April 28, 2008
Almost two weeks, Dr. Gottfried wrote a helpful clarification of his earlier article about paleoconservatism, elaborating on some of the points I and others had challenged. After reading the more recent item, I agree that there is greater detachment from the GOP among the “post-paleos,” though the nostalgia for the old days of Reagan or earlier decades is today not terribly great even among the paleos, but I am not sure that I see the lowered inhibitions about discussing taboo subjects. In my admittedly limited experience, it has seemed to me that most who could fairly be described as “post-paleo” are much less interested in most topics concerning race and the tendency towards Nietzschean critiques of anything, much less Christianity, seem to me to very few and far between. Dan has already talked about this at Tory Anarchist and made several important points. Dan pointed to Helen Rittelmeyer’s remark that the “post-paleos” are “more postmodern than pre-modern” in their tone, and goes on to say that he thinks the paleos have become “more pre-modern” over the years, but I would have to say that quite a few traditional and paleoconservatives are also more postmodern in certain ways, i.e., more detached and ironic, than the earnest believers in the glories of modernity, be they liberal or neoconservative. There may be a serious reactionary out there somewhere who does not recognize the inherent absurdity of his own position, but I have never encountered such a person. No paleoconservative has actually been “pre-modern” in tone or substance, much as some of us might sometimes like the idea of this, and I would like to think that along with a penchant for romanticism and medievalism, which I certainly know that I have, we would recognize that our impulses to venerate tradition, critique modern rationality or idealize certain periods of history are all products of the modern age. That does not discredit or diminish these impulses, but we should not pretend that it is even possible to be “pre-modern,” as if we could somehow imitate the habits of earlier centuries without the self-consciousness that we were doing exactly that. The Byzantines who made a great virtue out of mimesis did not conceive of change as anything other than degeneration; there was not a concept of historical change that they could reconcile with a well-ordered universe. We do not have the luxury, or the burden, of reflexive hostility to mutability as such, and our own respect and admiration for past eras are colored by the awareness that those eras are well and truly gone. One thing that seems to me to link paleos and “post-paleos” is the conviction that the passing of these other periods does not demonstrate any clear or obvious progression, but rather tends to confirm the philosophically pessimistic assumption that every apparent advance comes at a steep price and progress is an illusion.