The Restoration

The reaction to Trump’s acceptance speech was predictable, but illuminating all the same. The Left is in a panic because they have evolved into a bizarre identity cult that no longer cares about the practical aspects of politics. Trump’s talk of jobs, trade and culture may as well have been in a foreign language. The so-called Right has evolved into a wish list of policy positions dreamed up by government spongers living in the Imperial Capital. All of the boys and girls of Conservative Inc. are shrieking in terror at the Trump speech, yelling some version of “See? He is no conservative!”

Because Conservative Inc. insists they own the trademark for “conservative”, they insist they get to define what is and what is not “conservative.” Conveniently, everything Trump says is defined as outside the bounds of conservatism, while everything they say is within the bounds of conservatism. Professional conservatives pretty much spend all their time proving they are inside the lines as currently drawn. The death rattle of every mass movement is when they begin to turn all their efforts to rule making and enforcement.

The one thing the Buckleyites have right is that Trump is not one of them. He’s no libertarian and he has no interest in kissing the ring of the identity politics crowd. Trump made clear in his speech that he thinks the globalist fantasies about the glorious future are nonsense. Trump is a nationalist in the old school sense. That is, he thinks separate countries, governed in the best interests of their people, is the right model. Those best interests are defined by the people and implemented by their representatives. Hardly anyone on Team Buckley holds these views.

That does not make Trump a conservative. In order to evaluate that, we need a better definition of conservative than what has evolved over the last three decades. The place to start for that is Russell Kirk. He’s a good example to use when understanding what went wrong with conservatism. Kirk fell out of favor with the Fusionists that make up Team Buckley and he was detested by the neo-cons. As a result he gets little run in conservative circles these days, outside of some geezer paleo-cons like Pat Buchanan and Paul Gottfried.

Despite having been thrown down the memory hole, Kirk’s conservatism is looking like it will be what survives the current ructions on the Right. Most Americans are what John Derbyshire calls “gut conservatives” in that they are instinctively attracted to tradition and skeptical of the latest utopian fads. Many reading this have been trained by our current elites to be skeptical of their neighbor’s judgement, but the everyday tasks that are essential to an orderly society are carried out by average Americans using their best judgement.

If you look through that list of ten conservative principles, you can make a pretty good case for Trump on a few of them. As is always the case when judging a man through the television, you end up projecting upon him things that say more about you than about him. For instance, Trump is not an Evangelical Christian, but he is not hostile to religion either. Whether or not he believes in a transcendent moral order is impossible to know. He has said nothing to suggest he does, but he has never said anything to suggest he does not believe it. We’re left to guess and that means guessing wrong.

Similarly, it is easy to say Trump is imprudent. His critics claim he is proto-fascist because he speaks forcefully about what he will do as president. Maybe it is just ego or maybe he believes it, but Trump certainly does not seem like a guy in awe of his own limitations. On the other hand, his statements on foreign policy sound a lot closer to John Quincy Adams than anything we have heard since the end of World War II. As with his spiritual inclinations, his prudence is not all that clear.

Determining whether or not Trump is a conservative in the Kirkian sense is further complicated by the fact that he is a natural pitchman. Trump is a self-promoter, in the old fashioned sense. He uses hyperbole freely and amusingly. You know he is polishing the apple and he knows you know he is polishing the apple. In the political realm, this makes it hard to pin him down on specifics. It’s an effective political tactic, in fact, it is a great tactic, but it makes it hard to know exactly how Trump will attempt to govern.

In all probability, Trump is a transitional figure, like Nixon in 1968. The still young Buckley movement was winning arguments, but not ready to win elections. Nixon should have been a bridge between the unhinged liberalism of the 60’s and a sober conservatism, but it never quite worked out that way. The New Right we see forming up in the form of the alt-right, dissident right and so on is not ready to be a full fledged political movement, but it can energize a candidate. Trump could be the shake down cruise for a restoration of the conservatism of Russel Kirk.

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Member

I’ve been reading a book published in 1982 titled The New Right Papers. It was written in response to the election of Reagan and is a discussion in the form of a set of essays by various conservative authors of different strains of conservatism. The most intriguing one so far is the one by Sam Francis which fairly well predicts the emergence of the kind of right wing we see coming into being today. One good thing about this book, which unfortunately does not have a contribution from Kirk, is the variety of outlooks presented. The essay I am on… Read more »

Member

I think there are a few other aspects of the Left wing terror from Trump’s speech. -Trump spent ~75 minutes and was perfectly coherent. He also mixed in a new style of rhetoric that we haven’t seen from him – righteous and mad as Hell*. You can tell the media realizes this because some of them are trying to point to the length of the speech as a negative, to distract from the fact that Trump spent a very long time onstage and was not rambling. -The speech was partially designed to expose major cracks in the bizarre and unnatural… Read more »

NotquiteunBuckley
Guest

“Because Conservative Inc. insists they own the trademark for “conservative”, they insist they get to define what is and what is not “conservative.” Conveniently, everything Trump says is defined as outside the bounds of conservatism, while everything they say is within the bounds of conservatism. Professional conservatives pretty much spend all their time proving they are inside the lines as currently drawn. The death rattle of every mass movement is when they begin to turn all their efforts to rule making and enforcement.” Replace Conservative Inc. with your very own malleable definition of your phrases Buckleyites or Team Buckley. They… Read more »

James LePore
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Maybe the Trump phenomenon will morph into the Kirk Party. I hope so. In the mean time we have, as Z says, Attila The Hun.

Meema
Guest

So this discussion has forced me to be willing to sort out, pin down and admit how I define conservatism. I say forced to admit because in this ‘anything goes and you will like it!” era, it’s easier to remain silent lest one be condemned for misogyny, homophobia, or any one of the other phobias du jour. And that’s really what the liberal vs conservative war is about – name calling, shaming into silence. For me it seems to be an issue of rights. I call myself conservative because I hold fast to the concepts of individualism supported by: 1.The… Read more »

Member

I’ve found myself in much the same position and have come to much the same conclusion: I care about negative rights (things that the government guarantees other people can’t make you do) and consider most positive rights (things that the government will do “for you”) to be illegitimate functions of government. The question really comes down to which positive rights one believes are a fair tradeoff from a negative right. You have to pay taxes (taxation reduces your right to keep your own product, infringing on a negative right) to have a military (a military is a positive right of… Read more »

Dutch
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Dutch

Modern Conservatism is similar to modern Mainline Protestantism, in that it has the shell of the movement and the totems, but doesn’t really stand for anything other than trying to draw people in the door. Both do so by wrapping the Left’s narrative into their own traditions and language, hoping that those who instinctively search out Conservatism or Christianity will walk in, sit down, and not ask any uncomfortable questions. Now that reality is furiously knocking on the door, those uncomfortable questions are going to be asked more often, and in a way that demands answers. Trump’s genius is to… Read more »

james wilson
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james wilson

Kirk, The Conservative Mind- Burke…knew history to be the unfolding of a Design. The true conservative thinks of this process, which looks like chance or fate, as, rather, the providential operation of a moral law of polarity. And Burke, could he see our century, would never concede that a consumption society, so near to suicide, is the end for which Providence has prepared man. If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to… Read more »

Dutch
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Dutch

Trump may be more like Goldwater than Nixon. While I do not want to see our country and the world go down a very bad path, Trump’s campaign may be setting the stage for an alternative, later on, that is more palatable to the traditional conservative. There is no doubt that Clinton, if elected, will prove to be the angry inarticulate grifter wrapped up in epic incompetence (a perfect complement to the one in place today). Nothing in her last quarter century has suggested anything other than that. Like LBJ, she will not be up to the tasks set on… Read more »

Notsothoreau
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Notsothoreau

LBJ did a fine job of changing the country domestically. He ran into trouble with foreign policy Obama did the same. You must not live in a one party state like I do. Once the Dems get power, they do not turn loose of it. Doesn’t matter if they are effective or not.

LetsPlay
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LetsPlay

“… a fine job … domestically.”??? Cough, cough. Bull pucky!

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

LBJ was very busy domestically, but the summer of 1968 happened on his watch. It was a sh.tshow all around back then. I live in Governor Moonbeam’s state, but there are many states in the Union, and I can hope that the right kinds of changes start somewhere, though I expect California to be the last to change.

Uncola
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Uncola

After watching Trumps speech I chose to view the subsequent spin on both NBC and MSNBC. It was surreal to see the wacko bobbleheads comment regarding Trump’s “dark” content and presentation minutes after he expressed his love for all Americans at the close. Furthermore, it was predictable seeing the collective “totalitarian” alarms loudly ring regarding the concept of “law and order”, and, especially fascinating to watch “thrill up the leg” pumpkinhead Chris Matthews transition from initial enthusiasm regarding the speech to his usual epileptic liberal contortions upon catching his breath during the initial commercial break. The Trumpster appears to be… Read more »

Jak Black
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Jak Black

I can’t believe there’s anyone out there that still remembers Kirk. My absolute favorite thinker; I have collected all of his works and read (and re-read) the lion’s share. Great to see that you’re a fan.

jay dee
Guest

One minor quibble, Z——

“Many reading this have been trained by our current elites to be skeptical of their neighbor’s judgement……”

You misunderstimate your audience, as Bush the Lesser once said. It certainly IS true of the populace at large, and especially the Ignorant Leftists. But not your loyal readers.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Thanks for the reference to Kirk. I read a summary of his theology and found myself in agreement with most of it; found some to be repetitive in concept; and lacking in other ways. But it’s tough to be comprehensive in a short piece. For comprehensiveness, I still get back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some beautifully written ideas that have been subverted by man’s lesser traits. As for Trump’s speech, I find it refreshing compared to the wash-rinse-spin cycle of same-same we get from politicians all the time. It is difficult for any of them to… Read more »

post.tenebras.lux
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post.tenebras.lux

TPTB?

John
Guest

I read it ‘The Party Top Brass’.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Sorry, I thought that was widely recognized as “The Powers That Be.”

Severian
Guest

The funny thing is, all those people screaming about how Trump is a Nazi kinda have it right – the best two words to describe his platform are “national socialism.” Before anyone starts foaming at the mouth, please note: small n, small s. That used to describe Sweden, too, before they imported Somalia — socialism for Swedes, in Sweden. Nobody in America is seriously contemplating cutting back the welfare state, repealing Obamacare, etc. That’s the socialism bit. But: Trump wants to make sure it benefits Americans, especially the hollowed-out middle class and the all-but-destroyed manufacturing sector. That’s the nationalism. Conservative?… Read more »

Tim
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Tim

A lot of this may be related to money. Anything at Zerohedge has to be read with a skeptical eye (you never know the source), but there is a very interesting story on the Kochs and Rove as two centers of financial accumulation and distribution for conservatives. One wonders where National Review budget support comes from.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-07-23/koch-brothers-now-supporting-often-confused-hillary-clinton

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

ZMan, and fellow readers. With the current discussions about conventions and activities surrounding the election, I feel compelled to recommend for your reading, a site that has been on fire! If you are not already following Bookworm, I highly recommend her writing. Excellent stuff to go along with the ZMan’s great site.

http://www.bookwormroom.com/

James LePore
Guest

Thank you. Really good stuff.