In January, Patrick Buchanan published one of his seemingly endless articles on how America is going to hell in a handbasket while the country’s supposed leaders twiddle their thumbs: “America’s Role in a Darkening Age.” Our American Cassandra always preaches the same message, but no one in power cares to listen. I still appreciate Buchanan’s work. Is it his fault that our society’s elite has gone mad? What interested me in this article in particular was Buchanan’s quotations from Robert Kaplan’s “The Return of Toxic Nationalism” in The Wall Street Journal. Kaplan laments the fissures in the globalist liberal temple that he and his ilk support and from which they profit. Kaplan writes:
We truly are in a battle between two epic forces: Those of integration based on civil society and human rights, and those of exclusion based on race, blood and radicalized faith. It is the mistake of Western elites to grant primacy to the first force, for it is the second that causes the crises with which policy makers must deal—often by interacting with technology in a toxic fashion, as when a video transported virtually at the speed of light ignites a spate of anti-Americanism (if not specifically in Benghazi).
The second force can and must be overcome, but one must first admit how formidable it is. It is formidable because nations and other solidarity groups tend to be concerned with needs and interests more than with values. Just as the requirement to eat comes before contemplation of the soul, interests come before values.
Yet because values like minority rights are under attack the world over, the United States must put them right alongside its own exclusivist national interests, such as preserving a favorable balance of power. Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation—and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disorderly world. Yet we should not be overturning existing orders overnight. For it is precisely weak democracies and collapsing autocracies that provide the chaotic breathing room with which nationalist and sectarian extremists can thrive.
Buchanan quotes Kaplan’s maddening “Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation—and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disorderly world.” We have no identity as a nation without universal values in our foreign policy? How extreme, how insane, how ideologically reductionist must one be to assert such a statement? And yet, our propositionalist patriots, who see the United States as merely a tool to remake the world according to their desires, dominate the conservative half of American power. It is beyond appalling.
The American Conservative featured an essay by Andrew Bacevich a few months ago that offers good political advice: “Counterculture Conservatism: The right needs less Ayn Rand, more Flannery O’Connor.” Bacevich’s argues that conservatives must incrementally transform the culture back into one that understands and respects conservative principles. Leftist agitators radically changed American culture over the last few generations by taking over the media, the academy, N.G.O.s and foundations, and the goverment. We must fight them on all fronts; political power won in random elections will not suffice. I think that Bacevich is obviously right, and the short-sighted focus on this or that election misunderstands the cultural change that undergirds electoral politics. A radical change in America made the Obama presidency possible. The country as it currently is would be incapable of electing someone like Coolidge or even Reagan. Our little platoons must fight many battles to change the direction of our culture war.
I appreciate Bacevich’s general characterization of American conservatives:
As human beings, our first responsibility lies in stewardship, preserving our common inheritance and protecting that which possesses lasting value. This implies an ability to discriminate between what is permanent and what is transient, between what ought to endure and what is rightly destined for the trash heap. Please note this does not signify opposition to all change—no standing athwart history, yelling Stop—but fostering change that enhances rather than undermines that which qualifies as true.
Conservatives, therefore, are skeptical of anything that smacks of utopianism. They resist seduction by charlatans peddling the latest Big Idea That Explains Everything. This is particularly the case when that Big Idea entails launching some armed crusade abroad. Conservatives respect received wisdom. The passage of time does not automatically render irrelevant the dogmas to which our forebears paid heed. George Washington was no dope.
In private life and public policy alike, there exists a particular category of truths that grown-ups and grown-up governments will respectfully acknowledge. For conservatives this amounts to mere common sense. Actions have consequences. Privileges entail responsibility. There is no free lunch. At day’s end, accounts must balance. Sooner or later, the piper will be paid. Only the foolhardy or the willfully reckless will attempt to evade these fundamental axioms.
Conservatives take human relationships seriously and know that they require nurturing. In community lies our best hope of enjoying a meaningful earthly existence. But community does not emerge spontaneously. Conservatives understand that the most basic community, the little platoon of family, is under unrelenting assault, from both left and right. Emphasizing autonomy, the forces of modernity are intent on supplanting the family with the hyper-empowered—if also alienated—individual, who exists to gratify appetite and ambition. With its insatiable hunger for profit, the market is intent on transforming the family into a cluster of consumers who just happen to live under the same roof. One more thing: conservatives don’t confuse intimacy with sex.
All of that said, conservatives also believe in Original Sin, by whatever name. They know, therefore, that the human species is inherently ornery and perverse. Hence, the imperative to train and educate young people in the norms governing civilized behavior. Hence, too, the need to maintain appropriate mechanisms to restrain and correct the wayward who resist that training or who through their own misconduct prove themselves uneducable.
Conversely, conservatives are wary of concentrated power in whatever form. The evil effects of Original Sin are nowhere more evident than in Washington, on Wall Street, or in the executive suites of major institutions, sadly including churches and universities. So conservatives reject the argument that correlates centralization with efficiency and effectiveness. In whatever realm, they favor the local over the distant. Furthermore, although conservatives are not levelers, they believe that a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth—property held in private hands—offers the surest safeguard against Leviathan. A conservative’s America is a nation consisting of freeholders, not of plutocrats and proletarians.
Finally, conservatives love and cherish their country. But they do not confuse country with state. They know that America is not its military, nor any of the innumerable three-lettered agencies comprising the bloated national-security apparatus. America is amber waves of grain, not SEAL Team Six.
Yesterday, Baroness Margaret Thatcher died. May her memory be eternal.
The Telegraph lists reactions from British and world politicians and other public personalities, including the following tribute from Nancy Reagan:
It is well known that my husband and Lady Thatcher enjoyed a very special relationship as leaders of their respective countries during one of the most difficult and pivotal periods in modern history.
Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism. The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy.
As Prime Minister, Margaret had the clear vision and strong determination to stand up for her beliefs at a time when so many were afraid to ‘rock the boat’.
As a result, she helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of millions of people. Ronnie and I knew her as a dear and trusted friend, and I will miss her.
The United States knew Margaret as a spirited and courageous ally, and the world owes her a debt of gratitude.
Here is the lady during her last few days as Prime Minister arguing against the latest levellers to plague Albion:
An admirer who maintains the Youtube channel thatcheritescotthatcheritescot has compiled bits of speeches into two videos that will surely bring a smile to your face:
Thatcher now joins the other formidable and courageous persons of her generation, including Ronald Reagan, Václav Havel, John Paul II, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who have fully graduated from their service to the common good and have journeyed to better climes. Let us pray for their souls, and, God willing, may they pray for us in troubled times.
A few months ago, Lawrence Auster linked to a segment of John Derbyshire’s Radio Derb wherein Derbyshire shares his respect for Auster. The two have had a somewhat adversarial intellectual relationship over the years. I have written of my respect and admiration for both men, and I was pleased to see that Derbyshire had offered a peace pipe of sorts.
I am also happy that Radio Derb continues in the post-N.R.O. world.
Lawrence Auster died last Friday, and today is his funeral in Philadelphia. He will be missed.
Last month, Auster posted a chapter from his unpublished book The Death of America: “The Etiology of Cultural Suicide: How the belief in radical freedom opened America to Third-Worldization.” In the comments thread, Auster comments on Plato’s Republic:
Liberalism, by liberating desire, breaks up and divides the human consciousness, putting man into deeper sleep and mechanicalness and farther from the possibility of a unified state of being, whether we are speaking of the individual consciousness or of proper social-moral order.
Plato in The Republic has a great deal to say about the proper ordering of man’s being, both on the individual level and the social. In fact it’s the main subject of the book. He calls this proper ordering “justice.” It is a state in which each faculty or part of man’s being is doing its proper work and not interfering in the works of the other parts. The reason (represented on the external level by the philosophers) directs the whole man or the whole society; rational fear (represented by the Guardians or warriors) guards the man or the society from external threat; the ordinary instincts, represented externally by the mass of the population and the trades they pursue, provides for the individual’s or the society’s physical needs. (I’m not getting the scheme quite right, but it’s something like that.)
It is commonly believed that the chief significance of The Republic is that it is a proposal for an ideal society, and because some of the specific features of this society are highly unattractive, such as extreme regimentation and separation of children from parents, The Republic is commonly rejected as totalitarian. This is not a correct way of viewing the book, and it closes us off from its greatness and genius. The main reason Plato describes a good polis in such detail is to illustrate in external terms the state of “justice” within man’s being, He doesn’t mean “justice” the way we mean it, as fairness, as people treating each other right. He means the proper ordering of man, so that man is not chaotically divided within himself, but unified, functioning according to his true nature, and directed toward his proper ends. Plato’s aim is fundamentally the same as Gurdjieff’s and Ouspensky’s.
In Book VIII and the beginning of Book IX of The Republic, the greatest and most exciting single passage of genius I have ever read), Plato describes the downward course of the polis from true order to disorder, and one of the things that disorders it is the liberation of desire and diversity. He calls this stage or condition of the polis democracy, and the typical man who inhabits it democratic man. His description of the democratic, diverse polis is amazingly like contemporary America. (I list the main features of Plato’s democracy in my 1991 talk to The Federation for American Reform, “The Real PC,” in which I argue that the PC that drives mass Third-World immigration is much more than an elite or class phenomenon, it’s the all-ruling orthodoxy of modern society.) But that’s not the worst. When all desires are encouraged to run free, ultimately the man who has the strongest desires, who places no limit on his desires, takes over. Plato calls him tyrannical man, and the polis he rules a tyranny. This is the final stage in the downward path of the polis from proper order to demonic disorder.
How is it that Auster, who had no institutional philosophical education, understood the dialogue’s argument whereas so many in the academy, including the formidable Karl Popper, fail so miserably in their exegesis? It is shocking.
Auster’s early departure is such a loss for the rest of us. I wish my fellow View from the Right readers consolation.
May his memory be eternal!