May 29, 2009

On Dreher and Levin

While I enjoyed reading Richard’s witty defense of Stacy McCain’s Jacksonian rantings, there is much of it that I find myself in near total disagreement with. For starters, I find Mark Levin and his ilk totally worthless. Talk radio cretins like Levin have had the better part of three decades now to showcase some sort of principled opposition to the federal Leviathan. Instead they have spent the overwhelming majority of their time propping up whatever Democratic strawman has been deemed the GOP’s rogue of the week, while extolling the virtues of whatever meaningless Republican pol is supposed to save us from the scary liberals at the moment (Newt, Mitt, et. al.). It is Levin and his ilk that are responsible for the term conservative becoming a synonym for warmonger and there is nothing they can offer us now that will change this fact.

But, while I agree with Richard that Rod Dreher represents a sort of wimpish and “safe” conservatism, I do not see Dreher as a figure that defines the “crunchy” sensibility he promotes. In fact I find the specific sort of “crunchiness” Dreher advocates to be a primarily suburbanite phenomenon, that caters directly to the same sort of audience that finds jackasses like Levin so endearing: national security moms, older stalwart Republicans, and eco-egoist who support things like banning smoking on private property in the name of Jesus/the children/moral virtue.  This is quite different from the small town conservatism that many self-identified “crunchies” (localists) advocate, though Dreher has no problem appropriating their language to fit the prefabricated, designer universe of Whole Foods shoppers he is catering too. 

Having said that, it is quite evident to me that the Rod Drehers of the world have much more to offer any potential post-GOP conservatism – or alternative right – than Levin and his clones do. Dreher may in fact be an “pro-life welfare-statist” but he is not a shameless partisan shill, and the program he has become a figurehead of sorts for – unfortunate as that may be – is more authentically decentralist than the man himself. More importantly, even the weakest willed of “crunchies” is at least thinking outside of the box, and most are deeply opposed to the imperialist mindset that dominates the American political class. That is far more than I can say for Levin, Rush, Hannity, or any other prominent “conservative” talking heads, excluding Glenn Beck.

It is also worth noting that I find Richard’s claim that the Dreherites are absent a link to historical American conservatism to be inaccurate. To be fair, this may be because Richard and I have very different ideas of what constitutes the historic roots of American Conservatism.

If one is to take Richard’s choice of links as a guide, he sees the origins of American Conservatism in the “Old Right” figures that formed the anti-war, anti-New Deal nexus between the two World Wars. I, myself, do not see much reason to believe this. Though there is certainly some overlap, American Conservatism is a post-World War II creation. Its forefathers are men like Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver and Roger Nisbet. Though they shared many of the same principles – and figures like Kirk and Garet Garrett arguably fit into both camps (and Human Events briefly provided a home to both schools in the Felix Morley days) – the individualists of the Old Right were descendents of a uniquely American political tradition. As Murray Rothbard himself noted in his excellent book The Betrayal of The American Right, the intellectual godfathers of the Old Right were often men of the anti-authoritarian, anti-state left. In particular, Rothbard points to figures like William Lloyd Garrison, Tom Paine, and Henry David Thoreau, all of whom are figures traditionalist conservatives hold in contempt. 

Kirk’s aristocratic conservatism of place and opposition to bigness is something related to the Old Right. But they are not one and the same. That those broadly defined as “crunchies” would be seen as followers of Kirk is not a stretch, even if Dreher himself is a poor representative of Kirkian ideas.

As someone who sees himself as a New Old Rightist and a modern day Kirkian I would never deny the commonalities they share or the value of either worldview.  But fusionism is not for everyone. And as a purely practical matter I cannot fathom how Mark Levin is a better fit with Rothbard than the localists – no matter how obnoxiously hip or irrelevant some may think they are.

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