- Post the following picture:
2. Add the following Youtube Loop link:
3. Bask in pleasure.
Don’t worry if you haven’t a chance yet; there will be at least six more opportunities before 2016 has passed.
Note: this was a particularly popular Facebook post of mine. Just thought I’d save it for posterity here.
Next time a fellow Republican says “The GOP ended slavery and passed the Civil Rights Act!”
“Yes, our party once did that. We also pioneered industrial policy, infrastructure improvements, central finance, export-heavy trade deals, foreign policy restraint, Americanization of immigrants, and other things. We worked with the Democrats in the 1930s and 1950s to craft the transfer payments of the welfare state. We competed with Democrats in the 1900s and 1910s to pass progressive labor and regulatory legislation.We once stood for prudent internationalism and multilateralism on the international stage.
The party of supply-side economics and “free markets” and “limited government” we became in the 80s did nothing to help forge and preserve the promise of American life. Our “big-government” ancestors did that.
So yes, the GOP once ended slavery and passed the Civil Rights Act. Would you like to help me turn our party into that kind of party again?”
Why I’m a Republican
If you’re aware of me at all, you know that I’m a highly unconventional Republican. I throw shade all over the modern Grand Old Party on Facebook all the time, and I’m the co-founder of a moderate GOP website called The Seventh Establishment (a grassroots organization with the not-quite-explicit goal of building up a faction of Republicans hostile to almost every point of contemporary Republican orthodoxy- a sect of heretics, if you will.)
Moreover, my three greatest intellectual influences- Walter Russell Mead, Michael Lind, and Joel Kotkin- are all either centrist Democrats or apostates and refugees from the conservative Republican faith. My influences in the GOP, meanwhile, like David Frum and David Brooks and Geoff Kabaservice, are typically regarded as RINOs of some sort. Sure, I grew up in a Republican household, but by the time of my intellectual maturation I was a dyed-in-the-wool RINO, a conservative Yankee in Arthur Laffer, Pat Robertson, and Donald Rumsfeld’s court.
I outlined, in a recent letter, my temperamental problems with the pseudo-conservatism of Buckleyan fusionism. I’ve written piece after piece advocating the return of Centrist/Neo-Hamiltonian/Progressive/National Conservative/Whig Republicans to prominence in the GOP, after a half-century of exile after the Eisenhower Presidency. Heck, earlier today I almost wrote my own excommunication from the conservative movement- a piece tearing apart supply-side economics and social traditionalism, suggesting that the GOP Establishment ought to take cues from its two greatest foes in 2016- Donald Trump’s economic working-class populism, and President Barack Obama’s social moderation and political reformism. That’s right- not only am I a maverick, I’m an Obamacon and a Trumpista too! At the same time!
Come to think of it, I might write something along those lines in the future; I am doing research right now for a piece arguing for a “NEW New Conservatism” honoring not Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, and Barry Goldwater, but Peter Viereck, Clinton Rossiter, James Burnham, and Jacob Javits. Maybe even some Democrats and nonpartisans like Samuel P. Huntington, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr to add some confusion to the mix.
So if I am so far out there as to be unintroduceable in polite mainstream Republican company, so far out there as to prefer not to go to Republican club echo-chamber/persecution-complex meetings (originally not like this, but recently, so I hear, the clubs have devolved,) so far out there as to shake my head in shame every time I hear a paean to a caricature of a Ronald Reagan that never existed in a GOP presidential debate- if I’m THAT far out there, why do I bother to call myself a Republican? Why do I continue to be the liberal Democrats’ favorite White Elephant (except when I turn my pen and keyboard on their social activist drivel, their Keynesian freakonomics, their naked paternalism, their Gaia-worship)? Why don’t I just go join Charles Wheelan’s Centrist Movement or go re-join Nancy Jacobsen’s No Labels or go reactivate my membership in that delightfully uninfluential Facebook group, the Modern Whig Party? Why don’t I just protest my way out of polarized party politics and inhabit the inane political center (which is something that intellectuals like me oftentimes, realizing their own futility, do?)
Well, first off, because doing the political independent thing is fruitless. Serious people who want to make a difference in the world hold their noses and join the ugliness of the power structure, because that’s just the way things work. From the days of Adam and Eve, politics wasn’t meant to be beautiful or morally pure. (They wanna be in, the room where it happens, the room where it happens, the room where it happens…) I want to DO stuff, not just complain or pontificate. And that means being involved in the circles where the power is.
Now this isn’t a naked clawing for power on my part. I’ve said before and I say again, I don’t want to be President of the United States (and if it’s ever suggested I will repeat like a robotic parrot, “God save the country if THAT ever happens.”) I don’t even have a target office or policy accomplishment. I just want to serve my country as an excellent intellectual, politico, and public servant who wears various hats and has his hands in various cookie jars, and puts his soul in without selling it. I want to be my great mentor, Alexander Hamilton, or the greatest public servant alive today, Robert Gates. But I need to have access to circles of influence in order to do this- and that means being involved in one of the major parties, rather than just joining online discussion groups.
So that’s why I’m not an Independent. How about why I’m not a Democrat?
Because, before I am a Republican, I am several things- a Machiavellian political realist, a Burkean temperamental conservative, a Hamiltonian liberal nationalist. Through these three identities, all of them more important than my Republican identity, I can explain why I choose to remain a Republican despite my disdain for what the party has become, rather than becoming a Democrat. In short- the GOP is slightly more open to thinkers like me than the Democrats, who are almost completely closed to thinkers like me.
Machiavellian Political Realist-
Political Realism is one of the best things I ever chanced upon. It sees an ugly world, a terrifying world of disruption and anarchy and despair, where only acts of courage and cunning can wring order from the chaos. It sees human nature for being as self-interested, socially-oriented, fickle, duplicitous, idealistic, inspirable, as it is; it lauds the great men and women of history for understanding our individual and social natures, and doing what must be done to craft orders and systems wherein the better angels of our nature shall be encouraged and rewarded, and the greater devils shall be constrained and harnessed for the public good. It is the watchman’s and the guardian’s blueprint of human life- for if you don’t understand how bad things can get, you won’t know what to do when they get that bad. Of course, this pessimism and negativity- grounded as it is in empirical experience- falls upon deaf ears among liberal Democrats, who tend to believe in the fundamental goodness and rationality of human nature (and moreover, the equation of our goodness with our rationality, which doesn’t make sense to me but apparently makes sense to some.) Republicans at least tend to be somewhat realistic in their social views and particularly their international views. Then again, they are wholly unrealistic with their radical libertarian views of unfettered capitalism (“1896 was GREAT!”) but at the very least they seem to have a basic respect for the requirement of impediments upon liberty to preserve liberty from its own excesses, in certain situations. Naturally, I fit in more easily with this pessimism than with liberal Democratic sunniness.
Burkean Temperamental Conservative-
Temperamental conservatism- the belief in an enduring natural order of things, the reverence for “Tradition, Place, and Things Divine” (to quote Anamnesis and the Ciceronian Society,) the belief in the importance of the family, of citizenship, of civil society, of individual character and individual pursuit of personal excellence, of the objectivity of natural law and moral right, yet the opacity and nebulousness of those eternal truths when glimpsed by broken human eyes, basically the odd stepchild of Yuval Levin and Robert Baden-Powell- temperamental conservatism is my connection to the ancients from Aeneas and Odysseus to Aristotle to Plutarch to Augustine. And though there are probably some Democrats out there who pay heed to these thinkers and their heirs, it seems to me that the Democratic Party post-McGovern has been so entirely subsumed by cultural relativism, deconstructionism, postmodernism, rabid ultra-feminism, and all kinds of other despicably ugly “isms” as to wholly reject the heritage of Western Civilization and indeed, the wisdom of all other civilizations. I don’t much prefer the radical anti-intellectualism and Jacobin traditionalism on the right, but I can at least find fellow-travelers who appreciate the good things in life and, to quote the last line of my personal ethos, acknowledge “Humility Before God” in the GOP. They’re usually wrong about most policy issues, but they’ve got the humane spirit.
Hamiltonian Liberal Nationalist-
Ah, my favorite. The tradition that literally built this country- that of Washington and Hamilton, Clay and Webster and Quincy Adams, Lincoln and Seward and Hay, T. Roosevelt and Lodge and Root, F.D. Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy, Stevenson and Rockefeller- the Hamiltonian Liberal Nationalist tradition- is more or less dead outside of the Military-Industrial Complex. Both Democrats and Republicans have pioneered and accepted and institutionalized supply-side neoliberal excess, while the Democrats have compounded voodoo economics with crushing, stifling regulatory oligarchies. Democrats talk of equality and stability; Republicans talk of liberty and absolute growth; where are the Liberal Nationalists to talk about broad-based growth, innovative dynamism, and strategic economics? Hamiltonians believe in the power and utility of the market and the power and utility of the state, and see the public and private sectors as co-equal partners in the pursuit and maintenance of economic strategies which, in the end, serve the ends of national security and grand strategy. How so? Why, quite easily- on the Hamiltonian economic agenda is support for central finance, federal financing of infrastructure and technological innovation and education, industrial policy partnering with strategic industries, the basics of a social safety net and the welfare state, progressive legislation protecting workers and consumers from the excesses of capitalism, pro-business legislation protecting businesses from the excesses of government regulation, and other general trappings of the modern industrial/information economy. On this issue Democrats tend to be more up my alley, for they are accustomed to state intervention in the economy; but their ends are social justice rather than strategic viability. If Republicans shed supply-side, I think they’d easily land at someplace near me on the economic spectrum. Their passion for national security would demand it.
So where does all this put me?
An intellectual outsider who yet insists on being a party activist. A centrist-reformist-nationalist reformer seeking to update a dead tradition from the inside of a living party. An American patriot, an American citizen, a neurotic, romantic, and self-righteous offspring of immigrants and country-folk who likens himself to American heroes of similar background, temperament, and overinflated self-worth.
A Republican. Not a Republican-In-Name-Only- but a Republican in the best sense of the name, doing his best to reform his party and serve his country in these tumultuous times.
And a proud one, at that. I am a Republican.
Kasich + Trump = A Better GOP
John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. John Kasich and Donald Trump.
The combined ideas of each of these pairings- tempered and adjusted into something not so disjointed, of course- would make for a mean new electoral strategy and governing agenda for the GOP. Let’s take a look.
The McCain-Huntsman-Kasich “Maverick” camp tends to be on the leftward end of the GOP’s Reagan-Gingrich Establishment (and indeed, each of John Weaver’s clients traces their political origins to the 80s and 90s.) They are socially more moderate and politically more reformist than most Establishment Republicans- McCain co-authored campaign finance reform legislation that bears his name, Huntsman founded the bipartisan group No Labels, and Kasich regularly points to his pragmatic record as Governor of Ohio. As such, over the years they’ve been the subject of gushy mainstream media profiles hailing them as the best of Republicans, those who would save the GOP from its backwards conservative ways.
The Huckabee-Santorum-Trump “Populist” camp, meanwhile, associates with movement conservatives in the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, particularly on social and cultural issues, but splits with them in endorsing economic populism over conservative laissez-faire economics. Huckabee and Santorum spoke of reviving manufacturing jobs, building new infrastructure, and lessening tax burdens on the White Working Class, while Trump has called for trade protectionism, restricted immigration, progressive taxation, and the full preservation of Social Security and Medicare. Though often derided as “the Radical Right,” these candidates and their voters are not instinctively ideologically conservative the way, say, Ted Cruz or National Review are.
On the surface, the two camps could not seem more different. But upon closer inspection, they share something in common- a desire to reform the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment and the face and policy of the Republican Party, albeit in different ways. The Mavericks want the GOP to be more socially moderate and politically reformist, to attract independents and govern more effectively in tandem with Democrats (and though they’re supply-siders, they’re not dogmatically so.) The Populists want the GOP to be more economically nationalist and culturally conservative, to better respond to the needs and honor of working people (but opposition to gay marriage and abortion aren’t exactly their highest priorities.) These are, it seems, two of the paths the GOP could take forward.
Why not take both?
In my view, there’s a fairly straightforward way a cunningly Nixonian political operator could wed social moderation and economic nationalism to craft a coalition between the Trumpian white working class and socially moderate business leaders in productivity industries. That way is the way of the Whigs, the Lincoln Republicans, and the New Deal Democrats- adopt some form of inclusive, pro-working class, pro-industry economic nationalism.
Basically, rather than reflexively endorsing lower tax rates and deregulation, this great uniter of Mavericks and Populists would push for an update of Lincoln’s and FDR’s American System and Social Contract. The binding tie between the factions would be federal partnership with and support of strategic productivity industries like energy, heavy manufacturing, defense, aerospace, shipping, construction, and the like. The Mavericks would benefit because strong strategic industries are more apt to support bipartisan political reform than the GOP Establishment’s current clientele, the financial industry. The Populists would benefit because productivity industries provide high-wage/low-skill jobs for the white working class (and, for that matter, inner-city Blacks and working-class Latinos.)
Aside from this main shared interest, the Mavericks and Populists could come together on the necessity of infrastructure and innovation investments, strategies to reform and preserve universal entitlements, pro-U.S. export trade deals, progressive taxation, an immigration strategy restricting the flow of low-skilled workers into the country, and the like. All this would bind working-class voters, economically, to a Maverick or a reformer attempting to weld Maverick and Populist voters together.
With the white working class secured economically through the rejection of supply-side economics, the new Maverick or reformer would no longer be constrained (as the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment has been for three decades) to mouthing more and more extreme versions of social conservatism to keep them in the coalition. The hypothetical reformer could then focus on political reform and social moderation in an attempt to bring centrist-leaning independents on to bolster the coalition.
Of course, it’s not a perfect fit- both factions would have to give and take a bit. The Mavericks would have to abandon supply-side economics and austerity in entirety, while the Populists would have to further de-emphasize social issues. But these are tweaks, not transformations. Both camps have much to gain from this kind of nationalism, and an ascendant leader who combined social moderation with pro-industry/pro-worker economic policies could probably rack up endorsements from both the Mavericks and Populists.
Perhaps it’s ironic that a strategy for the GOP to recapture its White Working Class base from the likes of Trump would involve repudiating Reaganomics and adopting working-class populism straight out of the New Deal Democrat playbook. But does anyone seriously think that the GOP can just double down on supply-side policies from the 1980s and expect to gain the fealty of Trump supporters? Or for that matter, focus on social traditionalism in a modernizing world full of independents, social liberals, and minorities?
It seems eminently reasonable to me that a party- or at least a faction or even just a single leader in the party- seeking to quell an insurgency among white workers while expanding among independents- would adopt policies that have historically sated white workers and attracted independents. And if those policies could be mixed into one doctrine and strategy- as they can be, in this case- it would seem reasonable for that party or movement to take a long, hard look at itself and see what it would have to do to move towards that new doctrine.
But inertia oftentimes precludes common sense. I don’t expect John Kasich to suddenly become a New Deal-style populist (though it’s more likely that he’ll endorse nationalist economics than that Trump will embrace social moderation.) That said, the current crisis facing the GOP- unpopularity among independents and centrists, and open revolt by white workers- presents an opportunity for an upcoming leader willing to and capable of fusing the policy thought of the Mavericks and the Populists.
Apologies for the severe delay getting back to you. I hope my response is worthwhile.
So why do I oppose (and dislike, really) Ted Cruz? In a word, the man is the epitome of everything that has marginalized the GOP for the last sixty-five years, since the 1950s- ideological movement conservatism so committed to inflexible principle as to shun all pragmatism and prudence, all in the best interests of “conservative” philosopher-kings and against the interests of the American nation’s true heritage. His brand of “conservatism” is better described as an ideology of right-wing libertarianism, social traditionalism, and neoconservative hawkishness- American Rightism, really. “Conservatism” in the true sense is a temperament gracing and adorning any conceivable ideology, and it has to do more with the character and personality of the thinker or statesman than with the principles they espouse. In some ways, FDR was a very conservative statesman (though only a few.) I’d argue that the MOST conservative (in the best sense) statesmen of the 20th Century were Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower- they accepted the realities of industrialism and the New Deal, respectively, and sought to update the institutions of American liberalism around these new institutional and economic realities. They did NOT seek to repeal or burn down the institutions that had grown up before them, as William Jennings Bryan and Barry Goldwater so desired.
In a sense, American conservatism needs a bedrock in some very liberal ideals. In my case those ideals are liberal nationalism and republicanism; but I can respect those who have, as their fundamental liberal ideals, Jeffersonian decentralism and classical liberalism (these include men I deeply respect like Yuval Levin and Henry Olsen.) These guys understand that policies have costs and that you need to tinker around with existing institutions in order to make them better work for the betterment of the common man. You’ll never hear this Levin or this Olsen call for the burning down of ObamaCare, but for its replacement. On the other hand, Cruzies like Cruz himself and most of the Freedom Caucus display no such pragmatism- as many have argued, their core message is “let’s go back to the laissez-faire of 1870.” (Note, by the way, that that pure laissez-faire led to oligarchy and monopoly. Government is not the only institution that can threaten liberty.)
And the economic libertarian ideology of today’s “conservatives” does not even RESEMBLE something that would have preservation of social capital and traditional morality and institutions as its guiding compass. Neoliberal banking deregulations? Flat taxation? Ending subsidies for infant industries and technology firms? These policies are all irrational in a truly nationalist sense, for they contribute to the formation of an internationalist financial elite and overclass; they also tend to destabilize the economy and undermine the true determinants of economic growth like basic research and infrastructure. They don’t even strongly benefit the working class that Cruzies purport to support (has trickle-down economics EVER worked?) Now I’m a 50% free-marketer- we are too heavily taxed and regulated and most legacy industries are propped up by disgusting government subsidies straight out of the 1930s. But taking an axe to that superstructure and adopting a Randian utopia is a sure path to national weakness, plutocratic ascendence, and working-class poverty.
But it is not only his economic pseudoscience that disgusts me with Ted Cruz. No, the worst part of his platform is, in my opinion, his social divisiveness. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a social moderate with a conservative social temperament, believing strongly in the importance of religion, family, and character in the formation of citizens, and in the necessity of social capital in an irrational world. When the world descended upon Hobby Lobby and that Pizza Shop, I defended the Christian businesses in both cases IN PRINT, because I don’t think it’s right that mob rule should overturn very basic religious liberty and liberty of conscience. And when I look at the crisis of the multiethnic poor, I see not only an economic crisis- I see a social-moral crisis that requires a civil society response as well as a governmental response. This, in my opinion, is what a truly just and inclusive social conservatism would look like. But Cruz? What Cruz peddles is a white Christian populism, based on the resentments of the Evangelical white working class against the excesses of liberal urban culture. And that culture HAS had its excesses- but that is no reason to imprudently marginalize everyone in the minority groups liberal social views purport to defend.
Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a uniter? Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a man who seriously believes in the future of America, when he crudely, snydely, and nostalgically harkens back to a conservative past that never existed? He makes enemies all around and delights in his rivalries; he insults entire classes of people and holds no respect for his fellow Senators and statesmen; his candidacy is based upon resentment and anger, not upon hope. He represents, to me, the anger of American right-wing populism rather than a constructive approach to solving any sort of institutional problem.
Would I prefer him over anyone? Well, in one-on-one matchups-
Cruz v. Clinton- Clinton. Clinton is the epitome of the establishment, but at least we can expect stability under her.
Cruz v. Trump- Trump. Trump is an opportunist, not an ideologue, and shockingly enough, probably a few points likelier to attempt to unite the nation.
Cruz v. Sanders- whoever jumps in as a third-party candidate. I stand squarely above and in the middle of these two, ideologically; I cannot in good conscience vote for either.
What I expect from a commander-in-chief, assuming we won’t get the next Washington, Lincoln, or FDR this election cycle, is someone who can keep America in strong, respectable standing among the nations of the Earth, someone who can put in place basic institutional and economic reforms in our heavily imbalanced system, and someone who can provide an optimistic, uniting message to the American people and guide them as one through crisis and calm. Cruz, methinks, cannot do any of those things.
If he’s elected President, though, I won’t necessarily lose all hope. You gotta have a mediocrity like Huntington, Buchanan, or Hoover before a demigod like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt.
Apologies if I’ve offended. I hope you like the newsletter. Looking forward to keeping this conversation going.
No worries about boring me (you didn’t- experiences of my fellow young politicos interest me) and no worries about the length (I hope I can equal if not exceed you in vociferousness.) Now it’s my turn to apologize, for two things- first, for being late by a few days in my reply, and second, a preliminary apology in the event that what you’re about to read offends. I trust it won’t, as I like to believe that the conservatively-tempered are less prone to reactive oversensitivity than our progressive colleagues, but I’ve pissed off a few conservatives with my RINOisms and thought I should give you fair warning.
Where to begin, where to begin; I grew up in a Navy family (my dad’s a Captain in the Supply Corps) traveling coast to coast every few years as my dad was redeployed to new duty stations. I gained an appreciation for the vastness and beauty of the American continent and the ruggedness of the men and women who conquered it; early on, my heroes were the pioneers, trappers, frontiersmen, and soldiers of the West, reliant upon none but themselves (or so I thought) for the fundamentals of life. I still hold that the greatest Americanism lies not with the inventor nor with the capitalist, but with the rugged explorer, the homesteader, the pioneer who conquers new worlds and lays the progress for civilization in their tracks. The inventor and capitalist make close seconds in the American experience, though overshadowing them all in my now-older mind is the Lycurgus or the Solon- the lawgiver, the empire-builder, the forger of institutions. But now I’m getting ahead of myself- back to Oregon Trail.
It should make sense that I quickly identified Boy Scouting as my favorite activity in youth, given my romanticism of adventure. Sure, I was active in school and sports and I devoured the library books my mom picked up and the 24-volume encyclopedia my dad bought from a door-to-door salesman, but beneath all these pursuits was a burning desire to be a pioneer, a soldier, an American. In Scouting I found my home- self-reliance, public service and citizenship, handicraft and appreciation for the outdoors and the ruggedness that must come with outdoor living, and the like. Incidentally, one of the original patrons of the Scouting movement back in the early 20th Century was President Theodore Roosevelt, a great hero of mine. I can’t be sure whether my adoration of him stems from my love of Scouting or vice-versa. Neo-Hamiltonian (to use the late Samuel P. Huntington’s term) militaristic citizenship like that encouraged by both TR and General Leonard Wood never took off in a Jeffersonian Republic, but it gained a small but loyal foothold in the Boy Scouts of America. And it has done its duty many times over- it produced the greatest public servant alive today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
When I was old enough to go backpacking, I seized upon the opportunity and quickly stacked up mountains and canyons under my belt. Havasupai, the Colorado River Gorge, Mount Whitney, Mount St. Helens, the Olympic Range, northern New Mexico- these were my stomping grounds, where I lay beneath the thousand stars and pondered my existence and my purpose. There’s a certain awe instilled in your breast when you see the sights ancient man once looked upon. I also entered the cult of service in Boy Scouts, a Masonically-based secret society called the Order of the Arrow, and quickly joined the ceremonies team, dressing up (in true culturally appropriatory style, to use a college term) as a Native American and reciting pages upon pages of symbolic poetry for new inductees in some of the most powerful ceremonies I’ve ever taken part in. I still have the lines etched on my heart; I can’t tell you them because of my oath, but I can tell you that the BSA and its secret society have a very, very profound understanding of service, sacrifice, and brotherhood rooted in traditions across the broad swathe of Mankind, and I owe those two institutions everything I think I know about service. Such concerns played a part in my first encounter with the real world, my Eagle Scout Project (carried out while I was still in the innocent years of 15-17) at Kitsap Memorial State Park, near Seattle. With a lot of help from a lot of people, businesses, and the state park service, I built an amphitheater that could seat a hundred people, and subsequently held my Eagle Scout Court of Honor in it. Perhaps the experience engendered in me a bias for public-private-civic partnerships over mere public projects or private contracts; in any case, it taught me that I’m a great dreamer and a terrible doer. I can’t manage people for my life.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that my formative years were spent in Scouting, and to understand the apolitical roots of my political theory, you must understand how it influenced me: a faith in the duties of the citizen to the state and nation; a love of adventure and individualism; a premium on character as the determinant of destiny; and a spirit of service, brotherhood, and sacrifice as the “purifying fire in which the dross of selfishness is cleansed,” to imperfectly quote a Rockefeller.
Equally important is my Roman Catholic upbringing- herein I understand the importance of tradition and the reality of culture, the necessity of hierarchy and traditionalism for social stability, the sheer ugliness of Man, his imperfection, his sinfulness, his crookedness, his flaws, the beauty of forgiveness, redemption, and acceptance of that imperfection, and what other means of correcting all that wrongness than Love itself? Not the love between man and woman, powerful though it is, nor between brother and brother; but the love of a parent for a child, a guardian for the protected, of a creator for the creation. It’s irrational. It’s oftentimes contrary to interests, materially speaking. But it is beautiful, and it is the font from which social trust and social cohesion flows. It is the most wonderful thing in the world, and none exemplified it better than did Jesus Christ.
From my Catholicism I gain a pessimism about human nature, yet an optimism about human salvation and the capacity for every man and woman to be a saint. From my Catholicism I gain a respect for tradition, for hierarchy, for social trust. From my Catholicism I gain a love of Mankind Universal, and despite my Machiavellian political understanding, and my knowledge that tragedy and division is the lot of Man on Earth, I carry in my heart the belief that there is something beautiful about the human that I must not forget. Machiavelli’s good friend Guicciardini said “the statesman must love his country more than his own soul” and this, I believe, is true- if I achieve any of my ambitions, I’ll be doing a good amount of burn time in Purgatory.
So you get the gist of my cultural upbringing- Catholic, Boy Scout, Yankee values, communitarian temperament with an individualist ethos, etc. No illusions about progress or perfection, but a pure, shining hope in the betterment of Mankind’s lot. Moral sadness at the blood that has been spilt and will be spilt so long as mankind dots the Earth, for hatred is in our hearts. A view that politics must harness what is best in us, and control what is worst. Also a neurotic desire to be Jack Ryan, as I had read all the Tom Clancy books as a middle schooler.
I am thoroughly a conservative- but a conservative in a different sense than Russell Kirk or Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater might define it. I don’t espouse traditional values, neoconservative militarism, or neoliberal/Friedmanite ideology, and in fact usually oppose the excesses of all three. To me, conservatism has a far nobler past than the comparatively annoying last sixty years since the founding of National Review- its Bible is not The Conscience of a Conservative or Atlas Shrugged or Capitalism and Freedom. Its Bibles are The Federalist Papers, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Democracy in America- vast tomes of timeless wisdom, steeped in an understanding of human nature that transcends the ages, more a temperament than an ideology. That is my problem with most self-described “conservatives” today- they are sheer ideologists but have the nerve to call themselves a temperament that they most certainly are not- moderate, nuanced, balanced, etc.
I say it again- I don’t see conservatism as an ideology, as National Review and the post-1955 “conservative”movement have made it. I see it as a political and social temperament applicable to ideologies of all sorts. There are conservative nationalists (Hamilton, Disraeli) conservative liberals (Burke, Tocqueville) conservative socialists or semi-socialists (Franklin Roosevelt, De Gaulle) conservative traditionalists (basically every non-Marxist third-world leader of the last century, esp. Lee Kuan Yew) and a thousand other varieties. Only a few American “conservatives” are truly conservative- Yuval Levin, the late Jack Kemp, this kind of person. “Fusionist” is a better term for the post-1955 movement- fusing, as it does, libertarian economics, social traditionalism, and neoconservative strategy. I laugh when demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham talk about “conservative” values, and then go on to expound free markets and lower taxes (historically “liberal” policy ideas!)
So that’s a basic intro to my understanding of conservatism- more to come later. But first, a brief intellectual history of myself, starting at the point, after my Eagle Scout Court of Honor and Confirmation, where I had reached the point of no return in my cultural imprinting-
In 2011, I was very depressed, as my family had moved across the country from Seattle to Virginia (beautiful road trip if you ever get the chance, by the way.) I had lost all my friends and all the world I had known, carrying only what I had with me- my character, my experiences, my ambitions. And my family and my cat Jingles for that matter. There was a a rap I had heard in high school (here is the polished version, now a hit Broadway musical) about the upbringing of Alexander Hamilton and the struggles he went through growing up, and how he used the pain to attain greatness. Being both in pain and neurotically ambitious, the song became the anthem of my life-
“Scanning for every book he can get his hands on
Planning for the future, see him now as he stands on
The bow of a ship, headed for a new land
In [DC] you can be a new man…”
Now bear in mind my political evolution hadn’t started yet at that point. I grew up as an O’Reilly-worshipping, Levin-listening, Fox-watching Fusionist “conservative” inasmuch as I followed politics, which was around the dinner table but not much beyond that (interesting that my life literally revolves around it now.)
In 2011, while I was living in the Virginian suburbs of DC, the Tea Party movement was still going strong, and being me, I decided I was going to be EXTRA self-righteous and go read the works of the Founding Fathers, so I could trash all the liberals with my founding knowledge. It was a beautiful plan. I had just read Atlas Shrugged and expected I’d find in the Founders fancier versions of Rand’s work.
Naturally, the first Founder I read was Alexander Hamilton (given my love for his rap.)
And boy, was I wrong about the Founders.
I saw in Hamilton (I read his speech to the New York ratifying convention, in which he declared that men are reasoning rather than reasonable creatures) true conservatism- true love of country- true pragmatism for a dangerous world- true belief in the power of the individual to shape that world. I was awestruck into hero-worship, and began voraciously reading anything by Hamilton I could find online. Thus began my political evolution, when I discovered the “realist” school of politics and determined to master it, so I could shut down any liberal (or pseudo-conservative, for that matter) in conversation.
I should note two other things- first, I was intent on going into a military career, so I could serve my country and win glory. Because of various mental-health problems, I was deemed ineligible for full-time service (which is just as well- I couldn’t take that kind of bureaucracy full-time) but I am now working at getting into the California National Guard, which is going pretty well. I want to join and serve for the same reasons I did Boy Scouting- excellence, service, ruggedness, a better understanding of human nature and Americanism.
And around the time that I first read my great mentor Hamilton, I had a dream that I was chained to a rock next to George Washington while all my friends were off being commandos. The first lesson I took from this was that despite my misfortunes I’d always find better opportunities; the other lesson I’ve since realized is my true life purpose- to be a modern Hamilton (who was figuratively chained next to Washington for most of his career), an aide to great men, a great intellectual, a great leader, a great warrior- and to work hard, get smart, and make myself worthy of being all these things, that I might best serve my George Washington when I find him or her, and that I might best serve my country through my own personal excellence.
Back to intellectual evolution. I mentioned the “realist” school of politics- this led me to Machiavelli, Hume, Hobbes, and others. I started studying international relations at USC because I viewed it as the most relevant field of study for my career (for the longest time I wanted to join the CIA- and Langley has now rejected me three times…) but my interests remained as eclectic and diverse as political theory, economics, American history and culture, and the like. I am a humanist in the best sense of the word, a thinker who fits neatly into no discipline.
Early on I discovered an excellent writer named Walter Russell Mead and started reading him religiously; not much longer later I discovered Michael Lind and bought and read all his books; Mead is too Jeffersonian for me to be a Meadian, Lind too FDRooseveltian for me to be a Lindian. But I’ve worked for both and the two men have had a huge influence over my thought- the importance of culture, the permanence of politics, the goodness of America and Americans, and the virtues of moderation and intensity- “prudence and vigor,” to quote the first line of my personal ethos.
I read Francis Fukuyama and determined that democracy does not form naturally, but must be preceded by liberal political climate and good institutions. I read Robert D. Kaplan and learned about the tragedy of human nature and the permanence of conflict. I read Joel Kotkin and learned about the beauty of decentralization (and now I’m working for him.) There are so many others- journalists, scholars, public intellectuals, and more. My favorites are David Brooks and Jim Manzi, but there are more. Just too many to name here.
My core ideas, however, have been impressed upon me by Michael Lind and Walter Russell Mead. From Mead, I take the “four-schools” or “Albion’s Seed” theory of American cultural divisions, which argues that most cultural and political divides we see today and across American history can be traced back to the simultaneous settlement of the American continent by Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scots-Irish. From Mead I take the idea of the “Blue Social Model”- the notion that the heavily technocratic institutions put in place by the New Deal and the Greaat Society have ceased to work since the 70s and have only grown more decadent with increased globalization, information technology, and automation, and that the key task of reformers today is reinterpreting American principles to forge a “Liberalism 5.0” governing ideology capable of taking the promise of American life into the next century. From Lind, I take the notion of the “Hamiltonian tradition” in American politics- the centrist-reformist-nationalist line of governing that goes from Washington and Hamilton through Webster and Clay through Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, and splits in the 20th Century between the New Deal Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans, and now no longer exists. Hamiltonians favor massive public investments, industrial policy, social moderation, and an economy focused on national defense- and I am in every sense a strong-government Hamiltonian, as is most of the military-industrial complex, the defense establishment, and the intelligence community, to include Robert Gates. Also from Lind I take the “three Republics” theory of American history, whereby the institutions of the Republic decay and are re-forged in great crises- the Founding, the Civil War, the Great Depression and Second World War- and we now near the end of the Third Republic, FDR’s Republic, and it’ll be the task of our generation to lay down a new set of institutions beyond the Blue Social Model and even beyond Reaganism. These four ideas- the Four Schools, the Blue Social Model, the Hamiltonian Tradition, and the Three Republics- are my paradigms for conceiving of American history and politics, and I think they’re pretty damn good ones at that.
Where does that put me in 2016, when I am 22 years old?
I am a centrist Republican in the Huntsman/Pataki/kinda-Kasich RINO camp. I’m supporting Rubio for the GOP nomination because in my mind he’s the least crazy of all those capable of getting the nomination. But if I had power, I would nominate someone who was economically Hamiltonian, politically federalist, administratively reformist, socially moderate, culturally conservative, fiscally prudent, and strategically internationalist.
I cannot be a Democrat for the primary reason that the Democratic coalition includes interest groups that are fundamentally tied to the Blue Social Model- and therefore Democrats will not be the great reformers of our age. I look with disdain upon many elements of the Republican coalition- the radical libertarian economists who fail to realize that their policies inevitably lead to plutocracy, the rabid social traditionalists who occasionally border on the racist line, the neoconservatives who aggressively seek to impose American values on other nations, the Fox Newsies who are occasionally blind to reality. You mentioned Ted Cruz favorably in a recent Facebook post; I personally think Cruz is more dangerous and divisive than any other candidate in the field right now, up to and including Bernie Sanders. (Not that I would vote Sanders in that matchup- I’d throw my vote to the dogs first.) My old mentor, Adam Garfinkle, pretty well summarized the dilemma a moderate thinker like me faces-
I don’t want to go back to 1965 or to 1925. But let me briefly restate my antipathy to both sets of party orthodoxy in somewhat different language before getting to my ten proposals.
The Left in this country, generally speaking, tends to excoriate corporations, even to disparage the profit motive itself, and to think of government as a proper vehicle not only for battling the depredations of capitalism but also for forcing on the nation the kinds of multicultural, politically correct social biases it likes. It has inculcated within itself the old countercultural notion of consciousness-raising, in which it presumes to know more about what’s good for you than you do. It is the self-appointed Robin Hood of our political soul, though its populist pretensions are belied by its elitist ways. The Left displays a blindness to the benefits of a non-distorted market economy, and an even more grievous blindness to the limits of what government can accomplish—especially a government that tries to do more than it should in what has become a misaligned Federal system.
The Right these days, generally speaking, tends to excoriate government, to dismiss the idea of an inclusive and fairly governed national community, and to blame those who are genuinely poor for their own poverty. Much of the Right, having regrettably abandoned its own Burkean heritage, sees through a crude Social Darwinist prism that acknowledges only individual judgment, ignoring the social context in which that judgment is seated.1 It is blind to plutocratic corruption and doesn’t see, either, the widening cultural gap between an isolated elite and those Americans who are falling out of an often recently won and still fragile middle-class status.2 It is particularly blind to the fact that a distorted market system dominated by large corporate oligarchies that deploy increasingly sophisticated advertising methodologies can be responsible for undermining both social trust and the founding virtues.3
Again, there’s no reason to choose between the problems caused by the public sector (a sclerotic, dysfunctional and wildly expensive government) and the problems caused by the private sector (a predatory corporate leadership class, and especially an increasingly powerful parasitic financial elite, that has become an extractive rather than a productive asset for the nation as a whole). Both problems exist, and both are getting worse.
Moreover, these problems are not really separate; they feed one another. Private sector abuses feed the appetite for government protection, but government is too dysfunctional to provide that protection; instead its efforts tend to harm small businesses that lack the arsenals of specialist lawyers and accountants that huge businesses use to evade government attempts to hem them in. You get a hint of this by looking at what the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements have had in common, which is a fair bit more than either group likes to admit.
We need an active and bold Federal government for several key but discrete purposes beyond national security; but we can well do without the nanny-state soft despotism it otherwise drapes over our society. If we need a model, a hero from our past who epitomizes this combination, we have at least three to choose from: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt—Federalist, Whig and Republican.
Nonetheless, I remain a Republican because I am conservative, I am a realist, and I want to serve my country- and serve it through politics I will. Currently I’m working for Joel Kotkin at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism doing centrist market-based policy research, writing columns weekly for the California Republican website Fox&Hounds and now the centrist millennial group Action For America, doing policy work and body man work for U.S. Senate candidate Duf Sundheim, working for the California GOP Associate Delegates Caucus in a newsletter-writing capacity, doing historical research at the Nixon Presidential Library, working on essays to submit to The American Interest and National Affairs, and finding other opportunities. A year from now I’ll either be in DC or California, depending on Duf’s electoral results. But my core mission will remain the same- fighting for the lost Hamiltonian Republicanism, temperamental conservatism, American nationalism, and the like, and working to rebuild dead traditions. I’m a party activist, a political writer, and a real pain in the ass- it’s what I do. And I’m gonna keep doing it.
OK. I’m exhausted now. I apologize, I got so burnt out writing my intellectual origins that I couldn’t do justice to my 2011-2016 intellectual evolution. I’ll write a deeper piece on my policy viewpoints later on. Perhaps when we get coffee the next time I’m in DC that might come up; but no matter. You have a basic read, now, on who I am and what I stand for; take what you will and judge as you might.
We’re definitely different types of thinkers, but as you said- party unity is important. In my opinion we need to expand leftward and break the power of the extreme right wing over dialogue (and sometimes policy, as the recent gov’t shutdowns and McCarthy’s fall demonstrated.) I expect in under a decade we’ll both be in positions to fight for the GOP moving forward, and it’ll be interesting to see where things go from there.
I look forward to continuing the conversation. I’ll send a follow-up email with some of my published “manifesto” pieces for you to read if you’re interested; I’ll also send you thoughts I sent to a friend on Ted Cruz.
As I said at the beginning of this message, I apologize if I offend. Looking forward to continuing the conversations.