I want Deliberately Considered to be a place where people on the left, right and center debate and take into account the position of their opposition, learning from each other, unfettered by and challenging ideological dogmas. Because of this, I am continuing to look for intelligent conservatives and radicals who challenge me in my political convictions. I know that radicals will illuminate what is wrong with the way things are, force us to pay attention to overlooked problems and explain why something completely different and new must be enacted. I also think that conservatives will help us understand what is in the present or the recent past that should not be lost, needs to be conserved and protected, force us to see the possible unintended negative consequences of good intentions and to appreciate the wisdom of past experience. Radicals warn of the dangers of the present, conservatives of the dangers of the alternatives. The debate between left and right is important. Instead, we exist in ideological gated communities to paraphrase Gary Alan Fine.
A reminder: I once had a teacher, Edward Shils, who demonstrated to me that I had to take the conservative position seriously, as I reported in an earlier post. He assigned Burke, Eliot and Oakeshott in his course on the sociology of tradition, from which I learned a lot, helping me make sense of the development of an independent cultural movement in communist Poland. I am searching for such teachers, or, at least, good students of these teachers, in contemporary political debate. But, I am having problems.
Identifying contributors to my left, whom I respect, but with whom I have significant disagreements on some fundamentals, I find to be a pretty easy project. For example, as indicated in his posts and my responses to them, Vince Carducci.
My search for conservative intellectuals, on the other hand, has been difficult. Given the ridiculous state of conservative politics, as revealed most recently at the C-PAC meeting this weekend in Washington D.C., this may not be surprising. But I persist, nonetheless. Today I will give a short progress report, in my next post, some second thoughts about the viability of my project, the search itself, through a review of Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind.
When I surf the web, I can easily find objectionable and often appalling conservatives. The idiocies of the hyper-nationalists and the market fundamentalists are readily available. But even when I am guided to potential sources by reasonable people who understand, more or less, why I am doing this, I have been frustrated. Gary Alan Fine and a childhood friend of his made some suggestions.
Take a look at the National Review Online, the friend suggested. I had been there, of course, but this successor of William F. Buckley’s major journal of the conservative revival didn’t seem very promising. But I went back and looked around again. There may be material to be found, but it is opaque to me. Perhaps, I don’t get the language. On my visit yesterday, all I found were polemics against Obama and the Democrats, arguments for or against one Republican candidate or another for President, and a nostalgic piece about Ronald Reagan. I suppose that there might be something to appreciate here, but it is almost completely pitched to be read by the already convinced, which counted me out.
Fine’s friend also suggested The American Thinker. Yesterday, it opened with a piece comparing Obama to the worst despots of the recent past.
How many times will the American people have to be hit over the head before they understand that Barack Obama is the most corrupt, dictatorial, and ideologically driven president in American history?
I read the article that followed this opening to be an invitation for me to read no further. But I pushed on, trying to understand how the other half thinks. The repeated substitution of assertion for argument turned me off. And the comments were beyond belief.
Gary also recommended particularly two bloggers, “Robin of Berkeley” and Ann Althouse.
Robin is a muscular writer. She presents herself as a sane conservative in a sea of liberal madness. She confesses that there was a time, not too long ago, that she also lived in liberal ignorance:
Before Obama came on the scene, I could have been interviewed, mumbling and bumbling, just like those other frothing-at-the-mouth leftists. [in the Occupy movement, which she sees as being delusional)…
To me, capitalism was bad, communism good (which I discovered after watching the handsome Warren Beatty in the sweeping thriller, Reds). I envied Cuba, home of the finest health care system in the world (thank you, Michael Moore). And I, like our current occupiers, ranted and raved about the racist, patriarchal, capitalist system with its millionaire fat cats (which I learned from reading books by those millionaire fat cats, Noam Chomsky, Al Franken, Gloria Steinem and the late Howard Zinn).
Preaching to the converted, she reflects on President Obama and the meaning of life:
Just to clarify things: it’s Obama who’s putting a sledgehammer to the economy; it’s Obama who is aiding and abetting the uprisings in the Middle East; it’s Obama who is sending out the signal that it’s open season on Whitey. Not George and not Dick Cheney, but Obama, Obama, Obama.
It turns out that she is obsessed with Obama, apparently thinks he is the root of just about all evil, makes amazing attacks on his integrity, and sees the President as no better than a mugger:
Frankly, every time I see Obama, I catch a glimpse of the man who mugged me.
This is what Fine calls “pungent politics.” But I confess, it’s too pungent for my taste. I don’t know how to digest it. It makes next to no sense to me. And more to the point, there is nothing in Robin’s writing that suggests she could take part in a discussion with someone who thinks differently than she does. She was once a true-believing leftist, now she is a true-believing rightist. From my point of view, this is not a serious transformation and provides no promise for Deliberately Considered.
Ann Althouse is more interesting. She is fast, funny, posting multiple times a day. Quickly, rather than, deliberately considered, is her style. She posts odd tidbits: yesterday (February 13, 2012) about the mugging of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, along with a note on the Obama budget juxtaposed with a Monty Python clip. She is a law professor who can write critically of the left and the right when it comes to the constitution, on Rush Limbaugh’s uninformed reading of the first amendment, along with critical reflections on the reading of the legality of same sex marriage and changing social values. She is hard to pin down, which I like. I will have to read more. I wonder, though, whether she really is a conservative.
I was not satisfied by my search yesterday, but just as I was about to give up, this morning I came across a recent discussion that gives me hope, a deliberate intellectual exchange between a liberal, Conor P. Williams, and a conservative, Rod Dreher. Williams, at Thought News (inspired by a failed enterprise, a philosophical daily of John Dewey from 1892) noted the confusion on the left about the meaning and commitments of the left, gave his own position, and asked for others to add their perspectives. Rod Dreher noted Williams’s post at The American Conservative and asked for a parallel discussion on the right about the right. Both posts were serious and illuminating. The long discussion of Dreher’s was especially robust, providing a rich array, of varying quality, of positions and sensibilities. The next step is to apply these to an understanding of pressing problems of the day in a way that challenges those on the left, right, and center, beyond ideological cliché.
I am posting this now, hoping the wonders of the web will yield results.