Archives for July, 2007

Conservatism, Old and New

Friend and fellow Hoya Jerry Russello has a new book out, The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk. You can read an interview with Jerry about the book here.

I’ve never been a Kirk fan, but I admire his appreciation of peace as a fundamental conservative principle. Here’s what he wrote in 1967 on the legacy of Robert A. Taft:

Taft’s prejudice in favor of peace was equaled in strength by his prejudice against empire. Quite as the Romans had acquired an empire in a fit of absence of mind, he feared that America might make herself an imperial power with the best of intentions – and the worst of results. He foresaw the grim possibility of American garrisons in distant corners of the world, a vast permanent military establishment, an intolerant “democratism” imposed in the name of the American way of life, neglect of America’s domestic concerns in the pursuit of transoceanic power, squandering of American resources upon amorphous international designs, the decay of liberty at home in proportion as America presumed to govern the world: that is, the “garrison state,” a term he employed more than once. The record of the United States as administrator of territories overseas had not been heartening, and the American constitution made no provision for a widespread and enduring imperial government. Aspiring to redeem the world from all the ills to which flesh is heir, Americans might descend, instead, into a leaden imperial domination and corruption.

Even today, on an obscure corner of the Heritage Foundation website, you can find a Kirk lecture from 1991, striking a tone that would get one read out of the conservative movement today. In the wake of the first Gulf War, Kirk writes “I doubt whether much good is going to come out of the slaughter of perhaps a hundred thousand people in Iraq.” “Presidents of the United States must not be encouraged to make Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace,” he continues:

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace comes to pass in an era of Righteousness — that is, national or ideological self-righteousness in which the public is persuaded that “God is on our side,” and that those who disagree should be brought here before the bar as war criminals.

I shall have more to say about such concerns in my Third Heritage lecture this year. Just now I conclude my thoughts on Republican errors by suggesting that it would be ruinous for the Republicans to convert themselves into a party of high deeds in distant lands and higher taxes on the home front.

Today’s conservatives would agree with the higher taxes bit, I suppose, preferring to fund imperial ventures and welfare-state expansions on credit rather than paying up front. But in the new party line, war is the health of the Republican state. 2006’s “Russell Kirk Lecture” honored the 21st century’s most prominent intellectual advocate of presidential war and limitless executive power, John C. Yoo.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Posted on Jul 2, 2007 in Uncategorized | 56 Comments