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Self-reliance is an excellent thing to instill and to follow, and that is and should be the ultimate answer, but almost everything about the current regime works against self-reliance and creates disincentives for practicing self-reliance.
By that I mean that we have a dependency problem that has been fostered to a significant degree by what some people like to call “economic dynamism” or “creative destruction.” Knocking out the old mechanisms of social support, scattering communities with the draw of “better opportunities” elsewhere (and thereby helping to kill whichever small towns weren’t already ravaged by the highway system) and encouraging consumption and the mandate of “growht” with cheap credit all work to make Americans less economically independent and make sure that they have few, if any, private institutions they can fall back on that are capable of bearing the load. Having creatively destroyed support networks that were fulfilling the functions that must be assumed more and more by the state, the “greatest force for change” is the greatest force for facilitating the growth of intrusive government to clean up the wreckage of all that destructive creativity. Further, having become so dependent on either government or employer (or both), Americans are at the mercy of policy decisions over which they routinely have little influence, except at election time when the people who have fashioned the system that puts them in the present predicament of dependency promise them…more government assistance! This reminds me of Caleb Stegall’s op-ed from 2006:
One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office.
Or as I said during the debates over Wal-Mart and similar corporations back in 2006:
I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development. We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road. The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power. The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!” And so you do. Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!” And so you do. At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.
Fundamentally, all of this comes back to the question of whether dependent people can be the governors of those upon whom they depend, and the answer is no. Without that, there can be no real self-government, and as Caleb said no real freedom. To the extent that he has no intent on breaking this chain of dependency, Huckabee is not any kind of populist that Caleb or I would recognise. He uses the opposition between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” rhetorically, but one has to wonder if he thinks that their interests are really all that divergent, or if he thinks that there has just been some misunderstanding in allocating the benefits. He acknowledges that something is awry, but he apparently thinks the answer is to elect him so that working Americans will feel better about their President (he will remind them of their co-workers!), as if that will alleviate their real ills.
This ties into the debate that has been going on over Romney’s “I’ll fight for every job” routine that he is now reprising in South Carolina. I sympathise with calls to self-reliance generally, but these are being made as much in a vacuum as Romney’s false promises. How do I know Romney’s promises are false? It isn’t just that I think he’s untrustworthy (though if his recent display in Michigan hasn’t persuaded you of that, nothing I say here will), but that he is not going to make the auto industry in Michigan competitive with production facilities in other countries simply through deregulation and research subsidies. For one thing, Washington only has so much control over the cost of doing business in Michigan, and the one area where Washington does have control over relevant policy (i.e., trade) is the area where Romney isn’t going to do anything to shore up domestic manufacturing. Not only is he not going to do anything, but he has all but vowed to make sure thhat the same process that has been hollowing out Michigan factory towns will keep happening elsewhere–that is what his “Reagan Zone” offers American manufacturing.
During a speech delivered in the heart of the financial district, where compensation packages routinely reach into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Bush announced that he would ask corporations to curb excessive executive pay.
When it comes from Bush, Republicans may not be happy with it, but they aren’t exactly declaring him the second coming of Huey Long. What shocking socialist rhetoric has been pouring forth from Huckabee’s mouth? One news story reported late last year:
He calls himself the candidate who isn’t a “wholly owned subsidiary” of investment banks, decries large executive-pay packages and says the party needs to shift its focus from Wall Street to Main Street.
The logic of the backlash against Huckabee seems to be this: if you have a net worth of $20 million-plus, you can call for curbing executive pay packages, and if you don’t have that much your similar calls to do this are proof that you are a wild-eyed left-winger. Or something like that. It does make sense that an establishment embarrrassed by or tired of Bush would be unwilling to rally around Huckabee, but that would confirm the point that they see the two men as being markedly similar and it would likely mean that they are quite similar.
Let us all cast our minds back to those early days of the 2000 campaign when Bush unveiled the “compassion” agenda (in 1999) and see what he said:
The purpose of prosperity is to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out–to leave no one behind.
In Michigan the other day, Huckabee said:
My goal is not to make rich people poor, it’s to give poor people a shot at the American dream.
Now I don’t like Huckabee or Bush, but can someone explain to me what the substantive differences are between the two of them?
Huckabee has every incentive to distance himself from the GOP coalition; his nomination rests on its demise. ~Dick Armey
If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, that’s because it doesn’t. Arguably, Huckabee’s election as President would lead to the splintering and demise of “the GOP coalition,” but for Huckabee to win the nomination he does have to alleviate the doubts of other members of the coalition who are not yet convinced that he is tolerable. Now Armey is a primarily economic conservative with some libertarian inclinations, and he has long been engaged in a running battle with prominent religious conservatives over domestic policy priorities, so we understand why Armey is hardly thrilled to see Huckabee succeeding. Even so, what Rollins said about the disappearing Reagan coalition is not all that remarkable. It is a statement of recognition that the current GOP coalition is not what it was fifteen years ago, much less almost thirty years ago. The makeup of the GOP has changed over just the past ten years, as many noted last year with the release of the latest Fabrizio polling. Trying to organise an electoral strategy that rallies a coalition that no longer exists would seem misguided and a classic example of fighting the political equivalent of the last war. Listening to Romney rail against the welfare state, as if it were 1980 all over again, you get the impression that he is trying to run for Reagan’s fourth term. There are significant elements of the GOP opposed to Huckabee, even though they may be relatively few in numbers, but the same might fairly be said of every major contender. When it comes to talking about all of the others, even Giuliani, most establishment Republicans do not make overblown claims that this or that nomination would entail the “demise” of the GOP coalition.
With respect to Huckabee, this accusation has become a bit of conventional wisdom so commonplace that people assert it without even going through the motions of demonstrating whether it is true or not. Whatever else you can say about Huckabee’s fiscal record, it is extremely odd for economic conservatives to attack him when he proposes to do more tax-cutting than every other Republican candidate save Ron Paul. Never mind for a moment that his plan is poorly conceived, would probably be impossible to pass and induces laughter in most conservative economists–he claims that he wants to wipe out corporate, capital gains, income and payroll taxes and yet the corporate wing of the party is actually angry at him? What more does the man have to promise these people? A consumption tax would actually function as a burden on small businesses, making every small firm and store around the nation into the middlemen for revenue collection–a task that would still be handled by some part of the federal bureaucracy. Forget for the moment that it would hit middle and lower-middle households more directly, since they spend a larger percentage of their income on consumption, and consider how unfriendly the program is to small business and how actually very pro-corporate it is. While a consumption tax would have a certain kind of benefit, in that it would, like all taxes, discourage the activity being taxed, the impact this would have on consumer spending would be fairly severe. Americans might become less consumerist, at least temporarily, and might be less inclined to go into ever-greater debt to buy trifles that will have become simply too expensive, but that probably means the service economy would suffer. Once again, this would hit small firms hardest and would have deleterious effects on the general economy. The biggest joke of the Huckabacklash is that he claims to represent Main Street Republican interests and somehow corporate Republicans believe it, even though his main domestic proposal is far more to their advantage than it is to Main Street. There is nothing especially desirable about reorganising how Leviathan is fed if we continue to insist on feeding it ever-increasing amounts.
All of us have been buying into the idea that Huckabee is actually an anti-establishment candidate, and I am particularly guilty of advancing this argument. Huckabee has been milking this for all it’s worth, but he really isn’t any such thing. In any oligarchic arrangement, you will have some who portray themselves as friends of “the people” and who will use the crowd as leverage against their rival oligarchs, but at no point do any of the rivals intend to change the fundamental mechanisms of power or overthrow or dismantle the establishment. They will use and take advantage of citizens who may very well want to do just that, and their support for this or that oligarch is then used by the oligarch’s enemies as proof of the threat he poses to them, but the oligarch is simply using those people as a springboard for his ambition. The oligarch’s enemies have mistaken the use of their own methods of manipulation for an actual revolt, or more accurately they are trying to protect their own fiefdoms within the establishment against a rival claimant and so portray the interloper as a radical departure from everything that has come before. Huckabee wants to throw out certain members of the GOP establishment, but does not actually propose to do much of anything very differently on key policies. Huckabee represents, in fact, a continuation and endorsement of the Bushian status quo. Fleeing from the sinking ship of the current administration, conservative elites are not thrilled at the prospect of boarding another of similar design.
On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992. In each of his races, Buchanan was trying to topple a genuine, formidable front-runner: a sitting president, a Senate majority leader. But today it’s evident that, after a year of frantic campaigning, no such creature exists; indeed, Huckabee’s leap into the top tier is itself vivid proof of the point. The GOP too is a very different beast from what it was in the nineties: no longer the majority party in Congress, its foundations crumbling, its leadership dazed, confused, and helpless. When I recently asked a senior party operative if the Republican Establishment could block Huckabee from the nomination, he replied, with a tiny chuckle, “What Republican Establishment?”
More to the point, the conditions on the ground are arguably more conducive to populism now than in Pitchfork Pat’s heyday. In 1996, after all, the economy was in the midst of a historic boom, one that was on the verge of kicking into overdrive. Today, the situation is the reverse: Recession looms, the Dow sags, the housing and credit markets buckle. The economy has elbowed aside Iraq as the central locus of voter anxiety. ~John Heilemann
Globalization is the closest thing the money-cons have to a religion. In addition to thinking that it’s good for them, they genuinely believe that it’s good for the world. Huckabee, by contrast, seriously believes that the U.S. should be economically autarchic, with high trade barriers. That’s what really sticks in the money-cons’ craw; the outpouring of abuse directed at Huckabee’s social background (he’s “Huckleberry” to some of them) and his religiosity is largely secondary to the fear of Huckabee’s Peronist economic tendencies. ~Mark Kleiman
Peronist? That’s a bit of an exaggeration. He’s more like a “Perot-nist” in some respects, and you would be hard-pressed to find him arguing for autarchy. In his careless moments, I have heard him speak well of NAFTA (he said so in his interview with Ross in GQ, for example), so his corporation-bashing and rhetorical nods towards protectionism may not be as indicative of his policy views as we may think. I agree that it is his trade and economic views (or at least what they think his trade and economic views are) that make him unusually unpopular with conservative elites:
What I think really bothers the mainstream about Huckabee, to the extent that they are bothered (and if he wins Iowa, you can expect them to come after him with guns blazing), is his view on trade. Along with Hunter, he is really the only other protectionist in the GOP field. Like Hunter, he has not had much luck raising very much cash, because his position on trade alienates wealthy donors and establishment figures. The main orthodoxy Huckabee is running up against is not over the size of government, but rather the free trade orthodoxy that has almost completely captured the GOP (and which is, incidentally, killing them in the Midwest and elsewhere). In practice, this is a much more important “orthodoxy” and politicians who go against it have a much harder time getting support. What I think frightens the mainstream about Huckabee is that he may be able to smuggle in his protectionism under the cover of the big-government conservatism that the GOP has been practicing for years. What is also frightening to them about Huckabee is that his views on trade are much closer to a strong plurality view within the GOP (his views on immigration, not so much), which gives him a decent shot at appealing to the voters in the primaries and the general election. If he advances very far, Huckabee’s appeal will throw free traders into a bit of a panic, since it will mean that major candidates on both sides are openly talking skeptically about the benefits of free trade.
This still seems right, but the other factors are still very important. I think you also have the desire to marginalise or keep down social conservatives, subordinate their goals to those of economic and “national security” conservatives (as usual) and resist the takeover of the party leadership by someone who embarrasses urban sophisticates with his rusticity and creationism.
The calculation that a Huckabee nomination leads to epic electoral disaster for the GOP is naturally one that his opponents within the party would promote, but it is curious to see how readily it is being accepted on the other side. Here’s Yglesias:
A Huckabee-led Republican Party would, even if it got its act together and started offering a well-briefed candidate with cutting-edge policies out of the conservative think tax universe, be very very very Southern and not even in a particularly “New South” kind of way. You could pull this off, perhaps, under generally favorable political circumstances, but given the bad overall climate it’d be a recipe for disaster.
Unless the nominee is Obama, I’m not sure I see how Huckabee’s Southern-ness becomes that salient, and if the nominee is Obama the Democrats are going to have their own electability problems. How does his being from the South really impact a Clinton-Huckabee or Edwards-Huckabee race? In any case, I don’t see the disaster happening. I should qualify that: I don’t see a GOP electoral disaster happening because of a Huckabee nomination. If the GOP are going to be blown out or at least defeated next year, it will be because of changes in the electorate brought on by disillusionment with this administration and its actions. The Republicans are either unwilling or, in some cases, unable to fix that, so they have to find a nominee who gives them the most competitive chance. According to the conventional (and wrong) wisdom that social conservatism wrecked the GOP and the Republicans needed to cut back on it to be competitive, Giuliani or McCain seemed the logical choices for making the GOP as competitive as possible. Appealing to social moderates by nominating a social moderate made a certain amount of superficial sense. However, as the economy became one of the main issues in the campaign and the leading issue of concern to voters, these two were never going to be particularly well-positioned to win over an electorate that will likely be in a much more populist mood. Likewise, Romney and Thompson would also make poor standard-bearers, their other personal flaws and liabilities aside, given their rosy and positive assessments of the economy.
What many observers seem to be missing about Huckabee is that he is very New South, which is what has informed his heretofore gushy “compassionate” views on immigration policy. Unlike Bush, who has no more real claim to being a Southerner than I do (west Texas is not the South), Huckabee is someone born and raised in the South who has embraced much of the New South image, particularly as it pertains to race relations. Like Bush, he has made appealing to minority voters something of a priority, but unlike Bush he has actually been successful in getting black voters to vote for him (this is itself partly a function of his heterodox policy views). According to exit polls in his ‘98 re-election, he supposedly won 48% of the black vote, which is almost certainly too high, but he probably did get at least 20%. His populism will be helpful in the Midwest, which the GOP has to hold to win the election, and his views on teaching creationism in schools are actually in agreement with the majority of the public. He is in some ways the only candidate the GOP has on hand to appeal to “downscale” voters, and while the champions of Sam’s Club Republicanism don’t want to identify their cause too closely with him (understandably, given the current backlash and the man’s real flaws) he is nonetheless the most plausible candidate for what they are promoting.
For all the people who are constantly chattering about how the GOP has to expand its coalition or go into decline, Huckabee is in some ways the obvious choice…except that he frightens off the money and the elites back East. The hostility to Huckabee derives finally, I think, from the fear of a Huckabee victory and not fear of an electoral blowout by the Democrats. As I have suggested before, this would mean GOP fratricide for four years. This might then pave the way to a Democratic landslide, or it might not, but it would probably leave the GOP changed beyond recognition.
Well, so much for that:
Lou Dobbs of CNN swatted away rumors today that he might run for president.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” he said in a quick phone interview. “I have no interest in running, and I’ve said that throughout.”
He doesn’t know where it’s coming from? Perhaps the “friends of Lou Dobbs” who were floating this idea hadn’t bothered to mention their speculations to the man himself.
The Democratic and Republican Parties have become merely opposite wings of the same bird, and it’s the American people who are getting the bird as our elected officials serve their corporate masters and the special interest groups that dominate both parties. ~Lou Dobbs
Can Pat Buchanan sue for copyright infringement over this “wings of the same bird” rip-off? In the original, it was “two wings the same bird of prey,” which was a much better way of putting it. It seems, as virtually everyone has already noted, that Dobbs is floating the idea of an independent presidential bid when he says:
I believe the person elected a year from now will be an Independent populist, a man or woman who understands the genius of this country lies in the hearts and minds of its people and not in the prerogatives and power of its elites.
I believe next November’s surprise will be the election of a man or woman of great character, vision and accomplishment, a candidate who has not yet entered the race.
Okay, I guess he really believes it (and he really believes that he has a book that you’d like to buy), but it’s still not clear to me why he believes it. Yes, foreign policy is a mess, the price of oil is staggering, the dollar is depreciating, people keep making unpleasant comparisons between the current state of the market and the autumn of 1987, and the economy may well be on the verge of recession. But why should we expect there to be another Ross Perot-like figure leaping into the mix? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be a welcome development–it would be. But I expect that the candidate would have to be quite wealthy and capable of self-financing the entire campaign, and you just don’t have that many billionaires who get worked up about the evils of corporate influence and mass immigration. There is real support for strong restrictionist and “protectionist” policies out in the country (ground that the Democrats are already partly beginning to occupy on trade), but an independent who made his campaign primarily an anti-corporate, pro-sovereignty and anti-immigration one could not realistically expect a flood of large donations. Only a Giuliani or McCain nomination on the GOP side could trigger the kind of mass exodus of restrictionist Republican voters that the Independent Populist of Great Character would need to make his candidacy competitive. He would draw dissatisfied Democratic voters as well, but the core of this kind of independent bid would be Republican and independent restrictionists. And what would the Independent Populist of Great Character’s foreign policy look like? If it is deemed too “isolationist” by the great and the good (i.e., if it is sane on Iraq and Iran), he probably loses many of his nationalist, “Jacksonian” voters to the Republican, and if he is too jingoistic he will be even less popular than the Republicans.
P.S. The scenario imagined by Dobbs’ friends, in which he enters the race after a Bloomberg candidacy starts, is also highly implausible, not least since Bloomberg will almost certainly not be running. It also makes no sense–why would Dobbs wait until the man with virtually endless financial resources enters the race? Dobbs would not only be letting Bloomberg steal his thunder, but guarantee that his campaign would be outmatched in resources by not just two established party candidates but by a billionaire as well. The billionaire meanwhile frames his campaign around pragmatism and problem-solving and pulls away some significant portion of Dobbs’ protest vote (which is what some part of his support would be).
Ross follows up on the debate over his latest Atlantic piece on future Democratic electoral prospects, and he explains quite clearly what he means by populism and how his reform ideas relate to it. I think Ross’ analysis of electoral trends makes sense, which is why I wrote in defense of it. However, I am actually sympathetic to those, such as Will Wilkinson, who do not like the substance of the policy proposals endorsed by economic populists, as I do not care for many of them myself. I disagree with some libertarian critics of this populism, to the extent that they even allow that it actually exists, concerning some specific areas of policy and more general assumptions about the legitimacy of the claims of national sovereignty and national interest. While I have some right-populist inclinations in matters of trade and immigration and I have a very old-fashioned Bolingbrokean-Jeffersonian hostility to concetrated wealth and power, which makes for some common anti-corporate ground with more conventional left-populists, in practice I am not that much of a populist. You will not see me voting for Edwards-style populism or “compassionate” conservatism or “Sam’s Club Republicanism” now or ever. For that matter, I neither shop at Sam’s Club, nor am I a Republican, so that makes me a pretty unlikely supporter of this sort of politics, since I rather rather regard the former as a symptom of moral and economic disorder and regard the latter as, well, not my favourite organisation. Yet I still do recognise that there are people who might just go for such reformism, and these really are the sorts of people the GOP needs to win over and keep if it wants to remain competitive going forward.
As I have made abundantly clear over the years, I am a small-government constitutionalist and a Ron Paul man, which puts me in a fairly small group. (I am also very sympathetic to corporatist ideas of solidarity and a conservationist ethic, which may put me in an even smaller subset of this group.) Despite an appreciation for some of the aspects of corporatism, the kind of economic intervention by the state on offer these days leaves me completely cold. (Non-intervention is very often the wise course, in foreign policy as in domestic affairs.) However, my preferences do not really give me the luxury to pretend that people in this country are not looking for some sort of intervention by the state in the field of health care, because they plainly are. You hear this anecdotally from friends and colleagues, and you see it backed up in polling. The desire is there, and the main dispute seems to be over whether you have a mostly state-run or a more state capitalist-run program. Mike Huckabee talks vaguely about having a solution that involves none of the above, but he is typically blissfully free of specifics when he says this. (Based on anecdotal impressions, I would say that young, educated professionals might be even more worried about health care than many other groups, but I wouldn’t press that too far.) These people are acting on the assumption that the U.S. government is “their” government (if only!) and that it exists to provide them with certain things they need, or at the very least to provide them with the “opportunity” to acquire what they need.
At this point, someone usually says something saccharine about empowerment, which is usually where they finally lose me, since it is never the government’s role to empower its citizens. This idea of government empowering people is the root of all swindles. Indeed, citizens’ power stands in an inverse relationship with that of the government,and the government never “gives back” the power it has taken. The more “empowerment” we have, the more servility we have. This is naturally not a popular view (for confirmation, see the political history of the 20th century or just the 1964 presidential election), and it is not one that is normally associated with populism, though I think a case could be made that it is the ultimate populist view, insofar as it is one that places the best interests of the people ahead of popular enthusiasms. It is the view most consonant with a decentralist understanding of political liberty, and such an arrangement would ultimately be far better for the common good, a humane, sane way of life and the flourishing of more self-supporting communities.
As George Grant observed forty years ago, though, political decentralisation without economic decentralisation is simply submission to corporate oligarchy, which I think he regarded as worse than a living Hell (in which case, he would have been too generous). Consequently, he was known as the “Red Tory” for his harsh criticism of the dissolving acid that capitalism and technology poured on social bonds. Also, the Loyalist and Anglo-Canadian Conservative tradition never knew the reflexive hostility to state action that our political tradition initially did, and strangely enough Canada now enjoys more effective decentralisation in certain respects than we do (even though it also has more in the way of government services).
All of this got me to thinking about how strange it is that the Democrats have become the party of the economic populists, since they have historically been the less nationalist of the two parties and appear to be in no danger of changing, yet this kind of populism almost always goes with a strong dose of nationalism. Most economic populist complaints today focus on a few general areas: free trade, the effects of globalisation (e.g., outsourcing, etc.), related government favouritism for corporate interests and immigration. The Washington-New York political elite is largely in agreement that free trade, globalisation, state capitalism and mass immigration are fundamentally desirable. There may be disagreements about how to manage them, but there is only minority support for rejecting or opposing any of them on a large scale. (This is still true in the current presidential fields.) You would expect the historic party of labour to be more concerned about immigration, but as chance would have it, they are also the historic party of immigrants. You would expect the more nationalist party to be more skeptical of free trade and globalisation, but they are also the party of corporations. On each issue where populists might gain traction, the party leadership has tended to reject the populist position and endorse the globalist one, because their true corporate masters desire it. This remains true. What is striking today is the extent to which Democratic candidates are willing to buck corporate America at least a little when it comes to free trade, which suggests that the populist critique of free trade and globalisation, which was smothered during the incredibly boring, issue-free 2000 election, might break through this time and cause a change in the political landscape.
Fascinating what-ifs all, but mostly irrelevant. Immigration reform was defeated by a conservative revolt that spread to the wider public. Senate opponents, gloating over their success in killing the bill, were essentially correct in insisting the American people had rejected immigration reform. ~Fred Barnes, “Things Fall Apart”
You can hear the sound of Barnes’ disappointment. What we saw this past week was what occurs when representative government basically functions properly. It is a strange and marvelous thing, rarely seen anymore. We can be sure that the establishment has suffered only a temporary loss of control here. Barnes does not quite go to Broderian or Gersonian depths in lamenting the failure of “centrism,” but he shows thinly veiled contempt for Senators who helped kill the bill because they are running for re-election or another office. Imagine that–elected representatives responding to their constituents!
In other words, the people have already rejected the bill now and most of the Senators in evenly divided states were afraid that they, too, would be rejected if they supported the bill. They were all probably right. Domenici is our senior Senator and has never had much difficulty winning re-election, and even he was evidently feeling the heat. Bingaman, our Democratic junior Senator, isn’t even up for re-election next year and he voted nay on cloture, raising the number of Democrats who helped junk the bill to 16 (including the Independent Sanders). People who don’t understand New Mexican politics may be confused by this, but they should remember that we have one of the poorest states that is also most adversely impacted by the ineffective security at the border and one which can hardly afford the extra strains on state services that illegal immigration already imposes. Plus, opposition to illegal immigration in central and southern New Mexico among Republican voters is quite strong, despite the perpetual minority status of Republicans in New Mexico that would theoretically put pressure on Republicans to move towards the “center” (i.e., towards the left). Anyone running for statewide office back home would be inciting some strong opposition if he supported this bill, and both Senators apparently got that message.
Almost one-third of the Democratic caucus turned against the bill, and they have some common characteristics: they come entirely from purple states (Webb, McCaskill) and red states (Landrieu, Tester), which is predictable but significant. Many were elected on economic populist platforms, and some evidently saw elements of the bill that conflicted with their populism. The awful guest-worker provisions were likely what turned them against the bill, as well they should have. Sherrod Brown was among those voting no. Had the Democrats tried to whip the bill and force their members at least to vote for cloture, the tactic might not have worked, but there were enough Republicans siding with the Majority Leader that it would have passed easily had the Democrats not been so significantly divided. For the record, 12 Republicans voted with Harry Reid on cloture, including the unexpected names of Judd Gregg and Richard Lugar. Lugar just handily won re-election and apparently thinks he can tell his constituents to take a hike, but Gregg is up for re-election
next year in 2010. Perhaps Gregg thinks the massive blue wave swallowing New Hampshire last year was a sign that he needed to go with the majority’s leadership, but my guess is that he will eventually suffer on account of this vote. New Hampshire voters may have thrown out the Republican bums in ‘06, but that does not necessarily mean that they wanted their Senators voting in support of this bill–Sununu seems to have understood this.
I have to say that this is a better initial outcome than I could have anticipated after the outcome of the midterms. There had been the disturbing thought that holding Bush and the GOP accountable would simply lead to the empowerment of the worst policies and instincts of this administration in domestic policy. Admittedly, the gain on a change in Iraq policy has been minimal, but the cost in immigration legislation has fortunately been negligible so far. The presence of 15 Democratic Senators who opposed the progress of this bill is somewhat reassuring, in that it suggests that there may be a cloture-proof bloc in the Senate opposed to any such omnibus bills in the next Congress as well. On immigration, there appears to be a solid group of moderate-cum-populist Democrats who were significantly opposed to so-called “comprehensive reform” (Webb, Tester, Dorgan, McCaskill, Brown). Four of these are newly elected Senators, and it is not at all certain that all of the Republicans they defeated (Allen, Burns, Talent, and DeWine respectively) would have been as reliable in opposing the bill as they proved to be. Some might have been, but DeWine would likely have been a yea vote. Surprisingly, the results of the ’06 Senate elections seem to have made amnesty slightly less likely, at least for the moment.
The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct. ~Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Far be it from me to defend the wisdom of crowds and the virtues of democracy. If Mr. Vargas Llosa wants to say that the policy preferences of mass democratic electorates are often foolish and unsound, I will not contradict him. However, I tend to find the anti-populism of the liberal democrat a little hard to take, since it is so transparently inconsistent with his own confidence in democratic government. There is often nothing obviously more purely rational and less self-interested about the preferences of the liberal democrat that puts him in the position to laugh at the populist and socialist as an “idiot.” Carl Schorske’s cultural history of fin-de-siecle Vienna was one work that revealed to me this contempt of the 19th century liberal and his sympathisers for the conservative Catholic, the nationalist and the socialist: in this telling, liberals conceived of themselves as embattled heroes of rationality, and their foes were foolish crowds stupidly pursuing “magical” answers that could not be explained by anything other than irrationality. In fact, the backlash against classical liberalism across all of Europe and, to some extent, also here in America was the result of the failure of liberal policies to address the interests and needs of huge numbers of people. There is good reason why Christian democracy and social democracy became the dominant forces in European politics in virtually every country: most constituencies did not benefit from and did not want the liberal order. The story of modern Europe is the story of how liberty and democracy are frequently mutually exclusive, but it also offers an important reminder that there are social and political goods that most people will privilege ahead of fairly abstract notions of liberty.
Liberal economic policies were geared for the benefit of liberal middle-class voters and promised, eventually, benefits for others as well, but in the short term the rural and labour interests were quite rationally and sensibly opposed to policies that privileged the interests of buergerlich city-dwellers and the interests of capital and finance. Liberals are always caught in the paradox that they endorse all of the contractual and egalitarian theories that must lead inexorably to universal suffrage and mass democracy, knowing at the same time that their definition of good government and freedom is not shared by the overwhelming majority of people in the world and will likely be repudiated once everyone has a vote. Nowadays they possess a charmingly naive faith in the virtues of democracy, but reserve the right to declare the exercise of the franchise in ways they dislike to be the workings of idiocy. This role today is taken up by the inheritors of the American Freisinnigen, the Republicans, who are quite happy to extol the glories of democracy and “people power” at every turn when it seems to vindicate their policy preferences until the demos turns against them, whereupon they rediscover that America is supposed to be a republic and the madness of crowds is a dangerous and worrisome phenomenon. It is as some of them are Jacobins who are willing to pose as Federalists when the occasion requires; the centralising tendencies of both Jacobin and Federalist make this contradictory stance less absurd than it might otherwise be. But that is another story.
Back to Latin American idiocy. What is striking about this analysis is not its rude dismissal of the recurring preferences of large numbers of Latin Americans, but the treatment of the resurgence of “the Idiot” as if nothing in the 1990s happened that might have caused many Latin American nations to question the neoliberalism that was being promoted as the answer to “the Idiot.” Latin American electorates did not turn on neoliberalism out of a fit of pique or whimsy–like its original, neoliberalism introduced any number of strains and upheavals into the societies where neoliberal policies were implemented and austerity budgets alienated those who depended on government largesse. Like classical liberalism, neoliberalism has proved to be wildly unpopular. The disasters of neoliberalism in Argentina in particular seemed to vindicate increased hostility to such policies. Even though the Argentinian government could be fairly blamed for the overspending that pushed their country into the debt crisis that led to the meltdown that impoverished many Argentines, the association of the ruling party and the government with neoliberal policies tainted the entire theory with the failures of their mismanagement.
If “the Idiot” has returned with a vengeance, it is because neoliberal politicians also acted pretty idiotically in their own right and discredited the alternative to old-fashioned populism. To the extent that neoliberalism was associated with pro-American attitudes, its failure made hostility to U.S. policy fashionable once again. Rather than face up to any of these political realities, Vargas Llosa goes so far as to declare outside sympathisers with this backlash to be guilty of “intellectual treason” (whatever that means).
The author takes the easy road of bashing Hugo Chavez, who is so ridiculous that criticising him is a bit like calling in an airstrike on a barrel of fish. He cites Chavez’s admiration for Chomsky and Chomsky’s admiration for Chavez. That is a surprise–two radical leftists admire each other! In other news, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair get along, and Christopher Hitchens does not believe in God. Somehow Foreign Policy thought it worth publishing an article that tells us that (contrary to all of those numerous Western claims of success) Venezuelan social and economic policies are not working very well. Plus, did you realise that some sociology professor from Binghampton University (where?) has defended the Cuban government? How could you not know–he is apparently an “American opinion leader.” Continuing to show the vast influence of ”idiot” sympathisers in the industrialised West, Mr. Vargas Llosa has dug up a lecture by Harold Pinter (he’s still alive?) in which Pinter rallies to the side of the old Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas (because it’s never too late to justify communist atrocities). Of course, it’s dreadful to have people still defending the Sandinistas, but in an age when Trotsky admirers appear in the pages of National Review it might just be that old leftists rehashing debates of the 1980s are not the most pressing concern of our time.
But did you know that there are occasionally news stories written about Chavez that do not roundly condemn him and all his works? Clearly, there are terrible and sinister forces at work! That is not all. He goes on:
Populists share basic characteristics: the voluntarism of the caudillo as a substitute for the law; the impugning of the oligarchy and its replacement with another type of oligarchy; the denunciation of imperialism (with the enemy always being the United States); the projection of the class struggle between the rich and the poor onto the stage of international relations; the idolatry of the state as a redeeming force for the poor; authoritarianism under the guise of state security; and “clientelismo,” a form of patronage by which government jobs—as opposed to wealth creation—are the conduit of social mobility and the way to maintain a “captive vote” in the elections.
This is all perfectly true, and it is also a pretty good definition of every welfarist, progressive and social democratic political movement that has come to power in North America and Europe for the last seventy years. Give or take a point, it could be a very good description of FDR and the New Deal. These movements are routinely very wrong about the efficacy of the policies they promote, they are often quite stupid about economics and they often end up worsening the conditions of the people they set out allegedly to help, and they are, of course, vehicles for ambitious men to acquire power for themselves, but they came into being in response to the inadequate representation and inadequate response of governments dominated by other forces. It may be the case that Latin American governments working on behalf of the interests of the wealthy oligarchs pursue policies that are better for the economic development of their respective countries, and it may often be the case that populist backlashes harm these countries, but it is entirely understandable and predictable that marginalised, dispossessed and poor people who see relatively few obvious benefits from this order are going to seek some kind of change. There is not even a hint that there might be some explicable cause for the resurgence of populism–it can only be idiocy.
Now, obviously Western sympathy with Chavismo is fairly idiotic, but it is also highly unrepresentative of most Western opinion, just as Chavismo itself is largely unrepresentative of most Latin American left-populism. Most Latin American nations have turned left without indulging in the more absurd excesses of Venezuela and Bolivia, and they will benefit from their moderation. The “threat” described in this article is not really that threatening, since it refers to the political sympathies of mostly marginal and far-left Western figures who have limited influence, if they have any at all, on policy. The regimes for which they have sympathies are themselves relatively weak and have already begun to suffer the economic consequences of their flawed policies.
Via Ross at his shiny new Atlantic blog comes this Noam Scheiber piece on phony “populism” and Fred Thompson. Mr. Scheiber is right that the Americans who are drawn to Fred Thompson’s pickup truck act want ”their rich people” to act as they do. It isn’t as if voters are entirely unaware that they are rallying around millionaires and dynastic heirs. On the one hand, the rich Republican politicians serve as a kind of goal for aspirational voters who want to make their own fortune; the rich Democratic politicians tend to operate more according to a rather distorted notion of noblesse oblige (hence, Edwards, son of a mill worker, now claims to feel obliged to “help” others succeed as he has–by using the state to compel others to do the helping). (This, in addition to the nature of the institutions where they are working, may help to explain why privileged upper-middle kids who have enjoyed the best education tend to go overwhelmingly for left-liberal politics and politicians–their politics is at least partly an expression of the debt they feel they owe.)
Mr. Bush’s brush-clearing doesn’t necessarily endear him to anyone on an egalitarian basis, especially when he is clearing his brush on a gigantic ranch. It seems to me that these things, even if they were completely fake and done for public consumption, don’t work because they show the rich politician to be “just an ordinary guy” (which he obviously isn’t for one reason or another) but because they show the rich politician as someone who doesn’t have to do his own brush-clearing but who does it anyway. It elides inequality, which in turn helps the voter forget the vast disparity in power between himself and the politician whom he is about to invest with still more power. Phony “populism” makes it easier to entrust a politician with great power, because the phony “populism” seems to suggest (though it can often deceive) that the new power will not distance the pol too much from voters.
But let’s clear something else up. What these pols do with their homey performances is not really populism, phony or otherwise. Any attempt of a slick Eastern or Californian transplant (such as the Georges Bush and Allen respectively) to play as the down-home country boy has nothing to do with populism, though it may be classed as a kind of symbolic demagoguery. (The pioneer of Eastern transplantation to the West, T.R. was a progressive and extremely hostile to the trusts, yes, but no one could reasonably confuse him with a populist like Bryan.) Populism has to have some theoretical connection to empowering or serving the popular interest, which has typically meant the breaking up of concentrated wealth and concentrated power and distributing power more evenly throughout the body politic. Obviously, the GOP has never really wanted to attack the former and historically has only rarely attacked the latter and has since ceased to attack it at all. The original party of consolidation makes for a poor vehicle for any kind of populism. The symbolic demagoguery of pretending to be just like Middle Americans (or enough like them to assuage their doubts) has had to make up the distance between the nature of the party and the desires of its constituents. On the national level, I think this bridge is finally beginning to strain and break from having to stretch so far and bear so much weight.
What typically drives liberals crazy about this phony “populism” is the example of men belonging to the historic party of corporations and the moneyed interest hamming it up as one of the common people, when they actually serve entirely different interests. (This doesn’t mean that Democrats serve substantially different interests these days–it is the success of “third way” politics that the Democracy is equally in hock to corporations.) What I think many liberals still don’t quite understand is just how powerful and visceral Middle American resentment of overbearing and unaccountable government (especially in its more culturally radical forms) really is. Republicans have been able to tap into that populist resentment of government intrusiveness for a time, but this was only possible so long as the GOP retained some credibility as being at least a marginally more small-government party. Once that has vanished, as it assuredly has over the past few years, the GOP finds itself exposed for what it is–a party that purports to represent Middle America despite the reality that its every major policy priority seems almost designed to ruin or harm Middle Americans, the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency.
Not even a funny actor, a red pickup truck and a Southern accent can repair the damage done to the GOP brand. I think I begin to understand more why many people think Fred Thompson will save the Republicans, but they are still operating according to the culture war rules of the late 20th century. According to what I am guessing will be the new rules, at least for a little while, the GOP will be forced to defend the expanded warfare-welfare state they have created and embraced, creating temporarily the space for Democrats to position themselves not only as economic populist foes of corporations (which will, of course, simply be an act for most of them) but as the party opposing expansive and intrusive government. The cultural issues will continue to motivate and influence elections and the GOP will continue to win considerable support for advancing cultural conservatism, at least rhetorically, but without the responsible/limited government leg of the GOP stool cultural conservatism alone cannot keep the GOP standing. It strikes me that a Giuliani campaign, which can plausibly draw on neither the cultural issues nor the symbolic demagoguery nor a responsible/limited government message, would bring about electoral disaster for Republicans. Fred Thompson would not do a lot better, but he does at least have that red pickup truck.
I can imagine a few explanations. One is that most conservative pundits have allowed that portion of the brain that one uses to analyze a substantive question of national policy to atrophy to the extent that they don’t understand why this is something that conservatives should like. Another is corruption; this proposal would be bad interest group politics and the energy companies are major financiers of the right. A third is hackishness; this proposal would put you in disagreement with George W. Bush and other Republican Party politicians. Last is the politics of resentment; conservative pundits just hate environmentalists too much to see the forest for the trees. [sic] ~Matt Yglesias
Yglesias proposes here some possible explanations why there aren’t many conservative pundits who advocate a carbon tax despite its purportedly great political advantages. While listing those who do support such a proposal, Ross also offers an explanation for why pundits, whose job description rarely involves introducing interesting or new policy proposals, aren’t pushing this or any other potentially controversial proposal. Ross’ explanation makes sense of pundit indifference, but Yglesias’ answers sum up fairly well most of the actual political reasons why a carbon tax proposal would go nowhere today on the right. A proposal that goes against corporate interests, the administration and offends mainstream conservative knee-jerk anti-environmentalism all at the same time is obviously doomed from the start as far as most conservatives today are concerned. As for the pundits themselves, they have no incentive to swim against the tide of anti-environmentalist, pro-administration sentiment that remains widespread in their regular readership. A carbon tax is the sort of thing Mike Huckabee would probably propose, and that is exactly why conservatives will want nothing to do with it (much as they already want nothing to do with the rest of Huckabee’s tax policy).
There are at least three additional reasons why you will not see a lot of enthusiasm for the carbon tax on the right once the policy ideas begin to filter down from the wonks to everyone else. There is the die-hard small-government response that lower taxes in one area shouldn’t be replaced by another tax. “Starve the beast” isn’t a big vote-winner, I agree, but among the true believing anti-statists, who are actually disproportionately represented in the middle and lower echelons of movement conservatism, it remains one of their hoped-for goals. Regardless of what a carbon tax is supposed to achieve, these are the people who will oppose it because it is a tax and the overall government take will not significantly diminish; the stated purpose of reducing consumption in something, regardless of what that something is, will offend another batch of economic conservatives who seem to think that consumption is man’s purpose here on earth. There would also be a pretty intense reaction among voters against a tax that would obviously raise the cost of living for everyone, since this puts another financial strain on working and middle-class families that will feel as if they cannot afford it (and in many cases, whether for reasons of indebtedness or not, they actually cannot). Direct taxes are no better for these people, but the voters who want lower taxes do not simply want to see their money extracted in a different way. The middle-of-the-road, less obsessively anti-tax voters who might even be sympathetic to the goal of the policy (i.e., reducing carbon emissions) are not so sympathetic to the goal that they want to see higher energy costs.
During a time in which economic populism is becoming more popular, because job security is worsening and outsourcing has become an ever-greater problem, it seems to me that the party of the carbon tax is the party that will implode all across the Midwest. If conservative pundits are as reflexively pro-corporate, pro-administration and anti-environmentalist as Yglesias makes them out to be, they would just need to sit back and wait to reap the benefits of a backlash against a Democratic candidate proposing a carbon tax.
The party of the carbon tax will probably not do very well elsewhere, but those areas hardest hit by the glories of free trade will probably not be eager to add yet another cost to doing business in the United States that will encourage still more industry to relocate in foreign climes. Add to this the visceral, nay, reptilian response of the average suburbanite to the suggestion that their ability to consume ought to be challenged and questioned, all for the sake of the alleged benefits stemming from the reduction of carbon emissions, and you have the next great “populist” anti-tax movement just waiting to be directed by a savvy pol. This last point may be the most important for explaining why this is an idea fit only for policy wonks: the powerful consumerist hatred of any conservationist appeal that says that consumption of anything ought to be reduced vastly outmatches in intensity any feeling of approval for something like the carbon tax.
Perhaps if the policy were sold as a step towards energy independence, it might manage to win the support of non-interventionist conservatives who already think we should extract ourselves militarily as much as possible from the Near East. However, if we were to pursue the nuclear route and oil fields ceased to be strategically important for America, what rationale would the empire have left? Has Krauthammer really thought this one through all the way?
France is only the latest example of Europe’s left-right spectrum decomposing from below, as the lower-middle (heirs to the Poujadists and the Trotskyists) revolts against the orthodoxies of the upper-middle. The mostly shallow fusionism of Ségo and Sarko marks a clumsy attempt to reconcile with the new political reality. European politicians, at least, “Are All Pim Fortuyns Now.” I think it’s only a matter of time before a similar political landscape emerges here in the United States. We have the considerable advantage of a large and growing economy, and yet we also have a sky-high rate of incarceration that might soon become for us what tension over assimilation and immigration has been for Europe — and then some. ~Reihan Salam
Although the presidential election is 19 months away, the Republican Party has a real and growing problem in Ohio that could cost it the White House in 2008.
Simply put, the GOP brand is in trouble in Ohio, more so than it is nationally. That matters because in 2004 Ohio was the key to an Electoral College majority, and could well be the same in 2008. ~Peter Brown
Wasn’t Ohio the purplish-blue state where Sherrod Brown won the Senate race on an explicitly economic populist platform? That might make some people think that some sort of political appeal aimed at middle class voters (some might even call it “lower-middle reformism”) would be in order for the Republicans if they want to have a chance in competing in a crucial swing state and so have a fighting chance at winning the next presidential election. You might even say that if they didn’t develop this sort of appeal, their defeat would be basically guaranteed, since they would otherwise be fairly sure to lose Ohio, and they cannot afford to lose Ohio. What would Goldberg say to all that?
And since Ross and Reihan are finding a Strange New Respect for Buchananism (or whatever passes for “paleoconservatism” these days) I should say that I’m reminded of a point Ramesh made years ago in his article on Buchanan. “Conservatives tend to place a lot of emphasis, maybe too much, on the idea that ideas have consequences,” Ponnuru wrote. “They hoist their ideas up the flagpole and then see who salutes. Buchananism puts its idealized social base first, and lets it drive everything else.” This sounds quite a bit like what’s going on with Lower-Middle-Reformism.
The late Sam Francis must be smiling from wherever he is (I have my hunches on where that might be) knowing that his Middle American Radicalism is getting a fresh coat of paint. ~Jonah Goldberg
Tom Piatak joins in the enfilading fire aimed at Goldberg’s obnoxious post. Reihan responds in a fashion that is far more good natured and generous than the post deserves. I have every intention of drawing out just how many things are wrong with Goldberg’s post (I suspect I will have some help in this department), but for now a few simple points. No one does more flagpole-raising and salute-demanding than people at NR, whose last remaining productive function (besides flacking for the warfare state) seems to be the enforcement of ideological purity whenever it is challenged by a crunchy con, an anti-imperialist, neopopulist or, well, anyone resembling a traditional conservative. Right around this same time last year Goldberg bestirred himself to write off, if not write out, Rod Dreher and anything remotely resembling a conservatism of place and virtue. Idiotically, this champion of rootless, Wal-Mart America has decided that the advocates for “Sam’s Club Republicans” are the latest batch of dissidents to beat down and skewer with not-so-subtle efforts to associate them (however implausibly) with the ideas of Dr. Francis. He did the same to another young blogger from the other side of the spectrum, Matt Yglesias, who had the temerity to state certain obvious truths about the influence of hawkish pro-Israel people on the political process and the politics of foreign policy. Goldberg replied by noting the similarity between the views of Yglesias and Lindbergh, as if this were an innocent observation intended to further debate.
From my perspective, there is actually nothing wrong with being associated with Dr. Francis or Col. Lindbergh, since both were honourable, patriotic and admirable men, and if modern observers come to similar conclusions or express similar views as they did it is probably because these gentlemen were substantially in the right in their own time. However, the intent of someone at NR invoking their names is clear: it is to demonise, discredit and defame those being so compared, because their names have been (unjustly) tainted with the vicious smears of earlier ideological enforcers. Why make these comparisons? Because the one engaged in the demonisation knows he cannot actually take on his adversaries in legitimate debate, but must always resort to the cheap, heavy-handed tactics of a commissar.
To the end of exerting control over the collapsing movement they have helped to ruin, the ideological enforcers will be perfectly happy to appear otherwise very flexible, pragmatic, empirical and politically savvy, and they will be champions of a supposed mild reasonableness that happens to coincide perfectly with agreement with their own positions. In this view, other people “idealise” and “romanticise” things, whereas they are supposedly the epitome of cautious, grounded common sense. It would be a clever rhetorical move, were it not so utterly transparent and weak.
Some might have ”hunches” about the fate of Goldberg’s soul, but then charitable and decent people do not speculate about the eternal damnation of their political opponents as Goldberg was clearly trying to do.
I’m less sure that the backward-looking focus on the decisions of 2003 made much sense, or that the anti-Wall Street rhetoric plays well. Let me put it this way: This is not the speech that Rahm Emanuel or Chuck Schumer would have written. And while Webb is a more compelling figure than they are, they’re the better political strategists. ~Ramesh Ponnuru
On the contrary, the focus on 2003, to the extent that there was one, was a smart move. The list of national security and military figures Sen. Webb rattled off, while familiar to pundits and bloggers, reintroduced the viewing public (if there was much of one) to the serious and credible arguments and predictions made–and ignored by the administration and its supporters–prior to the war. The list summed up fairly quickly the most damning assessment that can be made about the GOP and Bush. Webb was saying, “Iraq shows that the Republicans are not the party of responsible, intelligent foreign policy, and here are the witnesses.” Important parts of the Webb response were aimed at saying, “The Republicans are reckless in foreign affairs, whereas we Democrats have better judgement.” Speaking of the party as a whole, this is absurd, but that is why Webb being the one to give the response was a very wise move. Had someone like an Emanuel or a Schumer given the response, the appeal would have been a harder sell, since Schumer voted for the authorisation of force (as did most ambitious, “national” Democrats) and Emanuel is a reliable DLC man when it comes to interventionist foreign policy. Emanuel and Schumer are better political strategists, but mainly in the context of running election campaigns–their judgement on the politics of how to handle policy questions seems questionable at best. Emanuel and Schumer represent the half-hearted defense approach: they concede the substance of a policy, such as the Iraq war, but quibble about the details. Webb obviously represents a more stern, confrontational approach, and it is to have more vigorous opposition and confrontation with Mr. Bush when Congress believes him to be in the wrong that the public voted out the GOP majority.
Webb makes the message of responsible Democratic foreign policy sound remotely plausible, because he actually did have better judgement than the administration in assessing the pitfalls of an invasion and was on record saying so in 2002. But he notes his opposition almost in passing, emphasising the numerous credible critics of the then-proposed invasion. The nods to his family’s tradition of military service was a straightforward way of saying: “My people have been fighting your wars because of our patriotism, but you keep misleading and mistreating us and now we’re mighty angry.” It was a blunt way to do away with the standard “weak” Democrat image, but it will probably resonate with a lot of tired and frustrated military families. It will definitely resonate with other tired and frustrated citizens who, as the Senator rightly noted, have patiently endured four years of mismanagement in this war. It was also another way of saying, I think, “My Democratic Party is not the party of the wine-and-cheesers and the cultural radicals–it is a party for the patriotic, put-upon Middle American.”
One might think that Webb’s knocks on Wall Street and the old Wall Street/Main Street dichotomy wouldn’t go over well, but then one would need to forget election results in places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania where record high Dow closes mean very little for a great many people. The nods to Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt and the remarks about wages all tap into instinctive distrust of the moneyed interest in Democratic constituencies. They also probably appeal to the American sense of fair play. Perhaps some will say Webb is dressing up as a question of “fairness” things that have nothing to do with what is actually fair or right, but it seems almost certain that appealing to that sense of fair play will have a receptive audience. As the passage of numerous minimum wage referenda around the nation shows, that element of Webb’s response will likely go over very well.
Webb’s response was a solid performance for his first nationwide address. It was hardly the rapture-inducing event that some Democrats seem to have made it out to be, but neither was it the awkward, anxious bumbling Republicans have portrayed it as being. Obviously, he was following the teleprompter closely, which seems to be the natural hang-up for those starting out in making televised speeches of this kind, but compared to his less-than-enthralling stump performances last year it was a clear improvement and a success in laying out the basic Democratic theme, which seems to be, “We’re on your side.”
Of course, I don’t think the Democrats, a few individuals like Webb excepted perhaps, are on “our” side at all, but that is the message they need to convey to continue to capitalise on the disenchantment and disgust with the GOP.
Populism has gotten a bad odor, and not just among plutocrats—for most of the political chattering class, it is at least faintly pejorative. But I think that’s about to change: When economic hope shrivels and the rich become cartoons of swinish privilege, why shouldn’t the middle class become populists? What Professor Hacker calls “office-park populism” will be a main engine of any new cyclical progressive renaissance. The question is whether we’ll elect steady, visionary FDR-like national leaders—Bloomberg? Obama?—who can manage to keep populism’s nativist, Luddite tendencies in check. ~Kurt Andersen, New York Magazine
Reihan pointed out this column as an example of the astonishingly boring and unimaginative writing Mr. Andersen produces when he turns to columns. He’s right–it is a terribly boring and unimaginative column. Leave it to a New Yorker to take something as elemental and interesting as popular protest and social unrest and turn it into just another banging of the New Deal coalition drum. The quote above is representative of the good liberal Northeasterner who sees the opportunity to exploit popular discontent with what he calls the “casino economy” but who refuses to give any indication that the the hordes of so-called “nativist Luddites” whom he so plainly loathes are the very people any populist candidate will need to win over. It is strange how quickly he turns to references to the super-aristocratic FDR, a man who simply oozes upper class condescension, to make an argument for the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” approach to politics. There is nothing necessarily amiss in having aristocrats of one kind or another take up popular and populist causes, but the fawning admiration for FDR tends to confirm that there is nothing very populist about this kind of politics. It may be in some sense a progressive kind of politics, but that is a very different strain in American political history. The Dobbsian appeal to those whom Brooks called the populist-nationalists is quite distinct and, on some things, starkly opposed to anything FDR-like, whether we are speaking of trade, immigration or foreign policy.
There was one hint of something interesting in Andersen’s column that has gone unmentioned so far. He writes:
We can afford to make life a little more fair and a lot less scary for most people. It’s not only a matter of virtue and national self-image. Because the future that frightens me isn’t so much a too-Hispanic U.S. caused by unchecked Mexican immigration, but a Latin Americanized society with a high-living, blithely callous oligarchy gated off from a growing mass of screwed-over peons.
That’s all well and good, except that the likelihood of creating the Latin Americanised, highly stratified society of the rich few and the poor many is greatly increased if America continues to import the political values (which are rather “Luddite” in their own left-populist way), poverty and people of Latin America. That is something that I have been arguing for quite a few months now.
Schumacher’s greatest achievement was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world. The wisdom of the ages, the perennial truths that have guided humanity throughout its history, serves as a constant reminder to each new generation of the limits to human ambition. But if this wisdom is a warning, it is also a battle cry. Schumacher saw that we needed to relearn the beauty of smallness, of human-scale technology and environments. It was no coincidence that his book was subtitled Economics as if People Mattered.
Joseph Pearce revisits Schumacher’s arguments and examines the multifarious ways in which Schumacher’s ideas themselves still matter. Faced though we are with fearful new technological possibilities and the continued centralization of power in large governmental and economic structures, there is still the possibility of pursuing a saner and more sustainable vision for humanity. Bigger is not always best, Pearce reminds us, and small is still beautiful. ~Description of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful.
Clark Stooksbury, Jeremy Beer and (I suspect) many others familiar to us all from our Crunchy Cons and Look Homeward, America adventures earlier in the year will be assembling next month for the group blog about Mr. Pearce’s new book, whose name it bears: Small Is Still Beautiful.
Hart has always held certain views outside of the conservative mainstream. An advocate for stem-cell research, Hart debated another National Review editor on the subject in 2004. Early in 2005, Hart wrote a long editorial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “The Evangelical Effect.” Finding fault in Bush’s evangelicalism—in 2000, Bush declared that Jesus Christ was his most influential political philosopher—Hart wrote: “The Bush Presidency often is called conservative. This is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.” ~James Panero (via Supreme Fiction)
Mr. Hart has done fine work eviscerating the follies of the Bush administration, and his denunciations of the ideological turn of the administration, the GOP and the conservative movement have been very much on the mark. There was a great deal of chest-beating at NR over Mr. Hart’s Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he both criticised pro-life enthusiasts and ridiculed the Iraq war as Wilsonian madness. (There was far more to the op-ed than these two things, but these were the points that seem to have received the most comment.)
I have always assumed that the thing that most offended them was not his attack on pro-lifers but his hostility to the war in Iraq. Under the “new fusionist” dispensation, there are important ”issues” and then there are fundamental, unquestionable truths: among the latter is the truth that the Iraq war is necessary and good and proper. To use the word Wilsonian in a disparaging way in the context of discussing the war in Iraq is to have placed oneself among those dissident conservatives who still remember what conservatism is and what they believed before 2001. It is the sort of thing that irritates war supporters on “the right” to no end, because it reveals how deeply indebted they are to the foolishness of liberal internationalism for their foreign policy views, and I take it as almost certain that it was this that brought down the intense criticism of Hart’s op-ed rather than anything he might have said one way or the other about abortion.
Hart’s op-ed did also elicit strong reaction over his somewhat cavalier treatment of opposition to abortion (in which he rather unimpressively cited vague irrrepressible “social forces” on a matter of fundamental moral principle), and in his disdain for evangelicals one often gets the sense not so much of a High Church man whose mind boggles at the shallowness of Enthusiasm but of a Northeasterner who finds people from much of the rest of the country rather drab and miserable yokels whom we should ignore as often as we can. But he did make one excellent observation in his remarks on abortion that deserves to be quoted here: “Simply to pull an abstract “right to life” out of the Declaration of Independence is not conservative but Jacobinical.” This is quite right. I would extend that to much of the “rights” talk that pervades the American right today. However, since large numbers of people who consider themselves conservative routinely pull abstract rights out of the Declaration of Independence (and who denounce as relativist or historicist those who object to this idiocy), it is a protest that will most likely confuse or annoy its target audience.
In any case, it has been the war that has separated him most sharply from the crowd at NR and the ideology that now infests the movement more broadly. If there is one sentence that might sum up the modern Republican Party and the conservative movement, it is that they would sooner prefer causing death abroad than protecting life at home. If someone like a McCain or a Giuliani should somehow miraculously win the nomination in ‘08, my impression of the priorities of conservatives will have been confirmed absolutely.
But where Mr. Hart has been devastating in his critiques of the administration and modern conservatism, he makes some remarks, such as the one quoted above, that seem to me to make no sense. What can it mean, for example, to call Mr. Bush’s politics populist? Radical of a sort they certainly are, but to call someone radical may or may not be an indictment of him–it is the quality and nature of the roots to which one returns that determines whether his radicalism is wisdom or insanity.
But in what sense is Mr. Bush is a populist, and how does he advance any kind of populism? Whether we are speaking of a kind of rightist populism that focuses on national identity, relative economic self-sufficiency, defense of the American worker and a foreign policy of non-entanglement and neutrality or the old American (conservative) populism of agrarian protest in the 19th century or the aristocratic brand of populism of the Opposition in Britain in the 18th century or the leftist populism of redistribution and socialism re-emerging in Latin America, there is no kind of populism that matches Mr. Bush’s politics (except insofar as the word populism is used rather the way some people use fascist by people from the coasts to disparage the politics of someone else with no regard to content or meaning). Mr. Bush is a liberal patrician who actually favours the interests of the Northeastern elite and who embraces a heady mix of hegemonic nationalism that expresses itself in terms of a universalist ideology. His politics are radical in the pursuit of ideological clarity, and they are also autocratic and imperialist. He has nothing but contempt for actual populist opposition to mass immigration, free trade and activist foreign policy, to name a few examples where what benefits the people and what the people desire are equally uninteresting to him.
He is a Brahmin with a twang, and for some reason a great many people have bought into the twang and the folksy spiel while ignoring what the man says and does. This is a serious mistake, and it reinforces Mr. Hart’s assumption that all populism is contrary to his kind of conservatism, which is probably why he says his kind of conservatism is anti-populist. Certainly, if I thought Mr. Bush was a populist of some kind I would want to be an ardent anti-populist, but he isn’t one and no fair definition of a rightist populism could confuse it with the sort of ideologically-driven and flatly unpatriotic policies pursued by the present administration. To call Mr. Bush populist is to bring discredit on actual populists, which mainly benefits precisely those few whom Mr. Bush actually serves and represents.
Chait asserts that “any new libertarian voters the Democrats attracted … would cost them support,” but here he is clearly wrong. According to data analyzed by David Boaz and David Kirby, Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2006 did 24 percentage points better with libertarian-leaning voters than they did in the midterm elections of 2002. These findings are corroborated by the strong Democratic gains in New Hampshire and the interior West–areas of the country where small-government leanings are prevalent. Yet, even as Democrats improved their standing with the “economically conservative, socially liberal” crowd, they increased their overall national vote share as well. So much for the idea that gaining ground with libertarians is doomed to be a net vote loser. ~Brink Lindsey
Proponents of the “libertarian swing vote” theory (Boaz and Kirby) and proponents of a liberal-libertarian alliance are awfully crafty in the way they use evidence. They ignore the intervening election of 2004, which would show that 2006 represented a stabilising and hardening of “libertarian” support for the GOP. There are those classed as libertarians by these Cato studies who tend to drift towards the Democrats, but their numbers are limited and they form a clear minority of the voters classified as libertarians.
Advocates for the “swing vote” or the alliance then make vague references to New Hampshire and “the interior West” without ever explaining why a party’s success in these places equals support for libertarian social or economic policies. There is an assumption that libertarian voters helped make Democratic success here possible, but I feel fairly sure without having looked terribly closely at any state-by-state vote tallies that the people voting for the new Democratic House and state legislature representatives in New Hampshire were not those Cato might define as libertarians but were instead “centrist”/”independent” voters whose mass defection from the GOP fits the national trend. In “the interior West,” it is difficult to believe that there really are as many libertarians (very broadly defined) as some seem to think. Did AZ-05 and AZ-08, for example, flip because of a great defection of libertarians, or for other reasons entirely? I suspect that the more you dig into the specifics of each Democratic victory in “the interior West” you will find very few libertarian-themed campaign pitches that brought them the win.
Going from ’04 to ‘06, did libertarians defect in greater or smaller numbers from the GOP than other blocs of voters? Clearly, they defected in smaller numbers. In part, this was because no one was trying to persuade them to defect. On the other hand, no one was trying to persuade them because their policies are actually unpopular across the country (hey, everybody, let’s have mass immigration and free trade!) and the voters Democrats could most easily poach are conservative populists. The vague outline of a liberal-populist alliance at least has a slight plausibility to it when it comes to some aspects of economic policy, and if Dobbsian Democrats could drop the fetishes of cultural liberalism and cease antagonising these same voters they would win far more support than if they joined hands with libertarians in, say, selling out the country with amnesty.
This brings us back to the biggest swindle of them all: the equation of libertarian with “economically conservative and socially liberal.” This is a definition fit for the DLC or the Concord Coalition, not the Cato Institute. It is an attempt to claim the broad middle as the natural libertarian constituency. This is a clever PR move, but it has no connection to reality. Using this definition makes appealing to libertarians seem politically desirable for both parties, but this is to treat libertarian voters as some sort of floating centrist vote that, according to Cato’s own studies of their voting behaviour (even accepting Cato’s over-generous enumeration of how many “libertarian-leaning” voters there are), they simply are not.
Mr. Lindsey’s claim that populism is a loser on the national stage is a tried and true spiel favoured by the two party establishment and those who support the consensus politics on trade, immigration and foreign policy. (Note that foreign policy, the main area where a liberal-libertarian alliance is most natural and most obvious, is the one Lindsey avoids like the plague because, when it comes to the Iraq war, he is as libertarian as I am Buddhist.) Populism has been a loser on the national stage when prosperity was widespread, economic insecurity was minimal and wages were not stagnant. When economic insecurity and anxiety rise and wages do not, populism often succeeds. When government seems to be failing and out of control, populism succeeds. In 2006, minimum wage hikes succeeded in referendum after referendum–obviously, some populist measures are quite popular. Ross Perot, one of the most ridiculous presidential candidates ever, got 19% of the vote nationally. That was the fruit of sheer populist frustration, much of which he frittered away with his general battiness and poorly run campaign. If one party or the other could reliably count on those Perot voters or people like them in every cycle, it would become the virtually permanent majority party. “Libertarian-leaning” voters possess this kind of power only in their wildest dreams.
The Reagan coalition was built by very intelligently exploiting the patriotic and socially conservative impulses of the famous Reagan Democrats–the Jim Webbs of yesteryear–and diverting their economic populist frustrations into hostility against a hostile cultural liberalism that was seen (by these voters at least) to be sapping national resolve in foreign affairs and dissolving the nation’s moral integrity. Now that the GOP has gone insane on foreign policy, these people no longer feel that they belong in that party and they are remembering that they have little love for the long-time ally of the corporations. While it may discomfort some of our friends, such as Dan McCarthy, Jim Webb’s victory announcement that he had also always been concerned with ”economic fairness and social justice” as well as deeply outraged by the Iraq war was a sharp reminder that a competent, patriotic foreign policy combined with some degree of economic populism together make for a tremendously powerful appeal to people like Webb. Reagan and his allies even managed to make fundamentally libertarian economic policies feel populist by casting tax reductions in terms of giving people their own money back (which also had the virtue of being true), and it is largely so long as libertarian economic policy seems to be working to the benefit of the middle class (and not principally to corporations) that its unpleasant side-effects are tolerated. Libertarians take the side of free trade and mass immigration, to name two prominent examples of egregiously pro-corporate and unpopular policies, at the cost of their own political marginalisation. The party or political coalition that can mobilise populist sentiment on both trade and immigration will frequently come out ahead.
I interviewed [Bruce] Frohnen on my radio show recently and found it more appealing still. He lamented what he called “Wal-Mart conservatives,” by which he meant people who worship at the alter [sic] of the “cheapest price,” and the utilitarian values of the market right generally. He expressed dismay with the Bush Administration on everything from foreign adventures to his imposition of federal standards on local schools and the diminution of local control.
His dismay was akin to that of many on the decentralist left when the Clinton Administration stumped for corporate globalism; and when his “liberal” appointees to the Supreme Court voted to affirm the power of local governments to use eminent domain to kick people from their homes and give the land to Wal-Mart. (That’s “public purpose”?) There is congruity here, if not outright convergence. It would be a stretch to call a Russell Kirk a commoner, or a father of them. He had too much of a patrician quality, too much distrust of the rabble.
Still, someone who is a friend of Wendell Berry and Ralph Borsodi, and hangs with the thinking of Jane Jacobs and E.F. Schumacher, is sniffing around the right tree. When was the last time we heard a Democrat in Washington invoke such people? Those of us who are concerned about reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth [bold mine-DL], have got to stop heeding ideological stereotypes. There are allies out there. ~Jonathan Rowe
Mark Shea pointed out Mr. Rowe’s smart discussion of the important agrarian and conservationist figures who appear in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (ISI, 2006) and the possible points of contact between what I take to be his green/decentralist left view and an authentic conservative (which includes the decentralist right) one. Mr. Rowe also refers to his surprising discoveries at Crunchy Con, so he would probably also have an interest in the figures lauded in Bill Kauffman’s book Look Homeward, America and the related blog Reactionary Radicals. Better still, he would find a treasure trove of conservative thought on all of these important themes of local community, conservation, agrarianism and more at Chronicles, which is a superb magazine regardless of whether you agree with its politics or not. The gentlemen (and a few ladies) there have been blazing the trail on these and other vital questions for 30 years now, and I think it is fair to say (although I am biased as an occasional contributor) that they continue to get better as time goes by. Speaking of Wendell Berry, whom Mr. Rowe mentions, Chronicles had a fairly lengthy interview with him in the 30th Anniversary issue of the magazine this past summer (July 2006), where he said:
There is a kind of alliance in this country of people who want to take care of things–children, dark nights, the land, architecture, forests, ecosystems, rivers, and so on. I don’t know the degree of competence there is in this movement. I don’t feel much assurance that we know how to take care of much of anything over the long haul. But the sense that things need to be taken care of is growing, and it’s a good thing.
That description of an alliance is strongly reminiscent of the description from The End of the Modern Age of the ideas of the patriots mentioned as one part of the opposition that Prof. John Lukacs sees between nationalists and patriots (cited by Caleb Stegall at Crunchy Con):
Our “conservatives” care not for the conservation of the country, and of the American land. Yet: more than tax policy, more than education policy, more than national security policy, more even than the painful abortion issue, this is where the main division is beginning to occur. So it is in my township. It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live. (Landscape, not wilderness. The propagation of wilderness, the exaltation of “nature” against all human presence, is the fatal shortcoming of many American environmentalists.) Beneath that division I sometimes detect the division between a true love of one’s country and the rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people; between the ideals of American domesticity and those of a near-nomadic life; between privacy and publicity; between the ideals of stability and those of endless “growth.”
With respect to those divisions, it seems clear that traditional conservatives and Mr. Rowe’s folks would very likely on the same side. An ideal of stability, not of endless “growth”–surely, that is what conservatives should want to pursue. Real growth is natural and needs only good soil and wise gardeners to encourage it; it is not hastened by the unnatural hyperactivity of endless consumption and acquisition.
That idea Mr. Rowe mentioned of “reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth” sounds excellent to me, and it sounds very much like a major part of what conservatives should be trying to do. In fact, that is what conservatives do (allow me to explain), and those who do it are conservatives, though they may not care for the label and may never have heard of Richard Weaver. Those who fail to do that but talk a lot about conserving this or that may be sympathetic to many conservative appeals and may well incline in the right directions most of the time but have yet to fully become living conservatives and conservators of a living tradition, living way of life (and I must plead guilty to being lacking in some respects in being the latter) and a specific place to which they are bound by time and fidelity. Still others who can make quips about immanentising the eschaton but either a) don’t really understand what that means in the real world or b) don’t live as if they understand what it means are in worse shape yet.
As Jeremy Beer observed in the recent American Conservative symposium, “What Is Left? What Is Right?” the localist, historic preservationist, conservationist and community values that should be hallmarks of conservatism are embodied instead in civil associations that are not self-consciously conservative and tend to align themselves with a different part of the spectrum all together. Mr. Beer outlines who these people are and he then cites the example of Kirk the local patriot as inspiration:
The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.
Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.
Mr. Rowe mentioned being surprised at the inclusion of Bryan in ACE, but there is really nothing all that surprising about including a latter-day hero of the Country party in a conservatism that can proudly embrace the Antifederalists, Agrarians and Bradford in its tradition. But, then, you would never know that these people form an important (some might even say central) part of that tradition if your acquaintance with conservatism was limited to the main magazines and talking heads of the last ten years. Conservative enthusiasm for Bryan and the Populists is not necessarily universal even among traditional conservatives (though I think almost all would readily prefer him to McKinley or T.R. given the choice), but where that enthusiasm exists it is powerful indeed.
If there are tensions between patricians and commoners here, this should be less troubling than might seem necessary, because decentralists across the conventional spectrum tend to affirm many, though certainly not all, of the same basic political, social and economic goods and share many of the same assumptions. Men of backgrounds as diverse as Harrington, Bolingbroke and Chesterton understood the importance of widely distributed real property, resistance to the concentration of wealth and opposition to the consolidation of power as all being essential to the preservation not only of liberty but also, more importantly, the preservation of humane and stable community life.
Update: More Jeremy Beer (again via Caleb at Crunchy Con) on the history of conservationism among conservatives, the obstacles to the potential future green-conservative alliance and the beginnings of a possible way forward:
You might not know it from the exhibit tables at most conservative gatherings, stacked as they are with explicitly anti-environmental flyers, articles, and books, but America’s conservative movement was once intimately linked with conservation. The influential conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote warmly about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was published in 1962 and frequently held forth on the dangers of pesticides, the protection of endangered species, and the preservation of farmland. In fact, a near-apocalyptic tone suffused the environmental writing of many conservatives during the first decades after World War II. So, how did we get from there to where we are now, with environmentalists firmly established as the favorite whipping boys of conservative intellectuals, pundits, and politicians?
… This issue is particularly important to Christians, whose faith counsels a sacramental vision of nature and opposition to the hubris underlying the modern economy and its institutionalized disregard for the care of God’s creation. “You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility,” writes Wendell Berry.
However, the environmentalist movement itself must deal with its own confusing and contradictory alliances with the left. As John Lukacs has written, Greens are often the self-made prisoners of their leftist and anti-establishment inclinations. They are split-minded: traditionalists and anti-traditionalists at the same time. They want to conserve the land, and they are opposed to the inhuman progress of bureaucracy, automation, technology. In that respect they are conservatives, in the proper, larger-than-political sense of that word. Yet at the same time they favor abortion, feminism, unlimited immigration, nomadism—at the expense of the traditional family, of traditional patriotism, of traditional humanism, of the traditional respect for rights of property.
Who knows? Perhaps Greens would not have been driven to embrace such allegiances if conservatives had not abandoned their conservationist roots. The crowd that forms around Lukacs whenever he speaks to young audiences is an encouraging sign that someday soon, there may be a conservative movement that is dedicated to healing that schism.
Beinart points out that all the Dems need do to be full Dobbsians is to embrace Dobbs’s very strong stand (”Dobbs is downright obsessive about the issue,” says Beinart) against illegal immigration. He then produces some signs that the Dems are, in fact, doing this:
“Democratic challengers are staking out immigration positions to Bush’s right. And Democratic incumbents are doing the same thing. …In the Senate, a large majority of Democrats just voted to build a fence along the Mexican border. … Many liberals would like to pick and choose their anti-globalization politics — arguing for more regulation of international trade and investment, but resisting punitive measures to regulate the flow of international labor. Morally, that’s perfectly defensible. But politically, it is likely to fail…..”
[Derb] Immigration enforcement is the golden amulet for the Dems. If they pick that up and run with it, Republicans could be out of power for a generation. You think Democrats don’t know this? Plenty know it, and the rest will catch on.
[Amongst other things, this disposes of Stanley Kurtz’s argument for voting Republican in the midterms—that only by doing so can we be sure of good immigration-law enforcement. A better strategy for those of us who care about the National Question would be to (a) send a copy of Peter Beinart’s article to evey Democrat we know, and (b) stay home Election Day.] ~John Derbyshire
The main worry that many conservatives have had about the GOP loss of the House has been the prospect of amnesty passing in Congress once the major obstacle to that amnesty was gone. This is a real worry, because such an amnesty would be such a huge and potentially irreversible disaster should it actually pass and be signed into law. In the midst of my singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead,” with respect to the impending GOP defeat (let us hope), some readers and fellow bloggers have written or spoken to me about this rather glaring problem that I have avoided for the most part, though I have not exactly papered over it. I have tended to minimise the likelihood of this potentially disastrous turn of events, but still hadn’t really gotten into the meat of the argument. The fear of amnesty passing a Dem-controlled House is based on the assumption that a new Democratic House majority would be heavily pro-amnesty and would have a working pro-amnesty majority. Certainly a large majority of House Democrats is generally pro-immigration (it is the source of so many of their new and future voters that this is inevitable) and most are pro-amnesty or in favour of one of the guest-worker programs that is just as good as amnesty (which Mr. Bush still pretends is a radically different position!), but many in the House or those running for House seats for the first time (and Senate candidates such as Ford in Tennessee) are running strongly against illegal immigration and/or amnesty and sometimes sound as conservative or occasionally even more conservative on the question than the Red Republicans themselves. If enough Democrats adopt a Dobbsian view of the question, it could at least forestall amnesty for the time being and might (and this is far less likely, but remotely possible) lead to the Democrats adopting this issue as proof of some revived sense of visceral nationalism and patriotism, the lack of which has doomed them to minority status nationally for the past six electoral cycles. If a Sherrod Brown economic populism is a political winner on one front of reaction to globalisation, a whole raft of related populist policies, including immigration restriction and even (to be completely unrealistic) an immigration moratorium, might become legitimate topics to be debated seriously as real policy alternatives.
It could be that these Democratic candidates are all having us on (it would hardly be the first time!), and we have to assume that they are not to be trusted, but it could be that they see public discontent with GOP dithering on a vital question and have moved–for either cynical or genuine reasons–to exploit it by taking that question seriously and adopting popular hostility to illegal immigration and amnesty as their own.
The important thing to remember is that immigration is a fairly burning issue across the spectrum at the popular level, and it actually energises key Democratic constituencies who are absorbing most of the costs of unchecked immigration firsthand. It is also becoming more and more of a national issue as immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere have been reaching cities and towns far away from any border or port. If the Democrats want to return to being a national party, they will have to do it by tackling what the Derb calls the National Question and assuming a more nationalist pose. There are entrenched and powerful interests in the party that will have none of this (the major labour unions sold out years ago on this question and will not be changing anytime soon), and it could end up creating divisions as serious in their coalition as the division immigration has created among Republicans.
Neither major party is likely to be transformed from within sufficiently to satisfy fully the kinds of voters for whom immigration restriction is just one ”national question” among many. What might happen next? In my mad mind, I see the following. One party would end up being hollowed out and replaced almost entirely by another, new party organised along populist nationalist lines. At some point in the next twenty or thirty years, the “populist nationalists” that David Brooks identified could force a realignment of sorts as Democrats and conservatives, sick of the preening coastal elites of both parties, their “progressive globalism” and their disdain for the real America, form an opposition based on some mix of economic populism at home, economic nationalism on trade, immigration restriction, and realistic foreign policy less inclined to intervention (though open to ”Jacksonian” moments of power projection). It would probably be conventionally socially conservative, but would be more likely to make cultural issues a priority only to the extent that they would touch on national identity. There is no necessary reason why this populist nationalism would absolutely have to be centralist and unduly statist in character, though there is a real danger of that. However, traditional conservatives and rightist populists could push decentralist and localist solutions to national questions.
A decentralist politics coupled with a healthy opposition to the concentration of corporate power could possibly have quite broad appeal, bringing in greens, Perot-type “centrists” and many traditional conservatives. Such a party would be more of a labour party than either of the two major parties are now, but might also aspire to some kind of distributist policies to ensure the broad ownership of real property (this now verges on the delusional, I realise, but stay with me) in an attempt to reestablish small firms and small farms as the bedrock of a more economically (and thus politically) independent citizenry. (Who knows what else we might pull off! Before the end of this fantastical journey, we might overthrow bank-rule!) Throwing back many questions of economic regulation to the states (allow me to enjoy this fantasy while I can) would disquiet some of the progressives who would be drawn to the anti-corporate side of this populism, but this returning of power to the states would, I think, satisfy many of the constitutional and philosophical qualms of conservatives about such regulation (true libertarians would, of course, be horrified and have nothing to do with the project, which is yet another argument in its favour). This party would emphasise state sovereignty and a diversity of policies to suit local conditions, and political decentralism within states would be the rule in order to minimise intrusive regulation that might drive people to other states, thus recreating the nightmare of mobility that has been wrecking the formation of stable communities for half a century. (We would likely have to fight a well-entrenched and powerful Moving Lobby made up of real estate agents, trucking companies and developers, but it would be a fight worth having.)
This realignment on national questions could possibly run up against the tensions between Prof. Lukacs’ (abstract)nationalists and patriots, as this populist nationalism would appeal to people from both groups. But here again there is the possibility that those whom Lukacs identifies as patriots will also tend to be sympathetic to many, although probably not all, the policies of the “populist nationalists” and the patriotic appeal to loyalty to place and community and rootedness–and would stress the necessary aversion to the ethic of “creative destruction” and endless unsustainable development for the sake of “growth” that would go with this loyalty–could help ground this populist nationalism in real, living communities rather than the abstract, bloodless idea of a nation that many Red Republican nationalist pundits espouse. That localism and emphasis on rooted communities would likely leave the abstract nationalists cold and send them scuttling back to the Red Republicans, who at this point would represent little more than megacorps (which is different from now how exactly?).
Almost all of this is an enormous piece of speculative fantasy based on a few flickerings of sanity among a few Democratic candidates on immigration, but there is some hope of at least a small part of it coming true if enough Democratic voters follow the Dobbsian route. Mr. Derbyshire is correct that the party that gets on the right side of the immigration question and actually gets a good enforcement law passed first will be the majority party in this country for many years. That promise of power, if nothing else, should seriously motivate the pols to make some attempt at getting this vital issue right. The great Chestertonian reawakening will still be a long ways away.
If there is any valid critique of Dreher’s “crunchy cons,” surely it is their predilection to easy distraction. They, by and large, still want to be nice. Where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the liberal order? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the Linker/Gallagher bargain? ~Fr. Jape
It is encouraging to see that Fr. Jape can bestir himself to send a carrier pigeon from the grave when the occasion requires it. I think I know where we can find some populists, or at least some inspiration for those populists, but what about the anarchists? Any wild-eyed anarchists out there?
That Bolingbroke and his Opposition appeared to later radicals with a radical face is neither surprising nor difficult to reconcile with his basic conservatism. Part of the ideological dynamic of his politics was “populist,” even though an early and most aristocratic populist manifestation, and inherent in populism is a force at once intensely radical and reactionary. It is always “the people,” be they yeoman farmers, urban small traders, or failing gentry who are being victimized by the small conspiratorial financial interests. In Bolingbroke’s view, these conspirators had captured the government; the King, ministers, and legislature spoke at their bidding. Bolingbroke’s Opposition inevitably took on a popular tone in its perpetual plaint that the government and its ministers and legislature were alienated from the people, the true source of power. There was, of course, much more to Bolingbroke’s Opposition than this. What concerned him particularly was that the conspiracy of government and vested interest had removed “the people’s” natural leadership from power. In defending the one, however, he often had to defend the other; for “the people” and the aristocratic leadership faced the same enemy. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle
Bolingbroke’s conservatism stands not only as the fons et origo of Country-Jeffersonian-Republican agrarian resistance to the new Court of the Federalists and Whigs, but perhaps even as the core of the entire Anglo-American populist tradition. I will go so far as to say that, as good as Burke can be, it is the Viscount Bolingbroke and not the Irish Whig who represents the real source of Anglo-American conservatism. It is especially to him that we should look as “the reactionary imperative” becomes ever more imperative.
Conservatism as such did indeed become an articulated position only in response to the French Revolution, but Bolingbroke’s Opposition laid the groundwork for the arguments of the American tradition far more and defined an anti-liberalism that was also anti-Lockean but which appropriated the Whig mythology of 1688 as a moment of constitutional renewal–in spite of the historical falsehood of this claim–so that the “modern Whigs” might be defeated. As Jefferson did with the Constitution, and as American conservatives have attempted to do with the entire liberal project, Bolingbroke sought to recast the usurpation of 1688 as a return to political moderation, the restoration of the mixed constitution that Walpole was then perverting and destroying. He sought to make the best of the political settlement at hand and guard English liberties against the corruption that was now ruining them. To better fight Walpole, he did not attach himself to embittered Jacobitism, and instead embraced the commonwealth vision of Harrington and passed it on to the English Tories and American patriots who embraced it equally.
The unification of the interests of aristocrats and the people against consolidation and moneyed interest finds strong parallels in early Jeffersonianism, the alliance of Southern aristocrats and “plain republicans” of the North and the alliance of planters and yeomen in the Southern Democracy. Bolingbroke, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Bryan all fought some different form of the moneyed interest and “bank rule”; all fought in their different ways the corruption and consolidation of government. The same themes of defense of the small town, small firm and small farm against the encroachments of concentrated wealth and power and the confluence of the two in government circles recur again in the history of American Populism in the 19th century and even find echoes in the career of the Insurgent Progressive, Bob La Follette.
Bolingbroke’s reactionary radical combination of defending the people and their liberties against the usurpations of the government and the moneyed interest, the Opposition’s rejection of the standing army, and its aversion to war and foreign entanglements all anticipate many of the themes developed by American agrarians in their arguments and taken up again by their latter-day populist inheritors. Look homewards, America–and look to Bolingbroke.
Reactionary populist leaders need not be small farmers, threatened artisans, or shopkeepers. In the united front of a populist reaction to early capitalism it is appropriate–most especially in one of its first manifestations–that the generals were well bred and the troops were yeomen farmers and small traders. They could make common cause so easily because they both perceived the extent of the threat. Bolingbroke’s career and writings bear an amazing consistency when they are seen in this light. From 1701 to 1715 he championed the antiwar, antimoneyed interest in Parliament [bold and italics mine-DL]. His populist tendency may account for the seeming aberration of his Jacobite years, and explain the perpetual attack in all his political writings on the new role of finance in society. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle
In contemporary America, this presumption toward freedom may no longer be valid, as Mr. Will makes clear. The lower middle classes and nearly everyone else, for that matter, really do love Wal-Mart and are quite happy to sell their American birthright of independence and self-sufficiency for a bowl of processed – but cheap! – soup. This is the challenge facing the new populists of the right: how to advocate and promote the free and sturdy democratic qualities of the common man – qualities that made America great – when the common man has apparently turned his back on those virtues?
The genius of Wal-Mart lies in its ability to make dependence attractive to individuals and communities. The fact that independence is handed over willingly by the masses only makes the surrender that much more difficult to overcome.
If it is to be overcome, it will require an effectively conservative and populist appeal to the conscience of freedom, independence, morality and sturdy self-sufficiency that is still alive in this country. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
The sheer size and power of Wal-Mart ought to make any conservative wince. A private entity the size of the U.S. military with the economic clout of the Federal Reserve is no friend to liberty. It should be clearly understood that the conservative’s objection to centralized power and wealth – either in its statist or its corporate forms – is primarily, perhaps exclusively, an objection to its capacity for imposing servility and dependence among his fellow citizens, who should be free.
In this, postwar American conservatives are heirs to the Jeffersonian, anti-Federalist and populist arguments of the 18th and 19th centuries. These decentralists, state’s-righters and agrarian champions presumed a basic level of democratic and economic sturdiness and self-sufficiency in the common man. Left to his own devices, it was thought that the common and working classes – the Minutemen of the Revolution, the pioneers of the West – would not willingly don the yoke of servitude, but would prefer to be free, despite the sacrifices and hardship such a life might entail. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
Unfortunately, those who are conditioned to think that economic dependence on ever-larger corporations is a mark of their “economic liberty” (look at the wonderful selection! look at all of the “choices” we have!) rather than a sign of their servility do not even realise that they have donned the yoke of servitude.
As Mr. Will sees it, the liberal war on Wal-Mart in the name of the common man is really a war on the preferences of the common man. By couching his arguments in terms of “consumer sovereignty” and the “preferences of ordinary Americans,” Mr. Will undermines liberal objections to Wal-Mart by co-opting the historically liberal defense of unconstrained freedom of individual choice. This is effective for puncturing the pretensions of liberal elites, but it’s a curious position for an avowed conservative.
Arguments from preference for, say, complete sexual freedom, unlimited abortion license and illicit drug use have never been very convincing to conservatives. Instead of asking what conditions most Americans prefer, postwar conservatives have traditionally asked the more important question: What conditions will make common Americans free – free not just to pursue their baser appetites, but to fashion an independent and virtuous life? Further, conservatives have argued that our democratic system of self-government cannot last in the absence of a class of men and women who are truly free by virtue of their moral, economic and cultural independence from the centralized management classes.
One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
The stakes could not be higher. In systems where oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, competition itself is transformed from a free-for-all into a kind of private-property right, a license to the powerful to fence off entire marketplaces, there to pit supplier against supplier, community against community, and worker against worker, for their own private gain. When oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, what is perverted is the free market itself, and our freedom as individuals within the economy and ultimately within our political system as well.
Examples of monopsony can be difficult to pin down, but we are in luck in that today we have one of the best illustrations of monopsony pricing power in economic history: Wal-Mart. There is little need to recount at any length the retailer’s power over America’s marketplace. For our purposes, a few facts will suffice—that one in every five retail sales in America is recorded at Wal-Mart’s cash registers; that the firm’s revenue nearly equals that of the next six retailers combined; that for many goods, Wal-Mart accounts for upward of 30 percent of U.S. sales, and plans to more than double its sales within the next five years.
The effects of monopsony also can be difficult to pin down. But again we have easy illustrations ready to hand, in the surprising recent tribulations of two iconic American firms—Coca-Cola and Kraft. Coca-Cola is the quintessential seller of a product based on a “secret formula.” Recently, though, Wal-Mart decided that it did not approve of the artificial sweetener Coca-Cola planned to use in a new line of diet colas. In a response that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Coca-Cola yielded to the will of an outside firm and designed a second product to meet Wal-Mart’s decree. Kraft, meanwhile, is a producer that only four years ago was celebrated by Forbes for “leading the charge” in a “brutal industry.” Yet since 2004, Kraft has announced plans to shut thirty-nine plants, to let go 13,500 workers, and to eliminate a quarter of its products. Most reports blame soaring prices of energy and raw materials, but in a truly free market Kraft could have pushed at least some of these higher costs on to the consumer. This, however, is no longer possible. Even as costs rise, Wal-Mart and other discounters continue to demand that Kraft lower its prices further. Kraft has found itself with no other choice than to swallow the costs, and hence to tear itself to pieces. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s
There’s a couple ways to understand Ross’s talk of “common culture” and “national identity.” One way is illiberal, repugnant, and dangerous. According to the other way, our common culture and national identity is robust and not at all endangered.
The stuff you’re toying with here is really poisonous, Michael. This is not conservatism. This is illiberal, authoritarian, nationalist collectivism, and there is almost nothing good to say on its behalf. Bad stuff. Bad bad bad. ~Will Wilkinson
It is maddening to see the Minutemen stringing barbed-wire along the Mexican border because that is an attempt to erect a literal barrier to the exercise of our natural moral right to cooperate — to deny our ability to make strangers our friends (our figurative siblings, even) through exchange. I agree that there is something terribly wrong when millions of people have to break the law to excercise their moral rights. But the problem isn’t that people are trying and succeeding to exercise them. The problem is poor legislation that fails to acknowledge, accommodate, and protect those rights. We can do better. ~Will Wilkinson
Facing so many obstacles, the town is slowly resigning itself to whatever Chiquimula makes of this New York village. Parking tickets are enforced on the high-school kids, but imposing our immigration, zoning, and quality of life laws on the immigrants is a task too great for Brewster. It is apparently better for property values to drop, for iconic small businesses to close, for the streets to become dirty than to be called racists. Putting aside the number of man hours it would take to check the legal status of village residents and the number of upset landlords and contractors, the town lacks the moral resources to enforce its laws on people whom it values so little as members of the community and so much as the bottom rung in the economy. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty
My recent post on libertarians and immigration elicited a serious protest from a reader: if I read more Mises and Rothbard, then I would know that no real libertarians talk about national identity in the flippant terms I attributed to them. In fairness, I got a bit carried away and made some sloppy statements. As I did acknowledge, though perhaps I did not stress it enough, there are well-known libertarians who have acknowledged the existence of natural communities, legitimate definitions of nationhood and the right of people in these groups to define their membership. There are arguments in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed related to some of these points, and I tried to acknowledge those in the earlier post. In any case, I acknowledge them in the comments section and again here.
Unlike Mr. Wilkinson, quoted above (once from an old comment thread on Michael’s blog, to which I responded here, and once from a post he wrote at Cato’s blog), there are libertarians who would argue that national groups are within their rights to control immigration, and this is based, as I understand it, in rights of property and association.
The rights of a people to determine their own future and define their own membership are fundamental to the existence of a people. Describing the subversion of those rights with the euphemism of the “moral right of cooperation,” because economic forces have ravaged a small town and reduced it to the point where is desperately needs foreign labour to survive, hardly does what is happening the proper justice. Michael’s hometown is slowly being changed beyond all recognition, as described in his article cited above–is this the result of a “moral right of cooperation” or an example of selling your birthright for a mess of pottage? Is nothing sacred except making a deal? There is perhaps one thing, as Mr. Wilkinson said all those months ago:
Outside of the love, solidarity, and altruism of family, trade is the paradigmatic human moral relationship.
As I said in the comments, and as I will say again here, there is something actually rather horrifying about someone who regards trade as one of the two “paradigmatic human moral” relationships in life. What can that really mean? If trade is such a paradigmatic moral relationship (which suggests that all our other relationships are modeled on the making of contracts, which is not the case) what is to prevent us from regulating and defining that relationship as the political community deems necessary? If such a thing as a “moral right to cooperation” exists, what prevents that right from being constrained as and when it is necessary for the common good? If illegal immigration is an expression of the right of cooperation, why is it so difficult for those exercising their rights from cooperating with the Americans who have set up the legitimate processes for entering the country? Or perhaps all criminals are expressing their moral right of cooperation and should be left in peace, free from the meddlesome arm of intrusive government?
Disregarding these rights of nations as Mr. Wilkinson seems to do suggests that he believes national self-definition and the defense of a nation’s boundaries, both cultural and physical, is actually immoral and violates someone’s natural rights. This is not necessarily a universal libertarian view, but it does seem to be a prevalent one.
If it is true that some libertarians have taken natural nations seriously, do these ideas have much bearing on the immigration views of many prominent modern libertarians? Particularly if we are not talking about the paleolibertarians, it becomes increasingly difficult to credit this claim. When they talk about it at all, and it is not filled with dismissive references to nativism and Nazis, we get more and more into this vague language of the “moral right of cooperation” which presents to me a rather bizarre world where the right to exchange labour and services trumps all.
The key problem in these debates between libertarians and conservatives, as I said in my response to Mr. Wilkinson, is this:
It isn’t that we and the libertarians agree 90 or 95% of the time and differ greatly about a few details on economics and trade here or there, but that we have entirely different understandings of human nature, society and the purpose of politics.
It is therefore entirely reasonable that many libertarians do not have serious problems with mass immigration, because many of them do not even begin to understand society or national identity or, in some cases, the legitimacy of borders in the same way that we do. When we say national identity, they hear collectivism, and when they say “moral right of cooperation,” I hear national disintegration, because we literally inhabit different mental universes. If natural nations exist in their universe, it seems to have no relevance for what to do about mass immigration. Free markets and free minds, and all that–no nations are really necessary in such a vision and tend to be impediments to the functioning of markets. But the indifference to problems of national identity and immigration–which are for the average libertarian “non-problems”–strikes me as unusually naive, even for libertarians, when the inescapable reality of human existence is the persistence of tribal and ethnic identities that simply refuse to be bartered out of existence. I can think of no better way to exacerbate the sharp edges of those identities and promote social instability than to press large numbers of different groups of people together in direct competition with one another for wealth, status and work.
Incidentally, what does it mean to favour “open borders”, as Reason’s Web editor Tim Cavanaugh clearly does (and whose chief editor recently wrote on “Non-militarized non-solutions to a non-problem,” i.e., immigration)? If you favour having them be open, why have borders, and if you keep the formal borders around, is it not a tacit admission that they might in certain circumstances need to be closed? But that would violate someone’s moral right to cooperate, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be best, from the perspective of a proponent of “open borders,” to dissolve them all together? Indeed, that is just what some of them do propose. Which brings me back to one of my original questions:
Do any libertarians have an understanding of national identity that is more credible that does not fall back on the (from my perspective) creepy ideological definitions of the “proposition nation”? Does anyone opposed to the “blood and soil” rhetoric have an idea of what constitutes national identity that does not lean on fatuous “nation of immigrants” and “proposition nation” slogans? Anyone?
This is not the American way. Efforts to fight big chains like Wal-Mart are not either. The counterfeit Americanism of the far left and parts of the paleoconservaitve right has nothing to do with America’s core values: free competition, free access to property and markets, and minimal government interference with economic development. Now businesses, big and small, have resisted this model, seeking various forms of priviledge [sic]; but the rhetoric of free markets and small government has long been championed by the middle classes as a whole. These views have been the antidote to European-style socialism. This historically-grounded economic freedom was the banner of resistance to FDR’s New Deal. It is also the reason that all of the anti-Wal Mart hysteria is wrong-headed and un-American. ~Chris Roach
I am often puzzled how people can in the same breath talk about America’s core value of free competition and invoke Wal-Mart as the standard-bearer of that value. Surely any behemoth company itself is most interested not in free competition, but like all firms it is interested in limiting competition. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a relative major corporations that grow ever larger and take over more and more markets has nothing to do with free competition. To look back to the town near my own alma mater of Hampden-Sydney, Farmville, I remember distinctly seeing just in the four years that I was there the final death of all of any Farmville downtown shops that competed in any direct way with the services provided by the Super Wal-Mart that seemed to dominate the space of the town like a castle overlooking the lord’s holdings.
At the time, young college student that I was, awake at all hours, the 24-hour Wal-Mart seemed like a boon to a young urbanite like myself stuck out in the boonies of Southside Virginia. It occurs to me now that the people who lived in the town might have had different views of the matter. In any case, the coming of Wal-Mart was not some simple introduction of new growth and money-saving opportunities, but caused a measure of dislocation in the town and, more than that, has now wedded the town’s future fortunes much more closely to the continued presence of that Super Wal-Mart.
I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development. We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road. The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power. The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!” And so you do. Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!” And so you do. At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other. If the two parties are, as Mr. Buchanan’s memorable phrase had it, “two wings of the same bird of prey,” the state and corporations in state capitalist political economy are the talons of the same bird.
The Hamiltonian juggernaut has triumphed, and in one of the bitter ironies of American history it has convinced Americans that bank rule and the moneyed interest are friends of liberty and that dependence on these interests is emancipation. In all of this the dream of liberty and independence, an independent and self-governing people, is nowhere to be found. Hamiltonianism and indeed “the American System” itself are certainly American in origin, so I will not engage in the mistaken rhetoric of declaring them un-American, but it is not at all clear that they are in the best interests of the commonwealth or the institutions of the Republic. It has never been clear since the original system behind them was first concocted in 1789, and there is a long line of American patriots who have made credible arguments that this system is the enemy of a free Republic.
And while some did frame opposition to the New Deal in terms of economic freedom, and still others on constitutional grounds, the most vociferous opponents were the oligarchs of yesterday’s corporate giants. We do not necessarily have to bow either to FDR or to J.P. Morgan; the choice does not have to be between Social Democracy and Wal-Mart. An economic regime where landed property was widely diffused and securely held, where economic independence was a plausible reality and not an electioneering slogan, where direct taxation of any kind would not subvert the rights of the smallholder but public authority would not walk hand in hand with corporations would provide a means out of this false dichotomy.
Powell and Raspail were ostracized for what they said and wrote. Their stories are related in my new book, “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” Time to revisit the question: Were these men false prophets rightly reviled, or prophets without honor in their own countries? ~Patrick Buchanan
But it’s a false comparison between, say, Muslim immigrants who settle in Rotterdam and refuse to integrate with Dutch society, and Mexican immigrants who go to Catholic mass and long to become American citizens. The former pose a real challenge to a society’s stability, but the latter can be sucessfully assimiliated if policymakers want to assimilate them. ~Dave Weigel
Following the Powell Doctrine (Enoch, not Colin), I would observe that the most crucial problem with mass Mexican and Latin American immigration of the kind we have been having for the past two decades is the sheer number of immigrants. Immigration in large numbers prevents the kind of social pressure necessary to make assimilation succeed; if the number of immigrants is too great, assimilation breaks down because the native society’s acceptance is no longer nearly as necessary for the immigrants to make their own way.
Two other main problems, both of which others have pointed out time and again, are the proximity of the home country of these immigrants–which weakens whatever assimilation they do embrace and reinforces their old national identity–and the unwillingness of many of them to adopt the habits of the natives. I understand why they would retain the culture of their ancestors, and I respect that piety; what I do not understand is why we should want them to transplant that culture to our soil or why we expect their ancestral culture to have no political and social consequences.
A fourth, but very relevant point is the question of the political traditions of the countries from which these immigrants are coming: most Latin American countries have inconstant, shaky histories of representative government and democratic practise or they have had long traditions of fraudulent one-party rule dressed up as democratic government, and this is certainly true of Mexico.
Fifth, the vast majority of the people coming from the south may be Catholics, but it is a kind of Catholicism entirely unlike the Catholicism of the Americanised ethnics of the last 150 years, and they come from those populations in Latin America with the most superficial acquaintance with European culture. How well will millions of these people adapt to our European culture? How accommodating will their version of Catholicism be to American habits and political life? Besides that, how accommodating will their admittedly very left-wing politics be to the American political system?
You may not have to worry about caudillos overthrowing democracy, but you may have very real reasons to worry about future American Lopez Obradors, Evo Moraleses and legions of homegrown Chavistas. Saying this is not intended to be a scare tactic, but simply an acknowledgement that the democratic expression of Latin American Indios has been for racial identity politics, socialist or quasi-socialist political economy and authoritarian populism, and these people have opted for these things because they believe them to be in their self-interest. That self-interest does not change because they have shifted to another country.
“Democracy” of some sort or other may do splendidly in our future New Mexico writ large, but it will be an abusive, illiberal democracy that ignores the rule of law, fosters corruption and organises itself through a padron system. Every dysfunctional aspect of modern New Mexican politics will be set free to misrule the Southwest and it will be even more dysfunctional than New Mexico has ever been at its worst. If that is the sort of future people wish for the Southwestern United States and beyond, be my guest and let things continue as they are going.
In 1930 twelve Southerners, scholars, men of letters, poets and patriots, issued their defense of a way of life and an understanding of how to live well that they had received from their arts, their fathers and their Southern patria: the book of essays in defense of the Southern agrarian tradition, I’ll Take My Stand. They were, as M.E. Bradford described them, “the natural heirs of Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline, and the better side of Jefferson–anti-Hamiltonian, antistatist, conservative Democrat….Community was their a priori ideal–an informally hierarchical social organism in which all Southerners (including the Negro, insofar as the survival of that community permitted) had a sense of investment and participation. In brief, a patriarchal world of families, pre- or noncapitalist because familial, located, pious, and “brotherly”; agrarian in order not to produce the alienated, atomistic individual to whom abstractly familial totalitarianism can appeal; classically republican because that system of government best allowed for the multiplicity that was the nation while at the same time permitting the agrarian culture of families to flourish unperturbed.” (Remembering Who We Are, p.86)
As Dr. Tom Landess recounted to us in a talk last month, the South to which the Southern Agrarians referred and which they defended was neither an imaginary product of nostalgia for the antebellum South nor a the fruit of longing for the days of the Southern aristocracy. The South of their hopes and loves was the South of the small farmer, the yeoman, the small businessman, the shopkeeper, the South that existed, the one which they knew, and the one which they knew was threatened and in danger of passing away under the new onslaught of industrialism and abstract notions. In that land, there was a way of life not unique to the Southern experience but one that was nonetheless peculiarly present in the region that was attuned to the “rhythm of the seasons and the uncertainties of life,” tied to nature and to the passage of time, and thus to history, in a way that, as Dr. Patrick reminded us in his talk on Allen Tate, cultivated a mind all together more historical and culturally European than the mind malnourished in the cities of the Northeast.
On account of the agrarian way of life of the smallholder and the farmer and the culture of the people who settled the South, the region’s people had a keen sense of place that itself grew from an awareness of being fixed and rooted in a place and forming part of the continuity across the years that bound ancestor and descendant. That experience could fuel the imagination of a Faulkner to tell the story of the Sartoris clan where the generations of a family together formed a character in its own right, for perhaps the most complete story and the most fully formed characters come from the experience of multiple generations bound by place and their relationship to that place.
Memory across generations ties a people to their past and lends the place where they live meanings that had been hidden by the veil of time. This sense of the past was fed by the reception of memories from their fathers in the form of simple stories told and retold, the recollecting of their people’s lives that wove together anecdote, gossip and report into the remembrance of who they were and what they were doing in the particular time and place where they were.
The Southern mind saw history as something concrete, the fruit of a series of events that does not move us onwards towards a goal but is embodied in the tangible reality of habit and memory (and Bradford tells us to love the inherited nomos of our place and people rather than rush on madly towards the telos of the teleocrat). This mind saw history as a process of growth and change that those closest to the land understand better, and it remembered that history through the telling of the stories of their kin.
Receptive to memory, the Southern mind was also submissive to nature and God. As the “Statement of Principles” in I’ll Take My Stand tells us:
Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society. Religion is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creatures within it. But nature industrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nature but a highly simplified picture of nature. We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent. The God of nature under these conditions is merely an amiable expression, a superfluity, and the philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in the religious experience is not there for us to have.
And in its piety the Southern mind did not, like some Eunomian heretic, scrutinise and weigh the essence of God. On the contrary, it tended to set anything that smacked of rationalism to one side in the understanding of the Faith such that the Southern religion might even be called in many respects “arational,” as Dr. Patrick explained to us, and in its spirituality potentially and dangerously prone to think of religious experience as an escape from history rather than a living out of the Word incarnate and the Word enfleshed and embodied in us in the sacraments. And yet it was this same religious spirit in the South that does instinctively recognise the createdness of things and the dependence of the being of all things on the will of the Creator, a recognition that comes and must come in no small part from the relationship to the created order of one who tends and cultivates rather than one who uproots and exploits, which is to say an agrarian relationship rather than that of an industrialist and a consumer. It is there in the tending of the “cultivated garden” that man understands his place before creation and his Creator, particularly by being in his own place where he will give praise to his God for the bounty that has been provided in God’s goodness. It is there that he remembers who he truly is, seeing his connections to his place across the generations in the fields and groves that nourished him and made him into what he is. Then, having remembered, he will tell his sons and daughters of their history on that land, so that they will know it is loved and should be loved, and to see that they must love and care for it because, in a way, the land has already loved and cared for them. As Bradford concluded his essay in defense of the Agrarians (and all agrarians), so will I conclude today, with a few lines from Donald Davidson:
Is good, but better is land, and best
A land still fought-for, even in retreat:
For how else can Aeneas find his rest
And the child hearken and dream at his grandsire’s feet?
A century ago, it was conservative stalwarts, not liberal reformers, who were the natural party of government. And they were forthright about what they stood for as well as what they were against: They were for rule by a better class of people, for a Hamiltonian state in which business was unified with government. And conservatism is still for those things, tacitly at least. Just look at the résumés of the folks the president has appointed to the Departments of Labor, Agriculture and the Interior. Or scan one of the graphs that economists use to chart the distribution of wealth over the last hundred years. The more egalitarian society we grew up in is gone, snuffed out by the party of tradition in favor of an even rosier past that lies on the far side of the 1930’s. ~Thomas Frank, The New York Times (sorry, NYT Select)
Well, actually, conservatism isn’t for either of those things necessarily, and certainly not the latter. Mr. Frank doesn’t understand Kansas, and he doesn’t understand what motivates ordinary conservatives, either. The second point of “business unified with government,” has been a hallmark of Republicanism from day one, and there used to be a time when the plain republicans and conservatively-minded folks in the Country tradition recognised that the Republican combination of government and business interests was pernicious, oligarchic and dangerous to the Republic. They managed to believe this without becoming New Dealers. As for being ruled by a “better class of people,” it was Jefferson who believed in the virtue of an aristocracy of those with talents and gifts, and I think he was right to believe that. In my view, the real conservative tradition in America is the one that kept faith with the Country tradition of dissent. To the extent that orrdinary Republican voters belong to the same tradition, they can continue to kid themselves that they are not enabling massive corruption that benefits the few of the Court, but no one should be fooled into thinking that the GOP is lacking an establishment mentality. They have used the language of populism, but in its leadership and its politics the GOP has never ceased to be a party of the Eastern Establishment and its cronies.
When Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks and Bill Kristol latch onto an idea, you can be pretty confident that it will involve either calls for war or preachy self-importance. In the creation and transmission of the “McCain-Lieberman Party” meme, we get both, where the central figures of this new “party” are both pro-war (which war? name one!) and preachy, self-important men. But the “McCain-Lieberman Party” idea is not a new thing of the last few years. It is the same convergence of ”hawks” that America has seen over the last two decades during each conflict or international crisis. During the 1990s and especially during the Kosovo War we saw a similar convergence of opinion, represented best by The Weekly Standard and The New Republic as each tried to outdo the other in calling for more aggressive action in the Balkans. Indeed, “aggressive action” might as well be this group’s motto, since that seems to be the standard by which it judges all other foreign policy ideas lacking and according to which it deems a politician to be “responsible” or not. McCain-Lieberman serves as a handy substitute for this convergence, since McCain is the poster boy and hero of the Standard (he was their favoured primary candidate in 2000 over George “humble foreign policy” Bush) and Lieberman has become the personification of Democratic interventionism beloved of Marty Peretz and Peter Beinart at TNR. We might also call this the Hegemony-Democratism Party. If you like both of those ideas, you’ll love the McCain-Lieberman Party.
In its obsession with foreign policy this “party” bears all the hallmarks of crisis unity governments, such as those of Britain in WWI or Israel under Sharon during the second intifada. Because certain “gloomy hawks” believe that America in particular now must endure a situation similar to that of Israel, the parallel with an Israeli unity government may be the most instructive. For such alliances the crisis and foreign policy are dominant and perhaps even all-consuming–they are the alliance’s reason for being and, as such, there is an all too natural tendency on the part of alliances forged during crisis to want to exaggerate the scope of the crisis and imagine that the threat is far, far more dire than it may actually be. This not only suits the interests of the alliance itself, but also suits the priorities of the constituent members of the alliance who have made facing down foreign threats (real or imaginary) the fundamental litmus test of all “responsible” politics in their respective camps.
Because the ”party” conceives of the situation as an emergency, normal rules of dissent, the rule of law and representative government are no longer necessarily binding and must be bent to accommodate the crisis. One might also note that this “party” is an entirely elite party in its inspiration and membership, a party that dictates policy and ideology down to the lower orders, who depart from the script that is written for them at the peril of being declared by their masters unpatriotic, extremist or in some other way insane. As detached from their constituents as the two (real) major parties have become, as miserable as their record of serving their constituents’ best interests certainly is, they remain relatively popular parties based in real constituencies–even if those consituencies are routinely used simply to serve the interests of a few. The McCain-Lieberman Party is a “party” made up of ideological cadres whose influence and worth is based solely in their adherence to party doctrine, which is nothing other than support for projecting power and maximising hegemonic control in the world. The party of democratism does not need a lot of the rabble meddling in its plans. McCain-Lieberman is shorthand for, “We’re in charge, we always know better, so sit down and shut up.”
Like ancient satraps, the interventionists govern their respective provinces (conservatives on the one hand, progressives on the other) and make sure that they continue to pay tribute to the Shahanshah, War. But like any Shahanshah, this party’s master demands slavishness and servility from its subjects and rules by the whip and the knout. Free men and patriotic Americans do not prostrate themselves before this party’s master. If the “party” would make their devotion to War the thing that defines them and gives them meaning, let us consider them its subjects and servants and judge them accordingly.
Jeff Weintraub at TPMCafe makes an excellent point about the close connection between bloggers and the expected Fall of Lieberman (since it has been raised to such a level of importance by all concerned, it has to have a dramatic name) that the success of bloggers in influencing the conventional party political scene has made them just another adjunct to the same media noise machine from which blogs were supposed to be a distinct, independent medium. This reminded me immediately of one of my earlier posts on George Grant, blogs and the “bureaucratisation of dissent.” If pols are getting “blog consultants” and hiring their own blogging teams, will it be very long before most blogs lose any trace of their potentially renegade, decentralised and delightfully trouble-causing character? As I said back in May:
But on the more specific point of dissent, Grant would likely see political blogging as precisely this sort of release of built-up pressure into harmless diversionary channels, irrelevant samizdat for the allegedly “open society” in which the range of debate extends between two (or possibly three in a really exciting society) alternative methods for achieving the same bland, inhuman goals of the managerial social democratic and state capitalist structures. Unlike printing samizdat, blogs do not operate as a genuinely alternative source of news and information in direct opposition to official news outlets, but rely heavily on “the MSM” that we bloggers all love to hate and end up generally replicating the patterns of that media and feeding off its information for our own. It is only to the extent that blogging provides a venue for genuinely alternative or opposition voices that it can be a forum for generating moderately effective resistance to any given policy.
Most political blogs, certainly the most influential, become online outposts for their preferred political party. They may dislike the current leadership of the party, or they may love it, but they are as committed to the success of that party as anyone. This does not mean that they necessarily become reflexively party-line in their views, but there is a strong tendency for this to happen. The smaller bloggers then take their cues from the major sites, and thus the party’s hold on its activists is secured. Blogging quickly collapses into predictable alliances (indeed, the creation of blogger consortia like Daily Kos is the only way for bloggers to leverage any kind of influence online).
The main trouble with political blogging is that it tends to bring out the activists and single-issue obsessives across the spectrum, who are then either drawn in to becoming a conventional party man or who attempt to remain, John Taylor-like, lifelong opposition men. Political blogging has made the amateur sport of being a political crank into something else all together–it becomes an obsession with its own influence on the mainstream of politics and media, where it will quickly exhaust itself, be absorbed and disappear as a distinctive voice.
Bloggers should be on the one hand satisfied if they have made good arguments and reported the truth, rather than be concerned with whether their still largely obscure medium has “made a difference,” to overuse again a horribly overused and dreadful phrase, and on the other they should recognise that they have an almost unprecedented tool at their disposal: a medium, however limited, for shaping and making public opinion that does not have to be defined by the categories of the media or the politicians. It is a medium that does not have to be constrained by a party, a publisher or any set of interests favourable to the establishments that flourish in a highly centralised and consolidated state. It can be put at the service of a decentralised politics, and indeed it makes sense that bloggers should instinctively prefer decentralism from their own experience of the stifling, deadening effects of centralisation and consolidated control on corporate media and government. Yet they seem to be making the mistakes of the Populists and Insurgents all over again, who thought they were defending the small town and small business by making Washington bigger and more powerful and giving it ever more access to the world of the small town. Bloggers will see the relative success of the Kossacks, if there is a success in Connecticut, and begin to imitate them, but I am starting to think that this would be a mistake if bloggers dedicated themselves to the cause of one or the other dry husks that we call political parties and expended their energies on the parties’ electoral successes and shaping only perhaps one or two points of their agenda. We are seeing blogs becoming just another vehicle for the same failed, servile, party politics, and it seems to me there must be some kind of alternative that this medium offers that people raised up in a world of limited debate, uninformative news and meaningless party fights can no longer see or imagine.
The idea that contemporary Venezuela represents a social model superior to liberal democracy is absurd. ~Francis Fukuyama
Via Steve Sailer
Of course, it is absurd to think that contemporary Venezuela is superior to very many things. But Fukuyama misses everything important when he says this, as he often does. Something that seems to forever elude Fukuyama (in addition to his ignoring the salience of questions of race and ethnicity as forms of identity that are very powerful in driving history, as Steve Sailer notes correctly today) is that rival ideologies and worldviews might, in fact, be absurd, inferior and doomed to ongoing failure in their attempts to acquire the political and economic goods that could improve certain aspects of life for billions, but this is entirely irrelevant to whether or not people will embrace them. It is irrelevant whether these ideologies actually ever “provide the goods” or are even capable of providing them: what matters is that the ideology appears to be true, appears to make sense and, in this day and age, appears to represent an alternative to American and Western models, be they “neo-liberal,” “neoconservative,” “liberal democratic” or what-have-you.
Ideology is not so much a way of seeing the world as it is a set of blinders designed to keep you going in the ‘right’ direction, even when you would normally bolt and run the other way from horror at the sight of the place your faceless rider, Ideology, is taking you. Read the rest of this entry »
My recounting of the sessions of the summer school will be done along certain common themes that seem to me to link different sessions, as I think this will provide a more coherent and complete picture of the entire experience than if I listed the points of each session one by one in chronological order, so I will be starting mainly with the Chesterton talks to set the tone and then move into the other lectures in the coming days and weeks.
One of the important themes of The Rockford Institute’s summer school on “The American Agrarian Tradition” that kept recurring, particularly in Fr. Boyd’s talks on Chesterton, was the supreme importance of the Incarnation for the Christian vision and, by extension, agrarian and Distributist visions of life and society. The quote that stayed with me most strongly was, I believe, from Chesterton: “The central idea of our civilisation is the doctrine of the Incarnation.” It is a doctrine that forces us to reassess the meaning and order of all things, as the Incarnation is “the radical reversal of human values.” I would add that it is also the supreme act of God entering into history, becoming embodied and dwelling amongst us in everyday life. And it is the stuff of everyday life–”daybreak, daily bread and daily labour”–that must be made “interesting in themselves” if our civilisation is to endure. Related to this, as Fr. Boyd noted in his first talk, for any social reform to be successful there must be a sense of wonder about the created order, possessing Chesterton’s sensibility as a “sacramental Christian” that, as Chesterton wrote in his riposte to Yeats, ”where there is anything, there is God.”
The title of this post is taken from St. John of Damascus, who defended the veneration of holy icons on the grounds that God had become matter for our sake and worked out salvation through matter, which is to say flesh, redeeming and remaking matter so that it was possible to venerate material images of heavenly realities. But in conjunction with the lectures on Chesterton and his application of Incarnation theology to social and economic questions, following those in the Anglo-Catholic circles in which he moved, the revaluation of the material world inherent in the reality of the Word having become flesh takes on new significance for the revaluation of the daily life and daily work of ordinary men. In the Chestertonian vision, according to Fr. Boyd, the Incarnation tells us that ordinary men are sacred. Chesterton’s conviction derived from this was that the institutions of family, property and community are essential to sustain and support them.
Of these three, all of which are steadily and constantly undermined and sapped by mobility, deracination and the concentration of power and wealth, the most undervalued and least protected today is property, as Dr. Fleming explained in the first session. Yet fundamental to any agrarian vision is the secure and widely diffused possession of real property that cannot be infringed upon. Distributism itself is, as the name implies, a commitment to the wide diffusion of land ownership as a means to sustain the dignity and freedom of ordinary men, because, as Fr. Boyd put it, “property is the sacramental solidification of liberty.” Fr. Boyd emphasised that Chesterton was not engaging in a “romanticisation” of the common man, but sought, if I recall correctly, to accord ordinary men the dignity and stature that God had already bestowed upon them in Christ and find the economic and social means to make these things secure. Chesterton’s Distributism was not systematized and abstract, and so was not really an -ism at all, but was a description about humane everyday life. Fundamentally, Distributism was (and is) concerned with the very grounded realities of earthly life, starting with the owning and cultivating of land, without which ordinary men will be (and have been) pressed together into servile masses subordinate to centralised elites of state and corporation.
Looking over my old Polemics posts, I came across this one that will surely send Misesians into seizures:
Let us consider the consequences of this system [of unlimited freedom of capital]. The multiplication of the paths of exchange will soon lead to its logical conclusion, and we will only see on the market those goods produced by the most miserable of peoples. The Chinese will become the world’s best workers because they only require that their animal needs be met. Later, the worker, the engineer, the salesman, and the banker himself will be purchased on the open market. Then the banker of London, Paris, or Vienna, having made himself rich by putting his capital to work in China, will in turn face an unequal struggle against the Chinese usurer, who will not give himself the luxuries of a princely palace, teams of horses, parties, and the life of the rich. An irremediable decline awaits the economic order of the civilization of the West at the end of this path of freedom of labor, a path down which it is led by the teaching of the philosophers, the science of the economists, and the power of the capitalists. ~ Rene de La Tour du Pin, The Corporate Regime
Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.
This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen. ~Anthony Sacramone, First Things
Surely if there was a place for cant, it would be First Things under Mr. Bottum’s esteemed guidance, and Mr. Sacramone shows himself to be right at home at the intellectual Bottum. One definition of cant, after all, is:
The use of religious phraseology without understanding or sincerity; empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; hypocrisy.
Check Mr. Sacramone’s sad invocation of the New Jerusalem as a justification for rancid urbanism and consumerist degradation to see whether he meets this definition. Perhaps Jeremy Lott will write a sequel to his current book that would be entitled In Defense of Cant, and Mr. Sacramone can be his chief defendant. I missed this latest wave of cant at First Things while high-tailing it to northern Illinois (the Ozarks were too far away), where, as it happens, I had some sausages for dinner at the Saturday dinner for the summer school on America’s agrarian tradition (whether they came from a salesman of sausages, or were instead homemade, was not made known to the assembled guests). Fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty took up my usual role of angry reactionary blogger and gave him and those like him a good hiding.
Now, as Mr. Sacramone may or may not be aware, the only problems that matter are old ones (who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose?), and the only solutions worth their salt tend to also be old and venerable ones. He may have heard something about the accumulated wisdom of generations providing us with time-tested truths that tell us about human nature, the good life, and so on. Supposedly First Things, given the name, might be expected to take these things seriously, since they pertain to the permanent things, the serious things, things of the first order of importance in human existence. It might be worth noting that the prophetic and eschatological witnesses to the Kingdom being not of this world, monastics and ascetics, typically have fled the wretchedness of the cities. But what did those monks and saints know? Besides, they’re all so very old. Nobody fashionable goes into the desert, into the country, to follow Christ anymore–you might be accosted by all manner of rustics with guns!
But who are we kidding? There is apparently nothing so serious that the semi-learned gentlemen at First Things cannot trivialise and mock it. I have rarely seen such a self-indulgent, cynical display of intellectual hooliganism–and nihilism–as Mr. Sacramone has given us. Glad to know that this is what First Things stands for–it confirms what I have assumed about that journal for many years.
Dr. Wilson’s talk and review, and particularly his reference to the Country tradition in English political thought, got me to thinking about several things, some related to TRI’s agrarianism summer school and Caleb Stegall’s recent article on populism, others to the book I started reading a few weeks back, The Age of Federalism, 1788-1800, and still another to the odd letter to the editor that appeared in the latest issue of The American Conservative.
To start with the last first, this letter, written by one Mr. Brady, perplexed me. On the one hand, it was a common sort of gripe, and one with which I sometimes sympathise: what are all these libertarians doing in a conservative magazine anyway? Of course, I don’t entirely sympathise with this sentiment, in spite of the jabs I throw at our libertarian friends, since we few, we happy few paleos are hardly in a position of such robust strength that we can begin disowning those libertarians who have stood alongside us for many years (some of whom have been taking their stand for a lot longer than I have, and have probably done more in defending our shared principles than Mr. Brady has managed so far). Disowning longtime friends and allies is something that they do at National Review, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting we imitate that model of intellectual degeneration. What was still more perplexing about this letter was its stunning demarcation between conservative and libertarian along the strangest line, that of Federalist and Antifederalist (in addition to which was the charming anachronism of referring to The Anti-Federalist Papers). In this view, we are supposed to credit Adams, Hamilton, Jay and Madison as the only real conservatives and, presumably, everything stemming from the Federalist tradition constitutes American conservatism, whereas Henry, Jefferson and Mason, among others, supposedly represent the “libertarian” side of the coin. This is very odd, and it causes me to wonder whether Mr. Brady is at all familiar with what the relationship of American conservatism to the Country tradition and the “Jeffersonian persuasion” is.
The Country opposition finds its first definite exponent in Bolingbroke, who had inherited the ideology of resistance of the Jacobites after the ‘15 rising collapsed in defeat, and who drew on the thought of Harrington to support his critiques of the Hanoverian dynasty and Whig establishment in terms of the establishment’s “corruption” (in this time the term referred specifically to the Crown’s buying of men in Parliament and more general attempts to create a network of placemen and patronage that would provide the Court with trusty lackeys). For those loyal to these ideals of widespread landownership by middling landowners, the mixed constitution of monarchy, aristocracy and republican government, and the diffusion of power, 1688 was a black year that virtually signalled the permanent exile of men with Country sentiments from positions of influence within England. This will seem counterintuitive to those used to remembering 1688, if they remember it at all, as a blow against absolutism (when it was, in fact, nothing more than the empowerment of a Whig oligarchy and the end of any possibility of Catholic revival in Britain with the abdication of James II), but there should be no doubt that the victory of William III and the party of treason simply secured the concentration of power in a different set of hands far more likely to abuse it. The colonies, for their part, were naturally predisposed to embrace the Country view, as they were as far removed from the metropole and the Court as could be and saw any greater concentration of power in London as a threat to their own rights.
First the Antifederalists and then the Jeffersonian Republicans took up the same themes in their hostility to consolidation, with the Jeffersonians particularly fearing the collusion of finance and government and the power of the “moneyed interest” during the clashes with the Federalists in the 1790s over the creation of the Bank. If we brought together the entire Country tradition under another label, my preference would be to call those who adhere to it Jeffersonian Jacobites, capturing at once a hostility to consolidation and the Whigs of the 17th and 18th centuries. There were better and worse Federalists, and Federalist skepticism of “the people” was perhaps their one concrete contribution to American political wisdom, and when the time came for Jefferson to govern some of the Federalists, such as William Plumer, discovered the virtues of the decentralism and appeals to states’ rights that the Republicans had made in the ’90s, but Federalism remained to the end a doctrine dedicated to strengthening the center, curtailing the rights of states, empowering financial and mercantile interests and allying concentrated power and concentrated wealth in the same “corrupt” manner that had taken place in England. While the Federalists themselves remained a breed apart from the later Whigs and, God help us, the Republicans, their commitment to consolidation and elitism has persisted and grown until the political strength of the American Court faction has become almost total. Understanding the Constitution as a mechanism for restraining state power, as Dr. Wilson wrote of the Populists, is one of the things that all real conservatives share–no doctrines of implication and construction for us, thank you very much. This hostility to consolidation and centralising elites has nothing to do with “libertarianism” (which has no American representatives before the 20th century and is almost entirely a transplant from central Europe) and everything to do with loyalty to family, community and the states which have been the real countries of Americans for most of our history. Separately, those who belittle the revival of this American Populism and the Country tradition in this country mark themselves out as friends of the forces of consolidation and enemies of the decentralist, agrarian and conservative traditions of this country.
But as I understand American Populism, from its beginings to the present moment, it is an expression of hostility to state power and those who exercise it or seek to exercise it. It is no surprise then that most Populists have looked to Thomas Jefferson, the great original American critic of consolidated power, as their patron saint, and that the history of Populism is closely connected to the concept of the American Constitution as a restraint on power rather than a grant of power. Populists regard state power as always corrupt and corrupting, which is an inheritance, I believe of the English “Country” ideology or opposition value system which the Americans absorbed deeply in the colonial period and which underlay the American War of Independence.
Populism in the strictest historical sense refers to the People’s Party which flourished in the later 19th century, in certain regions of the American Union. Which brings us to another part of my definition of Populism. It has always been, in this country, a regional and not a class phenomenon. I take this idea, as well as my title “Up at the Fork of the Creek,” from an early essay of the late M.E. Bradford.
The People’s Party is often spoken of as a Midwestern phenomenon. Midwestern is actually a vague term. “Heartland” is a little better perhaps. But Populism was not a phenomenon of the “Heartland.” It was a phenomenon of the far western fringes of the Heartland, and equally or more so of the rural South. (And also of the mining regions of the Far West, which gave it the peculiar counter-productive tangent of the Free Silver movement.) There were no Populists in Ohio and they were a minority in Iowa. In the Heartland one has to go west of the Mississippi to find a Populist and even all the way to the Missouri to find very many. ~Clyde Wilson, “Up at the Forks of the Creek: In Search of American Populism,” delivered December 2, 1994 at conference on “Populism and the New Politics” in From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition (2003)
American historians have generally treated Populism in one of two ways: They have either confused it with the Progressivism that followed shortly on its heels, as a forerunner of the New Deal and modern liberalism; or, in a slightly more sophisticated and honest version, they have dismissed it as misguided rural bigotry irrelevant to the goals of enlightened urbanites.
The first interpretation is clearly wrong. It is true that there was some slight coincidence of political goals, in terms of federal legislation, arising from the Populists’ search for specific remedies. But Populists were basically rural Jeffersonians who mistrusted the remote and concentrated power of the Eastern elites who were the more obviously observable cause of their own distresses. Most of the Progressives, at least in the East, were self-consciously modern. They believed in the rule of elite urban experts (themselves) to solve all social ills by the application of science and systematization (regimentation). They were hired hands of the ruling class despised by the Populists, and still are. No Progressive that I know of was an enthusiast for free silver, and Progressives from east of the Mississippi almost all joined the homefront clamor for the War to End All Wars. Populists did not, and in fact provided the greatest core of patriotic opposition.
Ponder this wonderful reactionary and timely passage from Ignatius Donnelly’s oration a Populist National Convention:
We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench….The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrated, our homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrated in the hands of capitalists…the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes, unprecedented in the history of the world, while their possessors despise the republic and endanger liberty….We charge that the controlling influences dominating the old political parties have allowed the dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to restraint or prevent them. They have agreed together to ignore in the coming campaign every issue….In this crisis of human affairs the intelligent working people and producers of the United States have come together in the name of justice, order and society, to defend liberty, prosperity and justice. ~Clyde Wilson, 1994 review of American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898 in From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition (2003)