Stacy McCain links to a piece at The Next Right by Rick Moran, in which the latter discourses on what he perceives to be a civil war within the conservative movement, featuring the forces of pragmatism (Moran and company) against the purists (a presumably enormous horde of paranoids whose conservatism is atavistic, if not entirely inchoate).
Well, I’ll tell you something, sonny; any article of less than 2000 words that uses “Burkean” five times, “revanchist” eight, and Beaconsfieldian even once, is going to fail, even if in nothing else, in bringing clarity to the issue. To me, the only thing Burkean about this essay is its prolixity, and you’ve still got a long way to go in order to match Burke’s four-day speech denouncing Warren Hastings. I won’t say this about Moran, because I think he is a thoughtful man who is sincere in his beliefs; however, I do grow a little weary of seeing the many other self-proclaimed apostles of Burke (David Brooks, for example) hauling the old fellow out of mothballs like an ill-fitting WWII army uniform on veterans day.
Perhaps Moran or Ruffini or Douthat or even Brooks could be so kind as to explain just which tenets of Edmund Burke’s political philosophy should govern a renascent conservatism. If we are talking about the preservation of those ancient institutions that have stood the test of time, I’m all for that. Can we agree that, while the U.S. constitution represents just such an “ancient institution”, perhaps Fannie Mae, the Department of Energy and the Democrats’ proposed nationalization of health care do not? And I’m certainly in favor of the little platoons, but would it be…I dunno…revanchist of me to point out that those particular units have been under assault by the State for perhaps the last 70 years, and that a certain coalescence of many like-minded platoons might be necessary in this day and age to achieve the critical mass required to sway an increasingly unresponsive government? And that for this to occur, one cannot completely discount the value of– dare I say it? - populism?
The proximate cause of this latest round of complaints by the self-described “pragmatists” seems to be a conservative outfit called World Net Daily, and its nurturing of the birther phenomenon. Now, I happen to think the birthers are wrong based on the evidence; but I believe that, more importantly, even if they were right, the result would be to nail Obama, as an individual, on a mere technicality, whereas we now have an opportunity, given the demonstrable failure of the president’s policies, to nail him as the apotheosis of American leftism, and to demolish the whole ideological superstructure with which he has chosen to identify himself. Birtherism is a needless distraction from the latter, far more laudable goal.
But how far do we have to go to distance ourselves from this distraction? I think it’s sufficient to ignore it. Others – apparently including Moran – propose to formally read WND out of the conservative movement; some conservatives are even calling for a boycott (of what? Blogs that link WND?). Hey, if some of you guys want to deny WND fire and water within the confines of the conservative empire, fine; but then you’ve got to start defining the boundaries of that empire, and as soon as you begin doing that, you’re engaging in some form of exclusionism – which seems to be the same complaint you’re lodging against the “purists.” Is Glenn Beck beyond the pale? Rush Limbaugh? Sarah Palin? Just how many tedious (and strained) analogies to the feud between the late Bill Buckley and the John Birch Society do we have to swallow before we reach the Burkean paradigm? And just what the hell might the Burkean paradigm be, anyway? Or here, I’ll make it easy for you: how do you define federalism? Before conservatives can be expected to sign on to any specific ideological creed that presumes to serve as a road-map to political success, perhaps those who would cast themselves as our leading intellectual lights would consider doing something other than engaging in historical name-dropping, and invest a little time in explaining precisely what they mean. Otherwise, I, for one, am going to be inclined to think of their pretensions to philosophical wisdom in the same way that P.G. Wodehouse saw the legal expertise of Pongo in his short story, “Uncle Fred Flits By”
He is reading for the Bar, and while he would be the first to admit that he hasn’t yet got a complete toe-hold on the Law of Great Britain he had a sort of notion that oiling into a perfect stranger’s semi-detached villa on the pretext of pruning the parrot was a tort or misdemeanor, if not actual barratry or soccage in fief or something like that.When you pragmatists condescend to explain whether you are talking about “a tort or misdemeanor, if not actual barratry or soccage in fief”, then maybe you will get a more sympathetic hearing from a wider audience.
The last thing conservatives need right now are self-styled popes and counter-popes hurling bills of anathema at each other, while Sultan Barack and his socialist janissaries are threatening the gates of Vienna. I am perfectly amenable to healthy debate within our own camp; I have very little sympathy for those who think, say, that a passel of birthers deserve more attention than the largest aggregation of elected (and appointed) statists in our nation’s history.
As for me, a casual blogger with a readership numbering (as my friend Richard McEnroe puts it) in the “high severals”, it would be preposterous to think of reading anybody out of anything (I wouldn’t even know how to ban a commenter from my own web site). And if anybody wants to excommunicate me, have a ball. I’m a conservative Catholic anarchist; as a conservative, I fully acknowledge your right to associate with whomever you please; as a Catholic, I scorn all bills of excommunication that are not authored by His Holiness, the Pope; and as an anarchist, I can throw a brick with the best of ‘em.