Friday, November 23, 2012

the evolution of traditional conservatism

How did Daniel McCarthy's online magazine find itself mentioned by David Brooks in the august pages of the New York Times? By repudiating half of Russell Kirk's "moral imagination" (the part concerned with the order of the soul) and the full part of that imagination's relation to "the genius of Christianity." And by adding a writer like Rod Dreher who, though he can still muster a little disgust for "exhibitionist perverts" in San Francisco, has no trouble providing cover for what turns out to be McCarthy's plan: offering "traditional" conservatism to "the unchurched, non-white, and unmarried."

All along, according to McCarthy (and as one of the few genuinely well-read conservative intellectuals, he ought to know), traditional conservatism (as opposed to reactionary conservatism) has meant "pluralism and elasticity." Its post-war American members were "Catholics, Jews, and Mitteleuropean emigres" who knew what it meant to be "suspect" in the eyes of the establishment. From "Burke to Kirk," therefore, traditional conservatives have practiced the "art of integration" in opposition to the populist politics of "conformism." He cites an anecdote about Burke:
Just how inclusive Edmund Burke's own understanding of tradition could be is indicated by a story Robert Nisbet relates in Conservatism: Dream and Reality: "On an occasion when a group of Indians was visiting London and had been unable to win the assent of Anglican or Dissenter alike to brief use of a church for their own religious services, Burke extended the use of his house for this purpose."
A cynical reader might wonder whether Burke's courtesy would have extended to the three million or so Muslim immigrants who permanently reside in the United Kingdom today. Or whether the nomination of that hardcore traditionalist Mitt Romney is really evidence that reactionary conservatives are in charge of the GOP. And, finally, when McCarthy cites Eliot's study of Indic philosophy as an example of conservative advocacy for a pluralist civilization, even the most optimistic reader has to pause and wonder what the West really means to McCarthy.

That the whole of TAC has allowed the Brooksian pretense that conservatives are dispositionally either Walker Percy or Pat Robertson to stand unchallenged is indicative. Goldberg and McCarthy, as online editors, are clearly on the same page.

P.S. More conservative pluralism and integration cited -- no doubt approvingly -- in the TAC "Of Note" section:
Second, on social issues, Britain's Conservative Party stopped trying to turn the clock back to a supposedly golden age of God-fearing, two-parent families. Cameron made clear that his Conservatives 'love Britain the way it is now' -- open, diverse, accepting, individualistic, and multi-cultural.
Update: John Zmirak comments:
McCarthy is eloquent and impassioned, but dead wrong. Burke and Disraeli both supported openness and diversity in the CONTEXT of an overweeningly powerful Anglo-Scot, Protestant majority, which really was not threatened by the minorities they defended. When Catholic and Jewish thinkers added needed brains to the conservative movement in the 50s and 60s, the same situation prevailed in America. It no longer does. We are now in the CONTEXT where diversity (and more so, its ideology) are making America ungovernable–especially in the absence of a potent dynastic mythos such as the Habsburgs had. We have NONE of the conditions that would hold together a Balkan patchwork like the late, lamented Austro-Hungarian Empire, and are much closer to becoming the Rome of Diocletian. So NO, it is NOT time for conservatives to jump on the diversity bandwagon. It’s time to rally around the flag.

9 comments:

Finny said...

Good call. Something that I've been thinking about lately- Rod Dreher seems a bit of an odd man out at TAC, but he doesn't ever seem to cite anything else going on there except approvingly. Do they offer him a separate peace? Does the fact that they dislike more of the same people than he would in the National Review crowd make him feel at home? In any case, there's something a trifle incongruous about his inclusion there.

And, looking back, I see that he cited the Walker Percy/Pat Robertson opposition with an "I like that."

That being said, what is your suggestion for who should be influencing political thought right now? Who should have pride of place in our Conversation?

Tony said...

Dreher is always being used by someone else -- by TAC to keep a little social conservative cred, to shore up the Front Porch relations, and for the commenters he brings in; by David Brooks to help define a postmodern, quirky, and liberal-friendly (i.e. "reasonable") Right. He probably doesn't mind because he sees himself as the (sane) Andrew Sullivan of the Right. And this notorious gormandizer (to borrow from Hawthorne) really believes we're all on the edge of our seats wondering what he ate for dinner last night (if he hasn't already told us, because it seems sometimes he can't go five minutes without informing his audience about what community-reviving ordinary shit he's doing). He would deffo not fit at NRO. If you go back into the old days of the very good NRO blog discussion of his Crunchy Cons book you can see that he could never (and rightly so) accommodate himself to a publication that features Jonah Goldberg. But you're right that a lot of these coalitions are built up by the acknowledgement of common enemies.

I think McCarthy has been a good print editor -- there's always something good from someone like Deneen or Scruton or whoever in the print edition -- and he may be a successful online editor (he has been a brilliant commentator on the conservative tradition for a long time); but the online contributions -- especially from the main State of the Union blog -- are really crappy and pretty consistently have nothing to do with anything conservative (except some of the foreign policy commentary). Why does anyone want to hear from Scott Galupo or, worse, the moronic and irrelevant Jordan Bloom? Alan Jacobs is a great and appropriate addition. But the narrowing of Daniel Larison's vision has been a shame. He and McCarthy were great bloggers back in the day when they could handle communicating occasionally with someone like Lawrence Auster and when they cared about stuff like truth, beauty, and the good. The often appropriate disgust with the neocons has led to a vendetta against those benighted denizens of the Right who accommodated them during the Bush administration. But this just ends up echoing the socially elitist impulses of WSJ-style anti-populist, anti-reactionary neoconservatism. Scott McConnell, the one founder who could be said to have any remaining influence, is now a run-of-the-mill liberal Obama voter and Bloomberg worshipper. They still post Buchanan's columns out of some sort of guilt.

McCarthy's nonsense about pluralism really surprised me -- especially the disingenuous attempt to trace some sort of post-Western conservative impulse back to the likes of Eliot and Kirk. It seems cheap.

As far as who I think should be part of the conversation, I think David Brooks had a pretty decent list (as long as he agrees to exclude himself), minus most of the "soft libertarians." This would be my list at the moment:

Caleb Stegall, Timothy P. Carney, James Matthew Wilson, Alasdair MacIntyre, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Larison, Peter Lawler (and the other Postmodern Conservatives), Mickey Kaus, Heather Mac Donald, Peter Hitchens, Daniel Hannan, David Schindler, Fr. Barron, Rick Garnett, Ed West, Pat Buchanan, John Zmirak (ha! just kidding).

It's probably more about who should be excluded:

Krauthammer, Bret Stephens, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, George Will, Jonah Goldberg, Michael Gerson, maybe Weigel.

Who do you read regularly?

Finny said...

WELL I guess the reason I asked for recommendations is because I feel a bit adrift in my reading, and was hoping to find more people to be excited about. Time was that I'd get up in the morning and read The American Spectator, NRO and The American Conservative (in that order) with my morning coffee, but for some time now I've been very unsatisfied with all three. The immigration "discussion" which followed the recent election really brought to the fore the weak sauce that is a lot of conservative writing (I won't even bring up the Fox News/Sean Hannity response.) Using words like "converted" to describe their lazy get rich quick scheme of amnesty seems like a good demonstration of the esteem in which they hold the intellect of their readers. And, of course, voters in general, since many of those Reagan Democrat types, the Conservatives of the Heart, I guess Pat Buchanan would say, are the ones who would be most hurt by the moves they are now espousing. I feel like gleaned Straussianism is at the root of a lot of these problems. But then again, who has any idea what the F Strauss is talking about? Or maybe I'm only saying that because I'm one of the sheep.


Sorry, bit of a rant there. I generally read Postmodern Conservative (most particularly Lawler and Spiliakos, though I enjoy the others as well); Dreher (though he can be annoying. Though not as annoying as Larison has been lately- your criticism is spot on. His blind hatred of the word Republican often makes his evaluations suspect. It reminds me of speaking with a former schoolmate of ours), as well as James Antle and then anything at TAC that looks interesting (I haven't formed an opinion about State of the Union because their headlines never interest me); Buchanan whenever I stumble upon something of his that catches my eye; Michael Barone; Tim Carney; Ross Douthat; Patrick Deneen (who doesn't write enough, but who also makes me really want to take a class with him); Daniel Hannan (my wife met him after his wonderful speech about Canada at the Manning Conference in Ottawa last year! She told him that her American fiancee loves his stuff, and he said something about happy Anglosphere marriages); City Journal (though also not frequently enough to have favorite writers there); Yuval Levin; and whatever catches my interest at FPR and the Imaginative Conservative. Oh, and whenever Aaron Goldstein at the Spectator translates Canadian politics for Americans (it helps me keep up with my Canadian Policy Director wife. Though actually I'm well versed enough at this point that I sometimes just read Canadian commentators like Barbara Kay and Conrad Black on what is going on up here. I assumed you don't have any deeply held opinions about whether Dalton McGuinty will take on the contemptible Justin Trudeau for Liberal Leader, or the chances of Thomas Mulcair pulling apart Stephen Harper's majority in the next election?) I can't think of anyone else at the moment. I did find Brooks' list to be interesting (I can't go back to it because I've maxed out my online NY Times articles for this month), but you and Peter Lawler are right in your speculations about how one gets on that list.

As for who should be left out of the conversation, I've instinctively avoided most of the people you mention on the recent topic of what is next for Conservatism. Certainly Krauthammer. But a good place to start would be Republicans never giving a job/commentary appearance to Karl Rove or Dick Morris again.

One day you'll have to write a direct critique of Jonah Goldberg. I've never paid much attention to him, and only registered that he was something different than a run of the mill boring commentator when one of our interlocutors from the fb alumni page days suggested that Liberal Fascism should have been read in Modern Ideologies. Even so, I've never taken the time to wrap my brain around what he's all about and would welcome your commentary.

In re: Zmirak- :::shudder:::

Tony said...

Yeah, I forgot about Antle and Imaginative Conservative. And James Kalb, too, who most recently has been writing a pretty good weekly column at Catholic World Report. Also Anamnesis Journal and, occasionally, Voegelin View.

Bruce Frohnen had an interesting, but too short, post at Imaginative Conservative recently critiquing Robert George's "new natural law" approach to conservatism. I wish that debate could be revived. Maybe it relied too heavily on Fr. Neuhaus mentioning it every now and then. He would bring David Schindler's critique to a wider audience even if only to dismiss it. Maybe Lawler's the man for that now.
_________________________

Yeah, Goldberg is Maria's political guru and one of the major sources, along with Brooks, for her anti-tribalist rants. I don't think he's that bad; he just believes he's understood the whole breadth of continental philosophy and he spends most of his time trivializing or pop-psychoanalyzing any sort of pre-commitment that would have a greater hold on someone than membership in their local bowling league.

Look through the old NRO Crunchy Cons blog archives on the Internet Archive if you get a chance. Those were the good old days. A daily airing of the differences between conservatives.

Tony said...

An example of why Liberal Fascism should not be read (and never would have been read) in Modern Ideologies.

Finny said...

Thank you for the old Crunchy Cons, and also for the Liberal Fascism review. I seem to remember reading a Goldberg article where he cited that Lord Acton quote and really trying to stretch my brain to understand what he was saying the quote really meant. Past Finbar is relieved that at least someone thinks that explanation makes no sense.

Also, I meant to add- Does Caleb Stegall write with any regularity anywhere these days? I just tried to look him up and I see that he is the Chief Counsel to Sam Brownback, which is interesting.

Tony said...

I think he stopped writing for FPR when he started working for Brownback. A potential conflict of interest maybe. Or he's just too busy. It's a shame; he is, in my opinion, the best conservative/traditionalist writer alive. Some of his best stuff is archived at the De Regno Christi blog. See especially here and here.

Finny said...

So, I don't know what FV stands for. HOWEVER, Re-Paganizing the Church! Brilliant! I've made a similar point in discussions with people about Michael O'Brian, the Catholic author, who I've met several times up here as he is friends with several of our friends. I keep being told that he sees himself doing battle with the emerging Paganism (Harry Potter being, apparently, one of the key examples of this). Upon first hearing this however my response was "A new paganism? But couldn't that be a good thing?" Though I realize Stegall is specifically saying a re-Paganized Church and not a re-Paganized West. Still, brilliant.

Tony said...

Zmirak has a pretty good comment on McCarthy's article at TAC:

McCarthy is eloquent and impassioned, but dead wrong. Burke and Disraeli both supported openness and diversity in the CONTEXT of an overweeningly powerful Anglo-Scot, Protestant majority, which really was not threatened by the minorities they defended. When Catholic and Jewish thinkers added needed brains to the conservative movement in the 50s and 60s, the same situation prevailed in America. It no longer does. We are now in the CONTEXT where diversity (and more so, its ideology) are making America ungovernable–especially in the absence of a potent dynastic mythos such as the Habsburgs had. We have NONE of the conditions that would hold together a Balkan patchwork like the late, lamented Austro-Hungarian Empire, and are much closer to becoming the Rome of Diocletian. So NO, it is NOT time for conservatives to jump on the diversity bandwagon. It’s time to rally around the flag.

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