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 Buckley-ites have right is that Trump is not one of them. He is 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 is 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 fairly 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 are 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 particularly 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.

34 thoughts on “The Restoration

  1. 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.

  2. 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? Probably not under most definitions, but it’s the best we’re going to get — Managerialism is the Spirit of the Age, and the only choice is between being Managed by compatriots, or being Managed by globalists. I know which one I prefer….

  3. 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 break out and be individuals. Some do, for a period, to posture but quickly reassimilate back into the fold so they don’t get into trouble with TPTB.

    Listen to what Hillary STILL talks about. No accomplishments, only generalities about “fighting for your women’s/LGBT/victim/black/union/”whatevergroupuidwith” rights. Talk about boring. And now she chooses a loser of a running mate so she won’t be threatened by him.

    I love how Trump turned Hillary’s slogan around on her. Instead of “I’m With Her” he made it “I’m With YOU!”, the American people. Wham!! That is worth 100 points.

    The only thing I find significantly missing in Trumps speech is there is no mention of fixing the financial sector: The FED, Banks, Wall Street, etc. There is so much corruption and playing a rigged system that things like the Dodd-Frank bill and the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act (under BJ Clinton) have accounted for, and no one has been prosecuted for their crimes.

    It is interesting that Trump made the statement that “history is watching.” This, along with his direct, pull no punches approach, makes for a candidate that is believable to me. Compared to the smooth talking, clean looking black who spoke from the teleprompter and had not a single accomplishment to his name, Trump is at a point in his life where he wants to have a positive legacy for himself, and his family whom he is very much involving in this run. Do I think he will talk the talk and then turn on his promises? No. He has too much riding on it. Unlike others who are in it to only enrich themselves and use their new found power to try to control everyone and everything.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 a walking, talking Rorschach Test for those on both sides of the political spectrum. Perhaps by design? He seems to have positioned himself as a modern, compassionate conservative reaching out to the LGBT community, the working middle-class and blue dog/Reagan Democrats while maintaining his hold on Practical Conservatives.

    In my view it is the Practical Conservatives who can be likened to multi-denominational Christians who fellowship together and do good works in accord with the Apostles Creed. Whereas it is the “Conservative Puritans” who angrily debate the theological intricacies while drawing the ecumenical demarcation lines of the various denominations.

    Regarding “transcendent moral order”, let us remember Kant’s “reason as a source of morality”. Perhaps Trump’s practical view of our nation’s problems at hand, willingness to roll up his sleeves and, most importantly, speak the truth regarding said problems is sufficient.

    Yes, Trump may appear to be a foolish, imbecilic blowhard to many and a pitchman extraordinaire to others. But underlying all of the chutzpah, he could be “wise as wolves”.

    When considering Trump as businessman, global brand, reality TV star and politician, perhaps it becomes a matter of reductio ad absurdum. It is true, regarding both success and failure, wisdom should not preclude being clever.

  7. 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 her table. Personally, I imagine a presidency not unlike the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland. Which means that the public may be actually willing to turn to a real alternative some years down the road. Goldwater’s role was to set the table for conservatives, to encourage the Right to consider what it was that they truly wanted out of government, other than the hands of the conservatives on the tiller of DC. Trump may end up providing a similar legacy, perhaps one day to be acted upon by one of his children.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  8. 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 understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.

    Discussion and private judgement, rather than the physical suffering which Marx predicted, have provided the stimulus to incessant experiment and alteration throughout the past century and a half. Marxism has been embraced by many not because they suffer, but because it is a new field for protest and private judgement. Is the voracity of discussion indeed so insatiable as the appetite of the grave? If it is, then are permanence and continuity impossible for modern society? Three checks upon the empire of unbridled discussion seem possible; the deliberate revival of the concept of traditional wisdom, the growth of public boredom with talk and with change itself, and the coming ofcatastrophes which teach men to distrust their own opinions. The latter two contingencies appear to be impending in our generation; but either of them is a merciless disciplinarian; and the conservative who hopes to spare society an age of misery needs must endeavor to resuscitate that political faith which is not mere personal interest, that wisdom beyond physical facts which supplants doubt by assent–the system of Disraeli and the system of Newman.

  9. 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 face up to the questions and consider them honestly and forthrightly. The answers are often difficult, and we live in a time where people assume there is a good response to every good question. Some dilemmas have no best answer, only the least worst. As the issues of the day get dealt with, capital-C Conservatism, Mainline Christianity, and hopefully the Liberal and Progressive movements will be more widely understood to be the empty shells of graft and human manipulation that they have evolved into.

  10. 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 right to pursue happiness so long as I do not harm others in my quest.
    2. The right to own property.
    3. The right to be able to defend myself, my family. my property, against those who intend me and mine harm.
    4. The right to expect that the way I follow my religion is no less defendable than someone else’s religion or ideology.
    5. The right to speak out if I see that those who have authority over me are abusing their powers.
    6. The right to keep more of what I earn than I must surrender to the government.
    7. The right to expect that I, as a full-fledged citizen, am entitled to more rights than those who do not work or come to this country expecting to be treated as equals even though they do not ever intend to be American.
    8. The right to believe that big government always makes me surrender my rights.
    9. The right to believe that the welfare machine has created the monster of cultural divide.
    10. The right to believe that the liberal ideology is not about rights, it is not about wealth re-distribution, it is not about the evils of capitalism – it is about power to make everyone do and be the same within a narrow construct of rules. Rules that those in charge do not have to follow – Venezuela is the model.

    • 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 having a certain level of security provided by government). I don’t mean to lecture; I just don’t know how familiar folks are with the terms positive and negative rights.

      Just to add a little something to this: part of what Trump has highlighted is the set of differences between the conservative talking heads and the conservative base regarding positive and negative rights. Tariffs, for example, are blasphemy to the taking heads (the negative right of dealing with whomever you want is infringed slightly) but play very well with run-of-the-mill type conservatives (the positive right of there being more jobs).

  11. “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 were for the Iraq war I presume you presume, and Buckley was too old for his opinion of the war to alter your contention it was bad and therefore Buckley’s fault.

    • I’m not clear what you mean here, but I tend to use Conservative Inc to mean the broader ummah of the commercial Right. Buckley Conservatives are the Frank Meyer Fusionists, while Neo-Cons are the followers of Irving Kristol. Year, there’s a lot of overlap. Plus, stupid grifters like Erick Erickson are just in it for the grift and are clueless about the intellectual origins. Ona blog, having useful shorthand makes for better copy.

      As far as Buckley and the war, he did come around to regretting his support for it. I think a lot of us made the mistake of thinking it was going to be a short war to make a point. The nation building and mismanagement were never contemplated. I think many on the Right thought there was some chance to make Iraq something like Egypt with a limited mount of democracy. The eye opener for many on the Right who supported the war was that Team Bush and neo-cons thought they could tun Iraq into Ohio. They really believed their egalitarian nonsense.

      That’s when the cracks turned into fissures.

      • Here’s what no one of the cloud tribe can answer: If all of these billions want to live in a Jeffersonian democracy why aren’t they? If all of these billions want to live in “America” why aren’t they? There is no secret elixir, not magic wand. Our history and system have been known and widely disseminated for over a century. If they could do it they would have already done it. It can be neither gifted nor compelled.

        • Ha ha, maybe the cloud tribe can’t or won’t answer but I can. They won’t build their own because it takes courage, sacrifice, vision, investment, delayed gratification, pain, suffering, even dying for your dreams. But why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free! America, with the Statue of Liberty has perverted its laws. We do not need unlimited immigration that is unscreened. Even in the beginning, Ellis Island has screening for certain criteria and if you didn’t meet those qualifications you were sent packing.

          Now, there are no expectations as immigrants are simply a way to game the vote. Buy the vote with taxpayer funded benefits. De Tocqueville saw the weakness in our system and so did the scofflaws on both sides of the aisle.

          As I travel the world, I realize that trying to export “democracy” is such a futile effort because that idea has to come from the hearts and minds of the people in that land. Even with America as a positive example, they cannot understand it unless they have lived it. With all the traveling others do to America and take back what they have learned to their homelands, I realize the pressure of local culture and forces to this change is more than a handful of people can overcome. Even with the internet, YouTube, worldwide communications, they find it hard if not impossible to truly understand what America is about. Basically, they do not know what freedom is about.

          It is not often you meet someone like our friend Karl here on this site who is making a concerted effort to learn and share from his German/European perspective. I thank him for his efforts.

          I leave you with a video link which is an analysis of a speech given by the character played by Jeff Daniel’s in “Newsroom.” It is poignant and applicable to the discussion of American ideals and exceptionalism.

          It is called:
          Newsroom Rebuttal: America Is Not The Greatest Country In the World?

  12. 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 amalgamation of voting blocks that make up the Democrat Party. For example, bringing gays into the fold after the Orlando massacre is powerful messaging. A lot of gays realized that they no longer hold the top rung of the victim ladder, and have been supplanted by a victim group that has been killing gays in other parts of the world for a long time. A very unnatural amalgamation.
    -Speaking in a way that unites the country as Americans – and actually selling it – petrifies the Left. Poking holes in the SJW identity narratives and uniting people around real things (e.g. middle/lower class jobs) is not something the Left is going to take lightly.

    *This may have been his message/style all along, but his demeanor was different, especially in the early parts of the speech. It’s hard for me to describe.

    • I agree. The Left’s political army is built to fight the last war and Trump is nothing like the last four GOP candidates. He’s Attila the Hun.

      • That’s funny. When I was in High School (in the sixties) people used to criticise me “John, you’re to the right of Attila the Hun!”.

        Finally! I now know where I’m standing!

  13. 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 right now is by a Southern Traditionalist named Thomas Fleming who classifies capitalists and socialists together in a common category, but without giving that category a name of its own, basing it on their commonality of abstractionist thinking and use of universalist and utilitarian approaches to problem solving.
    I must admit that I have in the past few years had my differences with Kirk, mainly because the people most eager to take up his mantle in the conservative community have been people too willing to use their positions to cuck for the left. Seeing things the way I do now, I might be better off seeing Kirk looking on with disgust at what some of his contemporary acolytes have done, saying, “You just don’t get it, do you.”
    I had consigned my collection of his books to storage. Maybe it’s time to take them out again and have another look.

    • My own view is that political movements grow out of philosophical movements which must be tethered to the natural order. Otherwise, they burn out quickly. Even so, political movements are momentary bubbles that fit the age. Kirk’s moral philosophy is a great foundation stone, but he was a man of time so some of his views are an ill fit for our age. Sam Francis and Joe Sobran wrote a lot of things useful for today, but a lot of what they wrote is dated and useful only for historical reasons.

      • Z-man: “but he was a man of time so some of his views are an ill fit for our age.”

        Kirk: “The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.”

      • This reminds me of the endless noodling in academia about whether the antebellum South was “capitalist” or not. On the one hand, they defined themselves against Northern industrialism. On the other hand, slavery, which is evil, so therefore they must’ve been capitalists, because evil. And that’s half the problem right there — thanks to Progs in education, most people vaguely understand that “conservative” means “ok with people making a profit,” which is synonymous with “evil.”

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