I got to the hotel hosting the Mencken event a little early, so I went to the bar to have a beer and kill some time. This was my first Mencken event and I was having second thoughts about the whole thing. I figured it would be an older crowd, which is fine, but I suspected it would a very libertarian crowd too. I do not have a lot of patience for libertarians, under the best of circumstances. It had been a busy week for me so I was especially cranky and I feared I would be something less than my charming self.
As I had my second beer, I was thinking about how best to say, “the non-aggression principle is for pussies.” I noticed a middle-aged woman at the other end of the bar. She had been at a table, tapping away on her tablet. She relocated to the bar and was trying to get my attention. She was sporting a Mao cap, which is popular with cat ladies, so I ignored her, had another beer and played with my phone. Maybe if she had been better looking or I had a few more drinks in me, I would have done her the favor.
The reception was a little like God’s waiting room, assuming the Jews really are the chosen people. The room was old and very Jewish. There was a youngish guy over in the corner, who looked relieved to see me walk in, as that meant there were two people in the room paying FICA taxes. We chatted for a wile and I learned he is a devout libertarian and came to the Mencken event primarily to see Tom Woods. He seemed earnest, so I resisted the temptation to tell him about my plan to send libertarians to work camps.
The formal reception was a sit-down affair with a dinner and drinks. I was relieved to meet some younger people, who share my politics. They were mostly millennials, but one guy was gen X. We were the kiddie table. Keith Preston was at our table and he is an interesting guy. I do not share his politics, but he is not one of those doctrinaire ideologues, who thinks he has figured it all out and now has to spread the gospel. He is genuinely curious about what is going on in the dissident right. He is a good dinner companion.
That is the value of these events. Going back and forth with strangers using fake names on-line has its value, but meeting and talking in real life has value too. I only had some vague notion about Preston, based entirely on his site. Chatting over dinner and then hearing him speak, I now have a new appreciation for what he is doing. At the same time, I saw him nodding more than a few times as I was making my case for the new counterculture. If not for sitting at the same table, we would remain strangers to one another.
Another big benefit to these things is that you find out that there are more of us out there than is reported. Two of the guys at the kiddie table are college professors. Another is an attorney at a big firm. I know from the comments here, and the e-mails I receive, that a lot men in the professional ranks are “our guys” but they keep quiet about it. That is a necessary thing, but it also means it is easy to feel like a stranger in the world. Having dinner with a gang of smart, like minded professionals is an antidote to the sense of doom.
At the same time, spending time with a bunch of old guys is a revelation. Most of us experience our politics on-line, through blogs, social media and videos. The people at the Mencken event experience their politics from network news, the cable chat shows and paper magazines. A lot of what we take for granted, they do not know exists. What they do know about the emerging counterculture, they do not fully understand. It is not simply an age thing. Its that there is a necessary bit of self-ghettoization on outside.
Age is a part of though. Paul Gottfried kicked off the evening with a speech about the state of the Right. He made the point that the average age of Fox News viewers is 60-something and National Reviews readership is around seventy. Then he made the error of assuming that reflects the demographics of the Right. The fact is, Stefan Molyneux has vastly more resonance with people under the age of fifty than a Sean Hannity. Sites like 4chan and Reddit have greater political reach than all of the cable shows combined.
Tom Woods, the featured speaker of the night, actually tried to make that point. He talked about how he has built a business on new media, but I do not think he won any of them over. He also spent a lot of time trying to differentiate between left-libertarianism and right-libertarianism. There have always been warm relations between paleos and Rand Paul style libertarians and he was well received by the Mencken folks. He is a good speaker, so I did not run out of the room screaming, even though the whole thing had a 1980’s vibe to it.
Finally, the most important benefit to attending these real life gatherings is that you get to socialize with other like minded people. The kiddie table ended up in the bar, drinking and telling stories. I learned that one of the college professors is connected with a bunch of people in this thing. I also learned that a couple of the others are readers. That is always an interesting experience for me. I often forget that real people read this stuff. For me at least, the camaraderie and brotherhood are motivating. It gives purpose to my efforts.
I will get into the event itself in another post, but people in dissident politics should begin to embrace these events. Co-opting existing institutions is how the New Left won the culture war 50 years ago. It is a good model to follow. If alt-right people start populating local clubs and organizations, even If it is in a low-key way, it helps build the movement. The first step is meeting people at events like Mencken. Two of the guys at my table are local to me, so now we can socialize and conspire locally. That is how movements grow.