Tribes of American Conservatives

So, yesterday we took a quick look at making sense of American conservatism. If you haven’t read it, you probably should, but today’s will stand on its own, as well. Again we are basing on Matthew Continetti’s Making Sense of the New American Right. Today we’ll take a quick look at some of the types of American conservatism, which is far from unitary. That is both a strength and a weakness, I think. It gives us many strains in house, as well as some pretty loud debates, but it also can fragment us when we differ on issues. So let’s start:

The Jacksonians

Some conservatives—myself included—see Donald Trump through the lens of Jacksonian politics. They look to Walter Russell Mead’s landmark essay in the Winter 1999 / 2000 National Interest, “The Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy,” as not only a description of the swing vote that brought us Trump, but also as a possible guide to incorporating populism and conservatism.

The Jacksonians, Mead said, are individualist, suspicious of federal power, distrustful of foreign entanglement, opposed to taxation but supportive of government spending on the middle class, devoted to the Second Amendment, desire recognition, valorize military service, and believe in the hero who shapes his own destiny. Jacksonians are anti-monopolistic. They oppose special privileges and offices. “There are no necessary evils in government,” Jackson wrote in his veto message in 1832. “Its evils exist only in its abuses.”

This is a deep strain in American culture and politics. Jacksonians are neither partisans nor ideologues. The sentiments they express are older than postwar conservatism and in some ways more intrinsically American. (They do not look toward Burke or Hayek or Strauss, for example.) The Jacksonians have been behind populist rebellions since the Founding. They are part of a tradition, for good and ill, that runs through William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Jim Webb, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. The Jacksonians believe in what their forebears called “The Democracy.” They are the people who remind us that America is not ruled from above but driven from below. Irving Kristol captured some of Jacksonianism’s contradictions when he described the movement as “an upsurge of revolt against the moneyed interests, an upsurge led by real estate speculators, investors, and mercantile adventurers, which spoke as the voice of the People while never getting much more than half the vote, and which gave a sharp momentum to the development of capitalism, urbanism, and industrialism while celebrating the glories of the backwoodsman.”

This, in essence, is what I am as well, although, at least in my case, I think Mathew underestimates the role of some of the classic writers. I find Burke important, but not paramount. In fact, I think Locke is at least equal in importance, not least because of his influence on Jefferson. Jefferson was also influenced (perhaps more than he knew) by some combination of Cranmer and Luther. A deal of their thinking runs through his writing especially the Declaration.

As Mathew says, this is a very deep strain in American conservatism, quite possibly the basis of the others, going back all the way to before the Revolution. Jackson epitomized it, but it could likely be the strain of Americanism that caused the Revolution itself. The linked article says the Jacksonian in the Senate is Tom Cotton. I daresay he’ correct on that.

The Reformocons

Reform conservatism began toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, with the publication of Yuval Levin’s “Putting Parents First” in The Weekly Standard in 2006 and of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party in 2008. In 2009, Levin founded National Affairs, a quarterly devoted to serious examinations of public policy and political philosophy. Its aim is to nudge the Republican Party to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.

In 2014, working with the YG Network and with National Reviewsenior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, Levin edited “Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class.” The report was the occasion for a lot of publicity, including a Sam Tanenhaus article in the New York Times Magazine asking, “Can the GOP Be a Party of Ideas?

Much as I try, I can’t quite see the world through these guys eyes. I recognize a lot of what they are trying to do as good, especially their outreach to the uneducated/ uncredentialled of our society who often get shunted out of view. I’ve lived my life amongst them, and they’re at least as wise as any other group. But to me, these guys are a bit too willing to have the government (especially the federal government) do things that would be better done by a local association or at most local government. But they have a lot of ideas, and many are good.

The Paleos

Where the paleoconservatives distinguish themselves from the other camps is foreign policy. The paleos are noninterventionists who, all things being equal, would prefer that America radically reduce her overseas commitments. Though it’s probably not how he’d describe himself, the foremost paleo is Tucker Carlson, who offers a mix of traditional social values, suspicion of globalization, and noninterventionism every weekday on cable television.

Carlson touched off an important debate with his January 3 opening monologue on markets. “Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined,” Carlson said. “Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible. You can’t separate the two.”

I like these guys quite a bit. When you read me rant about short-termism in American business (a regular occurrence), I’m often drawing on paleo sources (and experience). But their noninterventionism comes perilously near to isolationism, and their horror of tariffs is misplaced. America is above all a trading nation, and that carries with it almost automatically the Mahanian necessity to control the seas. That can, of course, spill over into ill-advised adventures, so it is a balancing act. Matthew picked Mike Lee as the Senator who most represents the Paleo view, I have no disagreement with that.

And finally,

The Post-liberals

Here is a group that I did not see coming. The Trump era has coincided with the formation of a coterie of writers who say that liberal modernity has become (or perhaps always was) inimical to human flourishing. One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience. “When an ideological liberalism seeks to dictate our foreign policy and dominate our religious and charitable institutions, tyranny is the result, at home and abroad,” wrote the signatories to “Against the Dead Consensus,” a post-liberal manifesto of sorts published in First Things in March.

This is the Josh Hawley group, and if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know I’m sympathetic. The author notes that this group seems to be dominated by traditionalist Catholics, and there are truly a lot of them here.

And in a little noticed commencement address to King’s College, he inveighed against the fact that

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice.

This “Pelagian vision”—Pelagius was a monk condemned by the Church fathers as a heretic—”celebrates the individual,” Hawley went on. But “it leads to hierarchy. Though it preaches merit, it produces elitism. Though it proclaims liberty, it destroys the life that makes liberty possible. Replacing it and repairing the profound harm it has caused is one of the great challenges of our day.”

The post-liberals say that the distinction between state and society is illusory.

There is truth in all that, quite a lot of it, in fact. I hear this more, I think, in British conservatives, who are much less likely to recognize a gap between church and state. And, in truth, it is much narrower there. This is where the “Liberty is not libertinism” argument comes from, and it is a valid observation.

That’s close to a triple post today, and that’s enough. I will try to see if I can come up with some valid real-world thinking about how we work together and against each other. That may well take more than overnight, so we’ll see if I can get it done. Do read the linked article, long as this is, I skipped a lot as well.

The State Visit Begins

And so it begins, as always without public drama from the principals, although Trump has already told Khan to STFD, although he was rather kinder about it. Here’s what it looked like at Windsor Castle

It’s nice to have Russia today, that way we don’t have to listen to the very nearly hateful commentary from British and American commentators.

The main point of the week is, of course, to pay honor to the warriors of the Anglosphere who, starting this week, 75 years ago freed the continent of Europe from the Nazis.

A bit before my time, but not all that much, and I remember men who were there, and who lost friends on those much-honored beaches.

Interesting this morning, that my favorite British political blog, The Conservative Woman has no less than three articles that bear on the President’s visit.

  1. Donald backs Nigel – so how about you, Tory hopefuls?
  2. Thirty reasons why we welcome you, Mr President

  3. A guide to Britain for Trump – and the Remainers

All good, and touching on different facets of our special relationship.

There is also this, from one of the most sensible men in Parliament, Sir John Redwood

Why President Trump deserves Britain’s respect

He’s right of course, but neither should we forget the respect we owe Britain. Our conceptions of liberty, freedom, and all things to do with a proper society come from this foggy little island. They talk about the Mother of Parliaments, and they are not wrong, but there is so much more, here is where the power of the king was first checked by the Barons, and then by the Commons, and now the people are undertaking the task of checking the power of the Commons, and their very own version of the swamp that we too are fighting.

And remember, of us all, this week. the British are the ones who voluntarily entered the war to try to save Poland, the rest of us responded to attacks. These are incredibly brave and moral people. They like us, worry that things have changed, well, I’ll be surprised if they really have.

And yes, it was fun to see the Queen and the President reviewing the troops while the band played the US service songs. As we’ve often said, “Nobody does it better!”

Heritage and Pride

So the President the other day, gave the graduation speech at the US Air Force Academy. Typically, it was a good and well-researched speech. Here it is. You won’t miss much if you start 15-20 minutes in.

I noticed that the Secretary of the Air Force quoted TS Elliot’s Little Gidding, a great favorite around here. The President was, as usual, excellent and on point. How refreshing it is to hear an American leader use the word victory, and to mean it.

I’m also impressed that he chose to shake the hand and return the salute of every graduating senior/lieutenant. Not many would, it’s one of the reasons he shows as a proper leader. Something those shiny new lieutenants will remember all their lives.

And so, the Long Blue Line extends another thousand people long. I’ve known quite a few over the years, they are the best of America, as are the people from the other service academies. But this is the one that I wanted to go to, but couldn’t get a waiver.


Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister of Mexico sits in Washington wondering if he’ll get to talk to anyone before those tariffs kick in. Seems to me there isn’t much to talk about, either the invasion of the United States ends, or the tariffs kick in. Pretty basic stuff.


And then it’s off to England to have dinner with the Queen, but not Jeremy Corbin or the Mayor of London, no loss in that. Probably find time for a chat with Nigel and Boris as well.

And then to Portsmouth to celebrate that seventy-five years ago, the Anglo Saxons once again rescued a continent from tyranny and that the continent hates us still for it. Well, Lions and Eagles care little what prey thinks about things. And in truth, there is no doing things for some people.

But we’ll continue on over to Normandy, because the French people do remember, whatever the faults of their leadership, and it is time to again visit our dead, who died to make Frenchmen free.

It is going to tax even President Trump to top another American President who thirty-five years ago said this.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc.

These are the men who took the cliffs.

These are the champions who helped free a continent.

These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

I hear that the Queen likes President Trump, not that I know it, but it seems likely, he must remind her a bit of those Americans she met back in the day when she was Princess Elizabeth learning to fix and drive that ambulance. Here she is, the very last veteran of that long ago war, still doing her duty, to God and Country. Long Live the Queen!

And so, next week, the rabble will once again protest an American President, but many will also remember what the poet said in the weeks before D-Day.

Boadicea from the Bridge looked down,
And saw the Yankee tanks invade the town.
Boadicea held her head more high
To hail the Sherman and the proud G.I.
‘Eyes right!’ she said. ‘Fine fellows though you are,
You’re not the first to drive an armoured car.
Halt, soldiers, halt! For here is one can tell
A tale of fighting chariots as well.
Look up, brave girls. In a.d. 61
I led the lads, and saw the Roman run.
God speed you too against an alien mob:
God bless you all for joining in the job.
By Grant! By Sherman!’ said the queen of queens.
I wish I’d had such men, and such machines.’

They passed. And Parliament, across the way,
Discussed the principle of equal pay.

Deplorable, Contemptible, and Winning

Caroline Glick has written an excellent article in Frontpage Magazine. She postulates that the two common thread running through the election cycles in the western world today is the contempt of the globalists for the people, and the reciprocal determination of the common people to retain their local characteristics.

The triumph of Nigel Farage and his Brexit party in Britain’s European parliamentary elections tells us two stories at the same time.

The first story is a local British story. The Brexit Party’s victory effectively ends the Conservative party’s monopoly on Britain’s political right for the first time in two hundred years. The Conservatives will respond to the trouncing in one of two ways. They can disintegrate completely by doubling down on outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s soft Brexit – with or without a second referendum — or they can start listening to their voters.

The second story encapsulated in Brexit’s victory — and that of Marine Le Pen’s triumph in France and Matteo Salvini’s in Italy — is the now familiar tale of the rise of the populist/nationalist/ideological right throughout the Western world against the conventional wisdom of the traditional progressive and center-right elitist establishment, and more often than not, in defiance of the polls.

In Britain itself, the rise of Brexit is a fitting bookend to Prime Minister Theresa May’s stunning betrayal of her voters. May came to power after her predecessor David Cameron resigned office in response to the Brexit vote. As she entered office, May pledged to embrace the will of the voters and shepherd Britain out of the European Union.

Indeed, one can make the case that this is the worst defeat that the Tories have taken since the 1620s, about 400 years and before the Civil War – The English Civil War. That’s what  I call a historic defeat!! And a deserved one.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s victory earlier this month over his challenger, Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, has largely been attributed to Shorten’s radical economic agenda. […]

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a fifth term in office last month by running on a record of diplomatic and economic success that the leftist parties were unable to discredit.

Trump’s victory is widely attributed to Hillary Clinton’s failure to rally the Democratic base in the Rust Belt and to counter Trump’s message of industrial renewal.

But one underlying issue is common in all of the elections. And until the progressive left and the establishment center right reconcile themselves to it, and find a respectful means to contend with it, they will continue to see populist forces grow stronger and win elections.

That issue is contempt. Throughout the Western world, beyond the economic issues and even beyond specific social issues like gay marriage or abortion rights, voters are motivated to vote for the populist, nationalist right in part due to their anger at the left and center-right’s undisguised contempt for them.

In the United States, the left’s snobbery reached its height with Hillary Clinton’s castigation of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” But her assertion wasn’t made in isolation. It was made in the midst of a general atmosphere in which Democratic politicians from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi and establishment Republicans felt comfortable putting down Americans who aren’t part of their club. Obama infamouslyreferred to Clinton’s “deplorables” as “bitter” people in small towns who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

And now, I often see Englishmen and women refer to themselves as a “Deplorable”, it has become a badge of honor. The mark of the person who believes in his homeland, that is the one characteristic that joins us all.

I would probably add Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to the list. There too we see the outlines of a nationalistic party lining up against the corrupt ruling class. Always there are differences, between the countries, that is as it should be, it’s the globalists that are the ‘Anywheres‘ that David Goodhart wrote about. The Somewheres are always going to have local issues. That’s why we’re ”Somewheres’.

The most potent message that crosses the world each day and empowers populists and nationalist conservatives is one of exasperation and anger at the transnational elites’ solidarity in their contempt for their people. From Jerusalem to Budapest to Birmingham to Cincinnati, the spurned citizens have understood that the only way to force their contemptuous elites to heel is to vote them out of power.

For European Unionists and British Remainers, for the Israeli elite and the American establishment, the globalization of their values and agendas has brought them to believe that democracy means fixing the rules of the game. Through judicial activism and bureaucratic regulations, through intellectual terror and public shaming, these elites seek to render election results inconsequential. Ballot boxes, in their view, are no match for the combined forces of the elite media and academia and the bureaucracy. They determine norms. They determine policies – in the name of Democracy.

But throughout the West, the “deplorables” are listening to one another and rediscovering their power and voices at the ballot boxes. They realize that democracy is a means for the people to determine their course in the world. The elite may control the discourse, but the people decide who will run their countries.

And that is one reason that it is up to American conservatives to maintain freedom of speech, not only for us but for our compatriots around the world. This is the time-honored American mission, as recognized by Edmund Burke in 1775.

In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole: and as an ardent is always a jealous affection, your colonies become suspicious, restive, and untractable, whenever they see the least attempt to wrest from them by force, or shuffle from them by chicane, what they think the only advantage worth living for. This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies probably than in any other people of the earth; and this from a great variety of powerful causes; which, to understand the true temper of their minds, and the direction which this spirit takes, it will not be amiss to lay open somewhat more largely.

First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation, which still I hope respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles. Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object; and every nation has formed to itself some favourite point, which by way of eminence becomes the criterion of their happiness.

Some things change very little.

The Return of the Sovereign Nation

Seventy-five years ago next week, the United States and Great Britain, along with the Empire (soon to be Commonwealth) burst into Europe in Normandy to destroy the European Empire led by Germany. It’s happening again, this time not by tank and infantryman, but by leadership.  Sumantra Maitra wrote yesterday on The Federalist.

“The one system that absolutely does not work and never will is ersatz democracy,” Tucker Carlson writes in his book, “Ship of Fools,” adding that, “If you tell people they’re in charge, but then act as if they’re not, you’ll infuriate them. It’s too dishonest. They’ll go crazy. Oligarchies posing as democracies will always be overthrown in the end. You can vote all you want, but voting is a charade. Your leaders don’t care what you think. Shut up and obey.”

For a while, analysts on both sides of the Atlantic after 2016 would have given anyone the idea that everything that had happened was a dream, and a rotten one at that: an aberration, a short deviation from the inevitable progressive arc of history. Brexit was treated as simpleton Brits making a mistake. Donald Trump as president was considered even worse. And most Americans had no idea what was brewing in Europe, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel disastrously carried on her country’s tradition of deciding finance, military, and demographic issues for Europe and inviting a backlash.

Well, what a backlash it has been. The latest round of European elections was a total meltdown for the managerial and technocratic center-left and center-right parties. It is hard to put in words how broken the European landscape is, but to put it simply, the center no longer exists.

Do read the article, it goes into Europe more than I do here.

Again we see the old form, Britain holds the line, as in 1940, but along comes the Americans, late as usual, but a powerful presence. In showing how it’s done, not in coercing anyone.

The most decisive is in Britain, where Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, only six weeks old, and drawing everything from left-Marxist Labourites to lifelong Conservatives, roared up the charts, throwing Trump style rallies, which looked like just as much fun as the original. Six weeks old and the party pretty much destroyed the Tories (42% –> 9%) and Labour (40% –> 14%). Look at the last column, TBP at 32% outperformed the Tories and Labour combined (23%).

And caused the Prime Minister to give notice of her intention to resign even before the votes were counted. Well, maybe, she ain’t gone yet, see also Merkel.

The game isn’t over though because the Parliamentary parties haven’t figured it out yet, they still think they can rule without the people. They have a surprise coming.

And that is true all through Europe, the French electoral map looked like the 2016 US one. Macron carried a few cities, Le Pen took the rest.

Remember, nobody at all in Europe (including Britain) is as conservative as American conservatives, nor do any of them have the creedal underpinning we do. A radical right winger in Europe is about a RINO here, maybe a Yellow Dog. There are valid historical reasons for that, and it is unlikely to change.

But they are moving our way, and are well underway with destroying the EU, It’s been obvious for a long time that the only way to Unify Europe is by force, and that applied ruthlessly, and even that isn’t guaranteed, especially not when the ring is held by the United States. The EU wants to be an empire and to take over the UK armed forces, which are the only viable forces in Europe. That too drove the revolt.

And it drove a lot of Britons back to their friends – us. I have heard more British praise of President Trump in the last year than I have of America in a decade. Why? For the same reason, many of us have come to support him. He fights his (our) corner, They are smart enough to know that if he Makes America Great Again, that allows them to Make Britain Great Again. All the European nations sense this, I think. And so there is a leadership possibility here. All we have to do is be Americans. That’s something we are really good at.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, the day we as Americans have set aside to remember those who gave their lives for us, and for others. Americans have always been willing to die for freedom, and far too many have. Memorial Day (which was Decoration day until roughly World War II) was established by the people, not the government, after the Civil War, originally recognizing the war dead of the Federal Army, in time it expanded to all American war dead, even the Confederate, also in time those war dead spread around the world. In England, France, Italy, Australia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, as America became the champion of freedom worldwide.

A hundred years ago, American troops were just beginning to firm up the Allied lines in France, they would go on to attack and seal the doom of the German Empire. Sammies, I’m told the French called them, after Uncle Sam, they called themselves doughboys, often shortened to dough.

But was there any meaning to all those men dying in France? Well, it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Here’s the eye of one beholder, Vera Brittain, a British nurse serving in France.

“Only a day or two afterwards I was leaving quarters to go back to my ward, when I had to wait to let a large contingent of troops march past me along the main road that ran through our camp.  They were swinging rapidly towards Camiers, and though the sight of soldiers marching was too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their swift stride caused me to stare at them with puzzled interest.

They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed.  At first I thought their spruce, clean uniforms were those of officers, yet obviously they could not be officers, for there were too many of them; they seemed, as it were, Tommies in heaven.  Had yet another regiment been conjured from our depleted Dominions?  I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect.  But I knew the colonial troops so well, and these were different; they were assured where the Australians were aggressive, self-possessed where the New Zealanders were turbulent.

Then I heard an excited exclamation from a group of Sisters behind me.

‘Look! Look!  Here are the Americans.!’

I pressed forward with the others to watch the United States physically entering the war, so God-like, so magnificent, so splendidly unimpaired in comparison with the tired, nerve-racked men of the British Army.  So these were our deliverers at last, marching up the road to Camiers in the spring sunshine!  There seemed to be hundreds of them, and in the fearless swagger of their proud strength they looked a formidable bulwark against the peril looming from Amiens.

…An uncontrollable emotion seized me – as such emotions often seized us in those days of insufficient sleep; my eyeballs pricked, my throat ached, and a mist swam over the confident Americans going to the front.  The coming of relief made me realise all at once how long and how intolerable had been the tension, and with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated, I found myself beginning to cry.”

From ” Look! Here are the Americans!” The U.S. in World War I and Popular Memory

Today is the day to remember all those we left behind.

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