The American Conservative, March 2012

The table of contents of the March issue of The American Conservative seems to have a problem.  I haven’t seen the print edition yet, but the page numbers in the online edition’s table of contents  don’t match the pages numbers in the magazine. There was a similar, though smaller-scale, problem with last month’s issue.

In the cover story, Peter Hitchens argues that, while the snarling rage Margaret Thatcher continues to evoke in her opponents does go to show that she was a figure of great historical consequence, conservatives are quite wrong to adopt her as a model of political success.  Rather, her true significance is a tragic one, embodying the final collapse of a social ideal and of an approach to governance.  The reverence Lady Thatcher continues to enjoy on the Right in both the UK and the United States suggests to Mr Hitchens that her partisans in those countries have not come to terms with this collapse, and that their ability to formulate and direct national policy is handicapped by their attachment to these outworn notions.

Rod Dreher, the original “crunchy con,” takes a more optimistic view of another eminent Briton.  He gives a glowing writeup to Prince Charles, of all people.  Evidently Mr Dreher sees in His Royal Highness the prophet of a “revolutionary anti-modernism.”  I suppose it is a sign of my shortcomings that I can never keep an entirely straight face when the topic of the British Royal Family comes up; not being British, it would certainly be inappropriate of me to say that grown-up countries don’t have kings and queens.  But I will say that my favorite aspect of the British monarchy has always been the expectation that the various princes and princesses would keep their opinions to themselves.

Gary Johnson, who from 1995 to 2003 represented the Republican Party as governor of the state of New Mexico, has left that party and declared his candidacy for president as a member of the Libertarian Party.  W. James Antle gives sympathetic attention to the freedom-loving Mr Johnson and his quixotic campaign.  Mr Johnson and his fellow Libertarians oppose many things which I think are eminently worth opposing.  If they were the only ones speaking out against the crony capitalism, the wars of aggression, and the burgeoning police state that the Democrats and Republicans have combined to foist upon the USA, I would certainly vote for them.  Fortunately, however, former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson is running for president as a left-of-center candidate.   Mr Anderson stands against all the evils that the Libertarians would fight, and at the same time supports measures to ensure fair play for all to and restrain the excesses of the market.  Mr Anderson may not have much to offer the authors and editors of something called “The American Conservative,” but most of them are just as much opposed to Libertarianism as they are to the 1980s-style liberalism that Mr Anderson represents.

Our favorite Eve Tushnet returns to the magazine with an argument to the effect that the fear of divorce has spawned a social movement that has, paradoxically, weakened marriage in the USA.  Here’s one paragraph that’s too good not to quote:

Possibly in response to divorce scripts like “We just fell out of love,” or “It just happened,” which emphasize powerlessness, the contemporary delayed-marriage script attempts to crack the code, figure out the formula, and do it right.  The fact that marriage, like parenting, is mostly about acceptance, forgiveness, and flexibility in the face of change and trauma gets suppressed.

It’s hard to believe that a celibate like Ms Tushnet wrote such an insightful remark about the nature of marriage.   On the other hand, I don’t suppose Pythagoras was a triangle, and he came up with something useful to say about them.  Be that as it may, there’s some more great stuff in Ms Tushnet’s article.  For example:

A culture of love can’t be built on a foundation of rejection.  The path forward doesn’t include further stigmatizing divorce, or bringing back stigma against unmarried childbearing… What young people need is hope: a sense that marriages can last, not because the spouses were smart enough on the front end but because they were gentle and flexible enough in the long years after the wedding.

Samuel Goldman undertakes to explain “what sets conservatives apart from authoritarians and fascists,” a task prompted by a recent book that lumped together many writers who were in one way or another connected to the word “conservative” (in some cases by their own adoption of that label as a description of their ideological stands, in other cases by their affiliation with a political party with the word “Conservative” in its name, and in still other cases only by the fact that some self-described conservatives have spoken highly of them) and declared them all to be enemies of freedom.  Why so unimpressive a work should occasion an essay by anyone of Mr Goldman’s talent may seem mysterious, but the mystery lessens when one realizes that the author of the book actually occupies a chair of political philosophy at a well-known university.  When it first appeared, some critics noticed the author’s credentials and wondered if it was a parody of crude efforts by right-wingers to smear the word “liberalism” with tar from an equally injudicious brush, but that individual has insisted that he regards his production as a genuine contribution to scholarship.

Mr Goldman’s little essay is remarkable for the courtesy and patience which it shows towards this book and its author.  Not for Mr Goldman such words as “charlatan,” “impostor,” or “fraud.”  Nor does he engage even in subtle and urbane ridicule of his subject.  Instead, he takes it as an occasion for a concise exposition of major themes in the works of Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre.  Mr Goldman’s even temper, as much as his demonstration of the absurdity of the book’s characterization of those thinkers, exposes the depths of its author’s corruption far more effectively than could the most blistering polemic.

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