Buckley Era anti-nationalism

-The argument of Liberal Fascism is that the nationalist/internationalist dichotomy is not fundamental or even essential to the political Right/Left. Socialism and central planning is leftism whether internationalist or nationalist, and free markets and… uh… not-central planning is conservatism or the right, whether nationalist or internationalist. This “not-central planning, but not nationalist” philosophy was central to the contemporary Right in what might be called the Buckley Era, running roughly from Whittaker Chambers’s conversion in 1952 (or the nomination of Goldwater a decade later) until the last election.

-Until the end of the Cold War The Right didn’t need to define what “not-central planning” was since it was obvious: not-Soviet Russia. This set the bar so ridiculously low for what would count as “non-centrally planned” that almost everyone could clear it. All you needed was to prove that your citizens had more freedom and autonomy than a the subjects of a totalitarian regime that could be spied on continually and sent off to gulags with the wild approval of state-run media.

-But what positive account of social order takes the place of “not-centrally planned”? The Libertarian response is “nothing at all”. In the absence of control we get the best social order, and minimizing regulation is the surest path to justice. This philosophy has proved a hard sell and can’t be taken as a live political option.

-The McIntyre-Kirk response is something like “traditions and folkways of a people”.  But how is this not a nationalism? “Internationalist traditions” are hard to come by outside of Catholicism or colonialism, and an internationalist Confessional Catholic or colonial state is even less of a live political option than Libertarianism. None of the mandarins of the Buckley Era would argue for that.

-An uneasy consensus seemed to form around the idea that “traditions and folkways” were the acceptance of various rational propositions of founding-era documents, and so “not-centrally planned” ended up meaning “the proposition nation”. But to follow the whole train of logic made this claim a farce. The whole point of critiquing central planning was that the mechanisms of order and social harmony were beyond reason, but now we were saying, in effect, that all of these mechanisms and structures would arise immediately as soon as everyone gave rational assent to some short list of claims made by 18th Century political science. Reason, it turns out, could suffice to ensure a just political order, and the reasoning wasn’t even that complex! It was just a proposition!

-Toward the end of the Buckley Era, this proposition became not just rational but self-evident to all people, so much so that if you just removed any impediment to American-Free Market- republican-capitalismTM then it would break out spontaneously by the free will of the liberated masses, no matter what their particular ethic background was. This was an explicit rationale of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here again, the farce became more and more apparent.

-And so all attempts to articulate what “not-central planning” means in the absence of a Soviet bad guy seem to lead back to some sort of nationalism. But nationalism was exactly what the Buckley Era conservatism banished, purged, and treated as a taboo.

-And how could we not treat nationalism as taboo? Nationalism is a replacement for reason. It is because science is impotent and unequal to the task that we must turn to the ethos of the nation – to things ethnic – and give them the sort of assent that we want to give to science. But this is certitude in the absence of evidence! Blind faith! Who could ever have this sort of naïve patriotism after the thirty years war of 1914-45?

-Our allergy to nationalism is part of a larger allergy to faith. The Left (at least in its press junket) claims that reason is all one needs: science and planning suffice to ensure justice and the social order is transparent to the human mind (or at least an elite human mind). The Right in the Buckley Era critiqued this claim but refused to come to terms with the logic of its position, which requires the impotence of reason to argue for the necessity of faith. The recent (and once supressed) nationalist movements on the right have yet to fully come to terms with the way in which nationalism is not another rational political system that can be proven superior on its merits.

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3 Comments

  1. E. R. Bourne said,

    January 2, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    James, this is an excellently devastating critique of modern conservatism’s descent into ideology, if you will. One of the critiques that many within the alternative right want to make is that human nature is such that some form of “nationalism” is essential to a healthily ordered society. The attempt to obviate its existence through large scale managerialism, whether of the communist or capitalist variety, does not create an ultimately viable alternative. It creates the wreck of modernity, which can be loosely defined as mass social breakdown that results from humans living in inhumane conditions for too long a period.

    Avoiding the liberal nationalisms that helped cause the World Wars is certainly essential to creating something real in the wake of the failures of liberalism generally, so some serious devolution of power has to occur. This is incidentally why modern libertarians have become useless. Older libertarian thinkers like Rothbard at least knew that local control was still a type of control, meaning the real struggle was big authority vs small authority and not authority per se vs some utopian anarcho capitalist fantasy. Any devolution of this type, then, will be opposed by both the nominal left and right because both internationalist managerialism and propositional nationalism must be discarded in favor of something based on the actual identities of people, i.e. race, language, culture, kinship etc. In order to create the intellectual space for this, however, many modern taboos must be broken.

  2. January 10, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    ““Internationalist traditions” are hard to come by outside of Catholicism or colonialism, and an internationalist Confessional Catholic or colonial state is even less of a live political option than Libertarianism. None of the mandarins of the Buckley Era would argue for that.”

    Ahem — Buckley’s brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell, Jr., attempted “internationalist Confessional” Catholicism. Hence “Triumph” Magazine. Bozell and his network (look to Christendom College and the University of Dallas) latched onto Francoist Spain as a sort of model. Carlism! Legitimism! Hapsburgs! All ostensibly very Catholic, not very well-adapted to the American experience. Don Quixote, eat your heart out.

    • January 13, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Great post on the pitfalls of conservatism. It’s good to see Anglo Americans looking beyond this failed ideology. Just one point on your comment Olaus, It’s true that Carlism or Hapsburgs may not be adapted to the US experience (or Spain’s today), but talking about those epochs and movements can be useful because they are examples of non-ideological modernity. The global (and globalist) Philippine Monarchy brought the modern world (which eventually inclded the US) into being. This is realism – which Don Quijote, for all his qualities, was against, and Cervantes and the society of his day in favour of.


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