if not embodiments — of Ben Franklin’snnotion of republican virtue. Disparagen”the love of power and the love ofnmoney,” the rake told the ConstitutionalnConvention, and elect to ofiEce “ansufficient number of wise and goodnmen.”nUnderneath Gore Vidal’s cynicalnskin beats the heart of a goodgovernmentnmugwump, surrounded bynfetid grafters and power-seekers, forlornlynseeking those fabled few goodnmen. The mugwump may be harsh andncaustic, as in Adams’s novel of thenCilded Age, Democracy, but the idealismnis never quite extinguished.nThus Adams, the self-proclaimedn”conservative Christian anarchist,” andnVidal, whom we might tag “patriciannambisexual republican,” share an ardentnand anachronistic passion for thenold republic. They are not naifs, blindnto the evil that men do; indeed, fornsworn enemies of power, both spent anninordinate amount of time within power’snambit. But they show a familialnconcern for their country. They bleednrichly for it, and when they see itsngovernment acting the bully or thenslattern they inveigh and protest withnthe outrage of one who witnesses thendesecration of an ancestral tombstone.nIn Empire, an extended wake for thenold republic, Vidal finally finds hisnmilieu in the dimming twilight of thennative aristocracy. Sitting in a parlornwith the Henrys, Adams, James, andnJohn Hay, belittling the Blaines andnRoosevelts, the corrupt and imbecilic,nthe parvenu enemies of the republic —nthis is Gore Vidal’s home.nVidal’s best books {Burr, Lincoln,nEmpire) are object lessons in the usesnof political power. His Abraham Lincolnnhas all the depth and appeal of thenmythic character found in historynbooks, but the novelist’s Father Abrahamndiffers sharply from the hagiographicnporridge fed grade-schoolers.nVidal’s Lincoln is a politician: a skillfulnmanipulator of men, to be sure, butneven more he is the grand reconstructornof our polity. He effaces the Founders’nbequest and substitutes, throughnwar, a national government muscularnand triumphant, bound for glory andnconquest.nVidal conveys the grandeur of thenRail-splitter’s achievement through theneyes of Lincoln’s secretary of state:n”For the first time, Seward understoodn48/CHRONICLESnthe nature of Lincoln’s political genius.nHe had been able to make himselfnabsolute dictator without ever lettingnanyone suspect that he was anythingnmore than a joking, timid backwoodsnlawyer.”nHis Lincoln is a tyrant, preternaturallynshrewd and personally engaging,nbut a tyrant nevertheless. Vidal’s obviousnaffection for the protean and undeniablyngreat Lincoln perhaps accountsnfor the book’s reverent tone; the author’snawe, however, does not cloud hisnquite unfashionable understanding ofnthe centrality of the Civil War to whatnthe textbooks call the American Experience.nVidal captures the overriding politicalnsignificance of the war in this briefnexchange in Empire between John Haynand Elihu Root, two examples of fastfadingnrepublican virtue.n”Poor Jefferson thought thatnhe had won, and now we are allnHamiltonians.”n”Thanks to the Civil War.”nRecall that the incident that rousednVidal to his attack on Podhoretz was thenCommentary editor’s statement thatn”to me, the Civil War is as remote andnirrelevant as the War of the Roses.”nThe Civil War! (In interviews, Vidalnupholds the Confederacy’s right tonsecede — and when’s the last time younheard a Northern intellectual proclaimnhimself a Copperhead?)nVidal’s knotty political iconoclasmnhas long perplexed liberal observers.nHe was one of the precious few withnthe courage to praise EdmundnWilson’s 1963 book. The Cold Warnand the Income Tax. Wilson’s lamentnfor his beloved country was met withnaverted eyes and whispers about senilitynwhen it appeared, at Camelot’snzenith: fancy an educated man complainingnthat the national governmentnwas accumulating too much power!nVidal seconded Wilson’s testament,nwarning that Washington’s postwarnpower-grab was creating “a rigid Byzantinensociety where the individual isnthe state’s creature, his life the propertynof a permanent self-perpetuating bureaucracy.”nVidal’s sympathy for rebels and nonconformistsnextends to those on thenright, from tax-protesters to populistntribune George Wallace. Indeed, Vidalnendorses Wallace’s sage adage thatnnnthere ain’t a dime’s worth of differencenbetween the Republicans and Democrats.n”There is only one political partynin the United States,” insists Vidal,n”and it is the Property Party,” controllednby a vital center directorate ofnplutocrats, bureaucrats, generals, andnvarious well-off evil-doers. A centralnfunction of the Property Party is thenstigmatization of real dissent —nexemplified by maligning Wallace as anmalevolent racist, or Barry Goldwaternas a bloodthirsty nuke-crazed monstern(unlike . . . Truman?), or Gore Vidalnas an anti-Semitic nut.nVidal elucidates his conspiratorialnview in the essay “Homage to DanielnShays.” If the crankiness sometimesnintrudes, Vidal reminds me ofnDelmore Schwartz’s truism that “paranoidsnhave real enemies, too.” Besides,nthe Property Party can do that to anman: Henry Adams tells us that hen”had become little better than a crank”nafter inhaling the rank smoke of thenbankers and politicians in the bravennew world of the 1870’s that AbrahamnLincoln had wrought.nThe shameful abandonment of earlynAmerican political values — liberty,ndecentralism, self-rule — explains, Inbelieve, the shrieking hostility to GorenVidal. For despite the tartness, thenhomosexuality, even the seasonalnexpatriatism, Vidal is an authenticnchampion of a peculiarly Americannconservatism, a conservatism vastly noblernthan that of the typewriter hawksnand blow-dried Republicans of Washington,nDC.nWith the countenance of an antebellumnaristocrat and a flair for theneloquent savagery once so common innAmerican political writing. Core Vidalnis the avenging wraith of Henry Adams,nmerciless with the empire-loversnand power-lusting intellectuals whonhave, barnacle-like, leeched themselvesnonto our decrepit ship of state.nI have, admittedly, ignored Vidalianismsnthat are inconvenient tonmy argument or offensive to my tastes.nHis crack that “the average Americannvoter is forty-seven, blue collar, white,nintensely racist . . . and what little henknows of the Bill of Rights he doesn’tnlike” is the sort of Westchester liberalngarbage that one expects from a touchholdnrelation of Jacqueline BouviernKennedy Onassis et al. He is overlynpartial to fools like Eleanor Rooseveltn