Let's just look at the various articles on The American Conservative's website that are concurrently running.
is a friendly review of a new play sweeping the theater world in NYC. It is a rap-music based historical play about the life of Alexander Hamilton based upon perhaps the greatest single biography I have ever read (if I have to choose just one), Ron Chernow's "Hamilton." The author, Noah Millman, gets the importance of Hamilton's political and economic ideas, though one wishes Millman had been more explicit about that. The important point for us is that Millman is not doing the "get off my lawn" sort of "conservatism" one often sees and hears. He is excited about using a newer medium to reach an audience and has a great deal of respect for new ways of learning. I wish I was in NYC to be able to see this play and hope it arrives soon on the Left Coast.
Second, Notre Dame political science professor Patrick J. Deneen has written a very insightful essay about Frederick Hayek's progressive oriented and even libertarian defense of traditions and cultural customs
in Western society. The essay gives us a sense of the alchemy of political philosophies and gives indirectly more insight into the late, great sociologist Daniel Bell's dividing our philosophies of "liberal" and "conservative" into the realms of political, economic and cultural, and how those play off and intersect with each other and with others. The funny thing to me is that it shows that Hayek recognized more than he would have admitted what FDR was trying to do with New Deal innovations, which were themselves haphazard more than organized from an ideological perspective
. More profoundly, Deneen's essay helps us understand how Hayek has something in common with the Marxist E.P. Thompson, who, in Thompson's brilliant extended essay, "The Poverty of Theory,"
extolled the British empirical tradition and demolished the French oriented ideological tradition as way of seeing the world and promoting social policies. Thompson's later and one of his last works, "Customs in Common,"
is even more explicit on this subject of tradition and customs being important for stabilizing society and setting forth a progressive minded interpretation for a tradition that extols flexibility and change, but remembers above all the importance of being kind, respectful and helpful to each other. It is how one bests approaches Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy novels, I should add.*
*For those who find the philosophies of Karl Marx inconsistent with the British empirical tradition, one should read Michael Harrington's "Twilight of Capitalism" and more recently, the wonderfully written "biography" of the lives and letters of Karl and Jenny Marx, which read to me like the Marxist version of a book on the lives and letters of John and Abigail Adams. Mary Gabriel's "Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution" reveals Marx as essentially a middle class persona who really detested the sort of radicalism that has gone forward in his name starting in the last years of his life, where he famously said he was not a "Marxist."
Third, Richard Reinsch, II has penned an excellent review of a book about religious freedom and establishment
in American constitutional and political history. It properly recognizes the initial meaning and scope of the First Amendment, which included
the protection of religious institutions from the federal government as separate spheres (thus, "separation" being an originalist legal proposition). Still, there is more that I disagree with as the essay goes on as he overemphasizes his point to the exclusion of the tension inside the First Amendment when it comes to how individuals are treated in a society where private religion flourishes. The first disagreement I have with him is whether the First Amendment operates to protect religious institutions from civic accountability in terms of discriminatory practices. Reinsch should not date the modern secularist position at the US Supreme Court to 1947 and the Everson
case. He should, instead, date this point of secular laws overriding private religious practices back to the time the Supreme Court ruled that Mormon polygamist practices were properly outlawed, religious practices be damned. And that of course was a decision from back in 1878, Reynolds v. U.S.
, the very 19th Century where Reinsch identifies what he calls the most heated polemical debates between the providentialists and secularists, as he calls the legal intellectual combatants. Renisch's real fear is obliquely stated at the end of his article, and he should have been more forthright. He sees religious freedom as the freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities, thus giving credit indirectly and ironically to Gore Vidal's famous dictum, religion is sex and sex is religion--and all is politics. See Vidal's "Sex is politics"
essay first published, oh the irony, in Playboy magazine in 1979. I do not share Reinsch's fear as I do not think our churches, synagogues and mosques are harmed by a demand that people not be discriminated against on the basis of who they sleep with, or whether religious institutions have to follow health and safety laws and related laws. My other important disagreement with Reinsch is his most strange failure to even mention in his essay the incorporation of the First Amendment as a limit upon the individual States as a result of the Fourteenth Amendment, which amendment was enacted following the U.S. Civil War. For this "incorporation" intent behind a principal drafter of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Indiana Law School professor George Magliocca's biography of John Bingham
. Still, Reinsch's essay and perhaps the book which he is reviewing are otherwise illuminative and well worth the read.
Fourth, Patrick J. Buchanan's essay about nationalism in Europe
is one where we can strongly disagree with Buchanan's enthusiasm for revitalizing Christian Europe, but express delight at his recognizing the issues and, yes, the depth of his understanding of those issues. Europe has got to face the fact that its Muslim minorities are being discriminated against from an economic standpoint and even political one, something Buchanan is glossing over in his general despising of the social welfare state. That has been my biggest surprise over the years, meaning the discrimination and economic repression Muslim communities in supposedly "socialist" Europe face on a daily basis. However, the other side of that political coin requires that Muslims in Europe need to have more respect for modern European culture and politics of pluralism, meaning sexual equality
. As one woman's poster in India during a recent pro-feminist rally reads, "Don't tell me how to dress. Tell them not to rape." That is why I am so against the manner in which European Muslim communities enforce, through honor codes, women wearing hijabs and burkas. It is why I am so demanding that Muslim clerics and other leaders in the Muslim communities around the world take more of a modernist stand on this subject and recognize that wearing such garments are historical, not how one worships one's Deity. Buchanan also raises another point, less directly, which is that those who most want the new leftist Greek government to fail in its renegotiations with the bankers and creditor class are playing a dangerous game. What will replace the Greek leftists will not be banker or creditor class oriented technocrats, but snarling right wing nationalists of a fascist and even Nazi oriented type. People's cries must be heard and if their cries are not filtered through the progressive oriented ideals of fraternity, equality and liberty, they will be heard as filtered through more "traditional" Middle Ages sort of European Christianity and fascistic "ideals" of racism and xenophobia. Buchanan has, unfortunately, long had a soft spot for those latter Western traditions, and stands against the likes of Hayek, Marx and Thompson, to name the three political philosophers discussed in this long post. Buchanan's demand that Europe's Christians (note his conscious refusal to use the more accepted American oriented phrase "Judeo-Christian") re-invigorate their religious tradition is, in my view, a recipe for more chaos and perhaps even bloodshed. What is instead needed is a First Amendment of separating church and state, meaning European governments need to stop literally economically subsidizing its churches, mosques and synagogues. Second, more economic attention needs to be provided for the poorer often Muslim communities that is also combined with a pluralist and ecumenical approach that combats the racism so often directed by the still white majority Europeans at its minority Muslim and often darker skin colored communities. Third, the one area where Western hegemony needs to be enforced in those same discriminated against communities concerns sexual equality, and that means simply stating that women's rights trump both honor society and religious practices. It is a dance on a tightrope, to be certain, but if Europe's leaders and public writers and intellectuals do not meet that challenge, Europe will certainly find itself convulsed again in sectarian wars, not secular wars. The first thing the EU needs to do toward the ends I propose is capitulate--and I mean that sincerely and literally-to the Greek government's demand for a re-negotiation of its debts. As David Graeber's book, "Debt: The First Five Thousand Years,"
makes clear, there is ample and consistent historical precedent to bail out debtors and not just bail out creditors. And frankly, it is far more effective and doubly frankly, kind, to bail out the debtors.
Overall, I continue to find The American Conservative to be a political journal where even my disagreements with its writers are inspirational and move forward our discourse--and prove once again that to label people as "liberal" and "conservative" without Daniel Bell's qualifiers for the political, economic and cultural realm is to obscure and dumb down rather than enlighten our discourse.