Vox Day posted something the other day that was particularly wrong in some important ways. This bit is what caught my attention.
As John Red Eagle and I chronicled in detail in Cuckservative: How “Conservatives” Betrayed America, conservatism has not only failed, it was always doomed to eventual failure by virtue of its very nature. It was an attitude and a defensive posture, not a coherent ideology or an identity, and it lacked positive objectives, so it never had any hope of resisting the relentless ideological onslaught of the Left.
The first thing I think he has very wrong is to call Official Conservatism an attitude. That’s pretty much the opposite of reality. Official Conservatism is a collection of policy items held together by a pose, which is just a sales strategy. Things like low taxes and limited business regulation are policy goals. The stuffy smugness you see from big foot conservatives is a pose, a sale pitch they think helps sell their proposal. It is intended to inoculate them from being called simple minded by the Progressives.
This is in sharp contrast to the traditional American conservatism which is, in fact, an attitude or a temperament. It is a set of preferences that Michael Oakeshott spelled out a million years ago in his essay On Being Conservative. “To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed
to make certain kinds of choices.” In other words, conservatism is a disposition.
This is why Buckley-style conservatism could never outlive its age. It was tied to a specific set of public polices that only made sense in the context of the age in which they were conjured. In the Cold War, business friendly taxes and regulation, along with a muscular defense policy make perfect sense as a rebuttal to the dominant Progressive ideology. Once the Cold War ended, the justifications for Buckley-style conservatism ended. It became a body with no soul to animate it.
That touches on the another error in the Vox post. Buckley Conservatism did not fail because it lacked an ideological underpinning. It failed because it had one, or at least tried hard to fashion one, out of the collection of policy goals we associate with Official Conservatism. As Russell Kirk observed, “conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.” Put another way, Buckley built a movement that he dressed up in the garb of of conservatism.
The attempt to create an ideology that could coexist with a despairing acceptance of the human condition, meant that the movement would always be riddled with cracks. Just as important, because it was a political movement, it was always willing to toss aside that which it found politically inconvenient. It’s why the Buckleyites purged so many people over the decades. Guys like Steve Sailer were shipped out because they were politically inconvenient, not because they were wrong about what was happening in the culture.
Inevitably, an ideology demands that the adherent accept things that are in direct contradiction with observable reality. That’s both the attraction and the defect of ideology. Those with a conservative temperament were always going to be skeptical of the projects championed by the Official Right. Public policy is about accepting less than perfect trade-offs. In the Cold War, the threat of the Soviets enforced a degree of accommodation. When that ended, the divorce was inevitable.
The interesting thing about what is happening is that the guys calling themselves “conservative” are fighting against what is, in fact, the reemergence of the old traditional conservatism. The mild isolationism, practical nationalism and biological realism are just the old ideas that were once common in America, before the ideologues gained the upper hand in the 20th century. All those fringe types the Buckleyites purged, turned out to be a majority and now the Buckleyites are looking like a collection of fringe weirdos.
That’s the other thing Vox has wrong. The alt-right is not an ideology and it is never going to be one. As soon as guys like Vox are able to create one, it will cease being of any interest to anyone outside it. The reason this thing they call the alt-right works is that it is not an ideology. It is just a long series of inconvenient observations repeated daily on social media and elsewhere. Posting FBI crime stats on Facebook is not the makings of a mass movement. It is the undoing of one. That’s what makes it so dangerous.