Author Archives: joeptak

Conservatives in 2014!!

In yet another example of the decay of time-tested social and cultural institutions as a consequence of conservatives dropping the ball, now that Syria is put on the backburner, we get an opportunity to tackle the President’s domestic agenda. But, it is a domestic agenda that has been eclipsed by foreign policy maneuvers. Although the domestic issues (budget, immigration and a federal reserve bank chairman) can return to to the forefront as a result of the President’s speech to postpone a congressional vote on a Syria strike in favor of a diplomatic solution; an immediate effect is confusion and a reduction in credibility with regional allies. Fellow conservatives, have no fear: Syria will still cost the left.

Although the Obama administration’s Syria media campaign provides a useful template in order to pursue his domestic policy goals, conservatives should not get their pants in a bunch. The administration has expended energy and resources to sell this foreign policy proposal, which has gotten in the way of his domestic goals. That should provide conservatives with some relief before the country gears up for the domestic battle ahead in which the standard-bearers for small government have no strategy to preserve what is left of said small government, as some of its members get boiled in kettles of controversy which threaten to take down the party from the inside.

Be that as it may, conservatives, libertarians, and other lovers of liberty and tradition (even RINOs) should not worry, because the the roadblocks and barriers to his domestic agenda are plentiful, as he turns his attention back to his plans for this country. His agenda is plain to see; the mess of problems that is liberalism is something conservatives can focus on when they challenge the left’s domestic dreams.

The president faces several institutional and socio-political barriers and constraints as he turns to his domestic agenda, which should please conservatives. First, he faces a Congress controlled by a party with a faction which opposes his policies and will go to great lengths (i.e., government shutdown) and an intraparty war in order to see that his policies do not become the laws of the land. Second, while polls show that the American people want domestic policy proposals, the president is running into the possibility that he will have reduced power to enact his agenda as a result of his “lame duck” status, which increases the slope of his uphill battle. This is because a) he has devoted and diverted extensive energy and resources expended on a military intervention the American public does not want, that his party does not want, and that this Congress does not want; and, b) there is a Republican Party in control of the House of Representatives that will battle him over the budget and repeal his health care reform bill during upcoming political battles between these clashing institutional actors. While he may want to swerve toward domestic priorities, the amount on his plate may be too much for him to handle, especially as the 2014 midterm elections approach. And 2014 is where the fire that is conservative hope blazes brightest.

As the administration and the Democratic Party gear up for a midterm election that Obama has said is crucial and to which he is devoting substantial resources, the Republican Party has introduced legislation which puts the screws to the Democrats by targeting health care reform while avoiding a government shutdown, taking ground in the domestic policy debate as the two major parties react to and capitalize on a political dead ball to gain an advantage in the upcoming elections; state party Republican infighting raises questions about the possibility of a unified party that can win back the Senate and maintain the House in 2014, and a grassroots conservative movement that is active and ready to turnout in 2014; conservatives are working to replace incumbent Republicans in an effort to bring conservatives back to power in the GOP by repeating history(?) and battle this latest iteration of liberalism, the ideology they’ve been battling since the beginning of time.

History of Conservatism

It is an exciting time to be a conservative. We are witnesses to a liberal domestic agenda losing steam as a foreign policy blunder sapped this administration and its party of the resources it needs to meet those goals. We are witnesses a conservative insurgency in the Republican Party which is pressuring establishment Republicans to vote on policy based on conservative principles and is ready to hold them acountable in November. We are witnesses to a renaissance within the Republican Party that has the potential to rekindle the lineage that extends from Reagan to Goldwater up to Taft and beyond, which will reconnect us to tradition and history so that this country can regain access to and profit from “…the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.” in an opportunity to once again stand athwart history yelling stop against the liberal onslaught that continues to cause this country to aimlessly drift.

so, c’mon conservatives: let’s get better!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NCIS Season 11 – the departure of Ziva David and Cheers for the National Security State

For NCIS fans, the season premiere looks great. As most people (who a) care and/or b) watch the show) probably know, Cote de Pablo is leaving NCIS. In what looks to be an exciting and awesome premiere, an explosion will occur, someone will die and Gibbs comes out looking good — in other words, just another stellar episode in the series that gave us Colin Hanks playing a Dick (Parsons, that is).

Regardless of your opinion of them, everyone should tune in to NCIS to learn the answer to that burning question: what will happen between Anthony DiNozzo and Ziva David? Tune into the season premiere, and you will find out.

So as we are busy here at beyondthegop analyzing, interpreting, explaining and debating the contours, fissures, and peaks and dips of the modern liberal state, don’t forget about the thing that makes this country awesome: great television celebrating public order, moral clarity, law enforcement bureaucracy and the concept of the national security state in a fearful and eternal fight against bad guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Syria and the Bankruptcy of Liberal Universalism

President Obama and his cabinet officers are campaigning to secure support for a military strike against Syria. If he succeeds he will overturn precedent and make sovereignty obsolete in a perversion of America’s political system through an “inevitable mess” which at best weakens our national security, while at worst risks spiraling us into an epic political crisis. In other words, it’s not worth it.

The President is encountering skeptics within his own support base, among members of Congress (his institutional co-equal), a divided international community and a public that is tired of war, as he and his administration maintain a strong media campaign to make their case and generate support for a strike. Regardless of the outcome, the Syria issue will likely have repercussions for President Obama’s domestic agenda in his apparent repeat of history. Syria would be an addition to numerous events which have developed into a cascading force which overshadows his domestic policy goals.

Of particular interest to the bloggers at and audience of is the conservative skepticism toward the call for action against Syria. Members of the contemporary Old Right are thrown together with neoconservatives, Tea Partiers, the public and members of the establishment left in an ad hoc opposition movement that cuts across party lines and ideological boundaries. As the full-court press against the media continues, the American public (and its government) is left wondering who the war is for.

An American strike against Syria will wreck the very liberal values and norms that modern liberals hold close to their hearts. The media campaign, the domestic political risks and the divided international community belie the credibility and the sustainability of the “liberal world order” which America currently maintains. President Obama’s case for intervention – his attempt to defend the norms of liberalism – in Syria demonstrates that liberalism is sick and it is dying. This disease is terminal and is the most recent symptom of liberalism’s crisis and imminent death.

As Congress continues to postpone a vote on a policy which most members of the two legislative bodies do not support (partially consistent with a public opposition to military intervention), the Obama administration and other actors (specifically Russia and Syria) consider diplomatic alternatives to avoid a US military strike and resolve the problem peacefully (i.e., through the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons into international control, a proposal that has met political and logistical problems).

While the United States weighs the possible benefits and costs of turning enemies into friends, we should take a step back and consider the bigger picture: liberalism is dying, and a military intervention into Syria may just be the push it needs into the coffin.

Categories: Checks and Balances, Constitutional Law, Ideology, The Constitution, Tyranny, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Will the Beauty of the Ages Be Food for the Creditors?

A news story that has a personal touch for me – the bankruptcy of Detroit (I am from the the mitten)
Detroit declared bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. Detroit’s debt exceeds $18 billion. As storied a history as the city has, it is unfortunate that it has decayed so greatly since its World War II prominence

Detroit - Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit bankrupt

One of the institutions caught in the middle of the bankruptcy is the Detroit Institute of Arts. This renowned museum risks losing much of its collection in order for Detroit to repay its creditors. The auction house Christie’s will appraise an expected 3,500 of the museum’s 60,000+ pieces for the possible sale to creditors. This possibility has already had effects in the region, as Oakland County has voted to treat any attempt to raise money for creditors through an art sale as grounds to terminate its financial support of the museum.

Even though the Michigan Attorney General has said that the art can’t be sold, this has not stopped a very rich debate over what should happen to the art from taking place.

So, should the art be sold or not? Does the city’s debt require (and should it be) that the art museum’s collection be sold to pay off the city’s debt? Or can (and should) the art work be protected from being sold off? Do the rules of the market apply to this stuff – these commodities – or is art work in a museum a type of thing that is immune or outside of the boundaries of the rules of the market? It’s an old old debate made new.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Federalism, Ideology, Libertarianism, Localism, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

Misconceptions? What Misconceptions?

Ben has written a provocative post which challenges the conventional wisdom that is hammered into our heads in grade school and celebrated by every pundit, pundette and person in America. He takes on the reading of the Declaration that we received from Lincoln, who famously immortalized it in his Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863.

To close his post, he asks the readers of this blog

So, once again, my question for the reader: when you celebrate the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, exactly what are you celebrating? Is it the Declaration of state sovereignty, historical particularity, and continuity with the past? Or is it the Declaration of the American “nation,” universal abstraction, and revolution? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

My answer is that I celebrate the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Contrary to Ben, I think that Lincoln’s Declaration is continuous with the Founders’ Declaration. I think it is his interpretation of the Declaration and of Lincoln that are misguided.

Ben advocates a compact theory of constitutional development; I think that the compact theory is wrong. Lincoln was correct to argue that the nation predates the individual states. Daniel Webster eloquently describes the type of relationship upon which this nation was built – and which Lincoln correctly, in my view, defended at Gettysburg – in his second reply to Senator Hayne. It is not a compact between states.

When the gentleman says the Constitution is a compact between the States, he uses language exactly applicable to the old Confederation. He speaks as if he were in Congress before 1789. He describes fully that old state of things then existing. The Confederation was, in strictness, a compact; the States, as States, were parties to it. We had no other general government. But that was found insufficient, and inadequate to the public exigencies. The people were not satisfied with it, and undertook to establish a better. They undertook to form a general government, which should stand on a new basis; not a confederacy, not a league, not a compact between States, but a Constitution; a popular government, founded in popular election, directly responsible to the people themselves, and divided into branches with prescribed limits of power, and prescribed duties. They ordained such a government, they gave it the name of a Constitution, and therein they established a distribution of powers between this, their general government, and their several State governments. When they shall become dissatisfied with this distribution, they can alter it. Their own power over their own instrument remains. But until they shall alter it, it must stand as their will, and is equally binding on the general government and on the States.

The gentleman, Sir, finds analogy where I see none. He likens it to the case of a treaty, in which, there being no common superior, each party must interpret for itself, under its own obligation of good faith. But this is not a treaty, but a constitution of government, with powers to execute itself, and fulfil its duties.

Ben claims that there is no evidence that the states viewed themselves in the way Lincoln viewed them. Yes, there is evidence of the shared view. The legislators and jurists during the founding era shared this proto-Lincolnian view of constitutional development. If Ben were correct in his view of the relationship between the states and the federal government, then Georgia would have won. But it didn’t. While the myth of the compact is alive and well, the accumulation of history points to a union “of the people, by the people, for the people” – not of, by and for individual, voluntary states.

Moving on, Ben attempts to refute Lincoln’s alleged claim that we were a nation founded upon universal truths and abstract rights. He claims that the Founding Fathers held a contrary view. I disagree with that claim and Lincoln did, too. I don’t mean to be flippant, but I don’t have a problem with an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which outlaws slavery of African-Americans. And I don’t see why (other) conservatives would or should have a problem with that interpretation Lincoln left us. That said, I’m open to being persuaded.

I don’t disagree with Ben that Lincoln believed that the Declaration was enshrined with abstract truths or rights. But I think to stop there, as Ben seems to, presents a misleading portrait of Lincoln.

I don’t think that Lincoln was the radical, abstract, history-and-tradition-dismissing statesman that Ben seems to suggest. Reading Lincoln in context (biographically and philosophically), I think it is clear that he has a narrow understanding of this right of equality. It is an understanding that does not assume that everyone will enjoy equality or that the government will force everyone to be equal – as actual Jacobins may believe; but, only that the founders “declare[d]“ that the right of equality exists. And his argument is specific to the historical crisis against which Lincoln stood. Lincoln makes it very clear in his speeches and letters – and his biography provides further evidence – that in his argument in favor of a right to equality he is he is speaking about and against slavery. Lincoln was historically aware and recognized the continuity between the views of the Founders and his own.

Finally, Lincoln is a conservative. He said so himself. He is a conservative cut from the type of cloth that those of us at beyondthegop are cut from.

We conservatives can learn a lot from Lincoln. We should take a moment to examine the historical context in which he developed, advocated and implemented his constitutional views, rather than paying lip service to history. His writings demonstrate that had deep respect for the Founding, the Constitution and the republican experiment that the American Revolution launched.

A revolution that was, contrary to the typical conservative interpretation (including Ben’s), a radical event. Gordon Wood corrects this misunderstanding in his Pulitzer Prize winning book

If we measure the radicalism of revolutions by the degree of social misery or economic deprivation suffered, or by the number of people killed or manor houses burned, then this conventional emphasis on the conservatism of the American Revolution becomes true enough. But if we measure the radicalism by the amount of social change that actually took place–by the transformations in the relationships that bound people to each other–then the American Revolution was not conservative at all; on the contrary: it was as radical and as revolutionary as any in history. Of course, the American Revolution was very different from other revolutions. But it was no less radical and no less social for being different. In fact, it was one of the greatest revolutions the world has known, a momentous upheaval that not only fundamentally altered the character of American society but decisively affected the course of subsequent history.

Which Declaration do you support? The Declaration of history or the Declaration of Lincoln?

From Dred Scott

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

A Lincolnian declamation(?)


Categories: Declaration of Independence, Federalism, Ideology, Secession, The Constitution, Tyranny | 1 Comment

The Rise of the “Post-Movement Conservatives”

At the The American Conservative, Maisie Allison profiles a number of conservative public intellectuals who defy not only the Republican Party, but also the all-too-stale “conservative movement.” This loosely related group of individuals is dubbed “post-movement conservatives.”

She opens up her piece with a reference to Peter Viereck. His thought weighs down heavily throughout the entire article, with copious quotations and excerpts from the essay of his on which I also relied for quotations, in my last post on the “challenge” that Viereck poses to contemporary conservatism and conservatives. But hers is a much better use of his work.

I think her article provides an opportunity for us at Beyond the GOP to consider where it is that we fit in with contemporary conservatism, and where it is that we want to fit. Are we a part of this post-movement conservatism? Are our potential allies that she mentions: Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, Conor Friedersdorf and other journalists, bloggers, pundits and intellectuals who neither follow the party nor the movement?

Or are those figures a part of the problem? As is specified in the article, is a “post-movement conservatism” a type of myth?

As Ben, Kelse, and others seem to suggest in their writings, for conservatism to be effective—for conservation to occur—conservatives must act radically. Conservatives cannot accept the welfare state, it cannot accept the centralization of the government, but rather there must be an intellectually sophisticated, philosophically robust and principled outlook that privileges culture, and its change, above the exercise of political power.

In that decision to prioritize cultural power above political power, I think we follow the tone set by Viereck’s “pre-political conservatism” more than the political-power-oriented conservatism of the figures who are a part of her “post-movement” group. And because of their emphasis on changing the political climate, it may be the case that those figures singled out as “post-movement conservatives” are a part of the problem. They are the conservatives who cause us at Beyond the GOP to scratch our heads and worry about their conservative bona fides. As a result, at least as the article conceives of it, “post-movement conservatism” would seem to be a myth. At the end of the day, they are just a part of that conservative movement.

Unless . . . we are part of this movement. It seems that at times we are as concerned with ideological purity as any “movement” conservative organization or media organ. Take the narrative of Judeo-Christian foundations on decline; secession; or history, tradition, and rationalism. We seem to rehash debates that occurred decades ago. We’re just a part of that stale, self-contained dialog that the “post-movement” conservatives have broken out beyond. Where do we fit in the movement/post-movement scheme?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

What Peter Viereck Can Tell Today’s Conservatives

In later editions of his bookConservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology, Peter Viereck includes a second part with the provocative title “The New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?” In his provocative post on “cool kids” conservatism, Kelse mentions Viereck fairly negatively in a discussion about just what it is that conservatism is worth. I think Viereck presents a challenge to the libertarians and the conservatives on this blog (as well as a lot of what counts as the conservative right today) in those few pages. It is relevant today, just as it was when it was first published around 40 years ago.

Here are some passages which, I think, require contemporary conservatives to face some unpleasant political realities.

(from page 134 of the Transaction edition 2005)

In America, Southern agrarianism has long been the most gifted literary manifestation of the conservatism of yearning. Its most important intellectual manifesto was the Southern Symposium I’ll Take My Stand, 1930, contrasting
the cultivated human values of a lost aristocratic agrarianism with Northern commercialism and liberal materialism. At their best, these and more recent examples of the conservatism of yearning are needed warnings against shallow practicality. The fact that such warnings often come from the losing side of our Civil War is in itself a merit; thereby they caution a nation of success-worshippers against the price of success. But at their worst, such books of the 1930s, and again of today, lack the living roots of genuine conservatism and have only lifeless ones. The lifeless ones are really a synthetic substitute for roots, contrived by romantic nostalgia.

Such romanticizing conservatives refuse to face up to the old and solid historical roots of most or much American liberalism. What is really rootless and abstract is not the increasingly conservatized New Deal liberalism but the romantic conservatives’ own utopian dream of an aristocratic agrarian restoration. Their unhistorical appeal to history, their traditionless worship of tradition, characterize the conservatism of writers like Russell Kirk.

In contrast, a genuinely rooted, history-minded conservative conserves the roots that are really there, exactly as Burke did when he conserved not only the monarchist-conservative aspects of William the Third’s bloodless revolution of 1688 but also its constitutional-liberal aspects. The latter aspects, formulated by the British philosopher John Locke, have been summarized in England and America ever since by the word “Lockean.”

And he states further (this on page 142 of the previously mentioned edition)

What about the argument (very sincerely believed by National Review and Old Guard Republicans) that denies the label “conservative” to those of us who support trade unionism and who selectively support many New Deal reforms? According to this argument, our support of such humane and revolution-preventing reforms in politics—by New Dealers and democratic socialists—makes us indistinguishable from liberals in philosophy. Shall we then cease to call ourselves philosophical conservatives, despite our conservative view of history and human nature?

So, conservatives, what is your answer to his question?

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Rand Paul, Robert Nisbet, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rand… Randy… Oooh Yeah

As Ben, Kelse and others consider the profundity and efficacy of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster, and while I think of a response to Kelse’s awesome critical examination of my self-identified conservatism, I counsel us to take a step back to remember what’s really important:

Tell the White House to designate May 20th as Macho Man Randy Savage Day

I have seen it on facebook and I’d like our readers to be aware of this important step for American national pride, unity and occasional monarchy.

Let’s reminisce this man’s profound effect on our country

As I watched Randy Savage call out with confidence and certainty the then-World Wrestling Federation President, I immediately thought of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster: not because he’s the cream of the crop, but because Randy Savage lost to Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III. That doesn’t give me confidence in a long view of the effect of Senator Paul’s action. It just makes me think that, after everything is said and done and the script is finished, he will lose. Randy Savage lost to a great technician from Hawai’i; Senator Paul will ultimately lose to a great technician from Hawai’i (perhaps with some outside interference from his allies). Just call me a pessimist.

But don’t let that stop you: work for your democracy, don’t wait for your democracy to work for you. Rand Paul is working for our democracy. So, too, can the memory of Macho Man Randy Savage.

Categories: Constitutional Law, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Rand Paul, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Gaypocalypse and the Conservative Cause

PRSanco has written a provocative post which gives to the conservative a pragmatic solution to the gay marriage debate that currently divides the country and causes conservatives to break out in cold sweats as they lie awake at night waiting for the gaypocalypse.

The problem is that this is not a new solution. Andrew Sullivan did it first. In 1989 he wrote a now seminal article arguing that conservatives should support gay marriage. From that time, conservatives have only stood against history, yelling their throats raw in an effort to defend “tradition” instead of becoming a guide of social and political change. So, while there is a debate, let’s not mistake that it is an academic one. Instead of pining for the old, why don’t conservatives get on with a justification for their existence, which is to conserve the social order? Conservatives can’t do that if they’re scaring the crap out of us in an effort to warn us of the great Gaypocalyse. We get it. The world is changing. Traditional marriage is coming to an end. If we accept gay marriage we are spelling the end of traditional marriage by fundamentally rejecting the definition that has undergirded Judeo-Christian culture for thousands of years. Now do your thing and guide the change so that it doesn’t devolve into some radical left wing gay orgy (literally). It’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts. Yet we’re not doing that. We’re too busy telling the world about how society is succumbing to the democratic whims of its lesser selves. Way to drop the balls, guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Waco, The Modern State and the Why of Power

Ben has written a very insightful post which problematizes the norm of the use of state power against religious minority sects in way that encourages the deeper exploration of this matter both as a theoretical and empirical problem. That being said, I don’t feel like agreeing with what Ben writes.

The first question I have to ask is: does anyone really care about the massacre at Waco? Don’t misunderstand me, it was a tragedy. But, it was a tragedy that occurred 20 years ago. As an exemplar of the voracious appetite of the state, it’s not so unique. And conservatives have been warning of the statist apocalypse for a while. In any or none of the following figures and laws on this arbitrary and woefully incomplete list may be found the conservative root of all statist evil

I hope that the few people reading this list can sympathize with the difficulty I have when I attempt to determine an adequate causal pattern to explain the rise of the state. When reading typical anti-statist literature, I just can’t figure out a time when the modern state was not present. If encroachment and centralization are the names of this game, then the modern state has been around in various iterations for a long time. So, the fun of variations on a theme notwithstanding, this makes for perplexingly selective history and even more baffling and unhelpful analysis.

The second question I have is: did Ben and I read the same article? Ben’s blame-the-big-state trope is undermined by the Jenkin’s article from which he extensively excerpts: it was not the big state as such which is to be pointed to as the cause, but rather the linkage of “separatist compounds” with violent and extremist political movements that helped to make the raid possible. That is excised from the excerpt Ben uses to support his argument in his post. I don’t quite get the logic of Ben’s analysis at the point that we’re excluding from discussion this seemingly central perceptual frame which played so important a causal role in the tragedy. Jenkins himself writes in his piece that these patterns of relationships that preceded the Waco siege contributed to the perception of the Branch Davidians as being more of the same – and the behavior of the Branch Davidians simple confirmed for the feds their belief about the group in a tragic example of feedback.

Ultimately, what Ben has done is to refute the traditionalist dictum of history, instead to be in favor of an ideologically appealing and comparatively thin abstract explanation which ignores or denies the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.

And that is a problem for conservatism. If conservatives want to produce work that is read, that is thought about and that is engaged, then we’re going to have to do a better job than the empirically thin, theoretically vague and maddeningly irrelevant material of mass produced replications of a theme that conservatives have not moved away from since conservatives started complaining about how much the world is changing.

Seriously, we’ve been writing about the demise of community and the ascent of the state for years now (even before Russell Kirk). Waco is just another confirmation of this pattern that I can’t help but begin to think is the norm – which makes us look like tinfoil hat wearing oddballs. We’re busy trying to chronicle and explain something that really isn’t all that abnormal, finding causal, phenomenal or rhetorical significance in events – like Waco – while ignoring the events, effects, and patterns that can produce some neat insights into a social phenomena (like state power) and contribute to our cumulative knowledge of it. We conservatives need to think of some new stuff to say, instead of pimping out themes that were battered and chapped even thirty years ago. But here we are… new puzzle, new problem, same answer. And we still haven’t bothered to touch the “why” of this power. Sure, we theorize about it. But the theory is stale. We need some new stuff. For a class of people who prides ourselves on being historically acute and astute, we’re not living up to our claim.

While Ben’s post is an interesting meditation on the nature, structure and behavior of the modern state, it’s reliance on the Waco example – or, Jenkin’s on Waco – obscures more than it illuminates. It’s heavy theory and light fact produce an interesting, albeit confusing and ultimately dissatisfying, thought experiment.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Philosophers and the Conservatives

Alexander Rosenberg and Daniel Little have written excellent books which introduce to the student of the social sciences the many different philosophical problems that the student will implicitly explicitly confront in his progress towards his mastery of the discipline(s). While both books provide excellent and overlapping overviews of the major philosophical dilemmas that are inherent to the social scientific enterprise, the Little book has one feature that elevates it above Rosenberg’s effort: examples. While Rosenberg’s book provides a philosophically rich discussion of the themes and arguments in the philosophy of social science – whose questions and answers have significant implications for the design, execution and expectations of the practice(s) of the social sciences, his book lacks the kind of (con)textual references which would appeal to the student or practitioner of the social sciences who would like to know how topics and perspectives on matters such as causality; cultural and moral relativism; the other sciences; or, Marx and Freud, have to do with them.

Little comes through where Rosenberg lags. Whereas after reading Philosophy of Social Science, the reader (whether or not he is a student of the social sciences) may be left wondering how the themes discussed in the chapters are relevant to what is placed on the average political science syllabus, journal article or book, very early on and consistently in Varieties of Social Explanation, the reader is made aware of the implicit and explicit relationships between the philosophical themes under consideration and the nuts-and-bolts work that comprises social science. Each chapter of the book contains within it any number of separate and brief boxes highlighting social scientific research, which provides concrete examples of topics of study in order to connect the abstract philosophy of social science with the concrete reality of social science practice.

I recommend both books to any student of political science, political theory or other social science disciplines. In particular, I think the political theorists would have a lot to say in response to the philosophical topics dealt with in the philosophy of social science. The bloggers and readers of would, I think, have many opinions – some strong, others weak – on the philosophical matters that social scientists and social science confront. On whether or not human behavior is rational; whether or not human behavior is best understood as a product of the structure or function of a particular social system; whether or not there are universals in human cultures or whether or not there are incommensurable differences in beliefs, morals and/or cultures; whether or not a science of human behavior is either possible or desirable; and, how the answers to these and other questions affect our study of human behavior. All of this is taken under consideration in both of the books.


So what is a conservative to say to the person who wants to be a social scientist? I think that the answer depends on the conservative. I say this to, I suppose surreptitiously, point out that conservatism per se really has nothing to say to the study of human behavior. After all, conservatism claims to be the anti-system. Anti-ideology, anti-rationalism (enlightenment), anti-change, anti-dreams, fantasies and fancies. The does not leave much for conservatism to say to a person who wants to systematically study and produce conclusions about the social world. Conservatism is not Marxism (some of whom, working in that tradition, have produced some interesting stuff).

I don’t think that conservatives should be looking to conservatism in order to find any guiding wisdom for the study of the social world. The conservative – traditionalist, neo, paleo, christian, etc. – should realize that the self-acknowledged limitations of conservatism imply that the conservative has to search elsewhere if (s)he wants to actually make conservatism matter. Decouple and unpack the assumptions that the individual traditionalist has about the world and then come back to conservatism after the traditionalist has a slightly better understanding of the relationship between his view of the world that is independent from the conservatism that is supposed to be its source. Is it at this level where I think that the conservative theorist can meet the philosophy of social science.

After that meeting, when the conservative has engaged the topics, then return to conservatism with a better understanding of the philosophical issues at risk and then improve upon the presentation of conservatism. Philosophy of social science has the potential to give a great deal to conservatism. I hope that the conservatives will be willing to dialog with it.

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maybe It Is Just Wrong: More Reflections on the March for Life

Ben has written an eloquent, provocative critical reflection on the perception and power of the March for Life. The post has generated a considerable discussion.

Ben is critical of what he perceives to be excessive Catholic symbolism at the event; he makes the claim that in order for the March for Life to be victorious in the battle against abortion, the March will have to reduce its Christian symbolism and message in order to appeal to larger segments of the pro-life population and be more than a “rite of passage for Catholic teenagers.” I’d like to bring that discussion back to the front.

First, I am sympathetic to Ben’s claim of the necessity of reducing the blatant Christian (particularly Catholic) symbolism of the March for Life. While public religiosity is welcome—especially by traditionalists and conservatives—it seems that the religious expressions that color and dominate the March for Life are inconsistent with the concrete and historical tradition set forth by the Framers.

Second, I think that at best the March is an ideological—political—act. It may be, as Ben observes, merely a “rite of passage”; but more to the point, I think it is a political movement through and through. It is uncertain to me the extent to which religion acts as a catalyst for these marchers, causing them to travel to DC and participate in this protest parade year after year; I suspect that it cannot be separated from their ideological fervor.

If that is the case, then what is the use of increasing the size of the tent by diluting the religiosity of the March? I don’t think it is very useful, because while the religious symbolism may shrink, the ideological fervor remains. And, perhaps that is where the problem sits. In Ben’s post, the commenter “J” wrote that it is unlikely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and that abortion will become illegal. But he also asked us to consider whether or not, if the abortion dilemma were returned to the states, the March for Life would survive (or at least remain as vibrant as it is now). I wonder, in response, if such things even matter. Won’t the march for life just carry on, re-defining itself (retaining its ideological bent) in order to find the next political cause to place in its sights? It makes me wonder whether or not the March for Life is useful at all. If the best we can say is that it is Catholic (as seems to be a consensus among those who participated in the discussion), and the worst is that it is in some fundamental way an ideological (read: political) phenomenon, then for whom does it speak, to whom does it speak, and who actually listens? Perhaps most importantly: are pro-lifers just fooling themselves if they participate?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Education (again)

So, my previous post was very ranty and not all that helpful in developing and driving the discussion forward. In its self-indulgence, I suppose I out myself as a wanna-be academic. Or blogger. So, let me take this post to provide a more straightforward position.

I agree with what one reader, Lanny, said in response to one of the earlier posts: the problem is not moral relativism, but rather the problem is system-wide confusion. It is, in a way, knowledge relativism as a result of an education system that would not be universally standardized. Localism is a nice dream, but rather useless, if the locals don’t know anything. If there is no consistency in education or standards from one family of homeschoolers and the next, then there is a risk of resulting in a nation full of conservatives. Some Protestant. Some Catholic. Some Muslim, Some non-religious. Perhaps a few liberals will be produced. The point is that the result will be pluralism in the most absurd definition of the concept. And this pluralism may not in fact be a good thing, but rather it may be of bad consequence because of the self-regulating and radically private nature of a system that reserves not only the responsibility of civic virtue, but also the responsibility of education, to parents by virtue of their  not being a part of the public school system.

The public and private education systems may need improvements, but that is not an argument for me teaching my children math and science (or english grammar, for that matter). I think we take for granted that it is easy to actually educate students to be knowledgeable human beings and citizens, by our cheerleading for homeschooling and other radical responses to a system that, while broken, I don’t think should be abandoned.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the skills to teach science to children; and, as much as I would like to believe it, I don’t think that any children I have will be able to survive and thrive in this world armed primarily with their proper upbringing and moral education supervised and provided by their parents. Conservatism just doesn’t have as much purchasing power as calculus. Perhaps there are those out there who would disagree.

Yet, we are to believe in the inherent superiority of homeschooling to public schooling – and other forms of schooling – not by appeal to subject matter expertise, or even tradition; rather, the argument for homeschooling rests on the persuasive power of a conservative trope.

I remain unconvinced of the case for the superiority or necessity of homeschooling, though I am open to the existence of a right to homeschool.

First, there is the risk of creating an unstandardized system of knowledge; it is a risk for relativism or at least inequality as a goal, not simply as a possible side effect. So not only traditional school subjects may be at the risk of the the particular homeschooler, but even those ideas that make up the very core of our country may be at risk. The failure to disseminate those values that constitute “America” I think is high. That would seem in practice to be a system of relativism that is radically individualistic and stripped of the community orientation that is supposed to be a hallmark of conservatism.

Second, if you want to fix the school system, don’t leave the public school system in order to restore a local and decentralized control to education. That local and decentralized system already exists. It’s called a school district. Get involved. Your children will thank you someday.

Third, in spite of the existence of the Department of Education – and the conservative claim of centralization – the primary institutions responsible for funding and oversight of American children’s education reside at the state and lower levels. That is to say, the localism that conservatives desire already exists.

Fourth, though there are many problems with the education system, overall it’s not doing that bad. At least, I don’t think it is bad enough to justify a mass exodus toward homeschooling in response to our education woes.

To conclude, the answer to our public education crisis (to the extent that one exists) may not be a return to localism (we’re already there). Rather, a more robust response from the federal government may be an effective first step. Homeschooling doesn’t strike me as a “public policy” Americans should get behind. Yes, I recognize that the system needs to be improved, but am I in the minority of conservatives? I say, give the teachers a chance.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conservatives, Homeschooling and Social Science Normality

In his response to my remarks about homeschooling, Ben has taken the debate into a direction and sophistication that is welcome. I hope my response can meet him at this new standard he has set.
I acknowledge that the original essay to which Ben is responding leaves much unstated and too many assumptions implicit rather than spelled out; it was early in the morning and I was on a tight schedule (I’ll take whatever excuse I can get). That said, in my response, I will try to rectify the deficiencies and sloppiness that he has correctly called me on. I guess I have a lot of work to do.
Ben begins his response by observing the haziness of many of my statements and that a central point in my essay hinges on some hazy language. He singles out my claim that homeschooling leads to a “fractured civic ontology.” It’s a string of words which would have made more sense had they been “fractured social order” or “social disunity”/”cohesion” or something less pretentious. Oh well. This is a blog. Pretentiousness is an essential ingredient. That’s my defense and I’m sticking to it.
And he’s absolutely right to state that Heidegerrians and Cartesians coexisting in some pluralist society is something about which I could give a rat’s behind. But I think that being on a philosophically inclined blog (with an audience that, I presume, shares our inclination), I needed to go with something a bit “deeper.” We’re philosophically-oriented folks who use terms such as “tradition” and “historicism” like it’s our job, yet it’s “ontology” at which point we draw the line and say “hold on here. Let’s avoid that silly jargon”? I find that hard to believe.
So, what do I mean? When I use a term like “social ontology” I suppose I mean the structure, including the content, that undergirds and forms the country. It is the unobservable (or unobserved) order that defines the country. I suppose that we can observe it and know it – (operationalize it and study it?) – indirectly through our references to physical and non-physical entities such as flags and statues; creeds, motos and ideas; and institutions of government. This list is, obviously, inexhaustive but hopefully it pushes forward this discussion and provides further sources of contrast and debate.
Ben is correct in his speculation that the definition of “civic culture” that I use corresponds to a “classical,” small-r repulican definition. I would disagree with Ben’s inference that my view of education prioritize civic awareness/inculcation over education as such. I view education as the primary purpose of the public education system; in addition to that, I think that the inculcation of these cultural particulars is within the appropriate scope of the system, too. So, at this part of the discussion, I view there being two roles of the education system, and not necessarily exclusive, either. The primary role is to actually educate (however we define that; a definition would be useful. Perhaps Ben or someone will be able to provide one with which we can work). The second role is to transmit this civic culture, with its implicit and explicit values.
I agree with him that the primary conservative concern is reducible to which civic virtues are being inculcated; I would like to know what “conservative” civic virtues would be; would they or would they not correspond to the civic virtues of the American polity as it existed historically or as it exists today? Rather than strictly theoretical speculation, we have to take a step down and wade into the swamp of the empirical observations that are “conservative” and “civic virtue.” Because, frankly, we don’t know what a set of conservative civic values would be, let alone the relationship between those values and the values of the public education system. That makes it difficult to discuss this with any eye toward the practical activity of critiquing the present culture and replacing it with a restored “traditional” culture that somehow is closer to the western, judeo-christian heritage that we are supposed to be fighting for.
Unfortunately, it is around this point that I think this is where Ben’s critical response goes off the rails, so to speak. The rest of his response presupposes that my view of the purpose of education prioritize the transmission of civic culture over the education of the children.
Ben is correct that I do not make explicit the assumption that the public education system is a better source of learing civic virtue than the parents/family unit. That’s because I don’t hold such a view (side note: reductionism is not apparently the unique purview of rational choice theorists). I think Ben needs to provide some type of evidence for his claim that instilling public and private virtue “is undeniably one of the major reasons parents choose to educate their children at home.” Here is one source that may provide some support for his speculative claim that instilling virtue is a reason, though it would seem to only indirectly support his claim.
When I discuss the potential for extremism, I am stating only one of the potential criticisms of homeschooling. There are others, listed in a the wikipedia entry referenced in my original post, which I will post in this blog entry

Inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness

Lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds

The potential for development of religious or social extremism
Children sheltered from mainstream society, or denied opportunities such as social development
Potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and the community

Extremism is but one of the risks associated with homeschooling. There are other risks which touch upon academic well-being and the social cohesion and values that Ben and I discuss in our posts.

Contrary to Ben, I do not see the positive effect of homeschooling to be the introduction of pluralistic values into a society. In fact, I see the opposite effect, if the studies are to be believed. You don’t even have to reference emprical data to reach that conclusion; all you have to do is read what Ben writes in order to figure out what why his argument is internally inconsistent (in its logic). It boils down to how plurality is weighed or conceptualized. Ben emphasizes the centrality of the parents (as members of the family unit), while I am looking at it from a perspective that, I think, is pragmatically understood (in this discussion) as structural

I think a major problem with Ben’s argument is that his argument presupposes the existence of more mainstream education systems (public and parochial) which exist parallel to the home schoolers, which would provide the necessary foil to produce the outcome that Ben relies on in order to justify the pluralistic value of homeschooling. But, in his critique he seems to imply that pluralism is not the goal of home schoolers; rather, the goal of home schoolers is to instill in their children-students a view of the world that is explicitly contrary to the mainstream or majority view of American society. If we take this homeschooling to an extreme, then we risk a country/civilization of individuals on, for or with whom we cannot build a society. This is because these different home schoolers have sets of beliefs and related manifestations which are so diffuse, that anything resembling a common set of values which can be used to develop a social order would be unfeasible.

Surely, the problem is not reducible to the phenomena that the children will not encounter views that contradict their parents’ own, right? I think it is safe to assume that no two families hold the same views, so even when home schooled, the children-students will encounter views that are contrary to their parents. What Ben seems to be suggesting is that plurality down to the level of individual families is preferred and provides the necessary foundation for a healthy, vibrant and developing political order. I don’t think that it does. This is because if this homeschooling inspired pluralism is fully embraced and logically developed, then the result is a society of individuated families, each with their own views and not being open to the other, which would preclude the development of the type of social order that conservatives would want. We can speculate that the home schooler is a conservative and would share and participate in a value system that the individual conservatives would collectively share, but we would be risking a lot for a theory that, unlike other
theories, we have usable data to determine the propriety of the theory. To simplify it: we’re still left with conservatives battling the status quo. We still have to determine whether or not conservatives are in the right to home school. Or that we’re right about why conservatives choose to home school.

That said, I’m not buying the whole mind reading thing. The result of this kind of behavior, contrary to Ben’s implication, would not be a more open society in which pluralism would be a benefit; rather, the result would be a more closed society, of which pluralism would be a hazard. The children-students would be exposed and inculcated at very young ages against the variety of views that fit outside of the parents (or homeschoolers’) worldviews. The world is not limited to particular christian or conservative sects; yet, I suspect that is what would be te result. A society full different and sometimes contradictory sects. How do you build a society on that?

I don’t think there is an “obvious double standard” with my argument. I would like Ben to make more explicit his reasons for suggesting that there is a double standard in my argument. As for my view that my problem is not with pluralism, but rather with the permissiveness of what I think to be the “wrong” view: I disagree with that as well. I would like it if Ben would expand upon that speculation. Until then, it has no support.
How is it morally confusing for conservative children to be “thrust” into environments that differ from the ones from which the come? Presumably, the conservative parent will have prepared – or will be prepared – to protect their child from the negative effects of the public school environment. But, the question that arises is, what are those negative influences/effects from which the conservative child must be protected? Is the culture that bad – that progressive and contrary to conservative values – that the conservative must resort to homeschooling – to separating his or her child from the larger environment – in order to properly educate and guide the child? It would seem that the spotlight should be shone upon the conservative, and not the public (or parochial) school system. What is it that the conservative has – except for conservatism – to support the home school movement?

I disagree with the assertion that Ben makes, which is that the fractured civic ontology “totally precludes us from teaching moral values to our children, but it is wholly unclear why this should be the case.” It does not completely shut out parents. Parents are free and obligated, I think, to teach the moral values that they believe their children should learn.

So we are left with why the broad, institutional forms of education (public and parochial) developed in the first place.

I think logically that there has to be a limit to the home school movement; there has to a logical limit to the conservative embrace of this movement. I think there are two ways to interpret the argument Ben posits. Neither of these ways is positive for the homeschooling movement. One is to reduce it to its rationalistic, individualistic core – which is fine, if we recognize that it sits on a number of assumptions that may or may not be real (and we conservatives seem to pride ourselves on our realism); the other is to assert that what we are talking about is real. But then we have to contend with the fact that the “facts” may not comport to our narrative. So then who is right? The conservatives, or the facts that conflict with their realism? If we are to be historically sensitive and speaking of something that is “real,” then we have to be more philosophically and empirically aware than we are. I do not think our criticisms of the culture can survive otherwise. (and please for the love of God, do not anyone bring up Thomas Kuhn unless you want to include his post structure stuff. the same goes for anyone else).


To me, at least, much of Ben’s response is in the realm of speculative theorizing. It is out the desire to be victorious, which is a lost cause. I think that a better response would be one that would make use of the data from various sources which detail the positive and negative effects of homeschooling. I think we conservatives have a duty to step away from the “conservative” theory – and the language – and enter into an engagement with the available evidence that exists on the topics about which we are concerned, and which are discussed here on the blog. Too often we have conversations with ourselves. And that only marginalizes us.

That said, I am not opposed to homeschooling. Neither am I opposed to private or public schooling. As a product of private schooling, I am grateful for the type of education I received. As a citizen of this country, I try to be sensitive to the public good that education is and the implicit conservatism that the idea of local public education can be, even if in practice it is far from it. I appreciate what Ben has done in his response; I know that my response is not up to the level I want it to be, because it does not adequately answer the criticisms that Ben provides. That, to me anyway, indicates a strength of the conservative case. Or it may just be indicative of Ben’s brilliance and my intellectual sub-parity. Anyway, I hope that contributors and readers alike will recognize the value in this type of exchange. It forces us to refine our theoretical and empirical points and places matters such as causality; at the foreground of the debates we have with each other; it sharpens conservatives and conservatism. It gets to the meat of the matters and forces us conservatives to take a long and hard look at ourselves as we attempt to respond to a society that is always escaping our grasps.

Conservatives need to do better than just to theorize. But we don’t seem to do better than that. At the end of this long-winded and irrelevantly linked blog post, that’s all I’ve got.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Homeschooling and a Culture of Relativism

Chuck O’Shea has written a provocative post in support of the ascendance of homeschooling in the United States. While I don’t take issue with the article he quotes, I disagree a bit with the reasons he gives as to its importance. His reasons are positive. I will, briefly, provide contrasting (negative) reasons that highlight the importance of homeschooling (these can be found through <wikipedia, so have no fear).

Most serious for those on this blog, homeschooling potentially threatens our civic culture. If the civic culture is eroded, then how are we to instill the moral values and demonstrate the superfluousness of the state education system? We won’t. We will create a fractured civic ontology, which will lead to a plurality of cultures, which will manifest itself in a relativistic society. So, homeschooling leads to relativism (in a few steps).

There is nothing “essential” to the health of the society which would necessitate that families control education in the form of homeschooling; if a family feels it necessary to pull out of the public school system, then there are parochial schools which can do that job, and come with less of a risk of the anarchic relativism that is inherent to homeschooling. Homeschooling, then, is essentially repeating the same function that private schools already perform, but with far more politicization and far greater risk of insulation and insidious civic destruction.

As for the “variety of viewpoints that emerge” in a homeschooling system: only if they talk to each other. Otherwise, it would seem to be a recipe for extremism.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Strike blows against militarism and hollywood

In a blow against militarism and for restraint – for conservatism – the White House has responded to a petition to begin construction of a Death Star with a “no.” 

That’s probably a good thing…

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, The Constitution, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Political Science, Theory and Philosophy

Over at the duck of minerva blog, there have been a few responses (and responses to responses to a recent paper written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (whose blog can be read here). The topic of the paper is outside of the scope of the normal stuff we discuss on the blog – the title is “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR” and it is to be published in European Journal of International Relations – but, I think relevant to what it is we write about; it gives another spin to and expands the scope of the persistent debate on this blog between tradition, history, and rationalism.

On the blog, we discuss all sorts of political topics; but, how do we make the connection between what it is that we write about – honey boo boo. guns, small-r republican gun control obamacare, libertarianism – and larger methodological and epistemological questions that might arise – yet the answers to or assumptions about which we might take for granted – as we try to make sense of our social world?

Are Mearsheimer and Walt right to lament the decline of theorizing and its replacement with hypothesis testing? What is the relationship between the political philosophy and political philosophers (like the folks on this blog) to the study and practice of political science? In our critiques of contemporary culture, our emphasis on the good, the true and the beautiful, and a relatively rich description and understanding of human behavior, what is it that we can say as we look at the discipline? How can we appear to people outside of the discipline as more than simply smug newspaper readers or smug obscurantists? Getting the message out; connecting theory to policymaking, and being more aware of the effect of our philosophical assumptions on the study of, and pronouncements on, politics. We’re conservative, sure, but we’re also dudes and chics who’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom thinking about these questions that many people don’t really care about nearly as much as we do. And I think that demands a reflection and engagement with ourselves. And that might begin with trying to figure out how it is that we think. What are the implications of our philosophical positions. And what role those philosophical assumptions have – how they trickle down (or up? or no trickle at all?) into manifestations of political positions. Just a thought.

So… hypothesis testing: good or bad for the study of politics or international relations in particular? Why, why not, what are the deficiencies, flaws or mis-directions of that approach? If not it, then what are alternative approaches toward the study of politics? Should an emphasis be placed on theory instead? And what kind of theorizing should one do in order to study politics?

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

Secession: Seriously, People?

Ben has written a thoughtful and provocative critique of charles cooke’s criticism of the recent secessionist movements. I disagree with Ben’s view.

The late paleoconservative writer Sam Francis also held a critical view of modern secessionist movements, writing in February 1998 in his Chronicles Magazine column “Principalities and Powers” of Southern neo-secessionist movements that

There are, to put it simply, two strong
reasons why secession, for the South or any other part of the
nation, is not a good idea. In the first place, it is not
practical; in the second place, even if it were practical, it
would not be desirable.

In a later section of that same column, he writes about something of an irony of contemporary american secessionist movements by pointing out that the south “begins to vanish as a cultural unity” in comparison to movements of cultures that have more legitimate claims to secession as a result of more distinctive cultural-linguistic, religious and historical traditions than the south. Additionally, the contemporary south receives much in the form of government subsidies, legal policies (e.g., affirmative action) and welfare programs.

I am not convinced that there is a “disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts” of which any contemporary critic (such as any at national review) is guilty. First, history is on the side of NR, as well as the guys at Claremont.

Second, the philosophical assumptions behind ben’s position are, I think, flawed. The long view of history borders on the deterministic and integrates history and philosophy in a way that denies the very causal and ethical frameworks necessary to justify the secessionist claims. It is difficult to view the vague, hyperbolic and abstract observations about the current state of cultural and political affairs as having any actual explanatory power with regard to the current secessionist movement. At some point, the broader historical and philosophical view must be rejected in favor of something that actually provides a decent causal explanation, which does not require so long a view of time for its power. The alternative view of history, which seems to be assumed, that history is a collection of related and enduring borders on the deterministic (or inevitable) which has some serious philosophical problems to respond to. Alexander Rosenberg briefly addresses historicism in his survey of contemporary philosophy of social science which I will selectively quote here

A theory or method is historicist roughly if it holds that in order to understand and to predict subsequent states of a system-whether a whole society or an individual person-we must have detailed knowledge of the (usually distant) pas states of the system. Even to predict the very next “stage” in the development of a neurosis or an economic system, we need to know about events long past in the life of the individual {usually the patient’s infancy) or the society-sometimes even its prehistory.

He goes on to state one of the problems of historicism with regard to causality

This sort of causation bears the same problems as teleological causation. Recall in Chapter 5 (“Causation and Purpose”) the problems of future events, events that don’t yet exist and therefore cannot bring about present ones. Historicism requires that past events, which no longer exist, bring about future events somehow without affecting present ones. But if past states do not leave a mark on the present that we can identify and employ to chart the future, then their determination of the future cannot be through causal means known to the rest of science. For causation does not work through temporal gaps any more than it works through spatial gaps. There must be chains linking the earlier to the later. And a complete knowledge of the intrinsic causal properties at any link, together with laws, should be enough to determine the character of future effects, without adding information about earlier tasks.

I excerpt all of that in order to make somewhat transparent the assumption(s) behind Ben’s view of history that he employs and to suggest that the view of history has serious problems, for the simple reason that the broad view of history is unnecessary. Which is not to concede that history is an unrelated and transient set of “facts”; but rather, that the view of history that he argues simply should not be – and probably is not – a view of history that is required in order to understand the contemporary secessionist movements. There simply is no “broad historical and philosophical context” that is short changed in the critique that Charles Cooke gives of the contemporary secessionist movements. Not unless one wants to make the claim that the contemporary secessionist movements have their roots in historical “causes” of half and full and full and a half centuries past; but, these movements don’t support that type of claim. These movements don’t seem to support the broader claim of historical and philosophical context that is allegedly missing from pages of NR. This is because, most likely, the evidence that is in does not support a historicist interpretation of the secession talk, but rather an interpretation that is bound up in recent events that some people just don’t like which is the immediate, easiest and most likely best explanation for the uptick in secession talk.

More interestingly – and this should be of interest to those of us who have participated in the historicism versus the not historicism debate on this blog – it would seem that there is an odd appeal to abstract concepts and reasoning detached from the foundation and structure of concrete, lived experience in the listing of alleged flaws in the system. There is nothing in that list – nothing unique or concrete – that the historical circumstances are ripe for a breakdown of the republic, or that even the corrosion of the structure of government is any different now than it may have been in 1950 (or 1900, or 1860, etc): the point is that those grievances are not structural, but rather political and cultural; and are not specific enough to be able to be distinguished from similar laments that could have been uttered at any other time in the history of this republic. Unless we can establish a bright line with specific examples to demonstrate that yes, this is the time and the place that spells our country’s last breath, then those words are reality-denying fantasy.

Harry Jaffa writes a line that should make all traditionalists stop, take a deep breath, and think

Contrary to our “paleoconservatives,” the truths of the Founding do not depend solely upon tradition or divine revelation, but are “discerned in human nature” by human reason grounded in “self-evident truths.”

Further, Jaffa writes

Notwithstanding the great gulf between them, Kirk and Kristol have been as one in their fanatical opposition to the doctrines embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Like Carl Becker, they held that “To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false, is essentially a meaningless question.” This has been their received and unexamined premise. They are undisturbed by the fact that it renders meaningless the American political tradition itself.

And additionally, he writes

The Declaration is today the first of the Organic Laws of the United States in the United States Code. All acts and deeds of the United States since 1776, including the original Constitution, have been dated from its signing. According to a joint statement of Madison and Jefferson in 1825, the Declaration is not only the act of separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain but “the act of Union” by which the thirteen became one (6). Kirk’s assertions about the Declaration are expressions of ideological fanaticism, with no foundation in history or reason.

From these few comments, one can make a claim about paleoconservatism and contemporary secession movements that suggests that at their foundations, neither traditionalist conservatism nor the secessionist movements are grounded in american tradition, history or reasoning. It is, to use Jaffa’s words, “ideological fanaticism.”


Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Secession, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Patron Saint of Conservatives

Chuck O’Shea has written an excellent post about the merits of economic and political localism.

The type of social arrangement Chuck applauds is, I think, a variant of the model(s) of democratic activity about which benjamin barber and others have written.

I guess I’m going to use this post to highlight the drunk uncle of intellectual conservative thought: Jean Jacques Rousseau

Although many traditionalists are critical of rousseau, the critical-negative reaction to rousseau is not universal among conservatives. Given the connection between hegel and rousseau; the continuing impact of rousseau on (at one time) contemporary debates about human nature, the modern woman and modernity, Rousseau is as relevant now as he ever would be. As wearily skeptical products of the Enlightenment, we conservatives ought to be more open to him as an intellectual father of the counter-enlightenment. His moral realism should be a welcome respite from the imaginative fantasies of the neo-jacobins; and other ahistoricists who reject the concrete for the abstract and unreality for the difficult complexities of human experience.

So, let’s re-open those books by him, examine that secondary literature, human nature and recognize his origins and re-interpret him and his work for what he did and the legacy he left, instead of accepting the image and interpretation that the babbitts and kirks of the world have left to us.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

President Obama and the Future of Conservatism

The re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term of office has sparked some intense debate about the place of conservatism in American politics in particular and in American society more broadly. This blog is no exception in its participation in this post-election evaluation of the state of conservatism at the precipice of a second term for the Obama presidency.

I am, perhaps, in the minority on this blog, because what I am going to say in this post-election autopsy differs from the majority on this blog who express a view which I think could be accurately labeled decadent conservatism. This is a worldview that turns history and experience on its head; it is a view that, to be honest, I don’t recognize as conservative, if conservatism is to be understood, defined and delimited by the Six Canons of Conservatism laid down by Russell Kirk so many years ago in his The Conservative Mind.

  1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems…
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless” society.”
  4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked…
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophists, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress

Conservatism at its best is not supposed to be an ideology; conservatism at its best is supposed to be a practical, realistic and empirically-driven approach toward the world. In the lament over the re-election of President Obama, I think some conservatives miss out on being conservative. These conservatives have elevated the pure abstraction of ideology over the brass tacks that makes conservatism so, well, real. Really real, in a way that distinguishes it from and serves as its intrinsic appeal over all of its ideoligical opposites, such as the many varieties of leftism that have had the unpleasant fact of having existed.

However I fear that conservatism or conservatives – at least of some varieties – cannot legitimately or at least convincingly make that reference to reality in the wake of this response to President Obama’s re-election. Not if conservatives are rejecting history and experience in favor of celebrating abstract, vague and circuitous appeals to eras and ideas that are no longer relevant to the American cultural, social or political tradition. Well, a historicist cannot. A traditionalist, I suppose, can.

So, after this long, winding and lamenting encomium to conservatism, what do I think the re-election of President Obama means for conservatism? It means absolutely nothing. This is because conservatism is dying — conservatives are killing it.

If conservatives and conservatism want to begin to digest and respond to the re-election of President Obama, it would seem that we should take a page from Andrew Sullivan and read some Michael Oakeshott

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If the Republicans are out of touch, what does that say about Conservatives?

David Frum writes in the Daily Beast that the election results demonstrate that the Republican Party is ridiculously estranged out of touch with the American electorate:

At a time when the need to broaden the party’s appeal seemed overwhelmingly compelling, Republicans narrowed their appeal to the most ideological fragment of the conservative base.

Should conservatives be worried? In the build-up to the election. the strategy of the Romney campaign was to appeal to us; yet, here it is written in an article by the writer responsible for the axis of evil phrase spoken by President George W. Bush that his party – and by association conservatives and conservatism – is out of touch with the American mainstream.

So, should conservatives be worried?

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nate Silver, Republicans and the Delusions of Conservatives

Here is a recent post by Nate Silver on the implication that the 2012 elections have for the Republican Party. I think that his commentary and analysis can be extrapolated in order to be applied to a group within the party which constitutes a disproportionately powerful influence on the direction of said party: the conservatives. What does Nate Silver’s analysis mean for conservatism as a viable, realistic, and reasonable alternative to the President and party that was elected to the presidency on november 6, 2012?

I don’t think that conservatives can coninue to claim the mantle of conservatism if they are not willing to acknowledge that what they call conservatism is not conservatism at all. What is being demonstrated is that conservatives are precisely what they claim to abhor: ahistorical, abstract, and fairly distant from reality.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

William Saletan: President Obama is a Moderate Republican

Here’s a fun article over at

Cheer Up, Republicans

any thoughts?

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Conservative Won

Last night, the US elected the Democrat’s Reagan as Andrew Sullivan has recently written. We have a President who may not fit the mold of traditionalism or historicitism (or it may not be admitted) ; but I suspect that we have one who may fit the mold of a Viereck or an Oakeshott. And that’s conservative enough to count.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.

Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.

Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers