Ross’ post on the Bacevich-Linker-Deneen debate makes a good point:
It always struck me that the small coterie of intellectuals surrounding First Things were exceedingly unlikely candidates for the role Linker cast them in – a near-existential threat to the liberal order, etc. – but at least he was overhyping people who had some claim to political influence. In his latest jeremiad against the illiberal menace, on the other hand, he’s moved on to targeting “paleoconservatives” like Daniel Larison, Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher, all of whom are notable not only for being marginal to American politics as its currently practiced, but for liking it that way.
This is a fair description up to a point–we certainly are marginal and do not seem terribly concerned about this–but Ross gets even closer to the truth when he understands that the “radicals” in question understand our conservatism as “a cultural project first and a political project a distant second, if at all.” As I see it, the political project has been tried and has not only failed but has turned conservatives into supporters of many of the forces that are wrecking all those things that they should want to preserve. In the meantime, while conservatives have been preoccupied with the political project or complacent in the assumption that cultural problems had political remedies, cultural change has overwhelmed or badly compromised many of the institutions and habits conservatives sought to defend. On the whole, I think it is fair to say that we see few, if any, political solutions as these are conventionally understood. The indictment of pernicious “theocon” influence is flawed in a different way: it exaggerates the power of the theocons, who did at least have some and were actively engaged in the political process, and badly misunderstands the theocons’ own objectives.
Whenever Linker scratches a religious conservative, he thinks he finds an authoritarian underneath, much as Andrew believes he is always uncovering a fundamentalist mentality among us, and he is usually wrong. This leads Linker to identify the theocons, most of whom are actually politically liberal in a broad sense, in the same terms that he uses to describe “paleoconservatives,” many of whom are hostile to much of the broader liberal tradition, largely because both groups are often focused on questions of culture and morals. The latter are probably less likely to fling authoritarian as an epithet or an insult, and also probably less likely to conflate authoritarian regimes with fascist or totalitarian ones, but that is not very significant. Historically, authoritarian systems have been politically centralist, state capitalist in economics, have tended to be militaristic or to place inordinate importance on the role of the military, and in many cases have sought to embrace the latest modern fads and technology to demonstrate that they were on the cutting edge. All of this turns “radicals” and paleos against tendencies towards such authoritarian government when we see evidence of them here in the United States.