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Posts Tagged ‘Clyde Wilson’

A Few More Words on Patrick Allitt’s The Conservatives

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Conservatism, History, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Politics on October 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Many American politicians call themselves “conservative” despite never having read Paul Elmer More, Irving Babbitt, Robert Taft, Donald Davidson, Frank Meyer, Richard Weaver, James Burnham, or Russell Kirk.  Television pundits recycle the term “neoconservative” without even a passing reference to Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol, or Norman Podhoretz.  A welcome respite from the ignorance of the talking heads, Patrick Allitt’s The Conservatives (Yale University Press, 2009) is an engaging and informative book, even if it is more of an introduction to American conservatism than a critical study.  I recently reviewed the book here at the journal 49th Parallel, but I have more to say about it.

American conservatism is rich and complex but too often simplified or ignored by academics who think they know what conservatism means.  I applaud Allitt for taking conservatism seriously and for marshaling a wealth of evidence to support his thesis.  Those who cannot identify what generally distinguishes a paleoconservative from a neoconservative, or who’re confused by the apparent hypocrisy of conservatives who call for big-government spending on military and surveillance while griping about big-government, need to read this book.  Allitt provides clarity and direction for the uninitiated.  He deserves not just our attention, but our admiration.

Allitt attends to several figures in this book, including John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, William Cobbett, John Marshall, John Randolph of Roanoke, George Fitzhugh, Rufus Choate, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, George Ticknor, Abraham Lincoln, Orestes Brownson, William Graham Sumner, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, John Crow Ransom, Andrew Lytle, H. L. Mencken, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, Albert Jay Nock, Ralph Adams Cram, George Santayana, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Barry Goldwater, George Will, Ronald Reagan, Michael Novak, Robert Bork, Allan Bloom, M. E. Bradford, Thomas Fleming, Clyde Wilson, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Patrick Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Roger Kimball, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, Dinesh D’Souza, and others.  One book cannot address every major figure that influenced American conservatism, and Allit’s failure to mention some names (Strom Thurmond, Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Donald Rumsfeld, Wendell Berry, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, or any of the Bob Joneses) is understandable.  Paul Gottfried appears just once in the book, and passingly.  But a case could be made that Gottfried’s paleoconservatism is more European in origin and thus worthy of analysis.  And surely Eric Voegelin warrants more than a casual reference in a single paragraph.

For some, Allitt’s most objectionable suggestion will be that the Civil War was a conflict of two conservatisms: Calhoun’s versus Webster’s.  This interpretation illuminates and simultaneously complicates such recent debates as the one held between Thomas DiLorenzo and Harry V. Jaffa over the issue of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

Allitt also suggests that the Federalists represent an early manifestation of conservatism.  This classification would mean that Jefferson and his ilk were not conservatives, which would in turn imply that current Jeffersonians are not in keeping with a purely conservative tradition.  Allitt offers this helpful and accurate note about Jefferson: “He might not have been the Jacobin his Federalist foes alleged, but neither can he easily be thought of as a conservative.”  Many scholars and enthusiasts consider Jefferson to be a “classical liberal,” but the signification of that word relative to “libertarian” or “conservative” merely confounds definitional precision:  All three words have been used interchangeably and negligently in recent decades.  It may not matter if Jefferson is called “conservative” or “liberal,” especially if those terms cause people to short-circuit reflection or affix a contemporary label to a complicated man living in a complex, radically different era.

Allitt’s book is a fine contribution to and about conservative letters.  I recommend it to anyone who thinks he can explain conservatism.

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Law and the Ordinary, by Alexandre Lefebvre

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Jurisprudence, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Politics, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Writing on April 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Allen Mendenhall

One of my favorite journals, Telos, has published an essay that might interest readers of this site.  The essay, by Alexandre Lefebvre, is titled “Law and the Ordinary: Hart, Wittgenstein, Jurisprudence.”  Here is the abstract:

This essay argues that H. L. A. Hart’s concept of jurisprudence in the first chapter of The Concept of Law is strongly influenced by the relationship that Wittgenstein establishes between ordinary and metaphysical language. The article is divided into three sections. The first section shows how jurisprudence emerges as a denial of ordinary language in its pursuit of a definition of law. The second section traces Hart’s use of ordinary language to identify idleness or emptiness in jurisprudence. The third section presents Hart’s conception of his work as therapeutic in its attempt to lead jurisprudence back to the everyday.

Telos is one of the few literary-theoretical journals that regularly challenges the critical and political orthodoxy that pits itself, ironically, as the unorthodox, progressive, or transgressive.

Indeed, Telos seriously considers repressed, unpopular, and unapproved thoughts and theories. It complicates “conservative” and “liberal” as meaningful categories of discourse.

Having published such controversial authors as Paul Gottfried, Clyde Wilson, Alain de Benoist and others who situate themselves on the right-wing of the political spectrum, Telos is committed to contemplation and speculation, to profound and difficult ideas and not fashionable or typical recitations of mainstream opinions.

The journal has a long history of interrogating and revising critical theory and critiquing culture and society, and it continues to publish notable scholarship in traditions both left and right, although the signifiers left and right are not useful starting points from which to analyze anything that appears in this journal.

Paul Piconne was the founder and long-term editor of Telos.  Piconne died in 2004.  Today the editor is Russell A. Berman.  The only publication as daring and interesting as Telos is Counterpunch, a political newsletter and not an academic journal.  I urge readers of this site to read both Telos and Counterpunch as often and as closely as possible.

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