Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Future of the Right?

It was a good time watching Frank debate a populist in defense of libertarianism at the NYYRC's "Future of the Right" event. But going in, I didn't see the NYYRC's former chairman of the Libertarian Caucus as a "libertarian." There were moments where it seemed he tried to wrestle himself out of its ideology—"I am a lowercase 'l' libertarian" he clarified. On the economy, he argued that government involvement in failing industries is not "forward thinking." Troy Olson should have pounced on this to show ideational overlap. During the Q&A section is when he agreed by repeatedly stating that the government should not bail out big banks. Instead, he responded to Frank's bold claim that there was no future in populism. 

"This strain of populism that we have right now with the national conservatives—that's not new either. When Pat Buchanan was challenging George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, and you had the same thing with Ross Perot, there was a little movement there. They were called the Buchanan Brigade. Well, the Buchanan Brigade won New Hampshire. But that's about it. So there's really no future in these movements, and I think just like the past, this national conservative movement will fade away pretty soon."

This was a surprising moment because Frank's libertarianism is not one obsessed with government intervention. As he makes clear later, effectuating change will not come with more government, or a lack thereof, because there needs to be a "spiritual reawakening." And this makes the most sense considering this forum is devoted to community and a re-establishment of traditional moors. The lowercase "l" libertarian is suggesting that the American problem does not lie in a superficial war of identities but the disbandment of community that led to it.  

It is at this point, however, that Frank and Olson are both populists, insofar as populism is defined as a mass movement. Frank is correct that mass movements fade away—but that's obvious because they all do. Nothing remains popular; if it did, the conservative would not exist. The "future of the right" is therefore a misnomer because the most pressing issue that conservatism has today and forever is that the moment it is uttered it is obsolete

This might explain the populist's belief that legislating change is the goal, but that does not make it perfectly possible, at least not with predictable consequences. It also explains the libertarian's already antiquated ideals—he is just not popular, until the pendulum swings back in his direction.  

Nietzsche thought that forms of knowledge and morality were based on the psychology of the philosopher. But it appears that the common thread, or most concrete fact, in conservative thought is that there's a lack of social cohesion but always a prescription for it. As Adrian Vermeule notes, the right is just as guilty of legal positivism because we want to legislate or interpret the perceived good. While yes, there are things that are naturally good, and there are truths (whatever they may be), there is no philosophy grounded in the concrete. Everything is a farce. The populist is just as temporally fleeting as the libertarian is already killed in his stagnant ideology. 

Societies at different times may experience higher legitimacy and deference, where the criteria of sociality is not at the center of a war, but it is a matter of degrees. And legitimacy of any sort of decorum is always undergoing the microscope, legally and socially. Consider how drag shows for children have become the object of both praise and ridicule. 

This suggests that the pendulum of morality, politics, law, etc. swings at various stages of opposition (change is pushed and then internalized; it doesn't just snap into existence).

I believe we're at a moment not so unique from others preceding it, except for the fact that we are living in it and understand it more so that it feels as if everything were ending. And it is, largely. Everything is ending all of the time. That is what makes political discourse today so intolerable. I think there is tacit recognition that meaningful evolution into the future is a frustrating process. Coupled with various other factors in our estrangement as a people, neither side can afford to be diplomatic.

This also suggests that there is no longer a "common good" conceived by a people. But there never truly is anyway. The social conservative is not wrong when he posits that people need bonds to prevent unmooring from society and one another; but that doesn't make it feasible.

Once you recognize this, you see that there is no mystery behind the curtain. Everything is as it is. Best to go have a picnic, drink a beer, smoke weed, settle down, have a family, barbecue with friends. To live as a revolutionary is not noble and neither is being a political commentator. It's not insignificant that noble also means inert. 

Maybe this is the premise of the libertarian do-nothing attitude? Doubtful.

But whatever the case may be, it must be noted that the civic life that vanished did not really go away; it became a larger project of oversaturated democracy thanks to the empowering illusion of voice that social media gave to people. And yet only a few come out on top and the rest the parrots, the useful idiots. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Ode to Jack Arnold

One of my favorite television shows growing up was The Wonder Years. It was a nostalgic show that today works for me on two levels. Its pilot debuted just after the Super Bowl in January, 1988 and the show ran through 1993, covering a narrative time span about twenty years prior. And while it works on that level, it has a secondary layer of nostalgia today because it cannot be found in its original version in high-quality, modern-day home viewing. Understandably, music rights to this classic show became prohibitively expensive after its initial airing and most updated releases of the show have included different songs, which totally changes the experience. So in many ways, this additional layer of nostalgia has to do with a show that has essentially become "lost." Perhaps fitting of its coming-of-age themes.

While the protagonist and narrator (voiced by Daniel Stern) was Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), the Arnold family itself and specifically the Dad, Jack Arnold (Dan Lauria), has gained more attention and a newfound appreciation as I've gotten older. 

In one episode when Kevin brought home a school assignment to write a biography of themselves that was stumping him, he posed the question instead to his father to sum up his life: "I get up at 5am, I fight traffic, I bust my hump all day, I fight traffic again, and come home... And I pay my taxes." 

In episodes three and four of the debut season his stoic demeanor receives greater depth and nuance. Episode three, "My Father's Office", Kevin goes to work with his Dad and sees firsthand the daily side of his grumpiness. Berated by superiors in his middle management supervisor position at a company called NORCOM, Jack Arnold begins revealing his secondary arc to the audience of a stoic and quiet hero, both to his children and as a symbol of the traditionalistic men of the age. 

Jack Arnold served in Korea, in the Marines, went to college, got married, took on a mortgage, and raised three children. In the canon of the show he did not reach the age of 50, dying at 49. His youngest, protagonist Kevin, finished high school and no doubt had his father on a pedestal through the very narration we hear throughout, even if not at the time of the events. If the men of America today could be even half the man Jack Arnold was depicted as -- we'd be just fine.

In one of these father-son episodes Kevin asked Jack what he wanted to do, after the standard mid-century American male answer of, "you mean other than professional baseball player?" - the senior Arnold went on to talk about how he wanted to be a captain of a ship, one of those big ocean liners. "Be out there on the ocean in the middle of the night, navigating by the stars. Course, they use instruments for all that now, but... I didn't know that. Yeah, I thought it would be the greatest thing in the world."

Kevin then for a moment defended his father's youthful dream with "you'd have made a great ship's captain, Dad."

Jack demurred, "nah, probably not... You can't do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make your choices... You have to try and be happy with them. I think we've done pretty well, don't you?"

Yeah, I think we've done great. 

You relate to Kevin when you're young and think the adults of the world are squares, then when you get older you rally around the instinctive and old reliable conservative tradition of men like Jack Arnold, whose early in death mentioned in the show's finale need not be the fate of American fathers raising sons and daughters. 

Our renewal, victory, and greatness -- must rest first and foremost -- in our presence within the home life of the next generation of Americans so that they might hold the line and defeat the twin evil forces of postmodernism and relativism, which have added nothing of lasting value to the historical conversation and human experience. 

Save your sons and daughters, and be a father. Doing so will save and renew this country. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Breakfast Clubs and Cocktail Parties: a Small Step Toward Civic Renewal

I keep on hearing writers say that we are in the midst of a "loneliness epidemic". Westerners - Americans especially - have become dangerously atomized and dislodged from society. Our social fabric is tattered. So much so, that it is beginning to look like Akakiy Akakievitch's overcoat in that classic short story by Nikolai Gogol. Our sense of community is threadbare. 

Thankfully, I am starting to see more literature on our decline in community. A problem cannot be solved unless it is first addressed, right? 

I recently wrote a piece about our problem of unbelonging and atomization for National Review a few days ago. You can read that here

And while writing about the problem is a good start, it is, in and of itself, insufficient. We need prescription. We need a course of action. A fundamental question that we should all ask ourselves: how can I become more involved in my local community? 

We can't snap our fingers and hope that Americans undergo a civic renewal with burgeoning voluntary associations and bowling leagues. But what we can do is take action in our own lives. While this may seem inconsequential, it is so important. 

I recently read a fantastic piece by Ben Christenson in Front Porch Republic, a thoughtful communitarian publication. In it, Christenson writes about his experience hosting a cocktail party. Inspired by a new book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships with Small Gatherings by Nick Gray, Christenson meticulously planned a successful 20-person gathering. He even went so far as to create an event page, where guests RSVPed for the party; send out multiple reminder emails to attendees; write short bios for each guest; and supply everyone with their own name tag. While going to this length may seem gratuitous, this may be exactly what the doctor ordered!

Would hosting a small gathering here and there be too much to ask? And name tags are actually really inexpensive. Here's a set of 160 for just $6! 

If this still seems too daunting, though, why not organize a monthly breakfast club (and no, I'm not referring to the hip-hop radio show)? This could consist of just you and a few friends. Here's a funny little skit about breakfast clubs by Buffalo, NY comic, Joe Pera: 

By leaving the confines of our apartments and socializing with friends at the local diner, we are taking small steps in repairing America's tattered overcoat. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Futility of Right-Wing Squabbling

Bill Kristol, Donald Trump

Dr. Daniel Pitt, a fantastic conservative thinker, writer, and professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, is well worth a follow on Twitter. His tweets connote a kind of conservatism that I like to call "positive conservatism", free of partisan platitudes and unnecessary combative rhetoric. 

I've written about him for my blog before. You can find that here. 

Here's a sanguine post of his from a few days ago:

I'm afraid, though, that many so-called conservatives don't understand this point. Conservatism, to many social media provocateurs, seems to be less about love, and more about nasty internal skirmishing.  

Right now it is the NatCons (a term that derives from the Edmund Burke Foundation's National Conservatism project) and more libertarian-adjacent conservatives that are feuding relentlessly. I've heard some refer to the latter group as Freedom-Cons to convey their allegiance to classical liberalism. The former group, conversely, appears to be much more open to the idea of state involvement and Hamiltonian economic policy (sometimes referred to as industrial policy or protectionism). 

Okay, I'm digressing here...

The bottom line is that these two groups are not preaching the "positive conservatism" doctrine; they are, instead, engaging in a rather mean-spirited ideological civil war, wherein the NatCons call the libertarian-types "neoconservatives" (which is now commonly used as a pejorative by populist MAGA-types) and the libertarian-types say that the NatCons are insufficiently versed in the foundational conservative texts (Edmund Burke, David Hume, etc...). 

But where is the love? All I see is bickering...

We ought to get back to, what is sometimes referred to as "small-c conservatism", defined as a reverence for tradition, community, and Western culture. 

William Schambra is a great person to check out. I encourage you to read this piece he wrote for The Brookings Review in 1997.