Untimely Observations

The Revenge of the Paleos


With a mention by the New York Times's favorite conservative, Ross Douthat, one might surmise that "paleoconservatism" is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Even Jeb Bush has picked up on the term, as, according to my sources, he recently joked at a New York State Republican convention, in between pronouncing pleasantries en español,

I don't know who the paleocons are, but I think they are the ones with pitchforks who want to take us back to an agrarian economy.

He's right about the pitchforks.

And though I've never suffered from technophobia, I'd much prefer an "agrarian economy" to the post-industrial, Latino service-economy wasteland that Jeb thinks is a sign of America's advancement.

Paleoconservatism -- a hastily assembled, rear-guard action against the neocon ascendancy in the conservative movement -- reached its zenith in the '92 meeting of the John Randolph Club, at which Tom Fleming, Murray Rothbard, and Sam Francis gave command performances. Murray famously announced that the insurgent movement wouldn't just "turn back the clock" -- but break it! With Pat Buchanan, the paleocons could even boast, quite correctly, that they had a presidential candidate of its own.

I've always avoided associating myself with the term, in part for ideological reasons, in part because the movement's time has clearly come and passed, and in part because those now associated with it have gone off in different directions. This said, the conservative wars of the '90s was an important moment in American political history -- and paleoconservatism was (and is) infinitely more interesting and culturally literate than what's on offer at NR, The Weekly Standard, FrumForum, and the rest.

Douthat seems to associate paleoconservatism with the political bloggings of Daniel Larison, which is unfortunate, since Larison is currently staking out a position of being "thoughtful" ... which, as far as I can tell, means publishing long, barely penetrable blog posts dedicated to hair-splitting with various Beltway wonks. Larison also brags of his lack of a coherent ideology, which means that he won't reveal to us what he actually thinks about, say, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which launched the recent "paleocon" dispute. One must surmise, however, that he's very, very "thoughtful" about the issue.

"Paleoconservatism" might be turning into a convenient straw man for the Establishment -- "Eww, look at those reactionary, racist paleos who don't like MLK and want to turn Americans into traditionalist farmers! But this also means that people like Douthat, Frum, and Jeb recognize it as a threat. Being a "paleocon" might, in its current manifestation, begin to represent something like "thinking dangerous, impossible thoughts." And for that, this new paleo-cussword is a hopeful development. Indeed, some of us might want to consider adopting it.