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On Bishirjian

Ross responds to Richard Bishirjian’s rich and worthwhile essay from Modern Age with an observation:

Now here’s what I find interesting. Earlier in the essay, Bishirjian – good paleocon that he is – goes on a tear against the contemporary conservative movement, complete with a sneering reference to the jingos in “mass media Talk Radio.” Yet when it comes time to advance a domestic political agenda – one that’s in keeping with European philosophy, “ordered living,” and the Great Tradition of the West – his proposals are essentially identical to Rush Limbaugh’s preferred domestic policy!

It’s a little disappointing that of all the insightful points Mr. Bishirjian made about the threat of centralisation and regimentation to a sane and humane social order Ross finds the references to a flat tax and some kind of education reform to be the most interesting.  The link is to the NYT profile of Limbaugh, which includes his six-point list that overlaps in some places with policies Mr. Bishirjian supports.  What is notable about this and Ross’ ongoing spat with Limbaugh is that when it comes to practical politics Limbaugh and Ross are effectively in agreement about what the government should be doing far more often than Bishirjian and Limbaugh are.  Limbaugh may nonsensically complain that Ross and Reihan want to embrace the New Deal, as if the GOP hadn’t already abandoned overturning that agenda decades ago, but for all practical purposes Limbaugh generally proposes very little (except perhaps for Social Security privatisation) that could be fairly described as being in any way anti-New Deal. 

Bishirjian is proposing a thoroughgoing repeal of the centralised administrative state that has grown up over the last century, but while he is making many proposals that might find an audience in conventional GOP circles he is also making a fundamentally communitarian case for building up intermediate institutions that would probably give Limbaugh hives.  More fundamentally, in Bishirjian’s disdain for jingoists and advocates of the security state he is worlds away from Limbaugh even on domestic matters, who is arguably far more collectivist and statist than Ross in his uncritical embrace of the administration’s national security and foreign policies.  It is, of course, these same policies that vastly increase the power of the state that Limbaugh supposedly wants to constrain within some limits. 

The problem is not really with Bishirjian’s agreement with Limbaugh’s nods towards reducing the role of government, but with Limbaugh’s incoherent claim to be a defender of “limited government” when in practical terms he routinely favours the expansion of government powers when it is done in the name of security and war.  More to the point, the divergence between Bishirjian and someone like Limbaugh reappears on the domestic scene once it comes to the question of what should be done after the government has been reduced in size, since I’m reasonably confident that the phrase “ordered living” would terrify Limbaugh.  This comes back to the more basic disagreement between decentralists and reformers of the centralised administrative state: the former assume that the centralised administrative state is the enemy of the common good and of the preservation of a certain way of life, while reformers think that this state is in any case not going anywhere and must be redirected towards that preservation, which the decentralists believe to be impossible.    

P.S.  At the time same time, Bishirjian’s apparent enthusiasm for up-to-date technology is a bit disconcerting.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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