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January 23, 2009

More Jim

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Jim Kalb has some ideas about how the American Right should remake itself. Buy a copy of Jim's brain-opening new book here. We interviewed Jim back here. Jim blogs here.



posted by Michael at January 23, 2009


I vote for the American Right taking a long vacation and then coming back in say -- two decades. We'll be ready for more veiled intolerance then.

Posted by: GFS3 on January 23, 2009 12:08 PM

Kalb writes:

“Left-liberals believe that society is made up of individuals and legal structures. The only rational and legitimate purpose of the structures is to give the individuals whatever they happen to want, as much and as equally as possible. It follows that the purpose of government, and indeed of morality, is regulating individuals and structures so that career, consumption, and the free choice of hobbies, lifestyles, and indulgences are secured for everyone.”

The Declaration of Independence, in part:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

So, the founders concluded that one reason the government exists is to secure the right of the people to pursue happiness and effect their happiness.

Looks like Kalb’s argument should be with the founders. I would and could go on, but it’s a waste of time. Kalb’s essay is full of assumptions asserted as if they were objective, demonstrable facts.

“Left-liberals believe that society is made up of individuals and legal structures.”

What does Kalb believe society is made up of? He doesn’t tell us. Or maybe he does somewhere in this piece, but I gave up reading after a few paragraphs.

I’m amused that all this talk about social conservatism should appear in a publication published by a wealthy Greek lounge lizard and professional gossip monger who served time in an English jail on a cocaine bust. And, for added amusement, we have ads hawking Pat Buchanan’s revisionist tome were he tries to convince readers that Hitler’s war of aggression and genocide of the Jews were the result of Winston Churchill’s bullying Hitler. ROTFL!

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 23, 2009 1:30 PM

Yeah, can they please stumble about in the wilderness a little longer?

Posted by: Steve on January 23, 2009 1:40 PM

Instead of the blatant intolerance that the Left gets away with now you mean?

Posted by: Pat Hobby on January 23, 2009 1:50 PM

Looks like Kalb’s argument should be with the founders.

The founders could have been wrong, you know. ;) The Declaration didn't come down from heaven. It really amazes me how Americans seem to regard Jefferson etc. as well nigh infallible.

Lawrence Auster's view seems more sensible:

I said Washington is the father of our country, which is simply true, and I said he is one of the greatest men who ever lived, which is also simply true. I do not regard him as a categorical hero. I know a good deal about him, and admire him for the concrete things I know about him, not simply as a hero image.

But yes, Washington was a part of the American founding with its flaws leading to liberalism, all of which we are aware of. One wishes that he and the other founders had had a more concrete vision of social order in their formal articulation of the United States. That's why it's necessary for traditionalists, not to turn against the American Founding, as some misled souls on the right would like to do, but to go back and see the flaws in the founding along with its strengths and try to re-articulate it in a way more consonant with enduring social and spiritual order.

Posted by: Thursday on January 23, 2009 5:53 PM

Maybe conservatism as something separate and distinct from libertarianism is no longer relevant.

Posted by: kurt9 on January 23, 2009 11:39 PM

Thanks to Michael for the plug, and thanks to all for comments. Some comments of my own:

  • To GFS3: All political outlooks are based on some understanding of how the world is and should be, and are intolerant of attitudes and conduct at odds with that understanding. That's one of the basic points of the Takimag piece. If all sides could recognize that we might be able to get beyond mutual accusations of intolerance that go nowhere, and get to the real issues, like how the world really does work and what our best shot is for something better.
  • To PLW: You haven't shown I have a dispute with the founders, only that I think that something they thought was one reason for government should not be viewed as the only reason for government.
  • In addition to individuals and legal structures, I think that society is made up of networks of informal connections, shared standards of what makes sense and what doesn't, common habits, attitudes, memories and loyalties, etc., etc., etc. Those things are always somewhat disorderly but you need them for society to be functional at all. Legal structures aren't enough. If they were then our policy in Iraq would be a glorious success.

    I should add that one useful thing about Takimag is that there's not much of a party line. They've published pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, snarky scientific atheists and snarky traditional Catholics. As I say in the piece, now's a time when people have to be able to say what's on their mind.

  • To k9: It's certainly true that conservatism as something separate and distinct from libertarianism doesn't have much to do with the political discussion you see on TV. The question, of course, is whether that's more a problem for conservatism or for mainstream political discussion.

  • Posted by: Jim Kalb on January 24, 2009 9:50 AM

    The American Right will go nowhere except down the drain if it tries to reinvent itself as the opposite to a caricature version of liberalism.

    For instance, the main reason liberals (including the "classical liberals" who today would be right-wing) opposed making "distinctions related to family, culture, religion, and inherited community" was that such distinctions were frequently invidious and oppressive: monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, and slavery, for instance. All of these (and a great deal more) were defended by conservatives at the time.

    What is needed now is not a reversion to discredited ideas, but a principled stand for recognition that these qualities exist and have consequences good and bad.

    Radicals and "progressives" want to annihilate all elements of human culture that interfere with their visions - and deny the existence of human realities that don't fit. (At the same time, they are sentimentally devoted to preserving or "honoring" non-Western culture however destructive.)

    Posted by: Rich Rostrom on January 25, 2009 2:15 AM

    Mr Kalb,

    I read your interview linked in the above post, and I also browsed through your website, which I intend to study in more depth as soon as time permits. Even though I disagree with some points you make, I find your thoughts generally similar to my own conclusions about the present state of affairs in the Western world.

    However, the more I think about the issues you've addressed, the more it seems to me like the real conservative conclusions about any major issues are nowadays considered as completely beyond the pale in the political mainstream. Whatever concrete issue you might be asked to express your opinion about, it's likely to come off as something that all prominent sides in the modern mainstream public debate will feel obliged to denounce as evil and utterly unacceptable even for the sake of the argument. Basically, from the real conservative position, it seems like the enemy has already won the public debate decisively.

    So, my question is: do you see any hope that true conservative viewpoints could reach the broad public somehow in the foreseeable future? I certainly appreciate your efforts to reach an audience through mediums like this blog and your own website and books, but realistically, the only way to really make a difference nowadays is to make your viewpoint palatable to the mainstream media. Do you see any realistic hope for this?

    Posted by: Vladimir on January 25, 2009 4:09 AM

    To RR: I don't agree with you about the main reason for not making the distinctions you mention.

    All basic social institutions--government, law and private property for example--have frequently been oppressive, and the oppressions have frequently been defended by people who recognize the necessity of the basic institution.

    The issue then is not whether a general kind of institution is frequently oppressive but whether institutions of that kind serve a necessary function. And the basis of liberalism is a view of human life that says that distinctions of the general kind you mention serve no necessary function. If they did not hold such a view they would try to modify particular aspects rather than aim at wholesale abolition.

    To V: The world is not a monolith and doesn't stay the same forever. If there are radical problems with the established understanding of things it can be maintained for a while by suppressing alternatives but it's an unstable situation. So people who think they have a better idea should keep plugging away. What looks impossible today may not be so impossible tomorrow.

    Posted by: Jim Kalb on January 26, 2009 6:55 AM

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