I rarely agree with this man

I have lamented the current state of conservatism in America several times. Or rather, the face that currently passes for conservatism in America. The so-called "Birthers." The "tea party" lunatics, with their signs comparing Obama to Hitler (or the Joker, or what have you). The "death panel" mendacity. "You lie." Etc, etc, etc... ad nauseam.

The thing is, there really are intelligent and reasonable American conservatives who have something valuable to say. I am apt to disagree with them regarding just about every single issue out there, but I can respect the integrity of their beliefs and philosophies. And I can only imagine what they're feeling as they watch the frothing, mouth-breathing Beck acolytes rampaging across the country.

Case in point -- Rod Dreher. I see, via the Plank, that he has reached a breaking point. And, while I know that I absolutely disagree with most of what he believes (certainly when it comes to gay marriage, for one), hard not to feel sorry for the guy:
I've always taken complaints about the Fox News Channel as evidence of liberal whining and intolerance. But I don't watch TV news. And then I tuned in to Glenn Beck's popular Fox show the other night and saw him tutor his audience on the president's conspiratorial plan to institute "oligarhy" (sic) in America. And I thought: How does a paranoid like this get on national TV?

Last weekend, I tuned into Huckabee, a Fox program hosted by the avuncular former Arkansas governor, of whom I am a fan. There sat actor Jon Voight, staring gravely at the host, who praised the thespian's "courage."

"We're witnessing a slow and steady takeover of our true freedoms," Voight scowled. "We're becoming a socialist nation, and Obama is causing civil unrest in this country. ... I say that they're taking away God's first gift to man: our free will."

Voight then accused the president of trying to depose God and deify himself – as, according to the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist will do. It may sound ridiculous – after all, who looks to celebrities for political wisdom? – but it's deadly serious to millions of Americans. To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.

Why on earth would he challenge it? Maybe when he considered himself a statesman, he might have had a reason to. But now, with a show of his own? Crazy talk gets good ratings! Next up, no doubt, will be Victoria Jackson.

He concludes thusly:
Where can those who wish to think and debate clearly about a serious politics of the right go? The degenerate form of populism now dominant on the right loves to praise "freedom" – but it has no use for freedom of thought, or thinking much at all. In turn, increasing numbers of thoughtful conservatives have no use for it.
Bring on the thoughtful conservatives. Please! But let's not pretend they're anywhere near the leadership of the contemporary GOP, or have any say in steering the ship. Because the ones who are... those cats are crazy.

Update: It probably does it a disservice for me to tack it on to a relatively unrelated post, but this post by Freddie of Ordinary Gents about the anger motivating the right-wing craziness is excellent.


  1. You are absolutely correct in saying that there is a vacuum of forums for engaging in intelligent conservatism in this country.

    Most Americans have no knowledge at all of the history of American (and British) conservatism, which is integral to understanding what it is--unlike, I think, contemporary liberalism. For example, very few people know that neoconservatism, a major "branch" of contemporary conservatism, is directly descended from Marxists. They don't know about Burke, John Adams, Eliot, or any of the major conservative historical figures. Maybe the popular version of conservatism is doomed to be eternally silly because conservatism much more than liberalism is so tied up in its history.

    People also do not understand that conservatism and liberalism are fundamentally not "opposites" or ideological reflections of one another. There is *still* a substantial movement among conservatives today to define what conservatism is, a debate that you don't really see in liberal intellectual circles. There are certainly precepts and vague beliefs associated with conservatism, but it is much more difficult to define than liberalism. In a way, it's almost more a disposition than a belief system or a political plan of action.

    Well, I could go on about this forever. If you want recs for good books on conservatism, feel free to ask.

  2. Most Americans have little knowledge of the history of Liberalism, which I would argue is necessary to understanding Modern Liberalism. For example, contemporary Liberalism is directly descended from the same source as Fascism (all within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State). It is true that Democracy is messy, and a benevolent dictator can make the trains run on time when democratic states cannot. The benevolent part is the hitch.

    In my experience, contemporary conservatism is by far the bigger tent. There are conservatives who are on both sides of virtually every social issue -- gay rights and abortion, to name two -- yet I cannot think of any corresponding liberal tolerance for dissent from liberal orthodoxy. The lack of intellectual vigor in (re)defining liberalism compared to conservatism is a bug, not a feature, of liberal thought. In my experience, the Left is completely convinced of its virtue and correctness. This leads to the intolerance for dissent on the Left, and for requiring full adherence to accepted orthodoxy.

  3. That first paragraph is *impressively* stupid. It should get an award or something.

    The second seems to think it's arguing with me, when in fact I agree with everything in it.

  4. Hey, Jennifer, what exactly is stupid about it? If I'm going to get an award, I'd like to know why I'm getting the award. I may not like being taught, but I'm always willing to learn.

    The second paragraph doesn't think at all. It is a paragraph. *ducks* I wrote that because I too happen to agree with most of your 3rd paragraph, and was offering an observation as to why contemporary conservatism is harder to define than contemporary liberalism.

  5. I knew you would nitpick that grammar. Deserved.

    Ah, well in that case: I think that's part of why conservatism is harder to define. I still say that there are aspects of being a conservative that are more dispositional than programmatic--a Romantic reverence for the mystical/unexplainable/sublime, desire for a higher order, valuation of tradition and prudence. (I'm channeling Russell Kirk here.) These are difficult to translate into policy.

    As for your first paragraph: "For example, contemporary Liberalism is directly descended from the same source as Fascism (all within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State)."

    Uhm, no. There's a difference between and "on cursory inspection shares some vague principles with" and "is directly descended from." Neocons, my example, are literally the same people who used to be Marxists. That's direct (intellectual) descent.

  6. Modern American Liberalism's continuing love affair with the New Deal, for instance, shows modern progressive interest in fascist economic ideas. Earlier, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives (which would be a great name for a band) attacked the classical liberal idea of individual rights; Jane Addams wrote "we must demand that the individual shall be willing to lose the sense of personal achievement, and shall be content to realize his activity only in connectionto the activity of the many." This is all of a piece with the Zeitgeist of the early 20th century leading towards Italian fascism. American progressive-liberal leaders like Herbert Croly and his ideas for nationalizing large corporations, strenghtening labor unions, and strong central government were the foreshadowing of the New Deal in the US and right in line with fascist government. All the primary fascist traits are in "The Promise of American Life." And the New Deal's NRA Administrator, Hugh Johnson, Time's Man of the Year in 1934 ("[he] had been offered 'almost unlimited powers' under 'the pending Industrial Regulation Bill'") distributed copies of "The Corporate State", and in fact, the NRA paid for a study ("Capitalism and Labor Under Fascism") which stated, quote, "The fascist principles are very similar to those which have been evolving in America and so are of particular interest at this time."

    I can go on, but surely you see the links, taken from those writing at the time. I don't think it is a stretch at all to say that progressivism and fascism sprang from the same intellectual soil. It would be a stretch to deny it.

  7. Your problem is simply that you do not know what fascism is. All I can really ask you to do is Wikipedia or Google "fascism." The primary goal of fascist economic policy is the elimination of capitalism. No liberals desire or ever have desired that.

    Your statement about the Progressives is deeply bizarre, considering their overwhelming dedication to reforms that would give citizens more direct rule (initiative, referendum, etc). The economic reforms they enacted were to promote capitalistic competition, not hinder it. Even if you disagree, it's still a gross misuse of the term to call the reforms fascist.

    Basically, you haven't proven the intersection of fascism along the liberal genealogy. Fascists and liberals both want bigger government, albeit to vastly different degrees, and perhaps they both came of age concurrently--but that doesn't mean they have remotely similar goals, ideology, or history, or that one contributed to the other. Attributing historical causality to "the Zeitgeist" is just lazy. The most curtailing of capitalism that contemporary liberals want is slightly more government regulation of corrupt industries. To conflate that with fascism is intellectually dishonest.

    (By the way, who are you? Do you know Dan et al personally, or are you just an Anonymous Internet Commenter?)

  8. OK, I read the Wikipedia entry for fascism and a couple of other articles Mr. Google suggested, and I can't find any that say the primary goal of fascist economic policy is the elimination of capitalism. All say that fascist economic policy has no distinctive form. Instead, fascist economics is authoritarian and corporatist -- like the New Deal, I would argue.

    I also think you are mistaken about Progressives in the early 20th century. They weren't at all into promoting capitalistic competition. Look at Roosevelt's NRA, setting *minimum* prices and urging an essentially totalitarian Blue Eagle program (I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies.) Progressives were, however, proponents of eugenics (see this by Thomas Leonard), because Progressive principles valued the community above the individual. The early Progressives didn't mind authoritarian rule as long as the 'right people', progressive liberals, ran the government, just as we see today. It isn't intellectually dishonest to point out these facts, and today's Progressives ignore them at their (and our) peril.

    Look, I'm certainly not a proponent of unrestrained capitalism. Good things can come from government regulation, in fact, it is essential. Unrestrained capitalism is as much an evil as unrestrained socialism.

    On a personal note, no, I do not know Dan except by his writing here, and I am not quite anonymous. My name is John, and Dan supplied the Gadfly qualifier. I'm just a guy who enjoys discussing things with bright people who might not agree with me.

  9. Saying that the New Deal was authoritarian and corporatist is so vague that it's meaningless.

    I want to stop spamming Dan's blog with comments about the same thing over and over, but if you'd like to continue the discussion by e-mail I'm open to that...

  10. I did give the NRA as an example of an authoritarian aspect of the New Deal. TVA is an example of a corporatist quasi-government company (that exists today!). There is plenty more.

    You can reach me at gadflyjohn@live.com if you are interested.

    All the best.