The Paleoconservative Imaginationrnby Mark Royden WinchellrnIn January 1996, Norman Podhoretz delivered a self-congratulatoryrneulogy for neoconservatism in a lecture before thernAmerican Enterprise Institute. In addition to giving himselfrnand his cohorts credit for the recent successes of the Americanrnright, Podhoretz boasted that “thanks to the influence of neoconservatismrnon the conservative movement in general, thernphilistine indifference to culture which once pervaded thatrnmovement is largely gone.” Mark C. Henrie of Toronto feltrncompelled to challenge this preposterous claim when Podhorctz’srnlecture was printed in Commentary later that ear. In arnletter published in the June 1996 issue of Commentary, Henriernpoints out that Russell Kirk was stressing the importance of culturernas far back as the 1950’s (a time when the founding fathersrnof neoconservatism were still on the anti-Stalinist left). Whateverrnelse one might sa’ about Kirk, he and the paleoconserxativesrnassociated vith him could hardK’ be accused of “a philistinernindifference to culture.”rnIn responding to this letter, Podhoretz concedes that I lenriernhas a point. He believes, however, that the paleoconser’atiesrn”committed a greater sin” than indifference in “being rangedrnon the wrong side of the culture wars that reached fever pitch inrnthe 60’s and are still raging today.” I le even sees “an ironic confluence”rnbetween the paleoeonservaties and the counterculturernof the radical left. “Like T.S. Eliot and the SouthernrnAgrarians by whom they were heavily influenced, the paleoconservativesrndespised capitalism, industrialism, and bourgeoisrndemocracy no less ferentlv than did the radicals of the counterculture.”rnIn making this linkage, Podhoretz is assuming thatrnpeople with common enemies must necessarily be alike. (Brnthe same logic, one might argue that there was no differencernbetween Franklin Roosevelt’s America and Joseph Stalin’s Rus-rnMark Royden Winchell is a professor of English at ClemsonrnVnirersitr.rnsia, simply because both nations fought Hitler’s Germany.)rnNevertheless. Podhoretz is certainly correct in acknowledgingrnthat paleoconservative attitudes toward culture are fundamentallyrndifferent from those that one might find in the pages ofrnCommentary or the New Criterion. The conservative “movement”rnis as divided on matters of culture as it is on foreign policy,rntrade, and states’ rights.rnAs Podhoretz indicates, paleoconservative criticism has beenrninfluenced most significantlv by the Christian humanism ofrnT.S. Eliot and the anti-industrialism of the Nashville Agrarians.rnThe implications of this inheritance become apparent whenrnone contrasts the vision of Russell Kirk and such neo-Agrarianrncritics as Walter Sullivan and M.E. Bradford with the neoconservativcrncriticism best exemplified by Podhoretz himself.rnIn an age when left-wing critics sought to make literaturernmore political, Russell Kirk sought to make politics more literary.rnIn the climactic section of his classic study The ConservativernMind {1953), he wrote: “Not to the statistician, then, but tornthe poet, do conservatives turn for insight. If there has been arnprincipal conservative thinker in the twentieth century, it isrnT.S. Eliot, whose age this is in humane letters. Eliot’s wholernendeaor was to point a way out of the Wasteland toward orderrnin the soul and in society.” (Nearly two decades later. Kirk publishedrnEliot and His Age: T.S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in thernTwentieth Century, which is easily the best book ever written onrnEliot as social thinker.) In placing less emphasis on transitoryrnelectoral ictories than on the “permanent things,” Kirk oftenrnquoted the following passage from Eliot’s essav on F.H.rnBradle’: “If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, therernis no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thingrnas a Gained Cause. Wc fight for lost causes because we knowthatrnour defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’rnvictorx, though that victory itself will be temporary; wcrnfight rather to keep something alive than in the expectationrn18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn