"This is a comforting lie. It is Rousseau conservatism: the idea that man is born innocent, but corrupted by society, or government. Remove the chains of government, and man will return to his natural, good state, which is one of limitless possibility. This denies two bedrock truths of philosophical conservatism, which are that 1) human nature is fallen, and 2) man must learn to live within limits. A conservatism that is not founded on a conscious recognition of those two truths is a false conservatism, and has a shaky foundation from which to criticize liberal utopianism."
-- Rod Dreher
My dear wife rearranged and cleaned my office while I was at CPAC, so that I can't lay hands on Thucydides just now. But there was an occasion recounted by that historian in which (I believe) the Athenians(* see 3:30 p.m. update below - rsm) had compelled the surrender of a rebel colony, and it suited the Athenian commander to require of each captured man that he answer the question, what had he done to aid the Athenians and their allies in the ongoing Greek civil war. Obviously, none of the captives could give a satisfactory answer, and so they were all put to the sword. (Classical scholars will excuse whatever major or minor details I've misremembered. Blame my dear wife.)
Drastic and foolish example though this was, the Athenian commander boiled down to a deadly brevity the nature of loyalty in service: What have you done to aid the cause?
The recruit fresh from boot camp merits very little respect from veteran noncoms and officers, the rookie just called up to the major leagues doesn't deserve deference from the three-time All-Star, and by an extension of this principle, sensible people should ask: Who is Rod Dreher to judge Rush Limbaugh?
This goes back to 2006, when everyone was rushing to denounce Ann Coulter for calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "raghead." It so happened that Ann was introduced that day at CPAC by Monique Stuart, a former Washington Times intern. Monique described how she had been a liberal Democrat until the day Coulter showed up on her campus to debate a leftist professor whom Monique had previously admired. When Coulter was through with him, the professor looked like the clueless idiot he was, and Monique was a newborn conservative.
This is to say, Coulter has proven her value to the cause in years of effective service, and it will take a heckuva lot more than one unfortunate epithet for me to sign some idiot "open letter" petition demanding that she be purged from the movement. (You'd be more likely to get me to sign an open letter denouncing the petition signatories, though some of them I count as friends.)
More than two decades ago, Rush Limbaugh almost singlehandedly created a new medium of discourse in America. Anyone who knows anything about talk radio will tell you that it was Limbaugh who pioneered two distinct innovations: audio actualities ("sound bites") and rock-music "bumpers" to intro each new programming segment. Limbaugh is the very best at what he does, so much better that there is no dispute over the title, and a vast gulf separates him from whoever is No. 2 in his profession.
Given all that, and given the tremendous influence he has exerted (so that he was named an honorary member of the congressional freshman class elected during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994), isn't it the case that Rush ought to deserve some slight deference from those who call themselves "conservatives"? Rush was admired and praised by Buckley and Reagan, and is respected by other conservative leaders still vital and active. Whatever woes have befallen conservatism, these blunders have almost always been the work of those who have ignored or contradicted Limbaugh's advice. (Recall, for example, that Rush backed Pat Buchanan's 1992 primary challenge to George H.W. Bush, and did everything in his power to try to persuade Republicans not to nominate John McCain in 2008.)
This is not to say that Limbaugh is above criticism, or that his long duration in useful service has made him free from error. But whatever the philosophical merit of Dreher's criticisms -- and I share his skepticism toward the Whig-history univeralist rah-rah -- it is nevertheless true that Limbaugh has accomplished vastly much more for conservatism, and suffered as a consequence the fury of liberal wrath. So enormous is the disparity of their value to conservatism as a political movement that Dreher's criticism is like a fly perched on an elephant's ass, complaining that the ride is too bumpy.
Good politics must be rooted in sound philosophy -- in asserting this, Dreher is entirely correct. At the same time, a devotion to philosophical purity doesn't count for anything in the real world of politics if your party is being crushed in every election, as has been true of Republicans in the past two cycles. I'm reminded of a point Bob Barr tried to make to Libertarian Party activists in 2008, namely the distinction between a political party and a political club.
If Rod and his "crunchy" cronies want to sit around and quote Russell Kirk to each other at the organic whole-grain clubhouse, no one is stopping them from indulging their little purity crusade. Rush Limbaugh has no such luxury, and deserves better than to be sniped at in the manner Dreher has chosen.
Boys and girls, please listen to what I'm trying to get across here: Welcome to the camp of the saints. We are at coffin corner here, encircled by a powerful "progressive" army that outnumbers us and is emboldened by fresh victories. To suffer a third consecutive humiliating defeat in 2010 could be all she wrote for the movement born at Sharon, Connecticut, four decades ago.
We are now a mere 18 months from Labor Day 2010, when that climactic political battle will be fully engaged. There a lot of important work to be done -- and done now, over the next three to six months -- if there is to be any hope of anything but the abomination of desolation. Our utter destruction is at hand unless good men rally to the colors, and we no longer have the luxury of indulging in these petty playground feuds and the children who enjoy them.
To the extent that conservatives need a philosopher now, I'd say we need to be studying Sun-Tzu.
If Rod Dreher wants to join Andrew Sullivan and David Brock (yes, I said "Brock," not "Brooks") in the ranks of the vaunting army outside the camp, let him go over and be gone. But don't sit pouting inside the camp, giving aid and comfort to the adversary by your demoralizing pronouncements. If that stuff is going to be tolerated among conservatives, there won't be enough left of a constitutional republic after Nov. 3 for anyone to bother trying to "conserve" it, and no hope at all that it might be restored.Andrew Breitbart:
A friend in Los Angeles e-mailed a one-liner: "Best speech I have ever seen."What he said.
My urbane father-in-law, the first person I knew who copped to listening to Mr. Limbaugh and who has been witness to most of the big events of the modern age, called it the "most thrilling thing [he's] seen on TV."
UPDATE 3:30 P.M.: In the comments, an anonymous homeschooling mom corrects my memory of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. However, she used her homeschooled teenagers as references, which is unfair. At any rate, the event I remember was the siege and surrender of Plataea (431-427). The merciless commander was not Athenian, but Spartan.