“The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
-The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft
Every so often when I get bored web-surfing, I decide to quit looking at political websites from unimaginative centrists and politically correct, virtue-signaling leftists and see what it is that is animating conservatives these days.
And then I remember why I quit doing that.
A primary example of genuine conservative intellectualism is at Pat Buchanan’s The American Conservative website, which aims to be something other than the easily digested grievance politics of Breitbart or Fox media, which doesn’t stop them from frequently arriving at the same place. The American Conservative (TAC) is often considered an exponent of the “paleoconservative” wing of thought, “paleo” being from the Greek for “old” (in contrast to ‘neo’) and analogous to the paleo diet (describing practices from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago).
Examining conservative arguments, it becomes clear that there is a clear and irreconcilable difference between libertarianism and conservatism, especially of the Buchanan “paleo” variety. Both conservatism and libertarianism hold that facts exist and are not subject to political correctness or social engineering, but libertarianism still has its classical liberal roots. Libertarianism still holds to a belief in humanism and the value of progress. Conservatives take most progress as a necessary evil at best. (What counts as unworthy ‘progress’, like the Civil Rights Act or the right of women to vote, depends on the individual.) But the common sensibility boils down to: everything sucks. The present sucks. The past is a Golden Age; while the exact time period and what made it good are not fully defined, it can always be defined in the negative sense that the past is always better than the present, and by extension, even this present will be better than any future. Thus the main duty of the conservative is to preserve or restore the old virtues against cultural erosion and fallible human nature, knowing all the while that this noble cause is doomed to failure. It’s a worldview somewhere between J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft.
The moral sense of this magazine is best represented by Catholic Orthodox Christian apologist Rod Dreher. Dreher is probably the most frequent contributor to The American Conservative, also serving as an editor. Quite a few of his posts are the sort of culture-war scares that he has in common with the hard Right. For instance the one where he reposted the picture of a drag queen reading to children at a library named for Michelle Obama: Xochi Mochi, a Satanic Latinx with cotton candy hair, cake-frosting makeup and four giant white devil horns as a crown. Dreher is clearly horrified by this person, and I can understand why. When a grown man poufs up his hair (perhaps to conceal pattern baldness) and then paints his face to a skin color unknown in nature, it has an unnerving effect on many observers.
Yet Dreher is not always so superficial. Indeed, with much of his blog, Rod Dreher writes extended, often profound disputations on the meaning of Christian faith. But as I read them, the more eloquently Dreher makes his case for Christianity, the more it reinforces my atheism. Dreher has written much about his own religious journey and how he had been a staunch Catholic before he investigated the pedophilia scandal within the clergy. Realizing that the Church at its highest levels would rather cover up to save its prestige than turn the criminals over for punishment, Dreher lost his faith and only regained it after shifting to the Orthodox Church. Such turmoil is inevitable when the institution you are depending on to protect tradition and morality is enabling the worst sort of depravity.
At some level, Rod Dreher must know that conservatives are doing the same thing that spiritually tore him apart.
And to Dreher’s credit, he (unlike Pat Buchanan) DOES recognize this and does care. In the last election, he registered independent and voted for a write-in candidate. But TAC is the crew he rolls with. And the contrast between Dreher’s conscience and conservatism in practice is simply an example of why conservatism is counterproductive at promoting a moral order, let alone a political agenda.
But that’s from the standpoint of religious apologism. In the secular political realm, most TAC columnists (who as of Thursday November 9 are oddly silent on the matter of the 2017 elections and the rumors around Roy Moore) focus most of their energies on stopping the menace of neoconservatism within the Republican Party (and analogous policies within Democratic presidencies).
Both “neoliberal” and “neoconservative” are legitimate terms referring to distinct platforms, but they are also general enough, and overused enough, that they are sometimes even conflated. Most often, though, it is a partisan attack made “within the ranks.” Left-wingers may hate conservatives and especially “neocons”, but they really hate neoliberals. With the paleoconservatives, it’s pretty much the same deal. But in either case, the speaker is drawing a distinction between his group, the authentic people, from the moderate “normie” sellouts. It doesn’t matter if our party has the White House and is setting the agenda in Congress. We know better. It’s basically doing to politics what Maximum Rock And Roll did to punk, with similar results.
Specifically in the case of neoconservatism, that movement is defined by roots in the anti-communist wing of the Left, but in the post-Soviet period continues to base itself in an aggressive foreign policy, military adventurism and a support for Israel which is uncritical to the point of being counterproductive. Thank goodness, Donald Trump has put a stop to all that.
On November 1, frequent TAC contributor Paul Gottfried commented on the issue of the Trump-Russia investigation. Conventional conservative opinion is attempting to push blame for the matter on the Democrats for sponsoring the original investigation into Trump through the Fusion GPS firm. In “Why the Hush on Neoconservative Links to Trump Dossier?” Gottfried demonstrates TAC’s punk credentials by turning suspicion onto his fellow conservatives.
Specifically, the Washington Free Beacon was a conservative website that was noted as retaining Fusion GPS before the Democrats did. Gottfried says other conservatives didn’t delve into the true neoconservative roots of the Free Beacon, in particular that their editor-in-chief, Matthew Continetti, is married to Bill Kristol’s daughter. “The Washington Free Beacon has been a rallying point for neoconservative Never-Trumpers in Washington, and the hiring of Fusion GPS to go after Trump has all the hallmarks of their skullduggery. We shouldn’t be surprised that a neocon publication hired an agency to manufacture news against someone it was trying to bring down; it turns out that Trump, though, was too big a target for Kristol and his friends to successfully dispatch.” Gottfried continues, “I certainly do not blame the liberal media for describing the Beacon as a ‘conservative’ publication, or for tracing the controversial dossier back to ‘Republican allies.’ I heard the same stuff on Fox News, after noticing that Kristol’s son-in-law frequently appears on the Fox All-Star Panel. My impression is that the GOP media are unlikely to abandon their neoconservative buddies and sponsors—and there are very good reasons for this. They all depend on the same donor base, write for the same publications, and share the spotlight with Fox News. It would be suicidal for the conservative establishment to go after its neoconservative participants. Some alliances are indissoluble as well as extremely hazardous. Fox News might allow Tucker Carlson to occasionally rough up such maniacal global interventionists as Ralph Peters and Max Boot, but lowering the boom on their friends for what they can blame entirely on the Democrats would be another matter altogether.”
This line of argument stinks, and like a pig farm or the garbage dumpsters outside Trump Tower, the stench announces itself from miles away. Basically, Gottfried, like his publisher Pat Buchanan, has a common enemy with Trump in the “neocon” Republican establishment. So they’re willing to let the little boy have his tantrums as long as they do more damage to that establishment than to the institutions they want to preserve. But Gottfried, like Buchanan, is also smart enough to realize that Trump is too crazy-stupid to last, and even if he does, the real danger is that the longer he hangs on, the more of a threat he poses to those governmental and social institutions, and when he blows up in their faces, the fallout might disgrace their movement for years and let the neoliberal/neoconservative establishment regain status by default. So Gottfried and other TAC contributors have to build a preemptive case that anything that goes wrong with Trumpism is never their fault, and if Trump has his downfall (due to losing re-election, getting impeached, or hastily swallowing a chicken bone), then he was never really one of them in the first place.
At least Dreher is more honest about his motivations. Last week he started one piece by saying, “Sometimes it seems to me that identity politics and the collapse of the political center are pushing us all towards a prison-gang mentality, in the sense that you may not want to join up with the gangsters of your own tribe (white, black, Latino), but you do to protect yourself from the attacks of the other tribes.” And he concludes another essay by saying “As a registered Independent whose economic and foreign policy views are to the left of the average Republican’s, I would love to have the chance to consider voting Democratic in a national election, especially with the GOP in such a mess. But out of self-protection, I can’t take that chance. ”
Believe me, I can sympathize with that argument. But if being NotTrump wasn’t enough for me to endorse Queen Hillary the Inevitable, then simply being NotHillary certainly can’t be enough for me to endorse Trump now.
Silly me, I thought that if you hated a president who was a pathological liar, crooked real-estate investor, sleazy womanizer and all-around honorless weasel, the last thing you would want to do is support a candidate who has none of Bill Clinton’s competencies but magnifies all his vices to an exponential degree.
I mean, “conservatives”, your boy is the radical antithesis of what you say you want. It’s sorta like if the Russian Bolsheviks had tried to undermine global capitalism by replacing the old monarchy with a corrupt American plutocrat.
…No wait, it’s EXACTLY like that.