Andrew Sullivan just called me a paleo-con. That’s hitting below the belt. As I’ve explained before, I am a Russell Kirk-style Tory crossed with Michael Novak/Richard Neuhaus-style Catholic neo-conservative, with a mild dash of libertarian for seasoning. But I’m definitely neither a paleoconservative like Mel Bradford or Pat Buchanan nor a paleolibertarian like Lew Rockwell or Murray Rothbard. I like Abraham Lincoln, democratic capitalism, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, American hegemony, Alan Greenspan, the GOP, and open borders, all of which seem to be anathema to one or both strains of real paleos. ~Prof. Stephen Bainbridge

For what it’s worth, Sullivan allowed that Prof. Bainbridge might not be a real paleo after all. The speed with which Prof. Bainbridge was targeted for such a ’smear’, and the fact that paleo has become a term with which to smear someone, is indicative of how desperate defenders of the war have become. Watching the squabbles breaking out among members of the War Party, even at its margins, I am reminded of the comment of the Tsarist officer in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon: “The wolves devour each other!” It might be a little early to hope for that much, but that just about captures my mood.

I do hate to break it to the good professor, but one cannot really be a Kirk-style Tory and be a Novak/Neuhaus-style Catholic neocon. Such a combination would self-destruct from its own internal contradictions. Bainbridge admitted as much himself in part of his post on conservative definitions:

“Why no option for Tory with streaks of Catholic libertarian neo-conservative? With Russell Kirk and Michael Novak as “main representatives”? (One answer may be that the two strains co-exist only uneasily. Kirk had some very nasty things to say about neo-cons like Novak.)”

“Tory with streaks of Catholic libertarian neo-conservative”? Why even pretend to have any coherent view? At the risk of sounding doctrinaire, Tory and neoconservative are virtual opposites (the modern Conservative Party is doing its best to realign with the neocons, but they can only do so much), and libertarian and neoconservative have virtually nothing in common. As for being Catholic and libertarian or Catholic and neoconservative, I am frankly at a loss as to how someone manages that combination (the folks at First Things try mightily for the second one), since everything I understand about Catholic social doctrine implicitly or explicitly condemns some major elements of both ideologies.

Perhaps Kirk had some “very nasty things” to say about Novak because he and his ilk have had even nastier things to say about Mel Bradford, et al. Then again, I find it hard to believe that Kirk had “nasty things” to say about someone. He did not engage in invective or personal attack, being well-mannered and a gentleman by all accounts I have ever heard, but he probably just reduced the intellectual shambles that neoconservatism is to rubble with some withering observations.

Bainbridge certainly can’t be a “Kirk-style Tory” if he “likes” Lincoln, hegemony and open borders. By definition, anyone who believes in “American hegemony” as such and endorses it is not Kirk’s sort of conservative or Kirk’s sort of American, at least not according to everything I know of the man’s views on such things. Prof. Bainbridge does not strike me as someone who has a better grasp on Kirk’s thought. Perhaps Prof. Bainbridge will tell me why Kirk was apparently kidding when he rejected, in The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things Are Written on the Sky, the prospect of installing American-style regimes in foreign lands, especially Muslim countries.

Kirk had no intense animus against Lincoln in his writings to the same degree that some of us have, so far as I know, and one can even find Richard Weaver saying nice things about Lincoln in one of his stranger essays. But the sort of society they treasured was a world that Lincoln and the forces he represented helped to weaken or destroy (that is, a traditional, agrarian, constitutional republican American society). Logically, they could never have endorsed his ‘understanding’ of the Constitution, since that ‘understanding’ was a gross perversion at odds with all their principles. Neither could they have viewed favourably the unitary and democratic character he imputed to the establishment of the Republic, since it was historically false and ideological, nor would they have approved of the leveling effects of the war and the messianic tone of the Unionist effort transforming liberty from a prescriptive right to the slogan of an “armed doctrine.”

If Prof. Bainbridge “likes” those things, I don’t see why, or how, he follows in Russell Kirk’s tradition. Anyone who believes that old American society was largely decent and worth preserving as much as was possible cannot really “like” Lincoln, if by “like” Bainbridge means agree with.

If he “likes” open borders, he obviously has absorbed nothing from Kirk, who has no sympathy with the corporate architects and beneficiaries of mass immigration of unskilled labour. Open borders is also based on the ahistorical and unnatural lie that the free movement of peoples into a country has no serious adverse social, cultural and political effects on the country in question (our own national history makes a mockery of that proposition). Someone seriously committed to a certain cultural heritage would not blithely endorse the demographic erasure of that culture. I suspect that Kirk would have seen this mass immigration for what it is: a large-scale effort to remake the country demographically to make it more pliable to government, less committed to its ancestral traditions and more prone to endorse leftist projects.

As for “democratic capitalism,” Kirk was certainly willing to endorse a certain degree of republican democracy under the rule of law as it obtained in this country, not least because it was historically and culturally constituted and thus fairly well suited to the character of our people, but he did not believe in “democracy” with the infantile and naive confidence that most proponents of “democratic capitalism” have.

Likewise, Kirk was a defender of property rights as part of our heritage of constitutional liberties, established in precedents over time, for securing a livelihood and personal independence, and he viewed the use of that property and free exchange to be legitimate. He certainly was not a proponent of full-scale capitalism of the sort practiced in his day or now, and I might venture that he would find the invocation of his name by a corporate lawyer more than a little bizarre. In fact, I suspect that he is taking Kirk’s name in that empty, perfunctory way that most “conservatives” do these days–never having read anything he wrote, understanding nothing he taught, they sully his good name in associating it with themselves.

Let’s not go into detail about Frum and Krauthammer (we would be here all day), though it is hardly a secret why all paleos would find Mr. Frum to be disagreeable: he determined that we were unpatriotic thanks to our insufficient zeal to bombard innocent Iraqis and destroy a government that had done nothing to us. Prof. Bainbridge should watch out before he is found insufficiently committed to some such Canadian hack’s definition of what it is to be American.