Thursday, July 17, 2008

This is not a flame war

I am not going to get angry at Daniel Larison's critique of my jocular anti-Douthatism, but let me make a couple of points about his post:

  • "Buddhist economics" -- I mentioned this in relation to my disdain for Crunchy Cons, and Larison seems not to grasp the reference to my review. As I pointed out, E.F. Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful) is almost the only economist named by Dreher in his book. Schumacher was a Keynesian-turned-Buddhist, whose Buddhist views thoroughly inform his disdain for economic growth (see Skousen). If Dreher prefers stagnation to growth, then he must be in very heaven now.
  • My advice to Douthat -- There is truth in humor, and sometimes people either don't get my jokes or miss the truth I'm trying to convey. And perhaps Larison might ponder why I don't think it wise to put everything I know on the Internet. He can buy me a beer sometime and we'll talk.
  • "Southern conspiracy" -- Ha. This whole thing started with Douthat, a Harvard-educated native of New Haven, Conn. I'm as Southern as they get, as I'm sure Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok would attest.
Dreher, Stooksbury, Douthat -- what do they have in common? A contempt for the basic consevative idea that the best economic policy is to let the market take care of itself. As I understand Douthat's book (from reviews), he has the idea that the Republican Party must be willing to give the working class something at taxpayer expense in order to outbid the Democrats. That is to say, "conservative redistributionism," just another variation of "big government conservatism."

Much of my animus toward Douthat is the same animus I exhibited toward Ryan Sager, namely my resentment of 20-something wunderkinden who write books sharing their brilliant new insight that's going to save the GOP, the conservative cause, and worldwide humanity. Twenty-something know-it-alls are arrogant enough without praise from me, and I certainly don't intend to sit at their feet worshipfully awaiting their pearls of precocious wisdom.

Expecting humility from Harvard grads would be rather foolish, but the Harvard grad who claims to have special insight into the political views of blue-collar America -- well, if that don't beat all I ever heard! But because Douthat's suggestions involve a critique of free market economics, he is an automatic hero to other anti-market conservatives.

The project of the anti-market conservatives seems to be to organize some kind of special-interest bloc along economic lines, thus to wage a class warfare of the Right. But if the working man wants class warfare -- if he wants to hear wealth demonized and to be promised taxpayer-funded handouts -- the Left can give him all he wants. A socialism of the Right is still socialism. (See Mises.)

Anti-market conservatism strikes me as a surrender to the superstitions inculcated by liberalism. Rather than telling the working man that his (un)economic ideas -- e.g., protectionism -- are mistaken, the anti-marketeers want conservatives to treat such ignorant notions as if they were valid. This is a politics that does not seek to persuade people of truth, but instead appeals to their preconceived errors.

UPDATE: For reasons unknown, Andrew Sullivan is interested in this "tussle," as Clark Stooksbury calls it. Stooksbury suggests that I "must still be smarting from the fact that within a three month period in the pages of Chronicles two years ago, I gave a mostly positive review of Rod Dreher’s book while being far more critical of McCain’s." Well, actually:

  • A. I never saw the Chronicles review of Donkey Cons, haven't the slightest idea what Stooksbury said about the book, and probably for the better.
  • B. I never saw his Chronicles review of Crunchy Cons, either -- ditto, ditto.
I've made freelance contributions to Chronicles a couple of times and spoke at the John Randolph Club several years ago. I used to get Chronicles free at my office, but the magazine stopped arriving a few years ago and I haven't seen it very often since then. I'd glady write for Chronicles again if they asked me, but they haven't done so, and therefore I'm generally out of the loop as far as Chronicles goes.

So I have to laugh at the suggestion that I'm grinding an ax with Stooksbury over something he wrote that I've never actually read. But if, as Stooksbury says, he praised Crunchy Cons and panned the book I co-wrote with Lynn Vincent, this just reinforces my general impression of what this "tussle" is all about, to wit:

There is a general feeling among conservatives that the Republican Party hasn't been a very good steward of the conservative cause. (The only conservatives who disagree with this premise are those on the GOP payroll.)

The question of how to fix this problem of the wayward GOP has bedeviled conservatives for decades. And some of them (among whom I'd classify my antagonists) seem to think the solution is to take the side of almost any critic of the Republican Party and its policies -- even if that critic is Noam Chomsky or Glenn Greenwald.

Correspondingly, there is among the anti-Republican conservatives an attitude of very deep hostility toward any conservative (and this is how my antagonists have classified me) who is chiefly interested in discrediting liberal ideas and defeating the political vehicle of those ideas, the Democratic Party.

"Liberal bashing" is an epithet among anti-Republican conservatives, and in the case of certain annoying Fox News personalities, I understand and share their disdain. Yet I do not share their apparent belief that the way to respond is to form drum circles of disgruntlement, inviting anyone and everyone who has an ax to grind with the GOP to join in. This amounts to self-imposed marginalization, and can only result in a conservative movement splintered and weakened, and liberalism triumphant.

Yes, I understand that the neocon intolerance of dissent -- their insistence that everyone in the conservative movement speak in "respectable" terms, effectively limiting debate to a rehashing of Republican Party talking points -- is at the root of all this. (I've sometimes joked that my next book would be titled, First They Came For Mel Bradford.) But it's like I tell my kids when they get into fights: "You can't control what other people do to you. You can control how you react."

"He hit me first!" is not a mature argument. Grudge-holding and score-settling is not going to fix the problems with the conservative movement. I can get pretty angry when I get offended, and my mocking sense of humor often offends people. In such instances, I hope that the occasional objects of my wrath or sarcasm would forgive my excesses.

Given that I admit these faults in myself, how can I then justify brooding over every insult to myself or my friends, compiling endless lists of enemies, and looking for every opportunity to do them ill?

A conservatism of spite? No. I've got no use for that. It wouldn't do me or anyone else any good. If it were up to me, everyone would be my friend. If people want to be my enemies, that's their choice, but it's completely one-sided. As I once remarked to Max Blumenthal, I'm too lazy to be evil.

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