Phony in-house Conservative Battles

My former political editor at the late-great Culture11, James Poulos makes an excellent contribution to a roundtable discussing Sam Tanenhaus’ piece declaring the death of movement conservativism.  Tanenhaus’ original article is here.  The roundtable discussion is here–Br. James’ contribution is fittingly the final one.

What I like in some ways most about James’ response is that in my mind he is the only one who you can’t basically guess what his response will be to the question by looking at his biographical/affiliation blurp.  Some of the other responses I find interesting and on point, others maybe less so, but the rest all strike me as quite easily if not predictable at least guessable based on the individual’s place within conservo-world.

A (very) cheap and dirty version of Tanehaus’ argument is that movement conservatism is dead and should be replaced by a form of Burkean conservatism (so-called Beaconsfield conservatism).

Here’s Poulos:

When Tanenhaus cuts deeper, however, he complicates this easy narrative. Foreign and market policy concern little of the internecine warfare between ideological movement conservatives and their classical Beaconsfield foes. For both factions admit or champion the necessity of internationalism abroad and the free market at home—unlike a third, less popular or publicized strain of conservatism. More importantly, conservatives of this third strain most stridently reject the idea that cultural change is necessarily open-ended, progressive, and inevitable. Classical and movement conservatives alike, by contrast, concede—at a minimum—that we live in “a culture of continual novelty.” Yet they hesitate to consider that cultural change itself may have been commodified as a shared psychological and economic imperative.

This point is a further elucidation of James’ distinction between what he calls cultural (or what ED calls civilizational) conservatism and social conservatism.

For Poulos then, the difference between the Beaconsfieldians and the movement conservatives is really more just two various articulations of a common core assumption. (Ed: Does this apply as well to Grand New Party Conservatism? I’m guessing it does).  The Beaconsfieldians (that’s a pleasant word to say, just rolls off the tongue btw) argue for a more so-called organic, skeptical, open-ended, flexible, adaptable kind of conservatism.  The movement conservatives by attaching themselves so closely to (among others) social conservatives (as well as neocons I would add) embrace ideology described by Poulos as:

[an ideology] purports to comprehensively standardize and synthesize non-political convictions and commitments with political objectives…

This criticism I think lands quite successfully in many regards.  I hear a whole mess of MacIntyrean echoes in this graf.  Which leads me then to the ending to this piece:

Tanenhaus admirably invites conservatives to explode ideology—with its central myth that religious convictions, cultural commitments, and political objectives can be purified into a programmatic and comprehensive creedal unity. But he cannot explain how post-movement conservatives can successfully oppose movement liberalism, which effectively instrumentalizes economic and political policies that advance our cultural pathologies in such a way as to celebrate them.

Having made what I think is this crucial distinction between these various strands of conservatism (even adroitly applying that insight to the liberaltarian discussion), I want to nudge JP to begin answering his own hanging question: how would post-movement conservatives respond to movement liberalism?  Especially given the (in my mind) rather sound critiques of the alternate Beaconsfieldian types.

It seems to me that James has not gone in for the Benedict Option–at least not totally, though I doubt he’s opposed and potentially somewhat sympathetic to that route. James while I sense some MacIntyrean influence is more influenced by Philip Rieff (I feel like there is something wrong with wiki-ing Philip Rieff. Oh well).  If not Benedict, then what for cultural conservatism?

Bonus Coverage: In the previous link on the Benedict Option, Rod Dreher also talks about a Cincinnatus option.  Now being a native Cincinnatian, the child of multiple generations of born, raised, dyed in the wool Cincinnatians–of the proper or West Side Variety (people from The ‘Nati will know of what I speak)–I have to say a word or two on this.

Re: Cincinnatus option according to Rod:

I conclude that if we are Rome, we can either take the Cincinnatus Option, and work to rebuild our flagging institutions and restore our republican (small-r, nota bene) vigor …

Depending on one’s point of view fortuntaely or unfortunately, the Cincinnatus Option (as I recall my local civic history) would entail a partial period of dictatorship.  The Cincinnatus Option (at least historically and mythically) like The Benedict Option has a strong agricultural ethos to it.  [i.e. Emphasis on the crunchy in crunchy conservative.].  Cincinnatus post-dictatorship and military victory, returned to plowing his field rather than being life long dictator.  [Sidefact: My hometown is therefore named after George Washington considered the American Cincinnatus].   This agrarian imagination is generally what I don’t see in James’ work.  So when I’m asking JP to tease out the implications of his own theory, I partially mean that given an urban context.

* Also check out Larison’s piece in much the same vein.

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8 thoughts on “Phony in-house Conservative Battles

  1. What is this “proper or West Side Variety” crap? East Side keeps it real. My backyard growing up faced onto Moeller’s practice field, Dierkes, you wanna mix?

    P.S. Price Hill Chili is overrated. Yeah, I said it.

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  2. Fantastic. I was testing a theory that if I promoted West Side-ism, some East Sider would near instantaneously jump in, come correct and wanna start somethin’. Theory validated.

    I also like how you in class Cincinnati style called me by my last name Lind.

    While my mom’s side are true blue West Siders (mostly Delhi types–for those of you not from Cincinnati like Dara or I, that is pronounced Del-HIGH not like the Indian city) I did go to Saint Xavier, so I schooled with many a (much richer) East Sider in school. Friendships were made. If The East Siders and the West Siders can get together, there is still hope for the Arabs and Jews in my mind.

    Ah yes Price Hill Chili, the Kaba of the West Side. PHC is definitely not overrated IF (big if) if you are looking for greasy food that will evacuate anything in your intestines and/or colon. On that front, it can not be beaten.

    Moeller practice field huh….does that make you a Lovelander? (aka The Delhi of the East Side?).

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  3. Um, Sycamore Township, actually.

    (In the spirit of full disclosure I should note that I didn’t feel any affinity whatsoever for Cincinnati while I was there. I’m sure I’ll post something that tells the full story at some point, so I won’t bore you in advance.)

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  4. Cincinnati for me (other than my family still there) is more nostalgic. It’s always nicer in my memories than it is in reality when I go to visit. Visiting reminds me why I left.

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  5. i wasn’t going to comment here anymore…but the answer to chris’ question about combatting movement liberalism is gobsmacking simple.
    Don’t be the party of freedom for one religion, be the party of freedom for all religions.
    Don’t be the pro-family party just for white judeo-xian man/woman marriage families, be the pro-family party for all varieties of families.
    Not sure if that is possible given the composition of your base, but it is the simple solution.

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  6. Dierkes puts the “ordinary” in Ordinary Gentlemen. His ideas are totally pedestrian, his posts clumsy mimicry of the truly insightful and interesting fellows on this blog. End his reign of boredom.

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