“A Conservative is only a Tory who is ashamed of himself.”
—J. Hookham Frère
Plans to shuck the Tory Party’s sacred name rattled the young Disraeli, who remarked that the replacement name, Conservative, sounded to him like “the invention of some pastry chef.” Similarly, paleoconservatism conjures up the image—in my mind, anyway—of weight-lifter types in animal skins, flinging spears at woolly mammoths: Victor Mature meets Murray Rothbard. The paleoconservative movement might be advised one of these days to scratch around for a more compelling name than the one meant originally to distinguish its adherents from the neocons.
This is assuming such a movement actually means to move, and that it has a particular direction in mind. The impression that comes across from Joseph Scotchie’s collection of essays by paleocon thinkers is of a formidable—mammoth would not be so bad a word—beast inclined to the stationary position, an animal whose brainpower merits more respect than its legs or hunk.
What I see in these essays (five of which appeared originally in Chronicles), in other words, is intelligent, pointed dissent from things as they are in a United States forgetful of its glorious heritage, more truly wedded to gold than God. What I do not see, at the same time, is a plan for doing much to rectify the situation.
Let that go. Anybody can draw up battle plans: Witness the army of political tacticians who fatten their stock portfolios at the expense of the major parties; adroit at showing how to carry states and precincts, clueless when it comes to defining what kind of country this should be.
The great, the consuming, virtue of The Paleoconservatives is the meticulous attention its contributors pay to how we should live and what we should believe: what ideas we should—gulp—offer to die for. Not a few of these essays are exhilarating. All are challenging. Bravo, Scotchie, I would say. Bravo, the well placed, literate concern for intelligence and dignity and honor and freedom.
I hope my spear-flinging brethren will not turn on me if I suggest that the paleoconservative critique is more important than the paleoconservative program—to the extent anyone would adduce the existence of a program. I do not think, just for instance, that the United States is going to accept Frank Chodorov’s reprinted counsel that taxation is robbery. Chodorov, to know the true meaning of robbery, thou shouldst be living at this hour! In a I hundred Texas school districts, the state takes locally raised tax monies and distributes them to districts of lesser “property wealth.” Yet, with the whole American political system resting on government’s power to act in just such ways, the tax system is not going to be reformed. A reform as innocent as the flat tax has virtually no chance of enactment.
Still, Chodorov’s critique of taxation, with its echoes of old Bastiat, makes the gray cells dance. An America free to contemplate the possibility that government plunders us cannot be a lost cause.
So with Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s astute comments on multiculturalism and immigration (“Promises to Keep”), wherein it is brashly asserted that “there no longer is a United States in any save the legalistic sense.” The people spigot, opened wide during Lyndon Johnson’s regime, is not going to be turned off any time soon. I said “soon.” We live in the most migratory moment since Rome fell. (A mitigating point: Some of these new fold—I speak from experience—are fine people.) Our society has yet to appraise the consequences of such immigration as we are experiencing. How to appraise those consequences and, one of these days, act on them? Be reading, among others, Chilton Williamson.
“Frodo Lives,” we used to read on restroom and alley walls. Hell, common sense lives: tough-minded, stiffnecked common sense, the kind that says, I don’t care what they tell yon on NPR, this is how things really are. To this mission the paleocons, bless ’em, with all their quirks and quibbles, have set their hand. One of their most lovable traits is that they speak the truth. That shows you, right off, the prospects they enjoy as a movement.
Yes, Clyde Wilson (“Restoring the Republic”) cries out for “a return of power to the many,” “a renewal, a true return to roots,” the substitution of “liberty for equality as our chief goal.” Yes, Samuel Francis (“Nationalism Old and New”) argues for “a long counter-march through the institutions of the dominant elite” and recreation of “an ethic of solidarity and sacrifice.” Considering how long the “progressives” have been running things, manifestos like these partake of whistling past the graveyard. But it is melodious whistling, a joy to the ear. Substitute liberty for equality? It is not going to happen, ever. Unless you talk about it. I h e talk here is what matters.
And the spankings. Archly, and with appropriate satisfaction, the editor of Chronicles, Thomas Fleming, administers the board of education to the seat of naiveté— the common presumption, among well-intentioned religious folk, that it is more important to keep bad books out of libraries than to introduce good books to those same institutions. Aiming another telling blow, Fleming asserts that laity and preachers “are too busy with stewardship, financial planning, and bingo.”
So there is an action program for you after all: Make good books more available. Another program exists: homeschooling. Homeschooler Allan Carlson’s essay on the topic is invigorating. “What delights me about homeschooling—speaking from an outside perspective—is that the government, as much as it hates to see you doing it, cannot make you stop.
No book of principled protest would be complete without Russell Kirk and M.E. Bradford. Both appear here to advantage. Kirk’s paean to tradition is, if possible, more appealing now than when first printed in 1989, and Bradford is as enlightening as you would expect him to be on why the American experience is conservative.
I do not agree (hold those spears, folks) with everything written and asserted in The Paleoconservatives. Who could? Paleoconservatism is less a philosophy than a vital instinct—emphasis on “vital.” The truths, the manners, and mores that lived among us in the beginning could live again. Some water is all it would take, and a lot of love.
[The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right, Edited by Joseph Scotchie (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers) 212 pp., $29.95]