Kirk on Aristocracy and Social Order

From Prospects for Conservatives:

[Gabriel] Marcel defends the idea of a gentleman thus: “The word ‘gentleman’ has a positive and limited signification. It means one elevated above the mass of society by his birth, manners, attainments, character, and social condition. As no civilized society can exist without these social differences, nothing is gained by denying the use of the term.” Such an aristocracy, founded upon local associations, a sense of honor, prescriptive ideas, and natural talents, constitutes a true order, and it is the strongest barrier to the menace of the total state, the world oligarchy of the technocrats.


In Defense of…Herbert Hoover?

Herbert Hoover is a universally derided president, but libertarians seem to take a special glee in slamming him. Part of this is understandable, since the (incorrect) narrative is that laissez-faire capitalism, represented by Hoover, was at root of the stock market crash of 1929 and the non-response to the Great Depression that followed. Libertarians, quick to defend the market, are also quick to point out that Hoover was actually quite interventionist between 1929 and the end of his presidency and started programs that even Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisors admitted were the template for some New Deal programs.

But, as this interview with Hoover scholar George Nash shows, there are good reasons for Americans in general, and libertarians in particular, to reassess Hoover, especially Hoover the ex-president. One reason is that while Hoover was certainly not the unrepentant capitalist of legend, nor was he cut from the same statist cloth as Roosevelt, even as president (as this campaign speech shows). Despite his interventions, Hoover was much more concerned about individual liberty and the decentralized traditions of American government than Roosevelt ever was.

Additionally, according to Nash, Hoover’s commitment to these principles only grew after the 1932 election, as he became not just an opponent of the New Deal, but its most prominent opponent within the Republican Party and the American right in general. Nash believes that Hoover provided principled, anti-Progressive leadership at a time when most high-profile Republicans, like Alf Landon and Wendell Wilkie, were inclined to adopt only slightly less radical versions of Roosevelt’s plans.

It is, of course, undeniable that Hoover had at one point been attracted to Progressivism, but Nash writes in Freedom Betrayed that, taken in a long view, Hoover’s political theory gradually progressed from a “Bull Moose Progressive” to a “man of the Right.” The fact that at least part of Hoover’s Progressive phase overlapped, to some degree, with his presidency makes ascertaining this later shift a bit more difficult. However, such a shift clearly happened, as it did with other figures that libertarians admire. John T. Flynn, a recognized member of the libertarian leaning Old Right and one of the most trenchant critics (along with Hoover) of Roosevelt’s foreign policy leading up to and during World War II, had once been a left-liberal who endorsed Roosevelt’s policies.

All this to say that Hoover, who lived three decades after his tenure as president ended, deserves closer consideration for his contributions to the cause of liberty on both domestic and foreign policy issues. If nothing else, the claim that he was simply a more tentative Roosevelt seems to be false.


More on Resentment as Revolution

In response to my post about resentment, Mitch raises a very good question, namely whether or not leftists wish to raise anything in the place of the social framework they seek to dismantle. He writes,

This is what makes resentment in our time so dangerous and dark– it aims at nothing, it is never satisfied, there is no end to its eternal and constant loathing. It does not yearn for a better world but instead seeks to make social tension and strife a sustaining characteristic of the everyday. Deep down, many of us wonder about the end game; we operate on this idea that someday, soon, the left will have total control and the revolution will be over. But we must remember: the revolution is constant and ever-present; upheaval is the new normal, there is no end game for the grievance mongers.

Since my original post was inspired by Roger Scruton, it’s interesting to note that Scruton concurs with much of Mitch’s assessment as it relates to both the endless modern drive to liberate people from what John Stuart Mill called the “tyranny of the majority” (which to Mill meant not political democracy but public opinion), and to the eternal pursuit of the vague doctrine of social justice. Scruton writes,

Liberation of the victim is a restless cause, since new victims always appear over the horizon as the last ones escape into the void. [Many forms of liberation] have been absorbed into the more recent leftist agendas, to be enshrined in laws and committees overseen by a censorious officialdom. Gradually the old norms of social order have been marginalized, or even penalized as violations of “human rights.” Indeed, the cause of “liberation” has seen the proliferation of more laws than were ever invented to suppress it – just think of what is now ordained in the cause of “non-discrimination.”


Likewise the goal of “social justice” is no longer equality before the law, or the equal claim to the rights of citizenship, as these were advocated at the Enlightenment. The goal is a comprehensive rearrangement of society, so that privileges, hierarchies, and even the unequal distribution of goods are either overcome or challenged. The more radical egalitarianism of the nineteenth-century Marxists and anarchists, who sought for the abolition of private property, perhaps no longer has widespread appeal. But behind the goal of “social justice” there marches another and more dogged egalitarian mentality, which believes that inequality in whatever sphere – property, leisure, legal privilege, social rank, educational opportunities, or whatever else we may wish for ourselves and our children – is unjust until proven otherwise. In every sphere in which the social position of individuals might be compared, equality is the default position.


…the most important point to notice is that it is an argument that allows nothing to stand in its way. No existing custom, institution, law or hierarchy; no tradition, distinction, rule or piety can trump equality, if it cannot provide itself with independent credentials. Everything that does not conform to the egalitarian goal must be pulled down and built again, and the mere fact that some custom or institution has been handed down and accepted is no argument in its favour. In this way “social justice” becomes a barely concealed demand for the “clean sweep” of history that revolutionaries have always attempted.

The fact that the leftist revolution is never-ending seems obvious enough. The question is whether this is intended, or is simply a confirmation of the Tocqueville Effect, in which social disharmony is said to grow at roughly the same rate as equality. Either way, the task of rebuilding society is impossible in an environment of institutionalized resentment, and we are left to wonder, as Mitch does, if that is fundamentally the goal.



Scruton on Resentment

You can generally tell how important a thinker is by how strenuously the left opposes him. By this standard Roger Scruton, recently the subject of a malicious, yet obvious, smear campaign, is one of the most important thinkers of our day. One example of Scruton’s analytical prowess comes from a chapter titled “What is Left” in his book Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. Commenting on liberals’ tendencies to create and then capitalize on feelings of resentment, Scruton writes the following:

Resentment is not a good thing to feel, either for its subject or its object. But the business of society is to conduct our social life so that resentment does not occur: to live by mutual aid and fellowship, not so as to be all alike and inoffensively mediocre, but so as to gain others’ cooperation in our small successes. Living in this way we create the channels through which resentment drains away of its own accord: channels like custom, gift, hospitality, shared worship, penitence, forgiveness and the common law, all of which are instantly stopped up when the totalitarians come to power. Resentment is to the body politic what pain is to the body: it is bad to feel it, but good to be capable of feeling it, since without the ability to feel it we will not survive. Hence we should not resent the fact that we resent, but accept it, as part of the human condition, something to be managed along with all our other joys and afflictions.

But, of course, this is not the leftist attitude toward resentment. Scruton continues,

However, resentment can be transformed into a governing emotion and a social cause, and thereby gain release from the constraints that normally contain it. This happens when resentment loses the specificity of its target, and becomes directed to a society as a whole. That, it seems to me, is what happens when left-wing movements take over. in such cases resentment ceases to be a response to another’s unmerited success and becomes instead an existential posture: the posture of the one whom the world has betrayed. Such a person does not seek to negotiate within existing structures, but to gain total power, so as to abolish the structures themselves. He will set himself against all forms of mediation, compromise and debate, and against the legal and moral norms that give a voice to the dissenter and sovereignty to the ordinary person. He will set about destroying the enemy, whom he will conceive in collective terms. as the class, group, or race that hitherto controlled the world and which must now in turn be controlled. And all institutions that grant protection to that class or a voice in the political process will be targets for his destructive rage.

Thus, the victimhood mentality, so often alluded to today, is not simply problematic for creating groups of people with grievances against society. These grievances, according to Scruton, manifest in a desire to bring existing social structures crashing to the ground, without thought or concern for what rests on them – in other words, for society itself.

This brings to mind Thomas Sowell’s observation that “wrongs abound in times and places around the world – inflicted on, and perpetrated by, people of virtually every race, creed and color. But what can any society today hope to gain by having newborn babies in that society enter the word as heirs to prepackaged grievances against other babies born into that same society on the same day?”

The answer to Sowell’s query is, obviously, “Nothing.” But if Scruton is correct – and given the prevailing attitudes on the left, there’s no reason to believe he’s not – grievance mongers are not interested in what makes for a healthy society. They are, in fact, bent on the destruction of society, and much too confident in their ability to rebuild it.


Equality, Without Justice, For All

In confirmation of CJay’s recent post about “woke capitalism” comes news that 180 CEOs have signed an open letter denouncing the recent passage of abortion restrictions in Georgia and Alabama. Of course, the sheer number of CEOs being touted by the suddenly pro-business media does not reflect a general business community commitment to the opposition of the legislation, since most of the CEOs represent industries that are generally leftist in orientation (tech, fashion, entertainment). At any rate, who is opposing the legislation isn’t really the point. How they’re opposing it is.

Specifically, two of the arguments are obviously specious. First, these business leaders say that anti-abortion laws are “bad for business.” Now, they had a specific reason for saying this, which I’ll get to in a moment, but it’s worth stopping to ask on what other social issue would this be considered a valid argument, especially by leftists? Closing sweat shops, for instance, might also be bad for business, as would onerous levels of taxation, but we hear nothing from the left about what is good or bad for business on these topics. We only hear about the moral duty of corporations (and, usually, of governments in forcing them to fulfill this moral duty).

The other specious argument, and the one on which the case that abortion regulations are “bad for business” rests, is that restricting abortions deprives individuals, specifically women, of equality. These CEOs believe that a lack (or at least a perceived lack) of equality makes recruiting and retaining employees more difficult. But the unasked question here is, “Equality to what?” The answer to this question, ostensibly, is health care. But here is where the obfuscation on the abortion issue lies, for framing the question of abortion these terms, as a right to have a doctor kill your unborn baby, intentionally ignores the more fundamental question: the personhood of that baby. That’s not to say that all pro-abortionists attempt to sidestep that issue, but their treatment of the question leaves much room to doubt either their metaphysics or the instruction they received from various science guys.

It’s interesting, from a social perspective, the degree to which this and other issues are increasingly framed in terms of equality, which reflects the longstanding and increasing fascination that leftists have with equality, a fascination that has advanced to the point of crowding out all other considerations, chiefly justice. If we can dodge the question of if an unborn baby is a distinct human being, and frame it only in terms of a vague but doctrinaire egalitarianism, we can also avoid considering the justice of ending its life. The point here is not so much that the conclusions of this argument are wrong (though they are), but that the argument itself is faulty, and leaves open the door to all manner of ways which justice can be victimized for equality’s sake.

One wonders what other fundamental questions will be ignored, and what the full scope of permissible barbarities will be in the coming leftist dystopia. But, then again, maybe we don’t have to wonder. Maybe we can just observe what happened as a result of the French and Russian Revolutions, and anticipate again the leftist call to end life outside the womb in the same way they currently claim the right to end it inside the womb. All, of course, in the interest of equality.


On Criticizing Lindbergh

I apparently angered some people with my assessment of Charles Lindbergh during my recent appearance on The Tom Woods Show. Specifically, some listeners were annoyed that I found anything objectionable in Lindbergh’s speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941 in which he cited “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration” as the three main groups who were at that point pushing the United States towards intervention in the war in Europe. To those for whom my qualified criticism was unacceptable, Lindbergh was simply speaking the truth, particularly in his reference to Jewish influences, and is therefore due praise, not condemnation.

Now, before I elaborate on my position, it’s worth recalling exactly what I said, which doesn’t seem unduly harsh. I told Tom that I think it is fair to criticize Lindbergh for his comments, but that I don’t agree with the common claim that they reflected an underlying anti-Semitism, particularly in light of the lack of evidence of such in Lindbergh’s other public speeches and private correspondence. Much less does the speech validate the claim, common at the time and widely held since, that anti-Semitism was the driving force behind the entire non-interventionist movement.

As for my criticisms, I’ll start by saying that I am constitutionally uncomfortable with treating entire groups of people as monolithic in their attitudes and opinions, as Lindbergh did in his Des Moines speech. Therefore, his approach was fundamentally one that I would not have taken, and that I find problematic. I grant that this is not a trait shared by everyone, especially online commenters with their hot takes and truth bombs, and I allow that it is possible to take an approach that is different than mine in good faith. But good manners dictate neither giving nor taking unnecessary offense, so not only do I disagree with Lindbergh’s method, I detest the behavior of militantly anti-PC folks, who make a great show of being as offensive as possible, as much as I do those of the SJW thought police.

Now, regarding the content of the speech, I think it can be criticized on three grounds: truth, propriety, and strategy.

First, there’s the question of the truthfulness of Lindbergh’s comments. Now, there’s certainly a degree (though I’m not aware of any polls that determined the exact degree) to which the comment that American Jews were supportive of intervention was true and, as Lindbergh pointed out, there was certainly good reason for that sentiment. However, that was not the extent of Lindbergh’s comments. He added that the problem with Jewish support for the war “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” Here Lindbergh’s truthfulness becomes more debatable.

Bill Kauffman, certainly no enemy of America First, wrote that “Lindbergh spoke artlessly” in these comments. “The Jewish ‘presence’ in government,” said Kauffman, “was more significant than that of, say, Greeks, but less than the Irish,” and was therefore overblown. Furthermore, the Jewish influence in motion pictures that troubled Lindbergh was mitigated by the fact that Jewish filmmakers “shied from making pro-war films,” which not only exposed the error in assuming that group identity dictates individual behavior, but also contrasted sharply with the propaganda efforts of some British people in Hollywood.

Additionally, it seems that Americans at the time were more immune to war propaganda than they had been during World War I. Herbert Hoover observed that “The appeal to crusade for freedom, for independence of nations, for lasting peace; the same pictures of atrocities; the fanning of hate and, above all, the mass of lies in stimulation of fear of invasion – they were all identical. But in World War II the people believed much less of it and they believed much more that they were being deliberately pushed into the war.” Historian Thomas Fleming, too, remarked that the long-term effect of World War I propaganda was to make people distrust the reports of Nazi atrocities once World War II commenced.

It’s therefore not at all clear that it was propagandists who were most important in moving the country toward intervention, particularly when compared to the efforts of Roosevelt and his administration. Interestingly, Lindbergh also cited capitalists and communists as secondary groups pushing for war, but one or both of these groups would seem, in retrospect, to have had a larger role in the movement toward intervention than the one Lindbergh assigned to Jewish influences. This is particularly so when you consider the highly-placed communist spies within Roosevelt’s administration.

There is also room to question the propriety of Lindbergh’s comments. Frankly, this was a topic that was either best approached with the maximum amount of sensitivity, or not at all. Lindbergh’s critics may have exaggerated when they analogized his comments with Hitler’s rhetoric, but it’s certainly not irrational to question the wisdom of inviting those comparisons. To speak “artlessly” of a group that has not only historically endured persecution, but which was being heavily persecuted at the time reflected a lapse of judgment or manners, either of which is damaging to a movement attempting to navigate a complex subject.

It’s not simply that Lindbergh referenced (or overstated) Jewish influences on the interventionist movement. He lumped Jewish and British influences together when he said “We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.” But there are obvious problems with this comparison. As Kauffman said, “the British are ‘other peoples,’ but American Jews are American.” It was inappropriate to talk about the American Jewish community as if it was a separate political or national entity. Such rhetoric had the tendency to validate the claim that Lindbergh and the non-interventionists did not view Jewish Americans as equal partners in the defense of America. For this reason, the argument that his comments about Jewish influences were as inoffensive as those regarding British influences seems, to me, false.

Simply put, Lindbergh, given the political environment and what was happening around the world, should have known better than to address the topic in the way that he did, and if he didn’t have the capability of being more precise, he shouldn’t have addressed it at all. Jewish non-interventionists played prominent roles in the movement, and were perfectly capable of addressing arguments against intervention to their coreligionists. If Lindbergh felt compelled to broach the topic personally, there were better ways to have done it. Norman Thomas believed that although “Colonel Lindbergh is not anti-Semitic,” his comments “should have been put before a private conference with Jews, not a mass meeting and the radio public.”

Finally, there’s the question of strategy. It’s not entirely clear what Lindbergh hoped to accomplish with his Des Moines speech, but what is clear is that he expected to be labeled a racist and to bring condemnation on himself and America First. He certainly knew that interventionists were keen to associate the entire non-interventionist movement with its worst proponents, like the racist Father Charles Coughlin and the fascist German-American Bund. So why give them the opportunity? Was the content of Lindbergh’s speech so important, so convincing, so well-stated, that it justified the resulting controversy? Given the problems already discussed, and what happened after the speech, it hardly seems so.

Wayne Cole, long a respected authority on the American First Committee, wrote that “Whatever one concludes about the sincerity, accuracy, or wisdom of Lindbergh’s statements, his Des Moines speech was an extremely serious political blunder. It dealt America First and the noninterventionst movement a staggering blow. It gave the interventionists their best opportunity to discredit Lindbergh and America First. The deluge of criticism was so all-encompassing that it dwarfed all succeeding noninterventionist efforts in the few weeks remaining before Pearl Harbor.” Cole added that the speech attracted to America First the support of enthusiastically racist cranks, while depriving it of the support of reasonable people, some of whom had previously supported it. And for what?

Lindbergh’s defenders – and, apparently, my detractors – would seemingly respond “for the truth.” But even if there weren’t the aforementioned issues with the speech, this would still not be a valid justification. This mentality, that all you need is the truth, reflects an enduring problem in the libertarian/conservative world, namely the incorrect assumption that it only matters what you say, it doesn’t matter how you say it. This brings to mind Richard Weaver’s observation that an argument that is all dialectic and no rhetoric, all “facts and logic” with no attempt to make it appealing to an audience that is unconvinced (as opposed to one that already agrees with you), is ineffective at its purpose. Persuasion is an art, and pretending that you can go around offending whichever group you want without affecting the success of your proselytizing efforts is the behavior of a person who either doesn’t know how to argue well, or whose thinly veiled animosities undermine even the attempt to do so.

Yet this is exactly how a lot of modern folks approach difficult topics, as if the correct response to leftist grievance mongers is to give them more ammunition with which to make their accusations appear accurate. Granted, this is partly a question of style, and it cannot be denied that there is a very real problem with people on the left disingenuously attempting to restrict every conversation to accusations of bigotry. But it seems to me that a mature person can both disagree with these methods and not respond to them in kind. A position based in principle doesn’t need oversimplified arguments, and attempting to beat SJW’s at their own collectivist game is a losing proposition. Despite what you may read in comments sections, intentionally and unnecessarily provoking entire people groups to suspicion is not the only way to stay off the 3×5 card of allowable opinion,

If there is a lesson that Lindbergh and the America First Committee teaches us, beyond the intricate case they made against war, it is that a cause can be fatally damaged by its own proponents when they treat sensitive topics carelessly. Because of Lindbergh, untrue accusations have hounded not just the America First Committee, but all right-leaning antiwar movements since. A year or so ago, a hawkish guest told Tucker Carlson that he was acting like Charles Lindbergh because Carlson thought it inadvisable to risk war with Russia over the Democrats’ fantasies of collusion with the Trump campaign. The antiwar right, it seems, has still not escaped Lindbergh’s long, obfuscating shadow.

That much, but far from all, of the response to Lindbergh’s speech was manufactured outrage by the interventionists is by now beside the point. It is impossible, I believe, to defend Lindbergh’s strategy, and even his truthfulness and propriety can fairly be called into question. The fact that America First’s valid arguments have been overwhelmed by questions about their motivations is tragic, a tragedy exceeded by the fact that this “deluge of criticism” was largely avoidable had Lindbergh not delivered this speech. It’s odd that some people today seem intent on not only categorically defending his error, but endlessly repeating it.


Russell Kirk’s Big Tent Conservatism

At the end of Prospects for Conservatives, Russell Kirk writes,

Journalists, for their own delectation, invent or cry up such labels as ‘Old Right,’ ‘Traditionalists,’ ‘Neoconservatives,’ ‘Libertarians,’ ‘New Right,’ ‘Fundamentalist Right,’ and the like. But those categories overlap and intermingle. The more eccentric members of this loose coalition may be expected to fall away into fresher eccentricities – and no great loss will result. Various emphases upon this or that aspect of pulic policy will linger among the several conservative groupings; but enough common ground can be cultivated to maintain substantial agreement on some large questions – supposing that narrow ideology is abjured.

Kirk is often considered an enemy of libertarians, but I count at least three occasions – with one being his infamous-among-libertarians essay, “Libertarians: Chirping Sectaries – in which he included at least some libertarians in the conservative camp. Indeed, Kirk’s conservatism was a very broad one, both in terms of modern day groupings and historical lineage.

For Kirk, it was only ideology that could undermine conservative unity, and by ideology he meant the inflexible insistence on a narrow range of principles, not the commitment to principles in general. This is why he was frustrated with libertarians, because he understood them to be entirely focused on liberty to the exclusion of other concerns. That this does not apply to all libertarians does not negate the truth that it does apply to a good many (and the broader truthfulness of Kirk’s assessment of libertarians will be taken up by Mitch Thompson in the summer issue of AL Mag).

All this to say that Kirk was certainly not as anti-libertarian as he is often portrayed as being, and there is a sense (a very large one, I believe) in which Kirk and the libertarians were oriented towards similar goals. In my opinion, Kirk’s big tent mentality is one is a that modern day libertarians could stand to consider. Conservative libertarians – which is to say normal libertarians who oppose state oppression but don’t want to tear down society – have many points of disagreement with other conservatives, but the increasingly apparent truth is that these libertarians have more in common with their mainstream conservative friends and family than they do anyone on the left, including professional and beltway libertarians.

One weakness of the conservative movement, of which libertarianism was a part, as it developed after the end of World War II was the inability of its members to overcome differences regarding specific points of view and to present a unified alternative to leftism. Perhaps libertarians should take a page out of Kirk’s book and consider the possibility that, whatever differences exist on policy issues, the successful defense of liberty and society (which are much more intimately connected than many libertarians admit) against the onslaught of their would-be destroyers requires a broader sense of purpose, and of friend and foe.


Make Haste Slowly

Richard Weaver, from his autobiographical essay “Up From Liberalism,” on the proper attitude towards social change:

I am disinclined to the view that whatever exists necessarily has a commission to go on existing. On the contrary, I have a strong tendency to side with the bottom dog, or to champion the potential against the actual if the former seems to have some reason behind it; and I am mindful of the saying that God takes delight in bringing great things out of small ones. To this extent, I am a reformer or even a subverter. But I feel that situations almost never present themselves in terms so simple. They usually appear in terms like these: We have before us a tremendous creation which is largely inscrutable. Some of the intermediate relationships of cause and effect we can grasp and manipulate, though with these our audacity often outruns good sense and we discover that in trying to achieve one balance we have upset two others.


There are, accordingly, two propositions which are hard to deny: We live in a universe which was given to us, in the sense that we did not create it; and, we don’t understand very much of it. In the figure once used by a philosopher, we are inhabitants of a fruitful and well-ordered island surrounded by an ocean of ontological mystery. It does not behoove us to presume very far in this situation. It is not a matter of affirming that whatever is, is right; it is a recognition that whatever is there is there with considerable force (inertia even being a respectable form of force) and in a network of relationships which we have only partly deciphered. Therefore, make haste slowly.


McClanahan on the Southern Agrarians

I was just able to watch Brion McClanahan’s portion of the AERC panel on “Remembering the Interwar Right.” A few thoughts of my own.

A ) I have a certain sympathy for the South as McClanahan presents it, even though I’m not myself a southerner. One difficulty I have is that McClanahan has a tendency to romanticize the South more than even someone like Weaver (see here). I think McClanahan is in the position of defending what in modern society is indefensible – namely, the South – but I think sometimes he oversimplifies the South. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate his comments, it’s just an observation of some of his tendencies.

B ) I 100% agree that regionalism, be it southern, eastern, or midwestern, is badly needed in modern society. I think that each of the sections is losing its distinctiveness, and mass, nationalized society is preserving more or less the worst elements of each of these sections. The reason, for instance, that people can romanticize the South is because it had some definite virtues, but those virtues are being destroyed along with its vices. This is no less true of the other sections. As a midwesterner, I notice this as increasingly middle America attempts to be as cool as the coasts. It’s a real shame.

C ) I like his interpretation of Tucker Carlson’s comments, because I think that some of Carlson’s concerns are valid and I want a lot of the same things he wants. But, the problem is that if you can’t identify or articulate the problem correctly, your solution and proposals aren’t likely to be effective. I would level this same criticism at Dan McCarthy (as Donald Devine did here), although I think McCarthy has less of an excuse because he’s more widely read on conservatism than Carlson is.

D ) Here’s a link to some of Weaver’s comments on the South. What’s interesting to me is that Weaver has very strong sympathies for the South and the agrarians, but he also criticizes the South for not producing the philosophers needed to articulate their reason for being right, and also for attempting to use symbols that have outlived their usefulness.

Overall, I liked this talk. Agrarianism in one form or another plays a role in the philosophy of the best conservative writers (Weaver, Kirk, Nisbet, Scruton, etc.), but it’s not always southern. I think that Southern culture should remain, reassert itself, and improve itself by its own internal efforts, but I think that’s true of all the different cultures in the country. The worst thing that can happen is this bland, stultifying generic mass culture that reduces everything to either a transaction or virtue signal.

Update: I neglected to add this in my original comments, but McClanahan is spot on when he talks about the importance of “place.” Weaver said that “To be of a place, to reflect it in your speech and action and general bearing, to offer it as a kind of warranty that you will remain true of yourself – this is what it means to have character and personality. And without these things there is no individuality.”

People laugh at Russell Kirk for calling automobiles “mechanical Jacobins,” but increased mobility has really contributed to the decline of culture as people have become increasingly nomadic, simply picking up and moving for jobs or just for a change (which is different than moving to preserve freedom or culture). Of course, nobody can be totally against mobility, and becoming a Luddite is no solution, but we can acknowledge that there can be improper and disorganizing uses of technology.


Casey on Kirk and Burke

Having just committed the libertarian faux pas of publishing a favorable review of a Russell Kirk book, now might be a good time to consider some things that Gerard Casey has written about Kirk and his intellectual muse, Edmund Burke. In Freedom’s Progress, Casey writes,

The basic principles of conservatism were laid out in various of his writings by Russell Kirk… In The Politics of Prudence, we are presented with 10 principles: 1. the moral order is enduring – human nature is a constant and moral truths are permanent; 2. conservatives adhere to custom, convention and continuity; 3. conservatives believe in prescription, that which has been established by immemorial usage; 4. conservatives are guided by the principle of prudence; 5. conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety – equality before the law levels all ranks – in all other respects inequality is the norm; 6. conservative are chastened by their principle of of imperfectibility – no perfect social order is attainable, utopias are not in sight and are not to be sought; 7. freedom and property are closely linked; 8. conservatives uphold voluntary community and oppose involuntary collectivism; 9. conservatives see the need for prudent restraints on power and on human passions; and 10. conservatives understand that permanence and change must be recognised and reconciled.


Libertarians may adhere to none, some, or all of these principles. This libertarian: recognises an enduring moral order and the constancy of human nature; grants the heuristic and presumptive value of custom, convention, continuity and prescription; whole-heartedly recognises and values the differences that make a difference; ruefully recognises (in others) and confesses (in himself) human imperfectibility, and neither expects nor seeks the fantasy of a utopia, for here we have no abiding city; willingly grants – indeed, insists upon – the close connection between freedom and property; rejects involuntary collectivism and welcomes the creation and sustaining of voluntary communities; recognises prudence as the first of the cardinal virtues, sees restraint as a form of social capital and, as such, the foundation of the moral individual, civil society and political order; and is happy to seek a balance between permanence and change.

Regarding Burke, Casey adds,

Edmund Burke thought that manners mattered more than law and even more than morals, inasmuch as both law and morals in large measure depend upon manners. [Burke wrote] “Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or sooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.”


We do not produce and maintain our manners primarily by some process of detached reason. They arise naturally from social relations. Such judgment as they embody is a kind of pre-reflective judgment, what Burke calls ‘prejudice.’ Manners, as prejudices, allow us to act swiftly and surely and rightly without the need for agonised reflection and reasoning. At the root of manners is the notion of restraint, of limitation, of delayed gratification, and its produce is a kind of social capital, just as the product of fiscal delayed gratification and restraint is economic capital. Burke contrasts this form of ordered liberty with mere license, which is the freedom to do whatever one wants to do without regard to circumstances.”

He adds,

I believe that a civilized existence requires both freedom and order; that just as a sound economy requires capital which is produced by saving and delayed gratification: “the essential mechanism of societal preservation is not inspiration but restraint.” [David Mamet] Freedom without order is like a sudden explosive release of energy, pointless and destructive; order without freedom is like the body in the library, a lifeless corpse. Freedom and order together are necessary to produce a living, vital society.


…When manners decline as the result of cultural decay, then the law (or rather legislation) rushes in to fill the vacuum. Matters that in a culturally rich society are dealt with by informal sanctions, such as speech that is intended to be crude, insulting and hurtful, now have to be overtly regulated by laws with consequent intrusions upon our liberty. But the law is a blunt and crude instrument and such micro-regulation is both ineffective and stifling. Man does not live by legislation alone. A society replete with minute and detailed legislation is a society whose stock of social capital has declined and is declining. This, I suggest, is an accurate account of many contemporary Western societies. Whether these societies can replenish their social capital is a matter for conjecture. Some societies have done so in the the past – but others have not, and have perished.

It’s not uncommon for libertarians to scoff at conservatives and the concerns they raise about society, questions that Kirk, and Burke before him, addressed more articulately than most. But Casey, whose libertarian credentials are unassailable, offers good reasons for libertarians to consider the importance of the non-political, and even non-rational, elements of our life, without which libertarianism isn’t likely to last for very long.


Sowell on Mill’s Conception of Freedom

Thinking over the ongoing intra-libertarian feud between right and left libertarians, I was reminded by this quote by Thomas Sowell regarding John Stuart Mill, who I think exemplifies the left-libertarian attitude:

“Mill’s On Liberty has often been seen – mistakenly – as a plea for greater freedom of all from government, when it was in fact a plea for differential exemption of the annointed from social criticism. That is, the annointed should judge and influence the benighted, but not vice-versa. Mill saw government in the England of his day as no longer a major threat to freedom. It was the social ‘tyranny of the majority’ and ‘the despotism of Custom’ that he opposed in On Liberty.

What he considered to be desirable was that individuals be free to do as they like ‘without detriment to their estimation’ in the eyes of others. Today, that is called being ‘nonjudgmental’ – and, very often in practice, it too is a principle applied selectively as between the annointed and the benighted.”

Granted, it would be difficult, to the point of impossibility, to identify a single cause that separates right and left libertarians. But, undoubtedly, one of the most prominent points of departure is this difference of opinion on the desirability of social pressure.


The Art of Rhetoric

Libertarians complain a lot about people not being persuaded, but I wonder how much of that is due to libertarians not being persuasive. This essay is a really good look at rhetoric as an essential art in the process of argumentation.

“For the most obvious truth about rhetoric is that its object is the whole man. It presents its arguments first to the rational part of man, because rhetorical discourses, if they are honestly conceived, always have a basis in reasoning. Logical argument is the plot, as it were, of any speech or composition that is designed to persuade. Yet it is the very characterizing feature of rhetoric that it goes beyond this and appeals to other parts of man’s constitution, especially to his nature as a pathetic being, that is, a being feeling and suffering. A speech intended to persuade achieves little unless it takes into account how men are reacting subjectively to their hopes and fears and their special circumstances.”

Libertarians often treat their audiences almost with a sense of disdain, as if they’re put out that the masses are holding on to ideas that the libertarians have dialectically proven false. Weaver’s nod to rhetoric as the art of understanding the causes of your audience’s beliefs, and using that understanding to frame convincing arguments, is badly needed in libertarian argumentation.