A feature of Buckley-style conservatism has been its willingness to borrow the language from those it purges, but tarting it up with modifiers in order to make it acceptable to their masters on the Left. They are not really borrowing the ideas, as they have no interest in those. What they are looking for is the energy of the people they purged, in the same way a mythical beast sucks the life force from its victims. The idea is to direct some of the excitement toward themselves, without having to do anything.
It’s not just an American thing. It may be better to cast it as a feature of English-speaking politics. A great recent example is from England, where the Tories decided to steal the thunder of the nationalists by putting Brexit up to a vote. The game was to pretend they wanted Britain to leave the EU, but have the vote go the other way, so the Tories could pretend to be nationalists, without having to clash with their paymasters and moral betters. It did not work out that way, but that was the plan.
The first example of the Buckleyites playing these games was way back in the before times when they purged the Birchers. There’s little doubt that many of the Birchers were nuts and unstable. They accused everyone of being a tool of Russia, which makes them a forerunner of the modern Democratic party. The thing is, Buckley purged them from the movement, but kept extreme anti-communism as his issue. Conservatism was thereafter defined by a less than serious opposition to communism.
Often, what the so-called conservatives will do is bolt on modifiers to ideas popular among their base or in dissident circles. The game is to pretend to be enthusiastic for the thing, while telling the Left there is no reason to worry. The compassionate conservatism stuff peddled by the neocons is a great example. The unspoken meaning was that these compassionate conservatives were big fans of Reagan-style politics, but would make sure the Left was happy with whatever they were doing.
As Buckley conservatism fades into the background, the push now is to revive it by tarting it up as a defense of nationalism. The first effort was the Yoram Hazony book and roadshow this past summer. Now, Rich Lowry has a book out claiming to be a manly defense of American nationalism. Lowry was at the Hazony show over the summer and no doubt noticed that no one bothered noticing him. He wandered around the venue like a lost soul. Suddenly he is a nationalist.
Of course, his brand of nationalism must first be accepted by the globalist oligarchs that keep Conservative Inc in business. According to the official blurb for the book, “He explains how nationalism is an American tradition, a thread that runs through such diverse leaders as Alexander Hamilton, Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan.” You see, as everyone knows, nationalism has always been about diversity, because everyone knows diversity is a nation’s strength.
Lowry is not the only body snatcher trying to repackage the arguments of Pat Buchanan into a new movement palatable to the Left. Someone calling himself Colin Dueck has a book making the same claims as Lowry. Here’s his latest bit of self-promotion on the National Review website. His big idea is the clunky term Conservative American Nationalism, which he would no doubt pitch as CAN. Maybe he’ll take to calling himself the CAN-man or sell coffee mugs with CAN on them.
Dueck is a defender of the liberal international order and he is primarily concerned with preserving that order, while addressing public unhappiness with it. His book does not clearly make that point, but he has made that point himself. Here is a short clip of him doing so from last year. In other words, the game here is to use the language of nationalism to defend the liberal international order. It’s the same gag they ran on the Tea Party people. Borrow the language in order to neuter it.
You see the perfidy in the opening paragraphs. Dueck writes, “With regard to foreign commitments, America’s conservative nationalist tradition goes back to George Washington’s Farewell Address, along with Thomas Jefferson’s confirmation of it, urging the country to avoid permanent entangling alliances.” Notice the modifier attached the phrase “entangling alliances.” The implication is that Washington was fine with temporary entangling alliances, just not permanent ones.
In his farewell address, Washington said something different. “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.” At the time of his address, the United States had few political relations with Europe. Yet, even these temporary connections were seen as a threat by Washington.
Later, Washington is even more explicit. “Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” Washington was describing Buckley conservatives perfectly.
Of course, the main flaw in these new calls for nationalism in America, even if they are sincere, is that the time for that has passed. The people now throwing around nationalistic language were the people, who purged people like Pat Buchanan back when it was still possible to preserve the historic American nation. Instead, the Buckleyites usurped the confidence of the people, in order to convince them to surrender their interests to cosmopolitan globalists.
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