The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain rereleases two early albums

The re-released

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will soon be making its entire back catalog available for purchase in the form of mp3 downloads; despite this, they have reissued two of their early albums as CDs, Pluck (1997) and Hearts of Oak (1989.)  A copy of each came to our house came a couple of weeks ago.  Mrs Acilius and I have been listening to them more or less continuously ever since.   

Hearts of Oak features eleven originals and four covers. Pluck features twelve covers and four originals.  Two cuts from Hearts of Oak (“The World’s Number One Scat Singer” and “Western Lands”)  and seven from Pluck (“Try Hard,” “Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Completely Broken Hearted,” “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” “Devil’s Galop,” “In a Monastery Garden,” and “I Think You’re Neat”) were among the eighteen tracks on the 2006 compilation album Top Notch.  The band no longer offers Top Notch for sale on their website.  I don’t know whether this means that they plan to make all of the tracks on it available in their original contexts by rereleasing 1994’s  A Fistful of Ukuleles  and 2000’s Anarchy in the Ukulele as CDs, or if those numbers will only be on the market as mp3s.  I hope for the former; not only are the individual tracks worth having, but they flow into each other to make terrific sets.   

Hearts of Oak is structured as an overture and two movements.  The overture is “Chord Trick,” an abridgement of Henry Purcell’s 1695 Funeral March for Queen Mary arranged for electric ukulele; the result sounds vaguely like 80s Progressive Metal.  The set is 21 years old; while several other cuts are recognizably artifacts of the period, this opening number is the only one that has aged badly.  The flat electronic sound captures none of the urgency that builds so insistently through the original.  An attempt to render the Funeral March for Queen Mary in the style of Queensryche may be  typical of the UOGB’s eclecticism, but this performance is by far the weakest on the disc.  

The next seven tracks represent what I call the set’s first movement, a series of vocals in various genres.  “Just a Game” is as much part of 1989 as is “Chord Trick,” but evokes the bubblegum pop of the period far more successfully than “Chord Trick” evokes the metal.  “Whatever It Takes” led Mrs Acilius to exclaim that Kitty Lux has the perfect voice for hillbilly music; as the missus is a card-carrying hillbilly herself, this was high praise.  Indeed, Kitty Lux is the undoubted star of the band in these two albums.  I can’t help but think it’s a bit of a shame that she’s taken a lower profile in recent years.  On “There Was a Man,” Kitty sings about a man who needed shoes and was so excited when she gave him hers that he wore them out dancing for joy.  When I first heard this folk-inspired number my main response was to wonder what it might have sounded like if it had been written in Spanish.  It’s grown on me with subsequent listenings, but it’s not for those with a low tolerance for the twee. 

The liner notes quote the Guardian hailing the fifth track, “Anything is Beautiful Which…,” as the moment when the ukulele “at last found its avant-garde.”  The reviewer probably said that because of the lyrics, which consist of Kitty’s electronically distorted voice making little references to various nineteenth-century theories of aesthetics.  If you aren’t up on these theories, don’t worry- the words are no more distracting than the nonsense lyrics of most pop songs, and the rhythm is powerful enough to get me, the missus, and both of our dogs up and dancing every time we play the disc.  If you are up on aesthetic theory, the song is actually pretty funny, but you’ll have to take my word for that.  Even funnier are the lyrics to “The World’s Number One Scat Singer,” which is George’s one turn as vocalist on this album.  The song, which  would appear on Top Notch as “The World’s Greatest Scat Singer,” actually does include some first-rate scatting, as well as lines that can get a laugh from any audience.  “Easter Sunday,” a cover of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler’s “Ostersonntag 1935,” is dark and dissonant, as one would expect from a Brecht/ Eisler lied.  Though it is an arrangement of a song that was already 54 years old by the time the disc was first released, it is much closer to being avant-garde than is “Anything is Beautiful Which…”  The speaker’s anxiety about an upcoming “Holocaust/ that will destroy this island, and these people,/ and the continent of Europe” calls for a great deal of dissonance, and the players execute the song brilliantly.  That fearful song is the perfect lead-in for the title track.  “Hearts of Oak” is short and arresting, a simple chord progression backing lyrics that express complex ideas about human connectedness.  Following “Easter Sunday,” a song with lines like “Isolation and communion are written in hearts of oak” prompts deep thoughts about what it means to live a peaceful life as a human being among human beings.     

With that, we move on to the third movement, seven instrumental tracks.  To keep the pairing of “Easter Sunday” and “Hearts of Oak” from taking the listener too deep into intellectualism to enjoy the music, this starts with a sort of Texas two-step number, “Western Lands.”   I don’t actually know the Texas two-step, but Mrs Acilius and I have devised a little dance for this one where I do a quasi-foxtrot and she dances with her shoulders while seated.  “Nevada” is a quiet, steady number that might have sounded somber immediately after “Easter Sunday” and “Hearts of Oak”; with “Western Lands” lightening the mood in between, it’s no more downbeat than is a spaghetti western.  The pace slows down even more for an arrangement of Rentaro Taki’s koto classic “The Moon over the Ruined Castle.”  I used to live next to a professional koto player; she had a low tolerance for the ukulele.  This performance is impressive enough that I might be tempted to play it for her, if she and I were still in contact.  If anything could raise her opinion of the ukulele, this would be it.

After those two slow pieces, the pace picks up again with “Formica Top,”  a Memphis Soul number that would have made Booker T and the MGs proud.  Then comes an equally fast-paced novelty tune, “Minimal Rag.”  “Minimal Rag” is the one Mrs Acilius wants me to learn.  “Karaoke Corral” is another Western-swing themed fast dance. 

The set closes with “The Con Man’s Chord Trick,” an arrangement for acoustic ukulele of the same Purcell march which had started it off in so unsatisfactory a fashion.  This acoustic version is far superior to the electronic one.  The repetitions that had been so tedious on the electric uke give this version an irresistible driving force.  If only it had been chosen as track one and the electronic version had been cut, the album would have been in a different league.   

Unlike Hearts of Oak,  Pluck shows the UOGB in their now familiar form.  Several members of the band take turns on lead vocals, most of the tracks are covers, and comedy is never far away.  The band redid a couple of numbers in later performances.  The version of “Life on Mars” here features Jonty Bankes giving a far less assured vocal performance than he would turn in when he sang the same song at the Barbican in 2005, even though the later performance also included several more voices making a melange of other, similar tunes.  Here, Jonty’s only competition is George chiming in with the occasional line from “My Way.”  That Barbican set also included Will Grove-White clowning through “Hot Tamales,” which he sings on this disc in a relatively straight version.  The version here is more danceable, and I’m glad to have both. 

The Wild West influence that is so much in evidence on Hearts of Oak peeks out a bit on Pluck, notably in the theme from “The Magnificent Seven.”  Slowed down from the original version and played with reggae-like holes in the rhythm, this number will remind most listeners of the UOGB’s version of the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (also part of the 2005 Barbican set.)  That’s a shame; while the later piece is a much more impressive feat of musicianship, this one is also fun, and an interesting comment on the original. 

Anyone who laughed at Tom Lehrer’s “Masochism Tango” will howl through “Can I Break Your Heart?”  Not only they; Mrs Acilius, for example, doesn’t seem to care for Tom Lehrer or that song, but she sings along and laughs when “Can I Break Your Heart?” comes on the CD player. 

Amid all the jokiness, there are some serious songs.  The lyrics to “Try Hard,” with its criminally-inclined narrator, may read like a joke, but the song as they play it turns out to have a touch of pathos; George and Kitty’s “Completely Broken Hearted” is quite affecting; and George’s rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” makes me want to jump up and cheer every time I hear it.  

The best introduction to the band is a live show, or failing that, a video.  So, if you are going to start buying their stuff, I would recommend starting with the videos they’ve released so far, one showing the 2005 Barbican show and the other showing last year’s performance at the BBC Proms.  Once you have those, I would recommend Hearts of Oak.   Pluck is a treat for confirmed fans, but I suspect most others would rather just download the mp3s of a few selected tracks.

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The American Conservative, April 2010

Pluto, no other label needed

My favorite read from the antiwar Right has undergone quite a few changes since it began in 2002.  Founding editors Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos are long gone from The American Conservative, and the hard line those men have taken against immigration from poor countries to rich ones is no longer the magazine’s editorial policy.  Last year, the magazine scaled its publication schedule back from biweekly to monthly.  This issue suggests that some further changes are underway. 

For one thing, the editors seem to want short pieces to end with pungent epigrams.  So Stuart Reid’s column about Peter Hitchens’ less interesting brother praises him for the the fine satires he directed at self-important British Conservatives in the 1970s (Reid ruefully admits that he himself met Peter Hitchens’ brother’s sardonic descriptions perfectly at the time) and praises him also for a 1986 piece arguing that the word “terrorism” should be discarded as worse than useless.  Reid laments that Peter Hitchens’ brother has now become an angry voice calling for endless war and jeering at advocates of peace.  The pungent epigram at the end is this:

Some people say that Hitchens himself is now a conservative.  That is absurd.  But he might one day make a great police chief.

Eve Tushnet’s column about the contrast between “Washington the dateline,” where the US government is headquartered, and “DC the hometown,” where she grew up and lives today, also ends with a pungent epigram: “Official Washington can disappoint you, but only home can break your heart.” 

Not only is the magazine’s style changing; there are signs of further shifts on poitical issues.  A review of a new book by former Texas Republican Party leader Tom Pauken notes Pauken’s case for replacing many federal taxes with a border-adjusted Value Added Tax, a proposal that the magazine has looked on warmly in many pieces in previous issues.  This time around, the response is much cooler, even dismissive: “Would the harm to consumers be offset by the benefits to producers?  Even if so, it’s hard to imagine the consuming many making that sacrifice on behalf of the producing few.”  Perhaps it is hard to imagine, but I would join Pauken in saying that something like it must happen if the “producing few” are not to go on becoming fewer and fewer.   

Not everything about the magazine has changed, however.  Bill Kauffman’s column closes with his characteristic assertion that “small really is beautiful.”  The smallness he discusses is that of the planet Pluto and the resources available to its discoverer, the unlettered 24 year old farm boy Clyde Tombaugh.  Tombaugh’s formal education had ended, apparently forever, when he graduated from high school; there was no money to send him on to college.  Toiling in his family’s pasture, he built his own telescope and spent nights drawing freehand sketches of Mars and Jupiter.  On a whim, Tombaugh sent these sketches to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The observatory operated on a shoestring budget; when its director saw Tombaugh’s sketches, he seized the opportunity to hire someone who might be capable of the drudgery involved in searching for a hypothetical “Planet X” beyond the orbit of Neptune.  After Tombaugh spotted Pluto on a series of photographic plates, he was awarded a scholrship to the University of Kansas, and began a distinguished academic career.   Kauffman points out that in a properly funded observatory today, “a 21st century Clyde Tombaugh would be wearing a hairnet and ladling mac and cheese in the cafeteria.”   I suspect that a 21st century Tombaugh would likely have qualified for a scholarship to the University of Kansas without having to discover a planet first, but Kauffman does have a point.  The bureaucratization of science, like bureaucratization generally, may be the road to efficiency, but there’s something to be said for the independent, uncredentialled researcher. 

I can’t resist mentioning that the Believer (aka Mrs Acilius) takes a keen personal interest in Pluto.  I read this piece to her; when I got to the bit where Kauffman says that the officials of the International Astronomical Union who in 2008 decided to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet were a group of “costive bastards,” she let out a war whoop that would have done her Cherokee forebears proud.  She was not satisfied with Kauffman’s conclusion that the label “dwarf planet” might “be okay” because “small really is beautiful,” however.  She wants it back on the list of full-fledged planets. 

The theme that “small is beautiful” comes up in another piece, Patrick Dineen’s “Counterfeiting Conservatism.”  Dineen traces many evils back to the introduction of primary elections in the USA in the early decades of the 2oth century.  While primaries were supposed to break the grip of political elites on the nominating process, in fact they merely replaced the old elite of local party bosses with a new elite of political professionals who operate on  a national scale.  This development has in turn led to the nationalization of elections, the rise of partisan ideology, and a new concept of patriotism.  Where a 19th century American might have thought of patriotism in terms of loyalty to a particular state and reverence for particular historical figures, the nationalized politics of the 2oth century pushed Americans to identify patriotism with enthusiasm for the nation-state and its expansion. 

I should also note a report on current US politics.  There’s an antiwar candidate running for US Senator from Indiana.  That isn’t the likely Democratic nominee, Congressman Brad Ellsworth of Evansville, but his predecessor in the US House, Republican John Hostettler.  Hostettler opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and even wrote an antiwar book.  If Hostettler wins his party’s nomination, Indiana will see a conservative, prowar Democrat squaring off against an even more conservative, antiwar Republican in November.  I wonder how the Indiana contingent of Thunderlads will react to that choice.

Virtue Engendered; or, Big States Breed Small Souls

I found two highlights in this issue: a review of Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? and a review of David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel is a major figure in the revival of “virtue ethics,” the school of thought pioneered by Aristotle.   As its name suggests, virtue ethics tends to emphasize the importance of developing particular character traits.  Virtue ethics was out of fashion among academic philosophers for quite a long time, but now it seems to be on an equal footing with the two other leading schools of ethical thought, utilitarianism and deontology. Utilitarianism is a set of approaches that take their cue from Jeremy Bentham’s definition of the Good as that which brings the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest number of people; deontology first crystallized in the work of Immanuel Kant, defender of the idea that moral duty and rational understanding are inseparable one from another.  So, an advocate of utilitarianism might argue that we should sustain friendships because societies composed of people who like each other tend to have lots of healthy and cheerful citizens, and an advocate of deontological ethics might argue that we should sustain friendships because the universe only makes sense to people who recognize a duty to grow close to each other.  An advocate of virtue ethics, on the other hand, might argue that being a friend means developing traits of character that are valuable in themselves and that can be attained in no other way.     

Sandel, like other virtue ethicists, is associated with a tendency in political theory called “communitarianism.”  Communitarians criticize classical liberalism for its image of the individual human being as a self-contained unit.  As The Nation‘s reviewer puts it:

Nearly thirty years ago, in his massively influential debut in political theory, Sandel argued that communal belonging precedes individual freedom–that, in his language, the self is “encumbered” and therefore not altogether prior to the ends it chooses. An intrepid technical dissection of his colleague [John] Rawls’s epoch-making A Theory of Justice (1971), Liberalism and the Limits of Justice made Sandel’s name as a “communitarian.” Sandel demonstrated that for Rawls, the freedom of individual choice alone is the morally relevant starting point for inquiry into justice, an assumption that renders things like family ties, religious belief, group loyalty and historical identity irrelevant, except as a secondary extra. Communitarians like Sandel, Charles Taylor (with whom Sandel studied as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford) and Michael Walzer responded that most people, even in liberal societies, prize those things at least as much as personal autonomy. The most attractive part of Sandel’s criticism was his contention that relationships, rather than being the result of previous choices, are the sphere in which identity is possible at all. (To put it in more technical terms, there is no individual subject not intersubjectively constituted from the first.) Ever since making these claims, even as political theory has substantially evolved, Sandel has continued to argue for the priority of the communal good in an account of justice, even as he recognizes its risks for liberty.

Because a person’s virtues are part of his or her identity, communitarianism and virtue ethics inevitably go hand in hand.    

The same review discusses a book by Amartya Sen that prompts the reviewer to mention that many philosophers were dismayed when political theorist John Rawls declared that the nation-state was “the natural forum for justice.”  Otherwise dedicated Rawlsians rebelled against this pronouncement, arguing that justice requires a worldwide framework.  I value Sandel and the communitarians because their position points to a different response to Rawls.  I haven’t studied Rawls’ work deeply, but what I have read suggests to me that his theory does indeed presuppose the nation-state as the standard of community.  The communitarians, on the other hand, have the intellectual resources to challenge that standard, not by arguing that the nation-state is too small to be just, but that it is too big.  The nation-state, especially in the form of continental behemoths like the USA or the former USSR or China or India or the European Union, is bloated beyond any capacity to nurture healthy relationships.  The only connection citizens of such enormous empires can achieve with each other is the one they feel when they cheer their rulers on and rejoice as their warriors smash the Enemy, whoever that Enemy may be at the moment.  The qualities of character that we develop when we do those things are hardly to be called virtues. 

That big states breed small souls is supported by material cited from David Finkel’s reports from Iraq.  The American public is separated from the perspective of the American soldier by official censorship, and so has a distorted view of what is being done in its name in Iraq.  Senior American commanders, too, have a distorted view, in their case because sycophantic briefing officers tell them what they want to hear rather than what their subordinates on the ground are actually seeing and doing.  The reviewer describes a scene in which Finkel reports on a briefing given to the celebrated General David Petraeus.  Finkel attended the briefing, and had been an eyewitness of the firefights deascribed in the briefing.  He makes it clear that what the general heard had little or no relationship to the events Finkel saw.  Even ground troops themselves see an ever smaller portion of what they are doing; “the Pentagon’s continued dependence on unmanned Predator drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan means that even soldiers aren’t seeing the full contours of the global battlefield,” as the reviewer points out.  Of course, it’s long been an axiom of military history that a researcher should ask a participant in a battle for eyewitness accounts only of events that took place within a meter of that participant’s face, and shouldn’t expect extreme clarity even in those accounts.  But these added degrees of separation certainly don’t improve our ability to take responsibility for what is done in our name.  Finkel apparently pulls out the emotional stops in an attempt to protest against this separation:

The chasm between over here and over there is central to another heartbreaking sequence, when the wife of a severely wounded soldier transferred from Iraq to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, remembers a visit from President Bush. Finkel recounts not only what the soldier’s wife said to the president–“Thank you for coming”–and not only what she wished she had said to him–“He doesn’t know how it feels”–but why she hadn’t said it: “Because I felt it would not have made any difference.” Communication is fruitless, because if Bush can’t see the problem staring at him from that hospital bed, he’s already living on too remote a planet.

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The American Conservative, 4 May 2009

mrhardingposterI’ve long thought that the last truly acceptable US president was Warren G. Harding.  He was virtually the last president not to have committed American forces to a new war.  On the contrary, President Harding pulled US troops out of Russia, where his predecessor Woodrow Wilson had sent them to fight alongside the anti-Bolshevik forces.  He negotiated a peace with Germany separate from the  Versailles treaty and free from that document’s vengeful anti-German provisions and its dangerously open-ended entanglement with the League of Nations.  He concluded the Washington Naval Convention, an agreement which staved off the kind of arms race at sea that had led to the First World War.  And while most other president’s have treated the other countries in the western hemisphere with barely disguised contempt, a habit which made it possible for Woodrow Wilson actually to say of his 1913 incursions into Mexico that he was going to use the US military to “teach the Latin American republics to elect good men,” Harding showed genuine respect for his countries neighbors.  In a 1920 campaign speech, he denounced Wilson’s intervention in Haiti, saying:

Practically all we know is that thousands of native Haitians have been killed by American Marines, and that many of our own gallant men have sacrificed their lives at the behest of an Executive department in order to establish laws drafted by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. … I will not empower an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to draft a constitution for helpless neighbors in the West Indies and jam it down their throats at the point of bayonets borne by US Marines. 

The Assistant Secretary of the Navy in question was at that time also the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.  This official had publicly said that “The facts are that I wrote the Haitian Constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it’s a pretty good constitution.”  The man’s name?  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  As president, FDR would speak of a “Good Neighbor Policy” toward the other states in the Americas, but as a party to the invasion and occupation of Haiti during the Wilson administration he was rather less entitled to be called a “good neighbor” than was Harding.    

Harding’s peaceful record in foreign policy was matched by his concern for liberty at home.  Unlike most of his successors, Harding did not increase the number of grounds on which Americans could be imprisoned; on the contrary, he released the political prisoners Woodrow Wilson’s administration had locked up during the First World War and the subsequent First Red Scare.  He even invited the most famous of these prisoners, Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, to have Christmas dinner with him at the White House. 

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The American Conservative, 15 December 2008

George Frost Kennan, by Ned Seidler

George Frost Kennan, by Ned Seidler

Several pieces this time despair of any prospect that traditionalist conservatism will reassert itself as a force to be reckoned with in American politics.  What, then, do the writers for this traditionalist publication believe is to be done? 

At least two of them seem to think that the time may have come to give up on the USA altogether.  Bill Kauffman writes an admiring piece about Kirkpatrick Sale’s Third North American Secessionist Convention, singling out for praise the doughty Yankees of the Second Vermont Republic, who want to break away from the continental Leviathan in the name of Ethan Allen, Robert Frost, and maple syrup.  A review of Lee Congdon’s George Kennan: A Writing Life includes remarks on Kennan’s argument in his late work Around the Cragged Hill that the USA is too big for anyone’s good and should be broken into smaller constituent republics. 

Elsewhere, a letter to the editor takes issue with those who claim that neoconservative advocates of the 2003 invasion of Iraq could have been so foolish as actually to have believed the sorts of things they said in public at that time.  The correspondent asks the magazine to “spare me the ‘neocons were dumb to believe Iraq would turn into Ohio’ nonsense.  These grown-up guys, smart enough to become advisors to the political leadership of the most powerful military on the planet, weren’t convinced of something a 10-year old knew?  Please.  It’s nice to imagine that some massively dumb, partially blind, amazing social phenomena led us into this debacle, but the truth seems simpler and more banal: the neocons didn’t care and neither did we.” 

The fallacy here seems obvious.  “These grown-up guys, smart enough to become advisors to the political leadership of the most powerful military on the planet”- that’s an impressive description.  The correspondent is right to be impressed, we should be impressed as well.  But keep in mind, every one of the members of that group was at least as impressed by his or her colleagues as we are.  Sitting at a table surrounded by such people, who would dare be the first to say something radically different from what the others were saying?  Unless someone goes first and breaks the spell, a roomful of extremely competent people can march blindly into mistakes any well-informed individual, sometimes any normal 10-year old, could have warned them against.  Many policymakers are acutely aware of this danger; indeed, when President Truman made George Kennan head of policy planning at the US  State Department in the late 1940’s he explicitly defined Kennan’s job as speaking up against the preconceptions under which others were laboring and breaking the spell of those preconceptions.

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The American Conservative, 3 November 2008

The cover of this issue features caricatures of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, advertising 18 short pieces by various contributors explaining how they reacted to the presence of that pair as candidates for US president.  Of those 18, 4 expressed support for Obama, 3 for McCain, 2 for Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, 2 for Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr, 1 each for non-candidates Ward Connerly and Ron Paul, and the remaining 5 backed no one

John Schwenkler reports from the Middlebury Institute’s Third North American Secessionist Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Headed by old-time New Left leader Kirkpatrick Sale, the Middlebury Institute gives equal footing to far left groups like the Second Vermont Republic and far right groups like the League of the South, much to the dismay of bien-pensant liberals.  Sale and company argue that “the so-called American Revolution… was a war of secession, not a revolt” and that separatism has a long history in American history, a history reaching far beyond the late unpleasantness between the states.  Schwenkler quotes Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston, a scholar of the Scottish Enlightenment who has apparently turned in recent years to Aristotle’s Politics and its emphasis on the proper scale of human communities.  Aristotle might have argued that the United States is simply too big to do any good.  Aristotle followed Plato in his belief that there was an appropriate size for a human society, that too small a group would be doomed to perpetual poverty while too large a group would lack any real bond of community.  This focus on the need for human communities to be built on a human scale has been one of the recurring themes in political theory ever since.  Because Livingston has spoken harsh words against Abraham Lincoln and the centralization of power in Washington that followed the Civil War, he has occasionally been smeared as a racist. 

Austin Bramwell argues that conservatives would be better off if there were no conservative political movement.  One may be tempted to add that in this they are like everyone else.  Bramwell’s claim is that what conservative intellectuals have to offer is something of value to independent minded individuals, but useless as a battle cry for partisans.  As examples of the kind of conservative intellectuals he has in mind, Bramwell offers Joseph Schumpeter, Jane Jacobs, Tom Wolfe, Jacques Barzun, Noam Chomsky, E. O Wilson, and Steven Pinker.  Bramwell classifies Schumpeter as conservative for precisely the reason so many on the right are uncomfortable with him today, his support for a “semi-feudal, mixed constitution” that would act to temper capitalism.  Jacobs self-identification as a leftist does not trouble Bramwell; her focus on the need for society to be constituted on a human scale and her opposition to centralized planning put her in his camp.  Chomsky, Wilson, and Pinker make the list because of the defenses each has offered for the idea that human behavior has biological bases that social planning cannot overwrite.  Indeed, Bramwell turns Chomsky’s ceaseless denunciations of US foreign policy into a conservative credential by pointing out that “Chomsky describes his politics as an attack on social engineering as he perceives it.” 

Howard Anglin reviews Marilynn Robinson’s novel Home, declaring that “Without artists like Robinson, without books like Home and the institutions they celebrate, our civilization cannot last long… If Marilynn Robinson is a liberal, then America needs more liberals.”  Considering that the review opens by quoting Robinson’s 2004 statement that “I am myself a liberal,” this last sentence would seem rather odd in a magazine called The American Conservative.  The rest of the quote (from her 2004 essay “The Tyranny of Petty Coercion” ) shows that she is about as conservative as Noam Chomsky and Kirkpatrick Sale:

I am myself a liberal.  By that I mean I believe that society exists to nurture and liberate the human spirit, and that large-mindedness and openhandedness are the means by which these things are to be accomplished.  I am not ideological.

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