Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Conor Friedersdorf vs. Dan Riehl

Dan has a link to an hour-plus online discussion he had with Conor Friedersdorf. You can listen to it and try to figure out WTF Conor's problem is, besides the fact that he is young and had the bad judgment to (a) attend the Columbia University J-School and (b) hire on at Culture 11.

It's OK, I made bad judgments when I was young. Back in the day, there was less of a downside risk to being a young fool. There was no Internet then, so it wasn't like nowadays, where every 20-something who can type his own name gets the idea he's going to solve the world's problems with a blog.

To imagine what I would have been blogging about in 1986 . . . shudder.

UPDATE: I'm listening to the debate now and a big part the problem is, Conor wants to define conservatism as "what I like," or, "a philosophy espoused by writers I like." He cannot separate his admiration of, inter alia, Andrew Sullivan from his own self-conception as "conservative." It's fan-boy politics.

Sully is a student of Oakeshott, therefore Conor name-checks Oakeshott. Dreher constantly invokes Russell Kirk, therefore Conor name-checks Kirk. It's as if Conor has been studying his pledge book in preparation for initiation into a fraternity.

Why is it that none of these "dissident" conservatives can be bothered to read Hayek or Mises? Why do they never seem to take any interest in the basic questions of political economy and limited government? Why must they seek out this conservatism that, they assert, transcends mere politics -- a conservatism of "temperament," as Conor calls it?

Sigh. OK, let me go smoke a conservative cigarette and then I will return to my conservative laptop to listen to more of the debate.

UPDATE II: I'm back. That cigarette had a suspiciously neo-conservative flavor. ("The Jooooz!") So I'm going to eat a paleo ice cream sandwich while I listen to the next segment of the debate.

UPDATE III: A-ha, Friedersdorf! I just paused the audio at 19:14, as which point you have just accused unnamed others of having an "ahistorical definition of conservatism."
Q. How much history of conservatism does Conor Friedersdorf
A. A helluva lot less than I do!
As they say in military tactics, your flank is "in the air," and I'll drive a goddamned division into that flank.

UPDATE IV: As the perspicacious Professor Donald Douglas points out in the comments, Friedersdorf has attained his life's goal, blogging at The Atlantic Monthly, just like his hero. As I have often said, the rule in D.C. is never to attribute to ideology that which can be adequately explained by ambition.

Friedersdorf is rarity at The Atlantic. Last time I checked, Megan McArdle was the only non-Harvardian at that notorious snob shop. Perhaps his stint at Columbia J-School was close enough for horseshoes.

UPDATE V: Over at Dan Riehl's, I congratulate Conor on his ascent to the ranks of The Republicans Who Really Matter. Well played, old sport!


  1. Heh.

    Connor...* sigh * His problem is the same one David Brooks, David Frum and Rod Dreher have -- he thinks he's actually cool...

    And being cool allows them to speak for everyone else. Hillary Clinton has the same problem.

    I dunno. I always thought being cool had more to do with how you look in a Speedo rather than whether or not you went skinny dipping with WFB. Not that there was anything wrong with skinny dipping with WFB, right Sully?

    Mrs. P

  2. "He cannot separate his admiration of, inter alia, Andrew Sullivan from his own self-conception as "conservative." It's fan-boy politics."

    You can say that again! The guy's now blogging at the Atlantic!

    And hey, everyone's going green, ya know?

  3. I'll check it out, but regarding Hayek and Mises; I read, er, MOST of "The Road to Serfdom". I have read Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson", Buchholz's "New Ideas from Dead Economists", P.J. O'Rourke's "Eat the Rich" and "On the Wealth of Nations," I took Macro 101 in college using Mankiw's book, I read Milton Friedman's book "Money Matters", and so on. I love econ. But econ doesn't make for an all-encompassing political philosophy, any more than biology does.

  4. When Sullivan and Dreherer talk about OakeshottianKirkianism, I get the real creepy feeling of seeing people following the hip stylings of Ernest Angley or Benny Hinn...

  5. I still, after all these years, crack up when I witness conservatives engage ever so mightily in the class-war.

    Conor eats caviar! Ha!

  6. econ doesn't make for an all-encompassing political philosophy, any more than biology does.

    Who needs an "all-encompassing political philosophy"? Here's a handy definition of "conservatism."

  7. Green is the color of political Islam. Do you think that somehow escaped the Mousavi supporters? Mousavi, by the way, probably had a huge hand in the creation of Hezbollah.

    Go Mousavi!

  8. Limited government, freedom with responsibility, free market capitalism, preserving the foundations of an ordered democracy. What the heck is hard about that?

    And I haven't read a page of Thorin Oakenshield or whichever the heck Dwarf that guy's talking about.

  9. Okay, Stacy, liberalism is wrong. Granted. And granted also that the classical liberalism of Hayek and Von Mises gives you an economic basis to oppose most modern liberal economic schemes (namely, it won't work.) What I'm trying to avoid is Rothbardism; the idea that you can extrapolate from the Austrian economic system all wisdom and knowledge, including foreign policy, political strategy, etc.

  10. Answer your phone or email. - Dan R.

  11. Joe Marier, you had me on your first comment. But then you lost me on your second. Rothbard did not extrapolate his unique brand of anarchism from the action axiom. Rothbard's anarchism was informed by such people as Mencken, Molinari, and Turgot; not necessarily by the wise sages from Vienna.

  12. Why is it that none of these "dissident" conservatives can be bothered to read Hayek or Mises?

    Perhaps it is because neither Hayek or Mises called themselves conservatives - they called themselves classical liberals. Hayek went so far as to write an essay entitled "Why I am not a Conservative"..

    Russell Kirk and Michael Oakeshott on the other hand wrote numerous books on the issue of conservatism.

    Why do you define adherence to the leading lights of Austrian economics as the essence of conservatism?

  13. Fine, fine. I suck. Rothbard wrote pretty darn well on Austrian economics, though.

    Still, I think you see in the Ron Paul movement the belief that Austrian economics (and "non-interventionism," of course) is the balm that heals all wounds, and I don't buy it.

  14. One big reason people don't namecheck Hayek is that the major prediction of his preeminent work has been proven utterly, disastrously wrong by history.

  15. Mr. McCain,

    I followed your link to your handy definition of conservatism and discovered that it consists in "the belief that liberalism is wrong". Of course, this pre-supposes we all agree on the meaning of liberalism, and as a couple of folks have already pointed out, Hayek thought of himself as a "classical liberal" as did most of the Founders.

    Perhaps a better idea of what you mean can be found in your statement that you cannot think "of any act by any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland that any conservative need automatically endorse as “the right thing." Really? Let me help you out:

    1) FDR cutting Hoover-era tarrifs and easing the monetary supply;

    2) FDR fighting the Axis powers;

    3) Truman finishing the job against the Axis;

    4) Truman recognizing Israel;

    5) Truman recognizing the menance of Soviet Russia and his willingness to defend our allies in Korea;

    6) JFK cutting taxes;

    7) Carter deregulating the trucking and airline industries;


    All of these Presidents did stupid stuff, of course, but again, it seems kind of silly to define conservatism as narrowly as you do.


    Hayek was a genius, but was obviously emotionally influenced by what happened in Europe during his lifetime. That doesn't make his criticism of socialism and/or collectivism any less smart or trenchant. We can all be glad that he was wrong about the West falling prey to the totalitarian temptation, but there are softer forms of "serfdom" -- many of us on the Right remain concerned about these forms, which I think Goldberg correctly describes as "liberal fascism".