Thursday, July 13, 2006

Whither Stooksbury?

Meet Clark Stooksbury, lover of Crunchy Cons, defender of Smoosh, hates Donkey Cons.

Stooksbury: Has written for Chronicles and the American Conservative.
McCain: Has written for Chronicles and the American Conservative.

We are both thus clearly associated with paleoconservatism.

This is what is interesting to me: My review of Crunchy Cons, which apparently so antagonized Mr. Stooksbury, includes a reference to economist Mark Skousen:
Others have chastised Dreher for praising Hillary Clinton’s mantra “it takes a village,” but I’m more disturbed by his economic views. Crunchy Cons mentions neither Ludwig von Mises nor F.A. Hayek, and it seems entirely possible that Dreher has never read anything by the free-market Austrian economists or their successors. Instead he relies on Small Is Beautiful author E.F. Schumacher, practically the only economist mentioned in the book.

This is a telling choice. As the economist Mark Skousen has pointed out, Small Is Beautiful has a substantially Malthusian message that “enslaves everyone in a life of ‘nonmaterialistic’ values.” For Skousen, Schumacher’s Buddhist economics was a primitive mysticism that “clearly results in a primitive economy.” Dreher, no doubt, would dismiss Skousen as a soulless libertarian.
That review was published in the libertarian journal Reason. Mr. Stooksbury is a contributing editor to another libertarian journal, Liberty. If we look at the masthead of that journal, we see among Mr. Stooksbury's fellow contributing editors Reason associate editor Brian Doherty, plus several other people whose work I have long admired: Dave Kopel, a staunch Second Amendment defender; Wendy McElroy, dissident feminist; Bill Kauffman, a Burkean critic of "progress"; homeschooling advocate Sheldon Richman; and ... Mark Skousen!

What we have here, then, is a most curious misunderstanding. Mr. Stooksbury and I seem to inhabit almost synchronous orbits within what might be called the paleolibertarian region of the political galaxy, our chief points of disagreement being:
  • Mr. Stooksbury's admiration of Crunchy Cons, a book based on the Buddhist economics detested by the libertarian Skousen, and generally panned by conservative critics. (In the latest issue of The American Spectator, Florence King may have outdone us all.)
  • Mr. Stooksbury is anti-war and seems to have conceived me as some sort of neocon chickenhawk warmonger type. In fact, as friends will attest, I was a confirmed skeptic of the casus belli for the Iraq invasion -- at least so far as it was publicly articulated by its advocates. But once the war began, I was for victory. In other words, if this is ancient Athens, then I am not the rash and ambitious Alcibiades, but the wise statesman Nicias, who advised against the expedition to Sicily but, once the assembly voted to go, urged them to make the expedition with the strongest possible force.
  • Mr. Stooksbury seems to have been afflicted with a variant strain of Bush Derangement Syndrome that is widespread among my paleolibertarian friends.
If I could wangle an invite to speak at the next John Randolph Club, I would like to address the tendency of which Mr. Stooksbury's case presents such a typical example.

We are living in weird times and, as Hunter S. Thompson said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, but for crying out loud, this is getting too weird even for me. Some of my paleolibertarian pals, it seems, would rather make common cause with the anarchist Noam Chomsky or conspiracy theorists like Michael Moore than to be caught associating with any conservative who supports a "hang tough" policy in Iraq.

Such is their loathing for Bush that I keep waiting for them to start arguing for tax increases. After all, Bush supports tax cuts and if Bush is Satan incarnate -- which seems to be the operative principle for some people -- then tax cuts must be part of the satanic plot.

If I were invited to speak to the JRC, I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't like my speech, but as long as I weren't shouted down, I think I could use the opportunity to ask some important questions:
  • Why haven't the follies of the Bush administration caused more conservatives to reconsider the Platonic/Straussian dominance of the movement?
  • What are the central and fundamental flaws of (and not merely the latest blunders caused by) the ideology generally called neoconservatism?
  • If neoconservative ideology is flawed, why then has it become so popular?
  • Why have rival ideas within the Right -- including traditionalism and libertarianism -- failed to make inroads again the neoconservative ascendancy?
I've been pondering this question for a few years, and have some ideas about the answers. And in those answers, I think, lie some implications for what should be done to remedy these problems and make some headway for a change.

As I say, I would be glad to address this topic in depth at the next JRC meeting. But the first thing I'd suggest is that we call a ceasefire -- or at least invoke the Geneva Conventions -- in these kinds of feuds amongst those of us on the Right who have been been for so long systematically excluded by the powers that be within the Official Conservative Movement.

That means let's stop quarreling, Mr. Stooksbury (and I'd say the same to Mr. Dreher), and see if we can't find some common ground for cooperation. But first of all, let's stop the circular firing squad routine, OK? We all seem to agree that the conservative movement has gone badly astray, though our interpretations differ as to the causes and nature of the problem.

But let me make one thing clear: I am not the problem. Nobody at Official Conservative Movement headquarters has ever solicited my advice, nor do I expect an invite to the next state dinner at the White House. So if you don't like the war or George Bush, if you're annoyed by Sean Hannity's latest rant or the most recent betrayal by the Republican Senate, please don't vent your frustrations on me. I've got enough enemies already without becoming your personal scapegoat.