The Use of Talking

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Archive for January 2013

The Conscience of a Post-Conservative

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I came to political consciousness in 1960; undazzled by the light from Camelot, I worked in the local Republican storefront stuffing envelopes for ol’ Tricky Dick. (Now there’s someone who’s looking better—if only he hadn’t been a criminal.) Four years later, having read The Conscience of a Conservative and now addicted to National Review, I was sitting in Madison Square Garden, a not-quite-sixteen-year-old, giving Murray Kempton dirty looks and singing, to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,”

Comes a man from Arizona destined to be president,

And he’s dedicated to the cause of better government,

Sworn to bring back law and order and restore democracy,

So all men shall be free.

Let’s put Barry in the White House,

Let’s put Barry in the White House,

Let’s put Barry in the White House,

Let Barry carry on!

I quote from memory; even Google has no knowledge of this campaign classic.

In high school and during the first couple of years of college, I was a big-government libertarian—national defense was one of the few permissible activities of the state, and I wanted a lot of it. A taste for T.S. Eliot, conversion to Christianity (at an Episcopal Church—this was thirty-one years ago) and the influence of college friends led me to traditionalism, mostly semi-serious: Booing Cromwell in the movie of the same name; waving a Union Jack at Queen Elizabeth II’s bicentennial visit to New York; reading the Manifesto of Las Palmas at the annual Franco Day picnic; attending Panikhidas for the as-yet-uncanonized Russian imperial family. It was a relief to self-identify as a monarchist; it disarmed leftist acquaintances and allowed me to indulge an above-all-that cynicism about the party politics of the day. It was satisfying to talk about the necessary alliance of throne and altar, and the social reign of Christ the King. But behind the traditional gesturing was still the National Review paradigm: keep markets free and carry a big stick.

I may have kept the paradigm, but around about this time I stopped reading National Review. I couldn’t work up much interest in its economic enthusiasms or its concentration on electoral politics. (For a while I switched to The New Republic, which at least had a robust and well-written book review section.) I still voted reliably Republican: Reagan, Bush I, Dole, Bush II (mea culpa). But I did so increasingly out of a sort of conditioned reflex, without enthusiasm. More and more, the level of political discussion was being set by radio call-in shows and snarky television panels. I stopped watching TV; I switched my radio listening to sports talk; I stopped reading the newspaper, except for (occasionally) the sports section. Even my online reading, when the net became the medium du jour, steered clear of news and political commentary. Party-political discourse seemed utterly predictable and hollow, devised to appeal to core constituencies obsessed with self-interest and/or single issues, consisting of vacuous slogans, trash-talking, and my-didn’t-that-feel-good hyperbole flung at the opposition.

Now, I know that politics has always been a clash of interests in which nothing is too low if you can get away with it. But along with the hoopla went serious thinking and serious debate about fundamental issues. I suppose television is to blame, both for its reduction of thinking to sound bites and campaigns to horse races decided by gaffes, and for the cost of using it, which has made politics a game only the rich can play.

Well, all this is not news; everyone seems to complain about it, but like life in the Grand Hotel, nothing ever happens. But now we find ourselves in a global economic crisis, a seemingly endless series of short wars abroad, a “war” at home that has us willing to surrender more and more of our liberties for a no doubt false sense of security, and most troubling of all, an accelerating concentration of wealth in the hands of a few with a concomitant shrinking of the white-collar equivalent of the yeoman class and a loss of social solidarity. And all this is in the context of an increasingly intrusive  nanny state that seems equal parts Oprah and Nurse Ratched.

And so here we are, with the “most intelligent president ever,” who’d prefer to rule by decree.  And look around at the Congress. Are there any statesmen lurking there? And I’m not talking about Clay, Calhoun, and Webster; I’d settle for Bob Dole, Hubert Humphrey, and Sam Ervin.

And the “conservative movement”? What’s left of that? The Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and the NRA? Frankly, these days I don’t care.

Just put me down as a post-conservative. I’m not a liberal in the contemporary sense, which seems to mean a libertine socialist; while I must admit that I’m inclined to re-read a little Marx these days, I’m not moving that far to the left. Neocon? No, I’ve never had the hots for Woodrow Wilson. Libertarian? Whoever John Galt is, he’s not me. Traditionalist? Not lately; I know something about history, and besides, I’m not that insecure. Fascism? That increasingly seems to be what we have now.

Here’s my political credo in a nutshell: “O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them.”

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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Written by hans castorp

January 15, 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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