Tag Archives: Front Porch Republic

There’s A Blond Wondering Around Georgetown

Phillip Blond in Prospect Magazine:

We live in a time of crisis. In such times humans retreat to safety, and build bulwarks against the future. The financial emergency is having this effect on Britain’s governing class. Labour has withdrawn to the safety of the sheltering state, and the comforts of its first income tax rise since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the Conservatives appear to be proposing a repeat of Thatcherite austerity in the face of economic catastrophe. But this crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the “market state” and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last 30 years. A fresh analysis of the ruling ideological orthodoxy is required. Certainly, this new thinking isn’t going to come from the left. New Labour is intellectually dead, while Gordon Brown promises an indebted return to a now-defunct status quo. But, in truth, Brown’s reconversion from post-socialist free marketeer to state interventionist is only plausible because the Conservatives have failed to develop an alternative political economy that explains the crisis, and charts a different future free of the now bankrupt orthodoxies. Until this is achieved, Brown’s claim that the Conservatives are the “do nothing” party has real traction, and makes the result of the next election far from assured.

On a deeper level, the present moment is a challenge to conservatism itself. The Conservatives are still viewed as the party of the free market, an idea that has collapsed into monopoly finance, big business and deregulated global capitalism. Tory social thinking has genuinely evolved, but the party’s economic thinking is still poised between repetition and renewal. As late as August 2008 David Cameron said: “I’m going to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer,” and that “radical social reform is what this country needs right now.” He is right about society, but against the backdrop of collapsing markets and without a macro-economic alternative, Thatcherite economics has been wrongfooted by events.

Thankfully, conservatism is a rich and varied tradition, and re-examinating its history can provide the answers Cameron needs. These ideas are grounded in a conservatism with deeper roots than 1979, and whose branches extend into the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism—or red Toryism. This is more radical than anything emerging from today’s left and should be the way forward for the right. The opportunity to restore a radical, and progressive, Toryism must not be lost to the economic downturn.

To date, neither political party has offered a plausible analysis of the origins of the meltdown. Brown denies all responsibility while George Osborne and Cameron hold him wholly and uniquely culpable. Given that no reasonable person can think either position is tenable, both parties have surrendered the intellectual high ground. But the financial crash does provide an opportunity to think through a renewed “one nation” conservatism. Cameron says that Disraeli is his favourite Tory. Disraeli attempted to ameliorate a society destroyed by the rampant industrialisation of 19th-century capitalism, whereas Cameron’s chief target (until now, at least) has been a 20th-century creation: a disempowering, dysfunctional state. Nineteenth-century Tories criticised liberal capitalism, while 20th-century conservatives condemned the illiberal consequences of statism. But 21st-century Tories, especially against the backdrop of the current crisis, must inveigh against both in favour of the very thing that suffers most at the hands of the unrestrained market and the unlimited state: society itself. And conservatism, so imagined, could reject the politics of class—of “our people”—and the interests of the already wealthy in favour of a national politics that serves the needs of all.

It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” This is the true spirit of Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state. But to recognise this innovation for what it is we have to contrast the potential of Cameron’s civic communitarian conservatism with what it aims to transcend: the corrupt and rotten postwar settlement of British politics.

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative:

“Red Tory” Philip Blond is giving a talk this evening at Georgetown University, hosted by the invaluable Tocqueville Forum. Well worth attending if you’re in the D.C. area. And tomorrow Tocqueville is hosting two panel discussions on Blond’s ideas, the first featuring Rod Dreher, Ross Douthat, and yours truly, the second with John Millbank, Andrew Abela, and Charles Mathewes. Details are here.

Blond’s Red Toryism is not welfare statism — he’s for breaking up and devolving much of the British welfare system, and he prefers a morality-infused market to further government regulation. But how would that work? His talk will give some ideas. (As does his upcoming book, Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix it.)

Patrick Deneen in WaPo:

Contemporary party arrangements have tended to understand one or the other outcome of this settlement as the root of contemporary problems. For conservatives in the Thatcher/Reagan mold, the State threatens the liberty and independence of the individual (particularly the economic freedom of autonomous individual actors in free markets, itself premised upon the atomized and individualistic liberal anthropology of Hobbes, Locke and Adam Smith). Liberals have seen the market as the threat, and have argued on behalf of the need for a centralized State to trim its excesses. What Blond perceives – echoing the discerning analysis of Distributist thinkers such as Chesterton or Hillaire Belloc in his penetrating work The Servile State or Robert Nisbet in his classic work The Quest for Community, or even the more recent work of the agrarian writer Wendell Berry – is that the centralized modern State and the concentrations of wealth and power deriving from modern “free” markets are mutually reinforcing entities.

What both of these entities mutually seek to eviscerate are the “mediating” institutions of society, those allegiances to more “partial” associations that stand in the path of the simultaneous realization of the atomized individual and the centralized State. Partial associations – whether in the form of more local forms of governance, civic associations, strong bonds of community, religious devotions, and family – are simultaneous obstructions to both radical individualism and encompassing State power. They are the traditional bulwarks against both aspects of the liberal settlement, and as such, have been mutually the object of attack by both the State and the Market. “Conservatives” and “Liberals” alike have (with different emphases) contributed mutually to the destruction of the “Associational State.”

The recent economic crisis – fueled simultaneously by the depredations of radical free agents in the market (buying and selling abstractions of financial instruments that at some point had some actual relationship to homes, that most basic building block of human associational life) and the State system that ended up supporting this economic and social arrangement – lifted the veil on this deeper symbiosis. The crisis exposed the fact that what had been sold to the American and British public for some 50 years – that one had to choose between the State and the Market – was in fact a grand illusion, and that the Left hand was as intent in making the citizenry the subjects of the Servile State as surely as the Right hand was. While inchoate in its anger and inadequately schooled in the causes of the modern crisis, the tea party movement – in its anger toward both parties – reflects this growing understanding that the purported political alternatives of our time represent no real choice at all.

Blond arrives in the U.S. to lecture at Georgetown University on Thursday evening, March 18, and to participate in panel discussions with various journalists and academics on the afternoon of Friday, March 19 (among the participants are the “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank). From D.C., Blond will travel to Philadelphia, where he will lecture on Monday, March 22 at Villanova University. For more information on all of these events, see this announcement.

Rod Dreher:

Greetings from Georgetown, where we heard tonight the English public intellectual Philip Blond introduce Red Toryism to an American audience. Blond is an engaging speaker and and real optimist about the possibility of positive political change (at dinner tonight after the speech, it was encouraging for a pessimist like me to hear him speak so vigorously about how world-changing ideas can start small). He’s just received a huge launch in this country, courtesy of David Brooks’ Friday column.

That David Brooks column (obviously, in NYT):

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, “Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry.” In a separate essay, he added, “The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures.”

David Blackburn at The Spectator:

Blond’s premise is unanswerable – the twin revolutions of left (prescriptive rights) and right (free market liberalism) have, perversely, centralised power. Everything is highly contestable.

First, Blond has an advanced case of David Miliband Syndrome: he expresses himself exclusively with meaningless abstractions:

In order to reclaim a civilised society, market and state should not be regarded as the ultimate goal or expression of humanity…We can create a civic economy based on trust, sustainability and reciprocity.’

Markets are Blond’s schtick. From what I can gather he’s agin ‘em. He fixates on what he perceives as the ‘unprecedented reduction of market diversity and plurality’. The Luddites would object to the idea this is ‘unprecedented’, and the prosperity of all that followed them undermines the assertion that a ‘reduction of diversity’ entrenches poverty. But Blond is unperturbed. He argues that local shops should be protected from larger competitors through co-ops, mutualism and state intervention when necessary.

It’s deeply conflicted thinking. Consumers are at their most powerful in a genuinely competitive and well policed market. Blond’s ideas don’t address competition; they simply replace corporatism with mutualism. Rooted in an Enid Blyton historical fantasy of cottage industries, Blond would manipulate and skew markets. He’s attracted reams of criticism. Iain Martin’s and Alex Massie’s critiques are essential reading. Perhaps Blond’s sojourn in the States reflects his growing isolation in conservative circles.

Alex Massie’s critique, from November 2009:

I think Blond is bemoaning a certain homogenisation of urban life and, sure, there’s something to that. But the fact remains that, for instance, it can never have been cheaper (in terms of a percentage of average wages) to feed your family and you’ve never had as great a choice of provisions with which to do so. I bet Blond disapproves of supermarkets (fair enough) but poor people like supermarkets. And they’re not stupid to like Tesco or Aldi or whatever.

Similarly, the horrors of the modern economy have brought us to a situation in which the average person spends much less time at work each year than did their grand-parents or great-grandparents. I think it’s about 800 fewer hours per annum in Britain. This too does not seem a negligable gain.

For that matter, one financial crisis, no matter how serious, does not prove the “failure” of markets. Apart from anything else, they’ve not been tried* for decades in areas as trivial as secondary education (except for the rich) and health (ditto).

Sometimes, if I understand him correctly (not as simple a task as it ought to be), it seems as if Blond wants to take us back to the 1930s – at home and at work. I think he’d like everyone to live in small towns or, preferably, villages too. Now there was much that was good about the 1930s but time, and society, moves on and it’s futile to suppose that the clock can be wound back. Equally, for all that progress or, if your prefer, time, causes some valuable things to be lost, it also brings valuable improvements. In the end, Blond comes across, perhaps unwittingly, as a nostalgist. And, I’d hazard, it’s but one hop from nostalgia to full-blown reactionary status.

Because, of course, even when the state was smaller, that hardly meant an absence of coercion (especially, one might note, for women). Social mores can be just as stifling as the state even if they also have overwhelming local support and play a significant, even important, role in fostering social cohesion. Look at the Western Isles for instance, or pockets of Bradford today. Which is also why it’s important that there be a means of escape and that the individual, no matter how much Blond dislikes such folk, be, to use a think tank word, “empowered”.

That doesn’t mean that more mutalisation, an emphasis on local and voluntary associations and trying to expand and widen opportunity are bad things. They’re not. But whether Red Toryism is more than a few good (and less than earth-shattering) ideas buried benath a mass of bewildering and sometimes contradictory assumptions is something that, for now, remains a matter of some confusion.  Certainly, it’s apparent belief that you can have everything and it’s apparent belief that trade-offs are extinct suggests that more work needs to be done. Time will, I guess, tell.

*Yes, yes, yes. Just like “true” Communism, “proper” or “authentic” libertarianism can never fail because it will never be tried…

Zach Dundas:

I’m way too much of a Big Government nerd to go all the way with Red Toryism, or any kind of Toryism at all—I’m in the middle of two books, one about Teddy Roosevelt’s brilliant national-forests land grab, one about the Great Society, and between them, I’m geeking out so hard on the benevolent state that I might end up with pin-ups of Gifford Pinchot and Lyndon Johnson in my locker. And, anyway, until my theoretical Middle Earth Liberation Front arises, there’s no electoral outlet for the radical decentralism that Blond articulates.

On the other hand, I like a nice cup of tea or a pint of real ale, and can’t help but feel some sympathy for a tradition which, in a broader manifestation, produced “If Pooh Were President.” I think it would be awesome if the American right would drop the crazy act and go after Wal-Mart or something Red Tory-ish. Get down with your bad selves, boys. (Q: Have there been any Tory females since Thatcher? Reply confidentially.)

Will at The League:

Despite my nasty libertarian streak, I found a lot to like in Blond’s talk, particularly in his enthusiasm for decentralization and local competition. My only quibble is that while Blond’s diagnoses are often compelling, his proposed solutions are sometimes less so. When talking about the importance of political subsidiarity, for example, Blond spoke of “giving democracy back to the streets,” which sounds more like a Students for a Democratic Society slogan than a concrete political program. “Driving capital to the periphery” and decentralizing our financial system sound great in theory, but I’m still left to wonder how economic subsidiarity works in practice. One important caveat: I’m new to Blond and was late to the lecture, so my first impressions may not do justice to the Red Tories’ program.

Blond’s philosophy also seems better suited to cultural renewal than, say, political or economic reform. His most compelling examples of Red Toryism in action – A Birmingham neighborhood taking back the streets from pimps and drug dealers; the persistence of Northern Italy’s artisan economy – struck me as the result of cultural factors that aren’t easily replicated or recreated through state action. When we do transmogrify a cultural agenda into a political one, the results are sometimes messier than anticipated, which may have been what Ross Douthat was getting at when he asked Blond about the parallels between his philosophy and Bush’s compassionate conservatism at the end of the presentation.

One last observation: Blond spoke movingly of the plight of poor and working class citizens stuck in low-wage service jobs with no prospects for social mobility. His economic vision stresses the importance of creating stakeholders – skilled artisans, small businesspeople, and so on –  who feel more invested in their communities. This reminded me of the American experience after World War II, when millions of returning GIs received free college educations and federally-backed homeownership loans helped create the American middle class. But while these programs were largeky  successful, they’re not exactly models of decentralized governance. Is Blond willing to compromise or moderate his small government sympathies to create new economic stakeholders? I ask because state efforts to create or impart social capital – from public schools to the Federal Housing Administration to Bush’s compassionate conservatism – are rarely characterized by decentralization or subsidiarity.

Exit question: Is liberal society, as Blond suggests, fundamentally dependent on older traditions, cultural practices, and civic institutions? Does radical individualism undermine these institutions? I know Blond isn’t the first to make this argument, but his prognosis was both unusually grim and surprisingly persuasive. I’d be curious to hear what the League’s commenters and contributors have to say on the subject.

UPDATE: Chris Dierkes at The League

E.D. Kain at The League

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #2: Jason Kuznicki at The League

Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

More Kain at The League

UPDATE #3: Shawn Summers at FrumForum

UPDATE #4: Daniel McCarthy at TAC

E.D. Kain at The League

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #5: Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic

Daniel Larison

More Kain

Ross Douthat

UPDATE #6: Deenen at Cato


Filed under Go Meta, UK

Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

Andy Serwer in Time:

Calling the 2000s “the worst” may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history. Between the West’s ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it’s no wonder we feel as if we’ve been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it’s in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.

Then came the defining moment of the decade, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which redefined global politics for at least a generation and caused us to question the continental security we had until then rarely worried about. We waged war in Afghanistan that drags on and today is deadlier than ever. Then came our fiasco in Iraq. Don’t forget the anthrax letters and later the Washington, D.C., snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom.

Sometimes it was as if the gods themselves were conspiring against this decade. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center point in the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

There is nothing natural about the economic meltdown we are still struggling with as the decade winds down. A housing bubble fueled by cheap money and excessive borrowing set ablaze by derivatives, so-called financial weapons of mass destruction, put the economy on the brink of collapse. We will be sorting through the damage for years. Meanwhile, the living, breathing symbol of this economic sordidness, prisoner No. 61727-054, a.k.a. Bernie Madoff, rots away in a Butner, N.C., jail cell, doing 150 years for orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of humanity.

Danny Groner at Mediaite:

Back on New Year’s 2000, Time ran the following blurb attributed to several of the magazine’s writers:

The new decade is upon us, and according to the readers of TIME, this decade will be called the Aughts…or the MMs, depending on your level of skepticism. Last year Notebook conducted an online poll to find out what name should be given the next decade. Of the Zips, Two Thousands, Zeros, Ohs, Double Ohs, 2Ks, MMs, Aughts or Singles, readers clearly put the Aughts ahead, until the last week of polling, when the MMs took the lead–so suddenly (and implausibly–the MMs?!) that it aroused suspicions of a Mars candy campaign. Despite hints of vote tampering, several advertising agencies agreed to create ads to sell the new names to the public. Enjoy yourself in the…whatevers!

That was written as the staff looked ahead at what they could only expect to be a decade full of promise and profits. How quickly that plan went awry. Compare the message of that comment from nearly ten years ago with a portion of the magazine’s cover story in the most recent issue. Reflecting on the decade gone by, writer Andy Serwer says:

Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. We’re still weeks away from the end of ‘09, but it’s not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.

And there it is, as clear as night and day. “The Whatevers” started with a looser and more upbeat tone to them and now end with a much different feel. Through terrorism, wars, a severe recession and more, we’ve somehow managed to persevere through “The Whatevers.” During that period, the term’s connotation has changed.

It emerged as a last-resort option to appease everyone who’d rejected all other names. It rejected no offerings as being too stupid or lame because it recognized that all of the proposals were stupid and lame; this strategy made everything – and everyone – acceptable. Over time, though, “whatever” morphed into something else. “Whatever you want, you got” turned into  a less involved, less enthusiastic and less caring “whatever” attitude. Some Americans have adopted a doomsday outlook to cope with a world where bad news never fails to stop piling on. The ‘Whatever” generation rolls its eyes, shakes its head, and talks about how things can’t get any worse. What hurts most is remembering times when things weren’t nearly as bad.

So was this the decade from hell? It very well may have been. But Time’s first prediction says a lot more about how this decade  impacted Americans emotionally. And as we look ahead at the next decade, one can only hope that fortune will shift to a new era of “Whatever” defined by a more hopeful approach of “Que sera, sera.”

Tyler Cowen:

Some people are saying they’re the worst decade ever, but that’s more true for the global relations of the United States than for the level of human well-being in the world as a whole.  Even in the U.S., a lot of social indicators improved.  Elsewhere Chinese growth continued, Indian growth moved into the big time (in the gross reckoning we’re already at well over two billion people), a lot of Eastern Europe was successfully absorbed into the EU,  Indonesia made slow but steady progress.  Brazil may have turned a corner, and Africa had a better-than-lately decade in terms of economic growth.  Communism didn’t really come back.  Admittedly the Middle East is a tougher call.  Canada did strikingly well, as did Australia.  There was lots of progress on public health, including in the war against AIDS.  The internet truly blossomed and human creativity continued.

For a lot of you it feels bad, but it’s not obvious that the naughties have been such a terrible decade overall.  By the way, that home prices fell was overall a good thing; the roofs on those homes still keep out the rain.

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Recently, Time magazine had a cover story that claimed the past 10 years have been “the worst decade ever.” Seriously. I guess the headline writers at Time must have missed the Black Death, the 1930s, etc.

Granted, there’s some hedging involved. “Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end,” writes Andy Serwer, “the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era.” Worse than the seventies, in other words. Don’t fret, though. “The next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one,” mainly because a Democrat lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The whole exercise is exhausting. I chose to read the essay as if it were an article in The Onion, which made the experience more enjoyable.

Will Bunch at Huffington Post:

The biggest problem is that the “Decade from Hell” suggests that life can be boiled down to, in $10,000 Pyramid terminology, “Things That You See on CNN.” What about all the billions of people, literally, who brought a new son or daughter into the world during the 2000s, who found a soulmate or got married (or even both!) or created an amazing work of art during the last 10 years? True, these same folks may have also been pained by 9/11 or suffered a job loss as well, but they probably won’t look back on these years as all hellish.

It’s also, appropriately in a weird way, a very America-centric view — I doubt people in India or China, which grew their economies and gained clout on the global stage, will see the 2000s through a ring of hellfire. But yes, if you look at the United States and from the perspective of all the big stuff in politics, the economy and the ways that we relate as a society, it was not the best of times. But here’s the other thing that troubled me about “The Decade from Hell” concept, this underlying assumption that maybe our Decades are somehow fated or handed down to us; that the same fickle Decade Gods who gave us sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s and then whomped us upside the head with Pet Rocks, the AMC Gremlin and “Muskrat Love” in the 1970s are up there deciding our fate in 10-year increments

Steve Tobak:

Whoever said, “May you live in interesting times,” must have seen the first decade of the new millennium coming. And if you ever wondered whether that enigmatic proverb was meant as a blessing or a curse, as far as this decade is concerned, well, it sort of depends on whom you ask.

I’m sure Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers would say the first year was great, then everything went to crap. Bernie Madoff and Tiger Woods, on the other hand, at least had 9 good years. I have no idea what George W. Bush would say, but I’m relatively sure Al Gore had a blast.

UPDATE: David Frum at CNN

UPDATE #2: Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman at NYT

UPDATE #4: Rod Dreher

UPDATE #5: Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

Peter Lawler at PomoCon on Deenen

Back on topic, E.J. Dionne in TNR

UPDATE #6: Tyler Cowen in the NYT, more Cowen

Arnold Kling

James Joyner

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Filed under Go Meta, History

The First Rule Of The Conservative Movement Is That Everyone Gets Read Out Of The Conservative Movement, Eventually


Richard Gamble in TAC with a provocative essay, “How Right Was Reagan?” An excerpt:

Doubting the depths of Reagan’s conservatism sounds akin to doubting FDR’s liberalism. We are so accustomed to thinking of Reagan as the pre-eminent conservative statesman of our time that any shadow on that reputation seems nonsensical. But some conservative dissidents have recently blamed Reagan for giving his benediction to the most culturally corrosive tendencies in the American character. In his recent bestseller, The Limits of Power (2008), Andrew Bacevich harshly criticizes Reagan for just this failing. Bacevich notes the irony of Carter’s seemingly more conservative plea for limits juxtaposed against Reagan’s boundless optimism. “Reagan portrayed himself as conservative,” Bacevich writes of the campaign underway in 1979. “He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of ‘morning in America,’ the faux-conservative Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.” Bacevich charges the “faux-conservative” Reagan with nothing less than undermining America’s moral constitution, its adherence to such timeless “folk wisdom” as “save for a rainy day.”

Dissent about Reagan among conservative intellectuals goes back surprisingly far, back even to Reagan’s first term. Historian John Lukacs, writing in Outgrowing Democracy (published in 1984 and later reissued under the title A New Republic), found it necessary to put Reagan’s “conservatism” in quotation marks, calling it “lamentably shortsighted and shallow.” He conceded that much of Reagan’s rhetoric was conservative and that it spoke to certain durable conservative instincts in the American people. But overall, Reagan preached yet another version of sinless, progressive America that had more in common with Tom Paine and Woodrow Wilson than with Edmund Burke. In a chapter added in 2004, Lukacs attributed the record budget deficits of the 1980s in part to Reagan’s populist message that demanded no self-sacrifice or hard choices from the American public. They could have it all. He also credited the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian people’s own loss of faith in Communism and to the political skills of Mikhail Gorbachev, not to Reagan’s military build up.

In a further criticism, Lukacs traced the “militarization of the image of the presidency” to Reagan. It was Reagan, after all, who began the practice of returning the salutes of the military—a precedent followed by every president since. While doing so may seem to honor the military, it in fact erodes the public’s understanding of the presidency as a civilian office, Lukacs argued. Indeed, Fox News bears out Lukacs’s warning. The cable news giant got into the habit during the Bush II administration of referring to the president as commander in chief no matter what story they were reporting, seemingly unaware that the nation’s executive is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Untied States and not commander in chief of the American people at large. If the president visits a city ravaged by a hurricane, he is emphatically not there in his role as commander in chief. If every American thinks of the president—of whatever political party—as my commander in chief and not narrowly as the Army or Navy’s commander in chief, then we have taken another decisive step from republic to empire. If every American expects the president to be the commander in chief of the economy, then we can’t be surprised by nationalized banks and corporations.

Peter Lawler at PomoCon (read the comments for the meat of the discussion):

Is the pope Catholic? Well, some think not. According to the erudite Richard Gamble, ol’ Ronald was too Puritanical in the wrong way to be conservative. He gave us irresponsible tax cuts and a “Wilson” or evangelical, transformational foreign policy. His speeches were full of an “expansive liberal temperament” that flowed from Reagan spending his wonder years in “the pietistic, revivalist world of the Disciples of Christ.” His activist faith morphed into a Christianity without Christ that became our optimistic civil religion. He had nothing but contempt for any talk about limits to our power and wealth. Real Puritans talk about original sin, personal and national guilt and all, but not the selective Puritanical civil theologian Reagan. Gamble thinks we should return, instead, to the malaisian wisdom of the 1979 Jimmy Carter, a far more authentic Christian conservative who knew that patriotism wasn’t really about getting and spending.

This article was recommended to me by the porcher page and was published in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE. It goes without saying that I don’t agree with most of it, but why don’t all of you divide up into small groups and discuss. (Hint: One possible criticism is that there’s no talk about the defeat of COMMUNISM and all.)


James Poulos at PomoCon:

A semi-tangent apropos of the thread developing below on Reagan’s is-it-or-isn’t-it conservatism: it’s true that Reagan’s public brew of conservative moralism and vigilence combined with western-libertarian free-range thought, inclusive of religion, reflects in telling or cautionary ways his hodgepodge of a private life. But this has been old news since Constant, whose long tormented relationship with Germaine de Stael surely sucked more out of a man’s marrow than Reagan had lost by the time he made President. There does seem to be an inevitable — and in quarters left and right disturbing — link between the politics of independence and a culture of incoherence. The glorious jumble of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism on display in America since its most hashed-out Constitutional coming of age (I’ll have to leave the Civil War out of it for now) is the political byproduct and reinvestment of a culture ever without, as Philip Rieff says Tocqueville showed us, an officer class.

Mark T. Mitchell at Front Porch Republic (look at the comments there, too).

Fast-forward 29 years. Sam Tanenhaus has a new book out called The Death of Conservatism.

Lee Siegel at Daily Beast:

For Tanenhaus, the conservatives have abandoned their core values of respect for tradition and sensitivity to the necessity of change—of pragmatic, principled adaptability—for a rigid absolutism that expresses itself in a politics of destruction and mechanical negativity.The party that once stood for governmental ballast and probity in the ’50s, and for governmental order and responsibility in the late ’60s—as the liberals’ well-intentioned war and their well-intentioned welfare state came crashing down on society—now identified government itself with the forces of evil.

An interesting consequence followed. Since political power can only operate through government, the conservatives had chosen to exert their power more directly, around politics, as it were, by means of cultural confrontation, personal attack, and reflexive stonewalling. This is why conservatives seem most politically organized when out of power, and why when they attain political power, they immediately begin to act like apolitical outlaws.


What is most fascinating about Tanenhaus’s fascinating book is his nimble grasp of what Hegel called “the cunning of history.” He is ultra-sensitive to the social-psychological aspect of American politics, to the way opposing factions project themselves onto their adversary, covet and envy the opponent’s principles and social position, express antagonism by impersonating and/or parodying the enemy’s most successful values.

So, as Tanenhaus writes, the liberal rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the poor—which led to the New Deal became the Reagan conservatives’ rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the middle class—which led to tax cuts that undid or diminished many of the New Deal’s social programs.

Tanenhaus himself embodies this ironic complexity. He writes with warm admiration of the Ur-conservative Edmund Burke’s “distrust of all ideologies, beginning with their totalizing nostrums.” He glowingly describes how Burke “warned against “the destabilizing perils of extremist politics of any kind.” This conservative credo seems to be the root of his revulsion against today’s conservative extremists.

Jon Meacham in Newsweek:

Meacham: So how bad is it, really? Your title doesn’t quite declare conservatism dead.
Tanenhaus: Quite bad if you prize a mature, responsible conservatism that honors America’s institutions, both governmental and societal. The first great 20th-century Republican president, Theo- dore Roosevelt, supported a strong central government that emphasized the shared values and ideals of the nation’s millions of citizens. He denounced the harm done by “the trusts”—big corporations. He made it his mission to conserve vast tracts of wilderness and forest. The last successful one, Ronald Reagan, liked to remind people (especially the press) he was a lifelong New Dealer who voted four times for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The consensus forged by Buckley in the 1960s gained strength through two decisive acts: first, Buckley denounced right-wing extremists, such as the members of the John Birch Society, and made sure when he did it to secure the support of conservative Republicans like Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Sen. John Tower. This pulled the movement toward the center. Second: Buckley saw that the civil disturbances of the late 1960s (in particular urban riots and increasingly militant anti-Vietnam protests) posed a challenge to social harmonies preferred by genuine conservatives and genuine liberals alike. When the Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan called on liberals to join with conservatives in upholding “the politics of stability,” Buckley replied that he was ready to help. He placed the values of “civil society” (in Burke’s term) above those of his own movement or the GOP.


Is there an analogous historical moment? Conservatives argue that this is 1965 and that a renaissance is at hand.
I disagree. Today, conservatives seem in a position closer to the one they occupied during the New Deal. The epithets so many on the right now hurl at Obama—”socialist,” “fascist”—precisely echo the accusations Herbert Hoover and “Old Right” made against FDR in 1936. And the spectacle of citizens appearing at town-hall meetings with guns recalls nothing so much as the vigilante Minutemen whom Buckley evicted from the conservative movement in the 1960s. A serious conservative like David Frum knows this, and has spoken up. It is remarkable how few others have. The moon party is being yanked ever farther onto its marginal orbit.

Daniel McCarthy in TAC:

In this interview with Jon Meacham, Tanenhaus makes like Basil Fawlty and doesn’t mention the war — the Iraq War, that is, which “serious conservatives” like David Frum supported. Tanenhaus had no problem criticizing the war until now and tying it to the Republicans’ dwindling electoral fortunes. But now that a Democrat is in office, suddenly health care is the thing that conservatives are supposedly screwing up. Even though attacks on the president’s plan have so far been rather popular.

But let’s go back to the idea that Republicans have somehow drifted away from the “conservatism” of TR. There’s a deep body of literature out there — Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism is perhaps the best known specimen — making the case that trust-busting actually favored big business. So perhaps Teddy and Enron’s recent man in the White House have something in common. And there’s another, more obvious sense in which movement conservatives are very much in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt — they are heirs to his machismo, nationalism, and militarism. Tanenhaus would probably agree that these are qualities which have not served the con movement well over the last four years (at least). But TR embodies them. He was the first to thump the pulpit for 100 percent Americanism, and he was much more eager to intervene in World War I than Woodrow Wilson was. TR is a great inspiration to neocons today: there’ s a reason the summer books issue of the Weekly Standard bears a cover image of Teddy in an inner tube. Yet Tanenhaus, who knows the neocons had something to do with the Iraq War and the Iraq War has something to do with conservatism’s death, praises TR and calls David Frum a “serious conservative.” The conclusion one is lead to is that Tanenhaus is so sympathetic to the social-democratic tilt of the neocons and economic interventionism of TR that he absolves them of the blame he knows they deserve for the Right’s ruin. Conservatives would be ill served to heed him. What’s needed is exactly the opposite of what Tanenhaus prescribes: the Right should sharpen its economic differences with the big-government Left while repudiating the catastrophic foreign policy promulgated by the likes of David Frum.

More McCarthy:

If all a Tanenhaus wants is a Right that is a.) a little abashed about how Iraq turned out, but not really repentant, and b.) in favor of a “pro-family” welfare state, then he already has much of what he wants, since Ramesh Ponnuru, David Frum, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, and a host of neoconservatives already affirm a program exactly like that. Hell, Karl Rove belongs in that category, too. These are the most prominent names in “conservative” print media, and fairly influential voices within the Beltway. They would all complain that the grassroots aren’t on board with their “moderate” military welfarism — the grassroots are too brusque, too bumptious, too worked up about Obama’s birth certificate and illegal immigration. But the grassroots Right is in the state it’s in thanks in no small part to the likes of Ponnuru, Frum, Douthat, and Brooks. Since their program of welfare for families doesn’t inspire anyone, their political allies wind up having to whip up enthusiasm for the military side of the program, and have to throw in some red meat about gays, immigrants, and abortion. But the NY-DC axis have no cause to complain, since that’s the only way to sell the public on their insipid welfare-warfare program. He who wills the end must will the means. The only means toward getting the Right to embrace the welfare state is to get the Right hopped up about real wars or culture wars. But that’s precisely what has cost the Right political power over the last four years.


Andy McCarthy at NRO links to James Piereson in The New Criterion. Piereson:

Tanenhaus argues that conservatives failed because—well, because they did not act like conservatives at all but rather as extremists and radicals out to destroy everything associated with modern liberalism. The paradox of the modern right, he says, is that “Its drive for power has steered it onto a path that has become profoundly and defiantly un-conservative.” According to Tanenhaus, conservatives have been divided since the 1950s between their Burkean inclinations to preserve the constitutional order and their reactionary or “revanchist” impulses to tear up and destroy every liberal compromise with modern life. “On the one side,” he writes, “are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, whether the restoration of America’s pre-New Deal ancient regime, a return to Cold War-style Manichaeanism, or the revival of pre-modern family values.” In recent years, he concludes, the “revanchists” have gotten the upper hand over the Burkeans, and have thereby run the conservative juggernaut over a cliff and into irrelevance. In an entry that gives the reader a flavor of some of the exaggerated rhetoric contained in the book, Tanenhaus writes that, “Today’s conservatives resemble the exhumed figures of Pompeii, trapped in postures of frozen flight, clenched in the rigor mortis of a defunct ideology.”These “exhumed figures” are presumably free-market economists and conservatives like Jonah Goldberg and Amity Shlaes, whose books have been critical of the New Deal, neo-conservatives who supported the war in Iraq, and social conservatives who have opposed abortion, easy divorce, and gay marriage. In Tanenhaus’s view, genuine conservatives would accept the New Deal and the welfare state as “Burkean corrections” that served to adjust the American economy to modern conditions. Nor would “real” conservatives have supported a war in Iraq that was based upon a utopian ideal of bringing democracy to the Middle East. He also thinks that conservatives should accept gay marriage as an extension of family values to a new area. The reason conservatives have not followed such advice, he says, is that their attachment to orthodox doctrine trumps the practical advantages of finding areas of accommodation with adversaries. In a most un-Burkean way, he says, they have allowed ideology to prevail over experience and common sense. Thus, as he suggests, the right is the main source of disorder and dissension in contemporary society and the instigators of the long-running culture war that has divided the country.

Employing this framework, Tanenhaus arrives at surprising judgments about some prominent conservatives—for example, that Ronald Reagan was a “real” conservative because, despite his rhetoric, he made no effort to repeal popular social programs but accepted them as an integral aspect of the American consensus. This is gracious on the author’s part, though it is a judgment that few liberals will accept simply because they are certain that the only reason President Reagan did not repeal many of those programs is because Congress would not permit it. After all, one of Reagan’s favorite sayings was that “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Reagan, like every other major Republican office-holder of recent decades, including George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich, was constrained in this area by a mix of congressional politics, interest groups, and public opinion. Tanenhaus also says that Buckley, while starting out as a “revanchist” in the 1950s, turned into a Burkean in the 1960s by his acceptance of liberal reforms, especially in civil rights.

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Listening To Joni Mitchell Down On The Farm, Listening To Queen In The Diner

Ted McAllister at The Front Porch Republic:

At the risk of approaching a definition, a bohemian conservative believes humans ought to appreciate, live amidst, and even love the eccentric particularity of physical nature, of distinctive persons, of local culture, of odd traditions that reach back before memory, and more generally of the person rooted in time and place–a historical expression as unique as the proverbial snowflake.  The bohemian conservative appreciates less the abstract beauty of the woman on the billboard and more the peculiar beauty of the woman who works at the diner.  The bohemian conservative does not love the individualist as much as the eccentric person who is rooted in cultural soil unprocessed by sanitizing consumerism.  The bohemian conservative admires the unique and peculiar over the abstracted perfection of a universal form.

The person, understood as a being rooted in history, culture and tradition, is not any one thing.  She isn’t defined by the composition of her body. She isn’t defined by her individual experiences.  She isn’t defined by her accomplishments, or failings, or abilities, or limitations.  The complexity of her person, as contextualized in a living culture, allows her to think of herself as physical and spiritual, as an individual and part of a group, as living in the flux of existence that is nonetheless situated in the timelessness of reality.

Now, you really should read the comments to the article as well as reading the article. Peter Lawler pops up and directs us to his post at PomoCon:

The true conservative, in our day and age, defends the bohemian against bourgeois careerism and slouching toward a meritocracy based on the productivity that comes from being smart, pretty, pleasing, and industrious–as opposed to being virtuous or just in love with life. So we conservatives unite against the bourgeois bohemian described by David Brooks. In the Bobo’s life, bourgeois trumps bohemian at every turn. And we admire Russell Kirk for having been a bohemian Tory, which means we can’t help but also have some reservations about his competence or prudence. We even admire BEATNIKS–such as Maynard G. Krebs–who graced the fifties and but were commodified by the late sixties. That also means we don’t like Red Tories or anyone who takes the colors red or green too seriously. Ted shows us the real issues that surround being a leftover in a world otherwise so well described by modern science. He could be clearer that our alienation–what ails us as persons–couldn’t be cured by going back to the farm.

To the comment section we go, snapping our fingers and wearing black turtlenecks…

Bob Cheeks:

Voegelin argues that ‘alienation’ is a mood of existence that is the result of “…hypostates of the poles of existential tension.” He further argues that the “world” we experience under this condition is “dissociated” under the pressure of alienation into a separation of “this world” and the “other world,” where we exist in the tension between the two, between the world of time and the timeless.

If “alienation” is the result of the breakdown of order in modernity (as in every era) and Voegelin identify’s one element as “the dissolution of traditional economic and social forms through the rise of industrial society, and the global wars (and we might now include globalization and the collapse (in the U.S.A.) of industrial society) then, is it not possible that a return to “the farm” represents our attempt to recover order in our existence?

Lawler responds to Cheeks:

Bob, Back to the farm! comes, I think, from a desire to recover order, but some of our alienation is natural. And so any and all “order in history” talk might have the tendency to overrate any and all human order. (When I read summaries of Voegelin likes yours, it occurs to me that Eric ain’t too Christian.) For Walker Percy, being “lost in the cosmos” can’t truthfully be cured by being too at home in history, but by being at home with our [natural] homelessness. I’m not saying, of course, that some times and places aren’t more ordered or homey than others. I really and truly don’t think industrial society is collapsing, as do you very late Marxists. I don’t even think our society is properly described as industrial–as in the industrial vs agrarian dichotomy. Well, it’s still normal and healthy to like both Maynard and Thelia–and to be somewhat repulsed by both Dobie and Zelda, although for different reasons, of course.

James Poulos weighs in (just a snippet here):

Farm life promises to educate both individual and social life; but those skeptical of these claims also promise to do the same only better. The political question pertains to the comprehensiveness of farm life and of the life proposed by its critics. Ultimately what troubles the critics is the creeping comprehensiveness of the farm. The alternative, as we know well from the various totalistic strains of cosmopolitanism floating about, can also slouch toward comprehensiveness and closed finitude; but madness first sets in with the turn to bad infinity. A people obsessed with the fairy kingdom of ‘full individuality’ will fall into the arms of the most all-encompassing of nursery states — ‘good government’, and ‘thuruh’ — faster than a people obsessed with rational control will inspire mass eccentricity and the mania for multiplicity, acting, and appearances. (I wouldn’t want to run in either race, of course.) I think finally the ‘fun’ of conservatism is it never asks to take over the world, just to have its plot in what perpetuity it can win as a more-closed-than-not system. Friends of the farm are under great pressure in democratic times, however, to settle for this without feeling guilty about it; in times like these, the conservative claim has always the whiff of aristocratic aestheticism with a bad conscience, and if there’s one thing the aristocrat lacks it’s a bad conscience about his STYLE — which is even more different from OUR style than Burke’s drapery was from Wilde’s drapes.

John (last name I don’t know) comments:

That being said, I must demur in this. Mr McAllister’s version of the non-abstract is as abstract as the abstract. It is all fine to speak in Burkean and more honestly Kirkean fashion of the dangers of abstraction, but one never looks at the ways in which abstraction has “colonized” (to use a trope from the Frankfurt School of all places) ordinary day to day life. His version of the particular is almost as abstract as Robespierre. Okay I too exaggererate, but like Rod Dreher, this particularity that Mr. McAllister speaks of only relates to a particular few when it comes to the life that any one of us lives. It is fine to speak of the local traditions in American politics, but there is no particular in the particular. It’s all abstract. Is McAllister willing to write off the rest of humanity as beasts unless they adhere to his version of humanity? Of course not, but then is Rod Dreher’s version of life the only life to be led in an ordinary way? Peter Lawler tries to defend the other side of ordinary, as it were.

Matthew J. Peterson:

This begs the question. If a part of the problem is endemic to human nature, as Peter preaches, and this alienation is exacerbated by ideas/error-ridden philosophies, then it is clear that going to the farm isn’t going to completely address the core issues. Do the corrupt portions of modern ways of life cause corrupt ideas or do corrupt ideas cause the corrupt portions of the modern way of life? Generally speaking, and assuming one isn’t romanticizing a way of life that one doesn’t know from actual experience, I think it is true that farming puts one in touch with nature in a realistic way (see the article above-heh), and modern society could use a dose of this, but this is a long way from the extremes to which some people go.

Bob Cheeks and Peter Lawler discuss Joni Mitchell briefly, and then McAllister weighs in:

I just reread my essay to find out what people were talking about. I finally deduced that this conversation about agriculture, life on the farm, and so forth, has nothing to do with my essay but with some longstanding debate between different intellectual clans. My essay was about the way our language had become too abstract and simplified and that we were losing our capacity to deliberate together or even to see things that a more differentiated language might expose.

I explored the alienation that is part of the human condition (on this I’ve long been influenced by Peter) and I never even hinted that going to the farm was the answer to this problem, so called. I employed a quotation from Lippmann that invoked the life of the village rather than the life of the modern cosmopolitan, but that was brief and not meant to provide a foundation for a neo-agrarianism. Peter, I guess, wanted me to more expressly claim that going back to the farm was not the proper response, but since I never considered that as a possibility, I didn’t get the point. At any rate, however fascinating the debate between different camps on the virtue of life on the farm, it is not my debate. I will address related themes next month, but not as part of this debate primarily.


Ted’s confusion–expressed by the question “What does the bleepin’ farm have to do with it?”–shows that we’re in deep agreement and that he’s a card-carrying postmodern conservative. I will say something about the techno-language issue, which is a lot more real–as soon as I can. My apologies for using his post to make a point that’s not his own.

And Lawler on the main PomoCon blog:

Ted–Maynard G. Krebs–from the semi-classic 50s show DOBIE GILLIS–was famous for his beard (sure sign of a Beatnik in the 50s), his slovenly dress, and especially his aversion to work. Russell Kirk, whom I also admire, couldn’t really hold a normal job. The same might be said of numerous professors, but Russell even found being a State U. professor too stultifying. Kirk’s political judgments are very uneven, and that’s not why anyone serious would read him. There are others who are masters of prudence but are boring otherwise, like the used-to-be-underrated Eisenhower or even the erotically challenged Bob Dole. Burke, to recall the controversy at our ISI conference (where our Ralph Hancock was accused of caricaturing in the Straussian mode the great Edmund), scores really high on the prudence-meter and at least moderately high on the bohemian one. But he’s the exception who proves the rule. Otherwise, it seems we BOHEMIANS are pretty close to agreement about having more natural and loving lives, which are even possible in McMansions and megachurches in the suburbs of our South (or at a university with a bizarre name in Malibu with a stunning view of the ocean and fit California girls). And we agree on not getting way existential about the farm. I’m no Lockean, as you know, although we’re stuck with what the judicious Ralph called Locke’s inconvenient partial truth about our freedom.

McAllister comments:

Peter–are you suffering from comment-envy? I have never commented on a post before, so this is my first (I’m usually too busy hugging trees in Malibu to think about engaging in these conversations). Since I did respond to your comments at FPR, I’ll cut and paste my answer:

Peter, if Maynard was famous for his aversion to work, Gilligan was more successful at being “natural” and “authentic” without the beatnik pretensions of Krebs. Gilligan, oddly, was closer to Rousseau than Krebs–neither of them what I had in mind for my somewhat eccentric adoption of the label bohemian.

If by Kirk’s “uneven” political judgments you mean that his were often at variance with yours, then I agree. I’ll push our agreement even further. If one were to list the reasons for reading Kirk, his reflections on contemporary politics would be near the bottom–this is particularly true by the time he got involved in the election of 1992. But I’m not sure exactly what a normal job would be. It sounds very much like those folk who use the hideous phrase “real world” to make reference to some privileged sphere of commercial activity. It is safe to say that Kirk would not have been good at many professions, which is to say something obvious about almost all humans.

The fact of the matter, however, is that despite our very different ways of saying things, we agree much more than is seemly.

And thus began a small conversation on comment envy and cutting and pasting.

UPDATE: Peter Lawler links to Blake Hurst at AEI

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Add Some Mushrooms, Some Carrots, A Bit Of Red Wine And Onion…


So… eating pets?

Noah Millman in TAS:

Having just got back from Iceland, where they eat foal, I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of eating meat from animals one might, alternatively, keep as companions/workers. Examples:

– Peruvians and Ecuadorians eat guinea pigs, which they also keep as pets. Not very different from Americans or Brits eating rabbits, which they might also keep as pets, though less-frequently than the Andeans do guinea pigs.

– South Koreas eat dogs, which they also keep as pets. Not so different from folks who keep pigs as pets, but I don’t think that’s quite as common.

I’m sure there are other examples. This is a question for John Schwenkler more than anybody, but what do people think about this phenomenon. Creepy? Normal? Actually healthier than not?

John Schwenkler takes up the case as requested:

One distinction that immediately leaps to mind is that between keeping a pet in and around the house just as a loosely attached being whose role in the life of the family is viewed by its members as ordered simply toward the provision of meat, and having a pet that is viewed – perhaps absurdly, as some might insist, though obviously these things come in degrees – as a part of the family, as “one of us”. The latter model is of course the one that predominates in American households, and I can imagine that e.g. Rod might have had a good deal more trouble serving up the dumplings with that hen who turned out to be a rooster if he’d given it a name and allowed it to curl up with him on the couch; by contrast, I recall a friend from Kansas describing a family who’d bought a calf and straightaway named it “Meatball”, just so the kids wouldn’t get any illusions. (Perhaps the person who really ought to be taking on this question is Caleb Stegall.) Hence the relevant question would be: When e.g. a South Korean family has a dog around the house that they plan to put into a stew, do they view and treat it in the same sorts of ways that most Americans treat their pets? The bonds of attachment and affection that such treatment naturally engenders would, it seems to me, make it a great deal more difficult to go in for the kill.

And the ball bounces to Caleb Stegall, who picks it up:

“Pets” as a category are a symptom of the deeper rot and sickness of conspicuous consumption in American culture and life.  Eat your pets?  One may as well ask if it is morally acceptable for one to eat his new sports car or eat his country club membership.  Which is to say, the question is a non sequitur which will inspire suspicious backwards glances at the questioner, as if dealing with some kind of sociopath.

[…] In the words of Wendell Berry above, man’s flesh is magnified in the flesh of another.  We love our animals because by and through them we are more fully human.  Pictured above is my Hereford, newly calved.  I was there at her birth on this chill and snappy late winter morning, and have taken care of her ever since.  She has grown fine and strong, and nuzzles me with her wet nose every morning.  She is not long for this world, as I am just finishing her off with a diet of mixed grains, and she’s off to the butcher in a few weeks.  Nearly 1,000 pounds of good food, which will feed my family for a year.

Will I be sad to see her go?  No.  She was a good old girl.  She loved in her cowish way, and fulfilled her telos with bovine efficiency and good grace.  I am thankful to her, and to her creator for her, and even moreso for the home economy by which the flesh of my sons is magnified in and by the world that they have seen and touched.  They are strong sons, and I am well pleased.

And Rod Dreher:

All I’m saying is that I’m not letting B’rer Caleb near our Roscoe unless he puts down the fork and the hot sauce.

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PomoCon’s In The Basement, Mixing Up The Medicine, Front Porch’s On The Pavement, Thinking About The Government


A war’s a’brewing, the times are a’changing, Deenen v. Poulos a’fighting, and we are a’compiling.

Let’s start with Jason Joseph:

PoMo Con” appears to be an oxymoron at first. Postmoderns reject the intelligibility of the universe in favor of the social construction of reality, while conservatives believe it is the other way around. The paradoxical title is probably an attempt to startle readers and encourage them to take a second look at this group. Here is an excerpt from the introductory post of a blog being run by the group:

It is a phrase that is inspired by Peter Lawler’s efforts to recommend a
“postmodernism rightly understood” – a period that may or might arrive after the
passing of the modern order. Thus, it is not to be confused with the
trendy (or, really, tired) postmodernism of modern academia inspired by such
thinkers as Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard. It is instead a rejection of
modernity in the name of the insights of premodernity – Thomistic and
Aristotelian “realism” in particular. That said, it is a postmodernity
that also wishes to retain a good number of the boons of modernity – Starbucks,
McDonalds, suburbs and exurbs, the interstate highway system, orthodontic
dentistry, etc….) – while rejecting its excessive materialism, individualism,
liberalism, atheism, etc.

[…] I would call attention to another school of thought, also grounded in Tocqueville and connected to ISI, which has a blog titled Front-Porch Republic. The title is a reference to the absence of front porches in many neighborhoods today. Patrick Deneen, whose blog is posted on my daily news websites, is part of this group. They reject modernity outright and want a return to localism, agrarianism, and tradition. They would argue that Starbucks, McDonalds, and the interstate highway system is either bad or cannot be obtained without the corresponding modern values of materialism, individualism, and atheism.

Dr. Patrick Deneen at Front Porch:

“This debate pits the anti-consumerist, CSA-loving, small town-adoring, pro-hand working, suburb-loathing, bourbon-sipping denizens of the “Front Porch Republic” against the McDonald’s loving, Starbucks slurping, dentistry-adoring, Wal-Mart shopping adherents of Postmodern Conservatism.I think I’m going to have to invite one of our goons to take on one of theirs.  Let’s have a knock-down, drag-out, fight-to-the-finish, winner-take-all, one-man-standing, n0-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners debate.  You, know – Jets vs. Sharks, and all that.  As long as we can have drinks afterwards.  Let’s find out once and for all whether there’s a place on the porch for the PoMo Cons, or whether there’s a place for the Front Porchers in post-modernity.  What do you think…?  Any one out there want to foot the bill for a title match?  We’ll let you keep the door receipts…”

Peter Lawler at PomoCon:

“In terms of weapons, I told him we, being more modern and all, choose the automatic weapons available at any decent full-service, southern, suburban pawn shop (usually locally owned!). They might pick the whittlin’ knives that keep them amused like rural idiots for hours on end on their front porches while we’re relaxing inside in air-conditioned comfort watching TV, drinking cheap domestic beer made in some foreign state, and munching on big bags of processed foods we picked up at Wal-Mart and Big Lots.And in terms of place, I told them that you guys keep whining that you’re all afraid to leave your little place for fear of getting all confused and not knowing what to do. Our virtue is much more mobile, and so we’ll come to you (which probably means, ironically, that I’ll have to leave small-town Georgia to go to the fanciest part of Washington, DC).”

I also cautioned Pat–so he wouldn’t be disappointed at the turnout for this big event–that studies show that 97% of all self-proclaimed conservatives wouldn’t have anything to do with either team.”

Lawler again:

Postmodern conservatives aren’t first wave liberals and are anti-Cartesian in the spirit of Maritain/Percy/Deneen/MacIntyre, while thinking Maritain himself is too Kantian and Deneen/MacIntyre are too Marxist. So the latter think that the abstraction “capitalist” invented by Marx refers adequately to some real-world way of life and so are too hostile to the blessings of freedom, including even religious freedom. (M’s practical judgments are characteristically silly, while D is always too worked up about peak this or that.) PCs affirms the Declaration of Independence in the spirit of Chesterton in WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA (which I hear Pat likes) or the unjustly neglected Bruckberger, who saw that the legislative compromise between Calvinists and atheists produced a kind of Thomism that was better than intention than either of the factions. So we agree with Brownson (or my bizarre interpretation based on what he actually wrote) that our “providential constitution” shaped the statesmen who wrote our written Constitution–which is why what they accomplished practically was better than (and even qualitatively different from) their predominately Lockean theory. We also don’t use Voegelian words like “egophanic,” thinking them modern deformations characeristic of a highly abstract world divorced from the language of common sense. No Straussian thinks I’m a Straussian, although there’s A LOT to learn from him (as Pat can tell you) and it’s hardly a point of pride not to have read him. What’s wrong with most Straussians is that they think that the fundamenAdd New Post ‹ Around The Sphere — WordPresstally impersonal LOGOS of Aristotle is true, and the personal LOGOS of the early church fathers is false–a point made eloquently by our present philosopher-pope.

Deneen again:

Re:  his tweak at my “Marxism,” what I wrote (and maintain) was that Marx was a masterful diagnostician of the effects of capitalism (one need only read his opening paragraphs of The Communist Manifestofor confirmation of this fact), but that I think he was a loon when it came to offering a response.  Indeed, Marx believed that capitalism was a necessary and desirable step on the path to a proletariat utopia, particularly because it would decimate the particular loyalties that people hitherto had evinced, rather than a unity with the other workers of the world.   What FPR’ers lament as the destruction of capitalism, Marx rather celebrates (even as he aspires to foment the next stage in human development).  So, it’s really inaccurate to try to use the label “Marxist” to scare people off the Porch.

James Poulos:

So it’s to be expected that individuality comes in for great scorn among Front Porchers and sympathetic parties. But this is just the beginning of the story I want to tell. The individual is a thing incarnate — a noun, an irreducible being, a person; individuality is a disembodied superstition — an adjective, an abstraction, a fantasy with all the pelagian proteanism of the pantheistic All. To make a long story short, we can find evidence of two types of liberals — one thinking individuality to be descriptive shorthand for individuals, and one thinking ‘individual’ to be honorific shorthand for people fully experiencing individuality. Pomocons, I wager, tend to be staunch defenders of the first kind of liberals — and quite sharp critics of the second. I am, anyway! For pomocons, the last sentence of Natural Right and History is very telling — Strauss shows all this talk of modernity to mask or dramatize a wholly different ‘cosmic struggle’ or ‘eternal politics’: that between Virtue and the Individual. Strauss’ critique, importantly, is not of ‘individuality’; the individual himself, who set liberalism in motion, is bad enough as he is! It’s almost as if Strauss is hinting that the advent of the individual turns out to be to blame for, say, Machiavelli’s cruelly instrumental vision of man’s relationship with nature! That’s quite an inversion.

Lawler again

Dr. Pat Deneen doesn’t think the revolution is coming (although he does sort of have catastrophic Marxian optimism about capitalism having within itself the seeds of its own destruction) and thinks communism (a world without eros or purpose or God or virtue or politics) would be hell. My Marxist tweak had to do with tying virtue or its absence too closely to the prevailing division of labor. So don’t run off the porch and through the fields–trampling on cucumbers–because Pat has a certainty affinity to Marx in a way or two. (My real view is that all the agrarians owe something to the selective nostalgia of Rousseauean romanticism, and Marx does too, despite his [half-true] comment about rural idiocy).

I myself think that Marx says a lot that is true and even brings to the surface a lot that’s latent in Locke (while exaggerating beyond belief the real Lockeanization or “capitalization” of the world). I once led a Liberty Fund on Marx and Mill, and Marx, under my leadership, came out better than (or at least smarter than) Mill. The libertarian guy from the home office paid me the high compliment of saying that he had never heard anyone before find anything true in Marx. But the libertarians and the Marxists really do agree about capitalism conquering scarcity, allowing for the withering away of religion, the state, (the family?), etc., and making possible a life characterized by an ever expanding “menu of choice.” Pat and I dissent from the idea that point of life is the pursuit of happiness through absolutely unregulated choice.

John Schwenkler:

Inspired by James’s coinage of “premod” to describe the Front Porch Republicans who are currently at war with his own merry troop of “pomo” cons, I hereby decree that “prefab”* will be the new term of choice for conservatism of the talk radio variety, as in:

I tried to listen to Mark Levin the other day, but this prefab GOP hackery has just gotten too predictable.”

Conservatives used to be able to think for themselves, but now they’ve decided that regurgitating prefab slogans from the mouths of designated ideologues is a much easier way to go.”

Limbaugh’s prefab musings on health policy are about as novel and exciting as that brick shithouse I saw being towed down the freeway the other day.”

And so on. Apologies for the lack of creativity; readers are encouraged to chime in with further suggestions in the comments, and of course to use the term in ordinary talk as often as is possible.

UPDATE: Lawler again

UPDATE #2: More from the PomoCons:

Ralph Hancock

Robert Cheeks

Lawler again

Ivan Kenneally

UPDATE #3: At the Front Porch (or is that “on” the Front Porch):

Caleb Stegall

Russell Arben Fox

And the Pomos:

Samuel Goldman

UPDATE: And some outsiders comment. Daniel McCarthy:

I’m closer to the Front Porchers, for their decentralism and because they make the more penetrating critique of state and society, though if I had to choose a neoteric faction to align with I’d go with the “left-conservatives,” since I would take Dwight Macdonald or Gore Vidal over Wendell Berry. The greatest doubt I harbor about the Front Porchers is whether local communities (as if they can all be described at once) are as really virtuous as the Front Porch Republicans wish them to be. Most of the evils of the world exist on the local level, too — they’re just proportionally smaller. That’s good, but it’s not a panacea.

Alan Jacobs at TAS:

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s line about the weather: Whenever people talk to me about modernity, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. The problem is that what we call “modernity” is a collection of propositions and practices, of varying degrees of interconnectedness, and within various spheres of life. Modernity is a matter of political economy, but also of epistemology, and then again of technology, and so on and so on. No two people seem to conceive of the relations among these in the same ways, and people who are proponents or opponents of modernity — and I include people like the estimable Herr Professor Poulos who are willing employ the “post” language, as well as those who ally themselves with the “pre” — are never really reacting to modernity tout court, but always to some particular aspect of it, one (or at most a few) of the cogs in the great machine.

UPDATE: More posts! Huzzah!


Peter Lawler

Lawler on localism.(This will become important later, see below)

Will Wilson takes the local, too.

Robert Cheeks on localism

Ivan Kenneally brings out the Descartes

First Thingers, going local:

Jody Bottum

R.R. Reno

Jody Bottum on Reno’s localism

Reno responds to Bottum

Bottum responds to Reno

David P. Goldman jumps in.

Reno again. Bottum again. Bottum again

Joe Carter

Front Porchers, going local:

Caleb Stegall

Patrick Deneen

Stegall again

And, to cap it off, Daniel McCarthy has responses to Bottum and Reno, here and here.

UPDATE: John Schwenkler goes local.

UPDATE: Kenneally

UPDATE: Chris Dierkes at The League


Filed under Conservative Movement, Go Meta, New Media

Mellencamp Would Be Too Obvious

So Dreher gets ahead of us and puts up his own post on the small town conversation that’s been happening in the Sphere. That’s cool, man.

Jeremy Beer talks about the meritocracy and that “…fly-over country, by and large, has been hemorrhaging intellectual capital for decades. The most talented young men and women, the most able, the most intelligent and creative, have been leaving to go off to college — or have been lured off to college — only to return in ever-diminishing numbers.”

Two posts from Patrick Deneen, here and here.

Daniel Larison:

The paradox Prof. Deneen describes is the result of wanting to have things both ways, to enjoy only the benefits and experience no losses, but as the paradox makes clear neither the “locals” nor the “cosmopolites” can sustain the fiction that they can have it all. At some point, the local indulgence in the benefits of globalization destroys their local way of life and replaces it with the homogenized mass culture in which they have been increasingly participating for years and decades but which they somehow thought might be kept in check. At the same time, the cosmopolites sense the long-term unsustainability of their way of life, and so have become obsessed with biodiversity, ecological balance and conservation to address the material costs without significantly addressing the moral, cultural and human costs that are also imposed.

And Rod Dreher, who collects all these posts. But we will update when we have more. This conversation is bound to continue.

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