President Trump’s inability or unwillingness to lead on a legislative agenda has been cast as bad news for conservatism. But his weakness may trigger a renaissance of conservatism properly understood.
In his latest column, George Will laments that conservatism has been “hijacked” by “scowling primitives” and “vulgarians.” A conservatism that once cheerfully and unapologetically embraced “high culture” has been overtaken by a vulgar populism, which defends main-street values against elite liberal cosmopolitans, but which increasingly embodies not intellectual argument but rather, in Lionel Trilling’s words, “irritable mental gestures” masquerading as ideas.
To rise above this, Will writes, we should draw lessons from Alvin S. Felzenberg’s new book, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley, according to Will, needed to evolve from his early judgments favoring isolationism, among other juvenile statements, and his “ebullience, decency, and enthusiasm for learning propelled him up from sectarianism.”
Chronicling Buckley’s moral, personal, and political growth, the book shows, in Felzenberg’s words, how “Buckley walked a tightrope between elitism and populism.” Alas, Will notes, Buckley could not reconcile the dissonant notes they struck. And now, nearly a decade after Buckley’s death, conservatism “soiled by scowling primitives.”
But what was conservatism before “vulgarians hijacked it”? Why was conservatism, in Will’s thinking, “susceptible to hijacking”?
Surprisingly, Will blames Whittaker Chambers:
I’ve been reading With the Old Breed, Eugene Sledge’s classic account of his experiences in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Many have come to know his story from the successful 2010 HBO Series The Pacific that relied in part on his diary of these two battles. Sledge enlisted for the duration of the war +6 months in 1943 and, owing to his intelligence, was part of a military training program at Georgia Tech. There he could have earned his degree and joined the war effort in a highly skilled position of some kind, remote perhaps from actual fighting. However, he withdrew from the program, as many of his fellow classmates did, and joined the Marines to fight as a rifleman. And so he did. The narrative “Sledgehammer” provides is compelling, horrific, and fascinating.
Peter Lawler’s passing has been quite painful to me as it has to so very many people who were his students, friends, and colleagues. His death means that a source of incomparable wisdom in my life is gone. One story that sticks in my mind is the time that Peter secured a rather sizable grant from a certain foundation. He had to participate in a contest of sorts for the grant. His other competitors had put together PowerPoint presentations, binders, flow charts, deploying MBA-speak to demonstrate the vital impact the money would have if they could make use of it. Peter, who never hesitated to mock MBA-speak in deadpan tones, thought the episode illustrated technocratic practices at their best, applying corporate business techniques in the realm of non-profit outreach. Peter told me that he wrote down a few lines on a scratch paper while waiting his turn to speak to the grant-making committee. He delivered his “innovative” talk in a few minutes. He focused on—what else?—virtue and human nature. Needless to say, he was chosen to receive the funding.
Legal historian Mary Sarah Bilder’s op-ed in the Boston Globe means to level originalism. Her effort has produced responses from Lawrence Solum and from John McGinnis and Mike Rappaport on this site. The criticisms sum to the notion that Bilder is shooting scattershot rounds at a defined scholarly target.
Bilder’s argument is that the members of the Constitutional Convention did not have “the luxury of even imagining that each and every word possessed an invariable, sacred meaning.” Who said they did?
The University of California, Berkeley emerged again as a bastion of protest against perceived fascism. Alt-Right leader Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans to speak on the campus, only to be blocked by protestors and violent rioters. President Trump, in true late-night form, tweeted: No free speech, ‘NO FEDERAL FUNDS?’
Gerald Russello, editor of the University Bookman, has put together a great symposium on immigration entitled Citizen, Community, and Welcoming the Stranger with pieces by Yuval Levin, Bruce Frohnen, Peter Lawler, David Azerrad, Brad Birzer, and Daniel McCarthy. Below is my contribution which is reposted with permission from the Bookman.
America’s more open approach to widespread immigration is faltering, the support for it eroded by our low-growth economy. For too many, the pie seems to be shrinking, with those at the Little Debbie level much more aware of this than those who can afford double-swirly cheesecakes. To be sure, some of the blame for the Obama era’s anemic growth can be put on aggressive regulatory policy. Obamacare increased, in effect, the tax on labor that employers must pay, with predictable responses on their part. The Federal Reserve became the largest financial intermediary in the country under the reign of quantitative easing, meaning that the central bank, and not an array of investors, has been the biggest allocator of capital. As Bastiat told us, we’re unable to see the value that wasn’t created as a result of centralized policies that squelched opportunities for growth.
I'm excited to announce that James Rogers has joined us as a regular blogger. He opens with a response to Cass Sunstein's criticisms of originalism. Rogers is no stranger to this space, having guest blogged in November and, before that, contributing other posts and reviews. His review of Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance is worth revisiting. Rogers has a joint faculty appointment at Texas A&M University and at the TAMU campus in Doha, Qatar. He holds a Ph.D in political science as well as a J.D. In addition to publishing numerous articles in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Law,…
Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is by virtually every account a stellar jurist. His writings are now being mined, by supporters and opponents alike, for evidence of his commitment to judicial restraint and the separation of powers.
That evidence is not hard to find. In an address delivered on April 27, 2016, Gorsuch spoke of “the great project of Justice Scalia’s career,” namely to expound “the differences between judges and legislators.”
Do we need a theory of managerial class disintegration? Such an ambitious question can at the least be ventured given our headlines: Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, the European Union and the larger rise of the Euronationalist parties, and the questioning of postwar international institutions, to name a few.