense that he’ll fight for them out in the country where ordinary Americans live and work.

People like you–who write books and blogs and are “respected” and successful–dream about a great and transcendent “conservatism” that rings with nobility and profound authenticity. You represent the GOP establishment in all its hollow glory; its tinsel and fake drapery. It died a long time ago.

The unfortunate fact is that you couldn’t choose the candidate or strategy to win a national election for the GOP if your life depended on it. And if you did win: you’d never keep your promises (we know this from the behavior of the GOP Congress the last few decades).

Trump may be rough and crude, but he was the only one in the entire GOP that had an inkling of what needed to be done. He was the David who killed Goliath.

And you’re complaining about it?

You remind me of Bilbo when he just started out on his adventure and wanted to go back and get a hankie for his nose.

You have to live in the real world. All the beauty and truth in the universe will get you nowhere unless you learn this lesson. Apparently, you’ve still not learned yours.

[NFR: You have talked yourself into selling out principle for power. Good luck with that. — RD]

#31 Comment By Ed On February 18, 2017 @ 3:19 pm

In 2005, the rightist historian John Lukacs wrote that America’s political future might well be decided on the Right, in a contest “between people on the Right whose binding belief is their contempt for Leftists, who hate liberals more than they love liberty, and others who love liberty more than they fear liberals.”

Is that conflict only found on the right? Is there something similar on the left?

Don’t those two options include large swathes of ideological territory? Between “Sock it to the left” and “Sock it to the state” to use common slogans of a few decades back there are other possible positions. Most people on the right may not be either totalizing political warriors or ideological libertarians.

And if Lukacs wasn’t talking about out-and-out libertarians, but about his own favorite groups, is it perhaps too flattering to political and ideological elites to claim that their binding belief is a love of liberty? They may help to save us from a populist or authoritarian resurgence some day, but shouldn’t we keep their own faults and weaknesses in mind?

#32 Comment By Art Deco On February 18, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

Sowell’s brief discussion is here:

[6]

His more elaborate treatment is in Vision of the Anointed. He does not include a discussion of the palaeo subculture because it was fairly novel in 1995.

#33 Comment By Colonel Blimp On February 19, 2017 @ 9:03 am

[NFR: You have talked yourself into selling out principle for power. Good luck with that. — RD]

No he hasn’t. The role of perpetual critic, usually done with a world-weary shake of the head, always gives you the room to say ‘a plague on both your houses’. Isn’t that liberating? In that way, you can have the intellectual status that comes from espousing a political philosophy without it ever having any practical implications whatsoever. You can call yourself a conservative without ever considering support for any politician or any policy, in however limited a way, because none of them ever measure up to your standards. Well, I think you’ll find people are tired of LARP philosophising that makes the speaker sound sage and deep but does nothing to assist real people with the real lives they lead in the real world. If you are serious about withdrawing from the world, then what does it matter how Trump thinks or acts? But if you do want to comment on events, then endless nay-saying robs you of any credibility you will ever have. Please note that does NOT mean unthinking support for Trump. It does mean thinking for yourself, with perspective, without sedulously regurgitating the anti-Trump line because it is the elite wisdom of the day. And if you do take issue with Trump then say why, in your own words, and give some sense of what specifically he should be doing.

#34 Comment By Pam Bethune On February 19, 2017 @ 9:43 am

Why do we allow the fiscal conservatives and the governance conservatives to be yoked to the social conservatives? These are three different philosophies. Unyoke! We can easily be advocates of more power to the state governments, more targeted regulations (and less broad spectrum regulations), and still be happy social liberals. Or any other mix!

#35 Comment By Lllurker On February 19, 2017 @ 11:00 am

CB: “And if you do take issue with Trump then say why, in your own words, and give some sense of what specifically he should be doing.”

To be fair he’s been doing this for over a year. It’s usually mixed in with an “on the other hand” or that can muddle things, but it is there.

#36 Comment By TR On February 19, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

Art Deco is onto something about “word games.” To say more I would have to invoke Wittgenstein, and I have no idea how that would strike him.

#37 Comment By Connor On February 19, 2017 @ 3:50 pm

[NFR: You have talked yourself into selling out principle for power. Good luck with that. — RD]

No, he hasn’t “sold out principle for power” any more than FDR sold out democratic principles by making an alliance with Stalin during WWII. Sometimes you have to make alliances with people who are, shall we say, less than perfect, in order to defeat a mutual enemy. A strategic alliance with Trump doesn’t imply an abandonment of traditional Christian ideals any more than a strategic alliance with Stalin implied an acceptance of Communism.

There is no reason traditional Christians cannot both build resilient Christian “Ben Op” communities AND make strategic partnerships with anti-liberal political leaders, as long as it is well-understood that these alliances are made out of necessity, to hold our enemies at bay while we continue to build our own culture and institutions.

Anyone who thinks the Trump Era brings any hope of a “restoration” is delusional. Trump is as much a symptom of cultural decadence as the Obergefell decision. And, I agree, his fights with the press are unnecessary and destructive. But the next 4 (or 8) years does afford us some opportunities that we would be fools to squander.

#38 Comment By connecticut farmer On February 19, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

“He (meaning Trump) is a symbol of decadence”

More like a symptom. Like a burst pustule (see below). Since America is in love with “celebrities” it was only a matter of time before a “celebrity” would become POTUS. And recently we were treated to not one but TWO celebrities running for the political office on earth. Bear in mind that H. Clinton was a celebrity from the day she settled within the Beltway, having been anointed as such by a fawning media. The inner rot has been expanding for a long time. The nominations of America’s two biggest celebrities, Don Trump and Hillary Clinton, signaled that the rot had finally made its way to the surface and will spread unchecked. Lukacs and Wilson are both right in their own way about the level to which this country has deteriorated morally and culturally.

#39 Comment By Jones On February 20, 2017 @ 3:17 am

“[NFR: Well, what’s the difference between the ummah and everybody else? And, the ummah is not restricted to/defined by Egyptians, or Syrians, or Pakistanis, right? — RD]”

This question feels like a non sequitur, in response to a comment about conservative ideas of the relation between community and nation. I might be able to answer it better with some clarification on what you were getting at.

I’m pretty certain that the concept of “ummah” is not as relevant nor as well developed as the concepts of community and nation. I’d be more likely to use the latter to understand the former, than vice versa.

One thing is for sure, though — when people talk about the “ummah” today they definitely don’t mean to refer to a state or state-like entity.

The difference between the ummah and everyone else is that . . . the ummah is Muslim, obviously (kind of like “Christendom”). But you must have been looking for more than this.

And you’re right that it doesn’t refer to the people of a particular state — it refers to “the people,” meaning Muslim people across the world.

#40 Comment By Jones On February 20, 2017 @ 3:27 am

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

– Chesterton

“Go away and think.” So much for all of that.

#41 Comment By Art Deco On February 20, 2017 @ 8:54 am

More like a symptom. Like a burst pustule (see below). Since America is in love with “celebrities” it was only a matter of time before a “celebrity” would become POTUS. And recently we were treated to not one but TWO celebrities running for the political office on earth. Bear in mind that H. Clinton was a celebrity from the day she settled within the Beltway, having been anointed as such by a fawning media.

A celebrity in the strict sense is someone famous for being famous (e.g. Zsa Zsa Gabor). In a looser sense it describes someone famous as a performer of some sort. Neither describes Trump or Clinton, though Trump performs and has entertainment properties, he was famous nearly two decades prior to the premiere of The Apprentice. Clinton’s never had an especially fawning press for a Democratic pol. The press, which is now an extension of the Democratic Party, treats her as a normal office seeker, which of course she isn’t. Clinton’s career is more a testament to the power of branding and connections in political life. (It’s also a testament to how utterly gross is the moral ecology in the Democratic Party and it’s auxilliaries).

#42 Comment By Dan On February 20, 2017 @ 11:36 am

For the most part, this essay is Ivory Tower disconnection from political reality.

In the voice of Dreher, it is more “anti-populist than it is pro-conservative”.

It also fails to found its poetic assertions in a realty of group political mechanics.

Simply, how does your “love of liberty” defeat a determined and politically powerful neo-Marxism?

The simple answer is that it does not, it has not, it can not, and it will not.

I’ll take the real prospect of a natural community, via effective political mechanics, over one that will always remain only in the mind of those who appreciate libertarian prose.

The future belongs to those who will not only not lay down, but who will stand up with a wholly effective shield.

Dying quietly, and poetically, only guarantees death.

Also, the Benedict option is a fantasy. The Cossacks were living their own version of the Benedict option, but the revolutionaries went searching for and found them. They will not allow you to survive in the form that you propose as a solution. Liberty leads to Marxism, and Marxism abhors liberty.

#43 Comment By gVOR08 On February 20, 2017 @ 11:55 am

As a liberal I make some effort to understand conservatives. To that end I read Kirk a couple years ago. I discovered what I refer to as the Kirk Fallacy. Kirk blamed liberals for enclosures, industrialization, and urbanization. The world changes. Very little of the change is driven by politics or philosophy. Stuff happens. The Kirk Fallacy is the belief that all change I don’t like was driven by liberals, and can somehow be reversed by defeating liberals.

Liberals didn’t create the Rust Belt. (The term goes back to the Reagan recession.) But Trump’s voters were sure it could be brought back to life by defeating Hillary.

#44 Comment By Connor On February 20, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

“Also, the Benedict option is a fantasy. The Cossacks were living their own version of the Benedict option, but the revolutionaries went searching for and found them. They will not allow you to survive in the form that you propose as a solution. Liberty leads to Marxism, and Marxism abhors liberty.”

The BenOp is not a fantasy. It is a current reality in many places, and it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of Christian culture in these times. Your point about the Cossacks is correct, though. We cannot simply retreat. What we can do is make a tactical withdrawal in order to rebuild, and then counter-attack when and where possible. But if you do not withdraw, Christian culture will dissolve, and you will have nothing left to defend.

#45 Comment By Connor On February 20, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

“The world changes. Very little of the change is driven by politics or philosophy.”

Really? Politics and philosophy have little or no effect on human actions? Perhaps you might be interested in reading Richard Weaver’s “Ideas Have Consequences” next…