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May 06, 2004

Rightie Elsewhere

Dear Friedrich --

I'm often surprised by how little interest lefties show in learning about rightie-ism. Many seem completely content with a demonic cartoon image of rightie thought -- all righties think alike, and it's EVIL. Perhaps they enjoy the fun of being able to train their guns on a single target. But, honestly, I'm just as surprised by how seldom righties show any interest in the variety of rightie thought. Rightie-ism embraces a lot of points of view, many of which conflict with each other. FWIW, learning a bit about all this strikes me as a matter of basic political literacy.

Anyway, for this posting at least, I'm a man with a mission: to demonstrate the range of rightie thought via links to tiptop bloggers and sites.

  • Many people have no idea, for instance, that such a thing as antiwar righties exist. Actually, they're fairly numerous. Steve Sailer's an example; check out Steve's blog (the right-hand column of his site, here) for his caustic ongoing thoughts about the Iraq war. But I read just about everything of Steve's I can get hold of; he strikes me as one of the most original journalists around. Recently, he's contrasted Northern and Southern California (here); discussed how crazy it is to soften medical-training requirements in order to achieve affirmative-action-style goals (here); and delivered interesting info about Europe's anxieties about its Gypsy population (here).

  • Arts and Letters Daily (here) pointed out this good Scott McLemee piece about paleoconservative godfather Russell Kirk (here). Where does post-WWII American conservatism come from? Kirk's the Man -- yet how many Americans even know of this major figure's existence? Kirk's also a rebuke to those who claim that conservatives have no interest in the arts. FWIW, although I can't get through Kirk's own writing (talk about stuffy), I enjoy reading about him and his thought. Curious to hear how you react.

  • Randall Parker, certainly a rightie, links to an essay by Harvard prof Samuel ("Clash of Civilizations") Huntington, who identifies himself as a Democrat. The theme of Huntington's essay is how the American elite (Democrat and/or Republican) became the anti-American thing that it is. Why is there such a huge gap between the elites (Huntington labels them "cosmopolitans") and we run-of-the-mill Joe-Sixpacks (who Huntington calls "nationalists")? On what fundamental points does this disagreement turn? I found Huntington's taxonomy and Randall's discussion helpful and enlightening, even in my thinking about the arts. Randall's posting is here, the Huntington essay is here. (Fenster Moop, here, points out that a NYTimes interview with Huntington can be read here.) Good Huntington line: "Actually, both [political] parties are divided on immigration."

  • Jim Kalb -- who stopped by 2Blowhards to give us some concise lessons in conservative philosophy (here, here, and here) -- qualifies as a "traditionalist conservative." I find his p-o-v subtle and impressive, if impossible to characterize in a few snappy words. FWIW, I'm reading Pascal's "Pensees" at the moment (and don't I feel hoity-toity dropping that so casually into a conversation), and I've been struck by how close to Pascal Jim's viewpoint is. Jim's own blog is Turnabout, here. Recently, I've especially enjoyed his discussion of Hayek and conservatism (here), and a posting about some specifically American predicaments that conservatives face, here.

  • I don't have any idea how to characterize the political outlook of the columnist Fred Reed. I'm sure he's a rightie of some ilk because (like Steve Sailer) he writes for The American Conservative. But his tone and his writing -- hip, corrosive, earthy and amusing -- aren't anything like what you expect from a conservative. Here's a typically terrific Fred column on a subject we took on recently on this blog -- the way that the congitively-gifted and the cognitively not-so-gifted are sifting apart from each other, and what the effects and consequences of this development seem to be. (Click on "The Underclass.")

  • Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, the economists who blog at Marginal Revolution (here), are yet another variety of rightie -- sorta-Austrian/sorta-libertarian. (I do hope that's not an unfair characterization.) They're endlessly perceptive, inquisitive, and cheerful, as well as much more insightful about cultural matters than most self-proclaimed cultural commentators are. They've been on another of their not-rare hot streaks in recent days. I got a lot out of Alex's discussion of how to think about science policy (here),and out of Tyler's quick posting about some of the differences between economics and anthropology, here.

Lotsa brains on display in these postings -- and plenty of disagreements too. Righties, huh? Who knew?

Incidentally, I'm not trying to convert anyone here -- far be such a thing from me. Just throwing open some doors and saying, Hey, isn't that provocative?



posted by Michael at May 6, 2004


It frustrates me to no end that so many people equate Republicanism with anti-intellectualism and fundamentalist ignorance. The American political landscape has just as much faction and disagreement as that of any many party parliamentary state. It's just that we have to form our coalitions before the elections, not after, and as in all such enterprises, we sometimes have to align with people we may find distasteful, for the sake of electability. Many libertarians support the Right because then at least they have a chance of getting /some/ of their ideas recognized. The Left just ignores us.

And for anyone who doubts that conservatives have some heavyweight things to say about the arts, just read any issue of The New Criterion.

Posted by: John Bergmayer on May 6, 2004 12:20 PM

Whence cometh post-WWII conservatism? I think you should have credited Bill Buckley for synthesizing this thing we call the modern American Right.

Russell Kirk is an enormous influence but, compared to the mainstream right, his POV seems too pessimistic, almost luddite. His background is instructive: he grew up in up-state Michigan, following the great lumber boom and bust. Imagine a landscape dotted with tree stumps and abandoned buildings--no wonder the guy was gloomy. Like Tolkien, he was obsessed with Decline and Fall as the inevitable condition of this life, but avoided the typical environmentalist's rage through Christian Hope. He was a great walker and disliked the way the automobile supplants pedestrians. I suspect the whole Reganomics side of conservatism would have seemed to him, at best, irrelevant.

For a view of the man that doesn't involve dry theory, see his collection of ghost stories called _The Surly Sullen Bell_.

Posted by: Bleauhard de Chardin on May 6, 2004 12:32 PM

Michael - Personally, I've been similarly intrigued by the varieties of leftie thought recently. I've always assumed that the constructive element of the left was dead, and had somehow been replaced with the snide oppositionalism that emanates from the anti-globalisation/capitalism/war/everything movement, and the decrepit Trotskyite parties badly hidden behind that facade. But it appears this is not the case - there are quite a cluster of pro-war lefty bloggers out there who make a lot of good points - much better points than the people supposedly running the war, actually - and who also seem, in some cases, to have given some thought to why people tend to prefer capitalism.

The thing that strikes me most these days is the amount of common ground behind non-fanatics of all political persuasions. Most political issues rest on very fine judgements, in situations of inadequate information. Often the difference between people on extreme sides of a position is just some slight difference in view.

John Bergmayer - I think you might be surprised at the extent to which elements on the Left do listen to libertarians. The Austrian economists in particular have had an enormous impact on leftish thought, through the debates on the calculation agument to the modern recognition by many socialists and liberals that markets do something that central control either can't do, or can only do with great difficulty. The trouble is that the most vocal parts of the left have the most difficulty with libertarian ideas. Subtler thinkers tend to be quieter.

I appreciate your point about American coalitions being formed before elections. British democracy works in a similar way, but parliamentary posturing makes the fissures between the factions within the parties much more visible. In the US, it seems the executive is more unified, because it operates through the single figure of the president, whereas congress has traditionally been more diverse than parliament, so the party lines often barely show at all in the spectrum of opinion. The most disturbing trend in American politics right now is that the Republican party seems to trying to impose a more European style of party discipline.

Posted by: Simon Kinahan on May 6, 2004 05:29 PM

The fundamental American stance - leave me alone, just leave me alone to live my life as I see fit, don't tread on me - is conservative.
Is it any wonder that those whose deepest impulse is to find and follow each his own truth(s) would splinter apart; and then (and this is a crucial differentiation from the left) would respect the right of other conservatives, conservatives they may passionately disagree with, to have their say?
Conservatism, because it is so passionately individualist, is passionately committed to liberty. Say what you will about the farther shores of conservative thought; the danger of enslavement (for your own good of course, always for your own good) does not and will not come from the right.

Posted by: ricpic on May 6, 2004 08:27 PM


Don't forget that Pat Buchanan is also anti-war. In fact, though I disagree with them, the anti-war, isolationsit right seems to have a coherent position, i.e. part of belieiving in a limited government means that you're probably suspicious of the entire project of "spreading democracy." For this part of the right, the state of the rest of the world is somebody elese's problem. Left-liberals, on the other hand, always seem to me to be pretty gung-ho about issues of human rights and human freedoms worldwide. While it's certainly valid for them to criticize how the war is being waged, it doesn't make sense for them to criticize the war itself.

Two of the big problems about the right/left split, in America at least, is that (1) most libertarians (including the left-leaning ones) get lumped in with the right wingers and (2) neoconservativism is almost identical to Cold Warrior Liberalism.


Posted by: J.W. Hastings on May 7, 2004 05:35 AM

You know, if you just replace "rightie" with "leftie" in this statement:

Many seem completely content with a demonic cartoon image of rightie thought -- all righties think alike, and it's EVIL.

I think you get a not-unfair description of how many righties view lefties. While conceding the fairness of your point, I must say my experience of reading right-leaning political blogs is that they generally have no interest in what left-leaning bloggers have to say except insofar as it can be used against them somehow (the reverse is true of left-bloggers, of course).

FWIW, learning a bit about all this strikes me as a matter of basic political literacy.

And it would, too, if only political bloggers were willing to extend their political literacy beyond "we good, they bad". Alas, the majority seem comfortable with whatever Weltanschauung* they've fallen into and have no interest in anything the other side might have to offer (except when they're offering a sitting duck target).

* Think you're smart just cos you can name-drop Pascal? I can blog-comment in German! :)

Posted by: James Russell on May 7, 2004 06:07 AM

John -- That's a really good point, as well as a clear way of summarizing something that's important in American politics. I've often wondered if a proportional-representation system wouldn't offer some advantages to a place as diverse as the States. But then I notice that a lot of the people who make this argument are NPR-listenin' granola-heads. Obviously I have no solid thinking of my own to go on here ...

Bleauhard -- You're right, of course, and thanks. I get more involved with ideas than I do with practical politics, and I've never found Buckley interesting as an idea guy, where I do find Kirk pretty interesting (as I say, at least when I read about him). So I tend to focus on political philosophers more than actual political types. Have you found Buckley's own thinking interesting? Any reading tips?

Simon -- That's fascinating. It's been a few years since I left what I now think of as the Church of Leftie-ism, so I've lost track of developments over there. Gotta admire them in some ways: they're always finding new ways to keep the faith fresh, and the urgency level pumped-up. Are there really lefties who've paid attention and learned from Austrian economists? That's amazing. Back in my time, I don't think I ever met a leftie who'd even heard of that school. I wonder if the web has played a role in people learning a bit more than they used to. Wouldn't it be lovely.

Ricpic -- Hear hear to that. One of my biggest personal troubles with leftie-ism was that they weren't content with decent behavior. They wanted to police minds and thoughts too. For the life of me, I could never understand why, if a person behaves pretty decently, I should care what's on his mind. If I know and like him and have a little spare time, sure. But otherwise? But my leftie freinds and colleagues all seemed to think that the world would finally be OK if and when -- and only if and when -- everyone was finally thinking good thoughts. Sneaky intuition of mine is that they're (generally speaking, of course) actually rather envious of non-lefties. Being so bound-up morally, and so thought-policed themselves, they envy and resent the mental-and-emotional freedom that normal non-lefties enjoy. Which only seems to redouble their desire to police our thoughts, of course.

JW -- Excellent points all, thanks. The way the left-right thing breaks down in the states is often quite bewildering. One of the reasons I love pushing the immigration issue is out of pure mischief -- it's one of the places where the conventional left-right division falls completely apart.

James -- Also an excellent point. Although I'd venture, just from my limited experience, and in a very general, tons-of-exceptions way, that righties are more tolerant on a personal level than lefties are. Most righties I've run into may think lefties are nuts and wrong, but they're cordial and generous in person. Most of the committed lefties I've known can barely stand to be in the physical presence of someone they know is a rightie. I wish I could explain it. But I'm with you: the whole tendency political types have to stake out positions and then get on with blazing away at each other -- hang 'em all, sez I.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 7, 2004 10:35 AM

Well, righties are wrong for the most part, so why bother?

(And personally I do equate righties with Rush, Bush, Cheney, Gingrich, DeLay and Rove. All vicious bastards as far as I can tell.)


Posted by: Yahmdallah on May 7, 2004 07:47 PM

The current Leftist polarization is coming from the underlying philosophy; moral relativism, or religous absolutes. The Democrats have institutionalized pro-abortion, and no anti-abortion candidate can pass that litmus test; the now-exiled to Reps Christians are attempting to create a symetric pro-life litmus test. It hasn't happened yet; most Reps still prefer victory (like w/ Arnie).

The Left also has problems with facts on the ground: church schools teach poor kids better, for instance. Sex ed doesn't reduce teen-age pregnancy.
Tax cuts for the rich (investors) create more jobs.

But Bush really should a bit better PR in explaining how his policies help poor people; when they do.

Posted by: Tom Grey on May 8, 2004 07:35 PM

Caring about how people think and feel isn't entirely crazy--how they behave in private is strongly affected by how they really think, and the way prisoners are treated is generally private.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on May 10, 2004 04:49 AM

I guess the singularity of rightists conviction that George W Bush is a righteous man leads many to believe the lefties don't care what the rightists think! That singularity proves that they do not, indeed, think: they ACCEPT Bush as their Lord and Savior, while anyone who takes five seconds to examine Bush realizes he is un-mitigated evil - therefore, those who admire him are dunderheaded know-nothings.


Posted by: Laura Bush on May 10, 2004 03:36 PM

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