April 30, 2008

Do they teach that kind of stuff at school?

I guess it was nice to see someone from the New Republic staff take up the cause of adding conservatism and the conservative movement to the national curricula of our public schools. As Mr. YoungSmith observes, ?[W]e can identify feminists, Islamists, environmentalists, abolitionists?but very few of us know that conservatism, a coherent ideological movement, even exists.?

So this is what it?s come to: no longer articulating what?s in the heart and mind of the nation, conservatives have become their own little ethnic or pressure group. Republicans and neocons are a different matter altogether, but perhaps those bookish, tweed-wearing souls who suffer from visions of order and are often seen with a copy of George Nash under one arm and Kirk under the other might be a people ?at risk? and thus deserving of subsidies. Perhaps a museum could be constructed, right next to a monument to the Native American Lesbian. 

YoungSmith says more than he knows about the state of American conservatism. 

There?s a lot confused assertions in this piece, but YoungSmith also offers one of those insights only possible for someone who stands apart from something. While talking about Kirk?s attempted linkage of the postwar American conservatives with the European, Burkean tradition, YougnSmith notes:

Yet American conservatism actually has nothing to do with Burke, other than drawing street cred off his deceased personage. The conservative movement began with William F. Buckley, Frank Meyer, and Russell Kirk himself during the 1950s, in a magazine called National Review?and it was revolutionary, bombastic, and eager to overhaul American society, not Burkean.

The ?standing athwart history? line was certainly an attempt to evoke an aristocratic, counter-revolutionary air at NR. As rumor has it, after God and Man at Yale, Buckley actually wanted to write Revolt Against the Masses, a Nietzsche- and Ortega y Gassett-inspired neo-aristocratic manifesto. He ended up writing a book defending Tail Gunner Joe. We all compromise, and NR became influential and the modern conservative movement quite powerful. But perhaps a movement that at its best has defended bourgeois Middle Americans against an encroaching state and elite culture should drop the whole Burkean thing. 

UPDATE: Dan McCarthy’s thoughts on the subject are here.

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