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dimanche, 15 mai 2016

George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism


George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism


George Hawley
Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism [2]
Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2016

Most academic studies of White Nationalism and the New Right do not rise above politically correct sneers and smears. They read like ADL or SPLC reports fed through a postmodern buzzword generator. Thus the growing number of serious and balanced academic studies and White Nationalism and the New Right are signs of our rising cultural profile. It is increasingly difficult to dismiss us.

pid_16428.jpgFor instance, The Struggle for the World: Liberation Movements for the 21st Century [3], the 2010 Stanford University Press book on anti-globalization movements by Charles Lindholm and José Pedro Zúquete contains a quite balanced and well-informed chapter on the European New Right. (See Michael O’Meara’s review here [4].) Moreover, Zúquete’s 2007 Syracuse University Press volume Missionary Politics in Contemporary Europe [5] contains extensive chapters on the French National Front and Italy’s Northern League.

Political scientist George Hawley’s new book Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism is another important contribution to this literature, devoting a chapter to the European New Right and another chapter to White Nationalism. I’m something of an expert in these fields, and in my judgment, Hawley’s research is deft, thorough, and accurate. His writing is admirably clear, and his analysis is quite penetrating.

Naturally, the first thing I did was flip to the index to look for my own name, and, sure enough, on page 265 I found the following:

In recent years, elements of the radical right in the United States have exhibited greater interest in right-wing ideas from continental Europe. In 2010, the North American New Right was founded by Greg Johnson, the former editor of the Occidental Quarterly. While clearly focused on promoting white nationalism in the United States, the North American New Right is heavily influenced by both Traditionalism and the European New Right, and its website (http://www.counter-currents.com/) regularly includes translations from many European New Right intellectuals. The site also embraces the New Right’s idea of metapolitics, noting that the time will not be right for white nationalists to engage in more conventional political activities until a critical number of intellectuals have been persuaded that their ideas are morally and intellectually correct.

The work of my friends at Arktos in bringing out translations of European New Right thinkers is also mentioned on page 241.

Hawley’s definitions of Right and Left come from Paul Gottfried, although they accord exactly with my own views and those of Jonathan Bowden: the Left treats equality as the highest political value. The Right does not regard equality as the highest political value, although there is a range of opinions about what belongs in that place (pp. 11-12). Libertarians, for instance, regard individual liberty as more important than equality. White Nationalists think that both liberty and equality have some value, but racial health and progress trump them both.

Natreview.jpgIn chapter 1, Hawley argues that modern American conservatism was defined by William F. Buckley and National Review in the 1950s. The conservative movement was a coalition of free market capitalists, Christians, and foreign policy hawks. Hawley points out that based on ideology alone, there is no necessary reason why any of these groups would be Right wing or allied with each other. Indeed, the pre-World War II “Old Right” of people like Albert Jay Nock and H. L. Mencken tended to be anti-interventionist, irreligious, and economically populist and protectionist rather than free market. National Review was also philo-Semitic from the start and increasingly anti-racist, whereas the pre-War American Right had strong racialist and anti-Semitic elements. What unified the National Review coalition was not a common ideology but a common enemy: Communism.

In chapter 2, Hawley also documents the role of social mechanisms like purges in defining post-war conservatism. Buckley set the pattern early on by purging Ayn Rand and the Objectivists (for being irreligious) and the John Birch Society (for being conspiratorial and cranky), going on in later years to purge anti-Semites, immigration restrictionists, anti-interventionists, race realists, etc. The same pattern was followed with the firing of race realists Sam Francis from The Washington Times and Jason Richwine from the Heritage Foundation. Indeed, many of the leading figures in the movements Hawley chronicles were purged from mainstream conservatism.

Mainstream conservatism embraces globalization through free trade, immigration, and military interventionism. Thus Hawley devotes chapter 3, “Small is Beautiful,” to conservative critics of globalization, with discussions of the Southern Agrarians, including Richard Weaver and Wendell Berry, communitarian sociologists Robert Nisbet and Christopher Lasch, and economic localists Wilhelm Röpke and E. F. Schumacher. I spent a good chunk of my 20s reading this kind of literature, as well as the libertarian and paleoconservative writers Hawley discusses in later chapters. Thus Hawley’s book can serve as an introduction and a syllabus to a lot of the Anglophone literature that I traversed before coming to my present views.

The Southern Agrarians are particularly interesting, because of they were the most radical school of American conservatism, offering a genuinely anti-liberal and anti-modernist critique of Americanism, with many parallels to what later emerged from the European New Right. The Agrarians also understood the importance of metapolitics. Unfortunately, they were primarily a literary movement and had no effect on political policy. Although I am not a Southerner, I spent a lot of time reading first generation Agrarians like Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, and John Crowe Ransom, plus Weaver, Berry, and Marion Montgomery, and their influence made me quite receptive to the European New Right.

Christians form an important although subaltern bloc in the conservative coalition, thus Hawley devotes chapter 4 to a brief discussion of “Godless Conservatism,” i.e., attempts to make non-religious cases for conservatism. Secular cases for conservatism will only become more important as Christianity continues to decline in America. (Hawley deals with neopagan and Traditionalist alternatives to Christianity in his chapter on the European New Right.)

dec13.jpgChapter 5, “Ready for Prime Time?” is devoted to mainstream libertarianism, including Milton Friedman, the Koch Brothers, the Cato Institute, Reason magazine, the Ron Paul movement, and libertarian youth organizations. Chapter 6, “Enemies of the State,” deals with more radical strands of libertarianism, including 19th-century American anarchists like Josiah Warren and Lysander Spooner, the Austrian School of economics, Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Lew Rockwell, the Mises Institute, and the Libertarian Party. Again, Hawley has read widely with an unfailing eye for essentials.

I went through a libertarian phase in my teens and 20s, and I understand from the inside how someone can move from libertarian individualism to racial nationalism. In 2009, when I was editor of The Occidental Quarterly, I sensed that the Ron Paul and Tea Party movements would eventually send many disillusioned libertarians in the direction of White Nationalism. Thus, to encourage our best minds to think through this connection and develop arguments that might aid the conversion process, TOQ sponsored an essay contest on Libertarianism and Racial Nationalism [6]. Since 2012, this trend has markedly accelerated. Thus I highly recommend Hawley’s chapters to White Nationalists who lack a libertarian background and wish to understand this increasingly important “post-libertarian” strand of the Alternative Right.

Chapter 7, “Nostalgia as a Political Platform,” deals with the paleoconservative movement, covering its debts to the pre-War Old Right, M. E. Bradford, Patrick Buchanan, Thomas Fleming and Chronicles magazine, Sam Francis, Joe Sobran, the paleo-libertarian moment, and Paul Gottfried.

screen322x572.jpegPaleoconservatism is defined in opposition to neoconservatism, the largely Jewish intellectual movement that largely took over mainstream conservatism by the 1980s, aided by William F. Buckley who dutifully purged their opponents. Since the neoconservatives are largely Jewish, and many of the founders were ex-Marxists or Cold War liberals, their ascendancy has meant the subordination of Christian conservatives and free marketeers to the hawkish interventionist wing of the movement. Now that the Cold War is over, the primary concern of neoconservative hawks is tricking Americans into fighting wars for Israel.

Paleoconservatives, by contrast, are actually conservatives. They are defenders of Western civilization and its moral traditions. Many of them are Christians, but not all of them. To a man, they reject multiculturalism and open borders. They are populist-nationalist opponents of economic globalization and political empire-building. Most of them are realists about racial differences.

The paleocons, therefore, are the movement that is intellectually closest to White Nationalism. Indeed, Sam Francis is now seen as a founding figure in contemporary White Nationalism, and both Gottfried and Sobran have spoken at White Nationalist events. Paleoconservatives were also the first Americans to pay sympathetic attention to the European New Right. Thus it makes sense that Hawley places his chapter on paleoconservatism before his chapters on the European New Right and White Nationalism.

Hawley is right that paleoconservatism is basically a spent force. Its leading figures are dead or elderly. Aside from Patrick Buchanan, the movement never had access to the mainstream media and publishers. Unlike mainstream conservative and neoconservative institutions, the paleocons never had large donors and foundations on their side. Beyond that, there is no next generation of paleocons. Instead, their torch is being carried forward by White Nationalists or the more nebulously defined “Alternative Right.”

Chapter 8, “Against Capitalism, Christianity, and America,” surveys the European New Right, beginning with the Conservative Revolutionaries Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck; the Traditionalism of René Guénon and Julius Evola; and finally the New Right proper of Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, and Alexander Dugin.

31slbDCcakL._SL500_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgChapter 9, “Voices of the Radical Right,” covers White Nationalism in America, with discussions of progressive era racialists like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard; contemporary race realism; the rise and decline of such organizations as the KKK, American Nazi Party, Aryans Nations, and the National Alliance; the world of online White Nationalism; and Kevin MacDonald’s work on the Jewish question — which brings us up to where we started, namely the task of forging a North American New Right.

Hawley’s concluding chapter 10 deals with “The Crisis of Conservatism.” Neoconservatism has, of course, been largely discredited by the debacle in Iraq. Since the Republicans are the de facto party of whites, especially white Christians with families, the deeper and more systemic challenges to the conservative coalition include the decline of Christianity in America, the decline of marriage and the family, and especially the growing non-white population, which overwhelmingly supports progressive policies. The conservative electorate is shrinking, and if it continues to decline, it will eventually be impossible for Republicans to be elected, which means the end of conservative political policies.

There is, however, a deeper cause of the crisis of conservatism. The decline of the family and the growth of the non-white electorate are the predictable results of government policies — policies that conservatives did not resist and that they will not try to roll back, ultimately because conservatives are more committed to classical liberal principles than the preservation of their own political power, which can only be secured by “collectivist,” indeed “racist” measures to preserve the white majority. Conservatives will conserve nothing [7] until they get over their ideological commitment to liberal individualism.

Hawley predicts that as the conservative movement breaks down, some Americans will turn toward more radical Right-wing ideologies, leading to greater political polarization and instability. Of the ideologies Hawley surveys, he thinks the localists, secularists, libertarian anarchists, paleocons, and European New Rightists have the least political potential. Hawley thinks that the moderate libertarians have the most political potential, largely because they are closest to the existing Republican Party. Unfortunately, libertarian radical individualism would only accelerate the decline of the family, Christianity, and the white electorate.

Of all the movements Hawley surveys, only White Nationalism would address the causes of the decline of the white family and the white electorate. But Hawley thinks that White Nationalism faces immense challenges, although the continued decline of the conservative movement might also present us with great opportunities:

Explicit white nationalism is surely the most aggressively marginalized ideology discussed here. As we have seen, advocating racism is perhaps the fastest way for a politician, pundit, or public intellectual to find himself or herself a social pariah. That being the case, there is little chance that transparent white racism will again become a major political force in the United States in the immediate future. However, the fact that antiracists on the right and left are extraordinarily vigilant in their effort to drive racists from public discourse can be viewed as evidence that they believe such views could once again have a large constituency, should racists ever again be allowed to reenter the mainstream public debate. Whether their fears in this regard are justified is impossible to determine at this time. What we should remember, however, is that the marginalization of the racist right in America was largely possible thanks to cooperation from the mainstream conservative movement, which has frequently jettisoned people from its ranks for openly expressing racist views. If the mainstream conservative movement loses its status as the gatekeeper on the right, white nationalism may be among the greatest beneficiaries, though even in this case it will face serious challenges. (p. 291)

Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism is an important academic study, but it has a significant oversight. The meteoric rise of Donald Trump illustrates the power of another Right-wing alternative to American conservatism, namely populism. Populism is a genuinely Right-wing movement, because although it is critical of economic and political inequality as threats to the integrity of the body politic, populism is nationalistic. It does not regard citizens and foreigners as of equal worth.

I also noticed a couple of smaller mistakes. F. A. Hayek is twice referred to as a Jew, which is false, and on page 40 Hawley refers to Young Americans for Liberty when he means Young Americans for Freedom. Hawley uses the repulsive euphemism “undocumented immigrant” and repeatedly uses the word “vicious” to describe ideas he dislikes, but as a whole his book is relatively free of the tendentious jargon of liberal academics.

I highly recommend Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism [2]Hawley is clearly not a friend of conservatism or White Nationalism. He’s something far more useful: a frank and fair-minded critic. Conservatives, of course, lack the capacity for self-criticism and self-preservation. So they will ignore him, to their detriment. But White Nationalists will read him and profit from it.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/05/right-wing-critics-of-american-conservatism/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/HawleyCover.jpg

[2] Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0700621938/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0700621938&linkCode=as2&tag=thesavdevarc-20&linkId=B3FDFPYGYKSEBF4W

[3] The Struggle for the World: Liberation Movements for the 21st Century: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005ZKKS1G/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B005ZKKS1G&linkCode=as2&tag=thesavdevarc-20&linkId=4AV4RLLWIQSXLRUC

[4] here: http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/07/against-the-armies-of-the-night/

[5] Missionary Politics in Contemporary Europe: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0815631499/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0815631499&linkCode=as2&tag=thesavdevarc-20&linkId=WYRYTYVV4TLV25PY

[6] Libertarianism and Racial Nationalism: http://www.toqonline.com/archive/2011-2/spring-11/

[7] Conservatives will conserve nothing: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/02/why-conservatives-conserve-nothing/

lundi, 21 décembre 2015

Conservatives and Libertarians: Uneasy Cousins


Conservatives and Libertarians: Uneasy Cousins

by Robert Nisbet

Ex: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org

By common assent modern conservatism, as political philosophy, springs from Edmund Burke: chiefly from his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790. That book is of course more than a brilliantly prescient analysis of the Revolution and its new and fateful modes of power over individual lives; the Reflections is also, through its running asides and obiter dicta, one of the profoundest treatments of the nature of political legitimacy ever written. Modern political conservatism, as we find it in a European philosophical tradition from about 1800 on, takes its origin in Burke’s insistence upon the rights of society and its historically formed groups such as family, neighborhood, guild and church against the “arbitrary power” of a political government. Individual liberty, Burke argued–and it remains the conservative thesis to this day–is only possible within the context of a plurality of social authorities, of moral codes, and of historical traditions, all of which, in organic articulation, serve at one and the same time as “the inns and resting places” of the human spirit and intermediary barriers to the power of the state over the individual. The influence of Burke’s Reflections was immediate, and all the major works of European philosophical conservatism–those of Bonald, de Maistre, the young Lamennais, Hegel, Haller, Donoso y Cortes, Southey and Coleridge, among others–in the early nineteenth century are rooted, as their authors without exception acknowledged, in Burke’s seminal volume.

Burke, it might be stressed here, had a political-ideological record leading up to his famous Reflections that was not regarded in his time, and would not be ordinarily thought of today, as quintessentially conservative. He had been from boyhood an ardent admirer of the glorious revolution of 1688 which had taken place four decades before his birth. When troubles with the American colonies broke out in the 1760’s, Burke threw himself without reserve on the side of the colonists, and his parliamentary speeches on the Americans and on what he regarded as the hateful practices of the British government are of course classics. He may not have endorsed the colonies‘ decision to go to war, to seek a complete break with England, but his sympathies lay nonetheless with those Englishmen who had created the New World of America. It is worth recalling that, as with respect to the Americans, some of Burke’s most powerful speeches in Parliament were delivered in behalf of India and its traditional culture and in fierce opposition to Warren Hastings, whom Burke sought unsuccessfully to indict, and the British East India Company for its depredations in India. And finally, Burke, for all his love of England and English ways, was unrelenting in his criticisms of the government for its treatment of Ireland, where Burke had been born. In sum, with good reason Burke’s close friend, that essential Tory, Dr. Johnson, could worry over Burke’s Whiggism.

Turning now to the foundations of contemporary libertarianism, of classical liberalism, we can go back at least as far as John Locke’s Second Treatise if we choose, to the writings of Montesquieu in France in the eighteenth century, those of Jefferson in America, and Adam Smith in England. But the securest and most vivid source of libertarianism seems to me to lie in J. S. Mill’s On Liberty, published in 1859, the same year in which Darwin’s Origin of the Species appeared (which has its own relation to classical liberalism and thus contemporary libertarianism, through its central thesis of natural selection, the biological version of what the classical liberals called the free market, using the phrase in its widest sense).

It is in On Liberty that Mill expresses at the beginning of the essay the famous “one very simple principle.” Mill writes: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually and collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. . . , His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” I suggest that Mill’s “one very simple principle” is the core of contemporary libertarianism. It is necessary, though, to note Mill’s immediate qualifications to the principle, qualifications which may or may not be acceptable to the majority of libertarians in our own day. Thus we learn that the principle does not apply to those below their legal majority, an abridgement that large numbers of high school and college students today would ridicule and reject. Nor does the principle hold for those Mill rather cryptically identifies as being “in a state to require being taken care of by others,” a state that must include all those on any form of welfare in our society as well as those whom Mill probably had chiefly in mind, the chronically ill and the mentally deficient. Mill categorically excludes from this principle of liberty all peoples on earth who are in what he calls “backward states of society.” For them, he declares, despotism remains necessary, albeit as enlightened as possible, until through social evolution these peoples reach the level of the modern West in civilization.


Robert Nisbet

Later in the essay Mill goes so far as to deny the principle of liberty to those around us who are, in his word, “nuisances” to others. And, he continues, “no one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions.” In its bald statement Mill’s one very simple principle would most certainly give legitimacy to contemporary pornography in all spheres as well as to noisy, order-disrupting, potentially violent street demonstrations. But with the qualifications just cited, it is far from evident that Mill’s view of legitimate freedom would give sanction to contemporary license-moral, political, religious whatever. It is impossible not to believe that even in bald, abstract statement, Mill’s single, simple principle was intended to apply only to people formed intellectually and morally as Mill himself was. But such observations do not affect the sheer power that has been exerted, especially during the past half-century, by Mill’s principle-in philosophy, the social sciences, theology, law, and most recently in popular morality. (Looking at the scene around us, who can seriously doubt that the counterculture won the important battles in its war against traditional American morality, commencing in the 1950’s and reaching its high-point in the late 1960’s? And in essence these battles were waged in the spirit of Mill’s one very simple principle. Mill may have taken seriously the checks and limits he prescribed, but others, looking at the principle in the discrete, abstract, and categorically imperative form in which Mill set it down, have felt no similar obligation.)


So much for the roots of conservatism and libertarianism. What I shall now do is turn to the more important growths from these roots which lie around us at the present time. What are they, what are their likenesses, and what are the differences, assessed by the criteria of the conservative and the libertarian mind respectively? For the sake of clarity I shall begin with what the two minds would appear to have in common.First is common dislike of the intervention of government, especially national, centralized government, in the economic, social, political, and intellectual lives of citizens. Edmund Burke was quite as adamant in this regard (see his strictures on French centralization and nationalization in the Reflections) as Mill or any other classical liberal was or would be, and that position has been maintained to the present day. Doubtless conservatives are more willing than libertarians to see the occasional necessity of suspension or abrogation of this position toward national government–as with respect to national defense, which I shall come back to later, but in general, over a substantial period of time, conservatism may be seen quite as clearly as libertarianism as a philosophy anchored in opposition to statism. Certainly by comparison with what today passes for liberalism, progressivism, populism, and social democracy or socialism, there is very little difference to be found between libertarians and conservatives in respect to attitudes toward the political state.

Second, and again by comparison with the other groups I have just cited, there is a great deal of consensus among conservatives and libertarians as to what legitimate equality in society should consist of. Such equality is, in a word, legal. Again we may hark back to Burke and Mill on this matter. For one as much as the other, equality before the law was vital to the flourishing of individual freedom. I see nothing in the contemporary writings of libertarians and conservatives to suggest that anything more than an occasional nuance or emphasis separates the two groups when it comes to equality. There is equal condemnation of what has come to be called equality of result, of social condition, or income or wealth.

Third, there is a common belief in the necessity of freedom, and most notably, economic freedom. Again, on the record, there appear to be more conservatives than libertarians who on occasion are prepared to endorse occasional infringements upon individual economic freedom through laws and regulatory agencies designed to protect or lift up one or other disadvantaged group. One thinks of British Toryism in the nineteenth century or of Senator Robert Taft on public housing in the late 1940’s. Inasmuch as few if any all-out libertarians have yet faced the kinds of pressure in high public office which come from groups demanding one or other entitlement or exemption, it is not possible to compare libertarians and conservatives in terms of demonstrated adherence to philosophical principles when political practicalities and long-range ends are involved.

Robert-Nisbets-Conservatism.jpgFourth, there is a common dislike of war and, more especially, of war-society, the kind of society this country knew in 1917 and 1918 under Woodrow Wilson and again under FDR in World War II. Libertarians may protest this, and with some ground. For, the complete libertarian is certainly more likely to resist in overt fashion than is the conservative–for whom respect for nation and for patriotism is likely to be decisive even when it is a war he opposes. Even so, I think there is enough common ground, at least with respect to principle, to put conservatives and libertarians together. And let us remember that beginning with the Spanish-American War, which the conservative McKinley opposed strongly, and coming down through each of the wars this century in which the United States became involved, the principal opposition to American entry came from those elements of the economy and social order which were generally identifiable as conservative-whether “middle western isolationist,” traditional Republican, central European ethnic, small business, or however we wish to designate such opposition. I am certainly not unmindful of the libertarian opposition to war that could come from a Max Eastman and a Eugene Debs and from generally libertarian conscientious objectors in considerable number in both world wars, but the solid and really formidable opposition against American entry came from those closely linked to business, church, local community, family, and traditional morality. (Tocqueville correctly identified this class in America as reluctant to engage in any foreign war because of its predictable impact upon business and commerce chiefly, but other, social and moral activities as well.) This was the element in American life, not the miniscule libertarian element, that both Woodrow Wilson and FDR had to woo, persuade, propagandize, convert and, in some instances, virtually terrorize, in order to pave the way for eventual entry by U.S. military forces in Europe and Asia.

As some of the foregoing has already suggested, there is shared dislike by libertarians and conservatives of what today passes for liberalism: the kind that is so widely evident in the schools, the established churches, the universities, and, above all, the media, most spectacularly the electronic media. In passing, I would like to suggest that conservatism, on the historical record, has done more to oppose, circumvent, or defeat specific manifestations of this so-called liberalism than has libertarianism. I can recall many a conservative in the 1930’s speaking out against Social Security, the AAA, the NRA, and the free-wheeling, increasingly arrogant National Education Association with its canonization of progressive libertarianism for tots in kindergarten. Perhaps there were some libertarians then also active, but I don’t recall. However, I’m not cavilling. History decides these things. There were far more conservatives than libertarians in the America of that day, or at least identified, politically active conservatives. In the next decade or two, things may well become reversed in this sphere.


Now to the differences, or some of them, at any rate. These are important, very important! For everything at the moment suggests that the differences between conservatism, all-out or neo-, and libertarianism, anarcho-or constitutional, are going to loom increasingly large and divisive. By and by, it will be impossible, I would guess, for the phrases “libertarian-conservative’’ and “conservative- libertarian” to be other than oxymoronic: like referring to a mournful optimist or a cruel kindness. Here too I shall avoid cases and cling to principles and perspectives.

First is the contrasting way in which the two groups perceive the population. Conservatives, from Burke on, have tended to see the population much in the manner medieval legists and philosophical realists (in contrast to nominalists) saw it: as composed of, not individuals directly, but the natural groups within which individuals invariably live: family, locality, church, region, social class, nation, and so on. Individuals exist, of course, but they cannot be seen or comprehended save in terms of social identities which are inseparable from groups and associations. If modern conservatism came into existence essentially through such a work as Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, it is because the Revolution, so often in the name of the individual and his natural rights, destroyed or diminished the traditional groups–guild, aristocracy, patriarchal family, church, school, province, etc.–which Burke declared to be the irreducible and constitutive molecules of society. Such early conservatives as Burke, Bonald, Haller, and Hegel (of The Philosophy of Right) and such conservative liberals as the mature Lamennais and of course Tocqueville, saw individualism–that is, the absolute doctrine of individualism, as being as much of a menace to social order and true freedom as the absolute doctrine of nationalism. Indeed, they argued, it is the pulverizing of society into a sandheap of individual particles, each claiming natural rights, that makes the arrival of collectivist nationalism inevitable.

Libertarians are not blind to the existence of groups and associations, nor to the traditions and customs which are their cement, and it would be absurd to characterize libertarians as undiscriminating enemies of all forms of association. They do not propose return to the Enlightenment’s vaunted state of nature. Only rarely does a libertarian sound like a clone of Max Stirner. They are as devoted to the principle of voluntary association as any conservative. And we should not forget that the libertarian anarchism of a Proudhon or Kropotkin was based upon a social order of groups, not abstract, Godwinian individuals. Even so, reading the libertarian journals and reviews of the last several years, I am convinced that there is a much larger egoist-hormone in libertarian physiology than there is in conservative. More and more, one has the impression that for libertarians today, as for natural law theorists in the seventeenth century, individuals are alone real; institutions are but their shadows. I believe a state of mind is developing among libertarians in which the coercions of family, church, local community, and school will seem almost as inimical to freedom as those of the political government. If so, this will most certainly widen the gulf between libertarians and conservatives.

Which leads me to a second major difference between the two groups. The conservative philosophy of liberty proceeds from the conservative philosophy of authority. It is the existence of authority in the social order that staves off encroachments of power from the political sphere. Conservatism, from Burke on, has perceived society as a plurality of authorities. There is the authority of parent over the small child, of the priest over the communicant, the teacher over the pupil, the master over the apprentice, and so on. Society as we actually observe it, is a network or tissue of such authorities; they are really numberless when we think of the kinds of authority which lie within even the smallest and human groups and relationships. Such authority may be loose, gentle, protective, and designed to produce individuality, but it is authority nevertheless. For the conservative, individual freedom lies in the interstices of social and moral authority. Only because of the restraining and guiding effects of such authority does it become possible for human beings to sustain so liberal a political government as that which the Founding Fathers designed in this country and which flourished in England from the late seventeenth century on. Remove the social bonds, as the more zealous and uncompromising of libertarian individualists have proposed ever since William Godwin, and you emerge with, not a free but a chaotic people, not with creative but impotent individuals. Human nature, Balzac correctly wrote, cannot endure a moral vacuum.

nisbetC+L._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgTo argue, as some libertarians have, that a solid, strong body of authority in society is incompatible with individual creativity is to ignore or misread cultural history. Think of the great cultural efflorescences of the 5th century B.C. in Athens, of 1st century, Augustan Rome, of the 13th century in Europe, of the Age of Louis XIV, and Elizabethan England. One and all these were ages of social and moral order, powerfully supported by moral codes and political statutes. But the Aeschyluses, Senecas, Roger Bacons, Molieres, and Shakespeares flourished nonetheless. Far from feeling oppressed by the hierarchical authority all around him, Shakespeare–about whose copious individuality there surely cannot be the slightest question–is the author of the memorable passage that begins with “Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark! what discord follows; each thing meets in mere oppugnancy.” As A. L. Rowse has emphasized and documented in detail, the social structure of Shakespeare’s England was not only solid, its authority ever evident, but nothing threw such fear into the people as the thought that authority–especially that designed to repulse foreign enemies and to ferret out traitors–might be made too loose and tenuous. Of course such authority could become too insistent at times, and ingenious ways were found by the dramatists and essayists to outwit the government and its censors. After all, it was strong social and moral authority the creative minds were living under–not the oppressive, political-bureaucratic, limitless invasive, totalitarian governments of the twentieth century.

It might be noted finally that the greatest literary presences thus far to appear in the twentieth century Western culture have nearly all been votaries of tradition and cultural authority. Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Yeats, and others all gave testimony to authority in poem, essay and novel, and all, without exception, saw the eventual death of Western culture proceeding from annihilation of this authority in the names of individualism and of freedom. To be sure there is–and this is recognized fully by the conservative–a degree of liberty below which nothing of creative significance can be accomplished. Without at least that degree of freedom, no Shakespeare, no Marlowe, no Newton. But what is less often realized, conservatives would say, is that there is a degree of freedom above which nothing of creative significance can be, or is likely to be, accomplished. Writers in the late twentieth century do their work in the freest air writers have ever breathed, while composing their literary works. But it is apparent from the wretched mess of narcissism, self-abuse, self-titillation, and juvenile, regressive craving for the scatological and obscene that the atmosphere has become so rareified as to have lost its oxygen.

On balance, I would hazard the guess that for libertarians individual freedom, in almost every conceivable domain, is the highest of all social values–irrespective of what forms and levels of moral, aesthetic, and spiritual debasement may prove to be the unintended consequences of such freedom. For the conservative, on the other hand, freedom, while important, is but one of several necessary values in which the good or just society, and not only may but should be restricted when such freedom shows signs of weakening or endangering national security, of doing violence to the moral order and the social fabric. The enemy common to libertarians and to conservatives is what Burke called arbitrary power, but from the conservative viewpoint this kind of power becomes almost inevitable when a population comes to resemble that of Rome during the decades leading up to the accession of Augustus in 31 B.C.; of London in the period prior to Puritan and then Cromwellian rule; of Paris prior to the accession of Napoleon as ruler of France; of Berlin during most of Weimar; and, some would say, New York City of the 1970’s. It is not liberty but chaos values in the good or just society, and not only but from the conservative viewpoint this kind and license which, conservatives would and do say, come to dominate when moral and social authorities–those of family, neighborhood, local community, job, and religion–have lost their appeal to human beings. Is it likely that the present age, that of, say, the last forty years and, so far as we can now see, the next couple of decades at very minimum, will ever be pronounced by later historians as a major age of culture? Hardly. And can it seriously be thought in this age of The Naked Lunch, Oh! Calcutta, The Hustler, and Broadway Sex Live and Explicit that our decadent mediocrity as a culture will ever be accounted for in terms of excessive social and moral authority?

Libertarians on the other hand appear to see social and moral authority and despotic political power as elements of a single spectrum, as an unbroken continuity. If, their argument goes, we are to be spared Leviathan we must challenge any and all forms of authority, including those which are inseparable from the social bond. Libertarians seem to me to give less and less recognition to the very substantial difference between the coercions of, say, family, school, and local community and those of the centralized bureaucratic state. For me it is a generalization proved countless times in history that the onset of ever more extreme political-military power has for its necessary prelude the erosion and collapse of the authorities within the social bond which serve to give the individual a sense of identity and security, whose very diversity and lack of unconditional power prevents any escape-proof monopoly, and which in the aggregate are the indispensable bulwarks against the invasion of centralized political power–which of course is unconditional. But I do not often find among libertarians these days any clear recognition of the point I have just made.

There is a final area in which the difference between conservatives and libertarians is likely to grow steadily: the nation. I stand by everything I have said in support of social authority, diversity and pluralism, and in opposition to concentration of national power. I do not have to be instructed on the number of times war, and mobilization for and prosecution of war have led to “temporary” centralizations and nationalizations which, alas, proved to be permanent. War is, above any other force in history, the basis of centralization and collectivization of the social and economic orders. No conservative can relish, much less seek, war and its attendant militarization of social and civil spheres of society.

Unfortunately we do not live in a clement world so far as conservative and libertarian ideals are concerned. It is a world in which despotisms as huge and powerful as the Soviet Union and China survive and prosper-at least in political and diplomatic respects. For the United States to ignore or to profess indifference to the aggressive acts of these and many other military, aggressive despotisms would be in time suicidal. As Montesquieu wrote in a different context: it takes a power to check a power. Nothing short of a strong, well armed, alert and active American nation can possibly check the Soviet or Chinese or Cuban nation.

No conservative to my knowledge has ever renounced or reviled the nation, conceived as a cultural and spiritual, as well as political entity. Burke adored the nation. He merely insisted upon in seeing it–in vivid contrast to the Jacobins in his day–as a community of communities, as one built upon a diversity of what he called “the smaller patriotisms” such as family and neighborhood. So have conservatives, or the great majority of them, ever since chosen to see the nation. But what conservatives also see in our time, and with a sharpness of perception lacking among libertarians, is the tenuous condition of the American nation-and the English and French as well. There is good nationalism and bad. But even good nationalism has become an object of either nostalgia or revulsion in our time. Patriotism, the cement of the nation, has come to be an almost shameful thing. The weakness of American government right now in the world of nations, a weakness that increasingly draws contempt and distrust from nations we desire close cooperation with, and the dearth of leadership in America in whatever sphere, are rooted in a nation that shows increasing signs of moribundity.

nisbetrobSKJrxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgLibertarians, whom I herewith stipulate to be as patriotic and loyal American as any conservatives, do not, in my judgment, see the national and world picture as I have just drawn in. For them the essential picture is not that of a weakened, softened, and endangered nation in a world of Soviet Unions and Chinas and their satellites, but, rather, an American nation swollen from the juices of nationalism, interventionism and militarism that really has little to fear from abroad. Conservatives remain by and large devoted to the smaller patriotisms of family, church, locality, job and voluntary association, but they tend to see these as perishable, as destined to destruction, unless the nation in which they exist can recover a degree of eminence and international authority it has not had since the 1950’s. To libertarians on the other hand, judging from many of their writings and speeches, it is as though the steps necessary to recovery of this eminence and international authority are more dangerous to Americans and their liberties than any aggressive, imperialist totalitarianisms in the world.

Conservatives will, or certainly should, also be alert to these dangers and seek with every possible strength to reduce them, all the while the American nation is recovering its lost leadership, in domestic as well as international affairs. But for conservatives the overriding, the supreme danger will be, I imagine, and personally hope, the danger posed by current American weakness in a world of dangerously aggressive military despotisms. Nothing at the moment suggests that this consideration will be overriding for libertarians. And it is on this rock above all others I have mentioned that conservatives and libertarians will surely break off altogether what has been at least from the start an uneasy relationship.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThis article is a revised version of an address delivered before the Philadelphia Society at its annual national meeting, held in Chicago in April of 1979. Reprinted with the gracious permission of Modern Age (Winter 1980).

jeudi, 14 octobre 2010

Dead Right : The Infantilization of American Conservatism

Dead Right

The Infantilization of American Conservatism

Dead Right

Commentaries published on this website, most notably by Richard Spencer and Elizabeth Wright, have underlined the problems with the Tea Party movement and its most prominent representatives. These pointed observations about Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, and Christine O’ Donnell have all been true; and if I have more or less defended some of these figures in the past, I’ve done so, while conceding most of the argument made against them. I agree in particular with Elizabeth Wright’s brief against Rand Paul’s stuttering attempt to object to the public accommodations clause in the Civil Rights Act and her withering attack on Glenn Beck’s recent “carnival of repentance” in Washington.

Elizabeth concludes that such soi-disant critics of the Left cannot bring themselves to find fault with any excess in the Civil Rights movement -- and especially not with its far leftist icon Martin Luther King. “Conservatives” are so terrified of being called “racists” or for that matter, sexists or homophobes, that they devote themselves tirelessly to showing they are just as sensitive as the next PC robot. Indeed, they often go well beyond anyone on the left in genuflecting before leftist icons. This was the purpose of the Martin Luther King-adoration rally held by Beck in Washington.

And even more outrageously, such faux conservatives accuse long-dead Democratic presidents, who were well to the right of the current conservative movement, of being more radical than they actually were. It would be no exaggeration to say that Wilson and FDR were far more reactionary than any celebrity in the Tea Party movement. One could only imagine what such antediluvian Democrats would have said if they had heard last year’s “Conservative of the Year,” chosen by Human Events, Dick Cheney, weeping all over the floor about not allowing gays to marry each other. And what would that stern Presbyterian and Southern segregationist Wilson have thought about the cult of King or the attempts by Tea Party leaders Palin and McDonnell to impose feminist codes of behavior on business and educational establishments. Wilson had to be dragged even into supporting the extension of the franchise to women.

The Tea Party sounds so often like the Left because it is for the most part a product of the Left. Its people were educated in public schools, watch mass entertainment, and have absorbed most of the leftist values of the elite class, to whose rule they object only quite selectively. From the demonstrators’ perspective, that elite isn’t patriotic enough in backing America’s crusades for human rights and in looking after the marvelous welfare state we’ve already built. The Tea Party types are understandably upset that their entitlements may be imperiled, if the current administration continues to run up deficits. This is the essence of their anti-government rant. And above all they don’t want more illegals coming into the country who may benefit from the social net and who may be receiving tax-subsidized medical care.

But this, we are assured, has nothing to do with race or culture. In fact the Tea Party claims to be acting on behalf of blacks and legally resident Latinos, in the name of Martin Luther King and all the civil rights saints of the past. It just so happens that almost all these activists are white Christians. Nonetheless, they are also people, as Elizabeth perceptively notices, who would like us to think they’re acting in the name of other ethnic groups, even if those groups don’t much like them. As four “young conservatives” explained to the viewers of the Today show last week, the Right wishes to lower taxes, specifically “to make jobs available to black Americans.” Unfortunately black Americans loathe those reaching out to them, presumably as a gesture of repentance as well as in pursuit of votes.

Those “conservatives” who want a moderate but not excessive welfare state and who act in the name of blacks, Latinos and dead leftist heroes, are fully tuned in to the conservative establishment. According to polls, these folks love FOX-news and avidly read movement conservative publications. Palin, Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, all FOX contributors, are among their favored speakers; and the Tea Party’s likely candidate for president, Sarah Palin, is now surrounded by such predictable neocon advisors as Randy Scheuermann and Bill Kristol. Even with her insipid, ungrammatical phrases about reducing the size of government, Palin already looks like an updated, feminine and feminized version of what the GOP has been running for president for decades, with neocon approval.

Actually one shouldn’t expect anything else from the Tea Party. In the 1980s the conservative movement witnessed a monumental sea change, when the neoconservatives assumed full power and proceeded to kick out dissenters. This development shaped the future of the Right, and its effects are still with us. The neoconservatives not only neutralized any real Right but also managed to infantilize what they took over. An entire generation of serious conservative thinkers were bounced out and replaced by either lackeys or by those who were essentially recycled liberal Democrats. The latter had recoiled from the anti-Zionist stands of the leftwing of the Democratic Party and then were given as a consolation prize carte blanche to swallow up the conservative movement.

Afterwards the establishment Right began to move in the direction of the Left, and it did so while limiting the range of disagreement with its opponents to a few acceptable talking points. The emphasis was on Middle Eastern intervention, disciplining anti-Semitic nations, and spreading “democratic values.” Internally the neocon Herrenklasse had no real interest, except for being able to do favors for corporations that financed them and for the Religious Right, which is fervently Zionist. The notion the neocons bestowed depth on the conservative movement may be the most blatant lie ever told. What they brought was agitprop, of the kind practiced by Soviet bureaucrats, and armies of culturally illiterate adolescents to turn out their party propaganda.

In all fairness, it must be said that the master class tolerated other points of view, for example from Catholic Thomists or Evangelicals, as long as these religiously inspired positions didn’t interfere with what counted for the neocons. Those who called the shots would also occasionally demand from their dependents certain favors, in return for subsidies and publicity, e.g., stressing the compatibility of Christian theology with neocon policies. Freeloading intellectuals could only be tolerated for so long.

This hegemony had two noticeable effects on the current Right, aside from the unchanged role of the neocons as the main power-players. The rightwing activists shown on TV and those they support in elections include badly educated duds, and these are individuals who often don’t sound like anything an historian might recognize as conservative. Their yapping about human rights (supposedly there is now a human right to own a gun) and their outpouring of the politics of guilt, as noted by Elizabeth Wright, are just two of their weird characteristics. About ten years ago I gaped with astonishment when I read a commentary by Jonah Goldberg explaining that the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre was really a far leftist. It seems that Maistre questioned the idea of universal human rights und dared to note that human beings were marked by different national and ethnic features. These quirks, according to Goldberg, belong exclusively to the left, like “liberal fascism.” When the intellectual Right can come up with such nonsense and then parley it into a fortune, it is hard to imagine any lower depths of cultural illiteracy to which it could sink.

The “conservative wars” of the 1980s, which involved mostly a mopping up operation, also led to a hard Right that is unrelated to any other American intellectual Right. Those associated with this Right wish to have nothing to do with the failed or decimated Old Right that was smashed decades ago. It has found its home among the thirty-some generation and even more, among younger conservatives who are not part of the DC neocon network. One finds among these militants an almost primitive counterrevolutionary mentality. It is one that has taken form as an impassioned reaction to the Left’s masquerading as the Right, which began with the neoconservatives’ ascendancy to total domination. Although I have my reservations about what I’m describing, it must be seen as a spirited response to a fraud as well as to something that is intellectually and aesthetically vulgar.

Clearly this youthful Right is in no way influenced by Russell Kirk or by other “cultural conservatives” of an earlier generation. Its advocates reject a Right that was co-opted by the neocons and by those who are thought to have failed to resist that fateful takeover. Nor would most of those in the “culturally conservative” camp (Jim Kalb may be the exception here) feel comfortable with the exuberant reactionaries of the rising generation. Many of them sound like neo-pagans because they are convinced that the Western religious tradition has given rise to what they condemn as “the pathology of egalitarianism.” The French New Right, Nietzsche, and Carl Schmitt have all shaped this still inchoate youthful American Right. In their case Europe has cast its shadow on the US, unlike the multicultural Left, which, as I have argued in several books, is our poisonous gift to the Europeans.

The emergence of this anti-egalitarian Right and the infantilization of movement conservatism indicate what can not be undone. The American Right has changed irreversibly because of what occurred during the Reagan years and in the ensuing decade. We shall continue to live with the consequences.