OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Friday, November 17, 2006 :::

What is a Paleoconservative, Anyway?

I've written elsewhere that Jim Webb shares some of the characteristics of a paleoconservative. But what does that term actually mean?

Here is a fairly interesting definition, from the January 2001 issue of Chronicles magazine. It's author, Chilton Williamson, Jr. says in part:

Paleoconservatism is the expression of rootedness: a sense of place and of history, a sense of self derived from forebears, kin, and culture -- an identity that is both collective and personal. This identity is missing from the psychological and emotional makeup of leftists of every stripe --including neoconservatives -- and is now disavowed by mainline conservatives of the Republican variety, seemingly bent on eradicating as much of the primeval stain as they can from their consciousnesses while apologizing for the faint discoloration that remains.

From my reading of Webb so far, and admittedly, it's from a great distance, some of this seems quite close to the mark. Williamson's piece descends from this into a bout of semi-paranoid ranting, but his conclusion comes back with some interesting points:

Flexibility in facing the vicissitudes of life is one thing, unlearning your upbringing another - a thing principled people wouldn't do even if they could. Trinity School, having educated generations of students for life in the Old America, has -- for the past 30 years -- been cooperating enthusiastically in the work of destroying that America and displacing those it once trained to operate and inhabit it. All right: We are becoming strangers in our own country.

What to do? In addition to the foregoing list, I add several further suggestions. Be true to your forebears, and to the culture they created and -- for nearly four centuries -- sustained. Wear a coat and necktie in polite society, even on an airplane. Speak out! Make yourself heard as loud and as strong as your lungs, and the co-opted press and electronic frequencies, permit. Keep your sense of humor, ALWAYS. . . . Go to Church.

In others words, it seems, you were born fighting. Keep it up.

But an even more interesting entry comes from this book review written by Samuel Francis (who, to say the least, is an interesting case study in his own right). Francis laid out three main areas where the paleocons differed from their mainline and neocon brethren. But this one is the most curious as it relates to Jim Webb:

Third, paleoconservatism emerged also as a reaction against what was taking place in American culture itself in the 1980s and '90s, trends that the mainstream Right warmly embraced. Not only the increasing secularism, hedonism, and carnal and material self-indulgence of the dominant culture but also its shallowness and artificiality, its proclivity to being manipulated by media and political elites, its passivity in the face of more and more usurpation of social and civic functions by big government, big business, and big media, and the happy chatter from the contemporary political Right that celebrated this transformation and identified public morality almost exclusively with flag-waving, prayer in schools, invoking saccharine and platitude about "family values," and constant ranting about any and all movies that contained sex.

If that last bit sounds familiar, it is akin to that Webb used in his Journal op-ed:

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet.

Against the backdrop of paleocon thought, I suggest that the politics of the Karl Rove era are not exactly new, but merely the latest version of a trend that began in the 1980s -- when Jim Webb was in the Reagan Administration and, it seems, the currents of conservativism were beginning to diverge in a profound way. They continue to do so, though now the split is between the fiscal and social conservatives that remained behind. And if that split does finally occur, what sort of politicians will it produce in 15 or 20 years?

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 11/17/2006 3 comments


"You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they also produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." -- Orson Welles, The Third Man

"The graveyards are full of indespensable men" -- Charles de Gaulle

"Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favor? Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and now she wants to quit because she's losing. Well I say, hard cheese!" -- Montgomery Burns

"Don't pretend that you know me...cause I don't even know myself" -- The Who

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