The Paleo Persuasion

July 14, 2008

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I just re-read this piece from the late Sam Francis on “The Paleo Persuasion.”  It was very informative and helped me consider some first principles related to this idiom of conservative thought. 

For starters, I found it ironic that the flash point of neoconservative and paleoconservative tension was the nomination of Mel Bradford to head the National Endowment of Humanities.  One might have imagined from their present joint opposition to the war in Iraq, paleoconservatives and libertarians would have rejected the very existence of such an appointment out of small government principle.  In reality, conservatives of every stripe were entering the government in droves during the Reagan administration, though many were just party hacks.  Bradford’s personal consideration of the NEH, however, shows that real conservatives are often pragmatic.  In this case, he sought to employ the NEH to remove the stifling politicization from our leading academic and cultural institutions, which are themselves necessary counterweights to the corrosiveness of our mass culture.

Second, I was reminded that paleoconservatism is more concerned with culture and less concerned with public policy than mainstream conservatism, not least because of our skepticism about the federal government’s attempts to regulate and transform every day life.  At the same time, paleoconservatives recognizes the role of government in preventing outside and internal factions from interfering with our life and our integrity as a people.  Recognition of our historical roots leads naturally to the view that we are vulnerable as a people to mass immigration and economic globalization.  This prioritization of the nation and the community over abstract principles favoring free markets or open borders defines the paleoconservative spirit in opposition to the pro-globalization extremists at the Wall Street Journal and the big government extremists over at Commentary. 

Finally, Sam Francis reminds us that paleoconservatism is above all a tone or an idiom, more than it is a laundry list of policy positions.  Paleoconservatives disagree with one another about drug legalization, the moral dimensions of “manifest destiny,” religion, white nationalism, the death penalty, and many other issues.  Historically, even paleoconservatives come in several stripes with regard to foreign policy.  Many, including Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis, were ardent cold warriors until the fall of the Soviet Union. Others saw the Cold War, even at the time, as an unnecessary detour.  Most supported and still support our war in Afghanistan. The reasoning and ultimate goals of paleoconservatives is what distinguishes their thoughts on foreign policy from the deductive and utopian principles of globalists and neoconservatives. 

Conservatives, paleoconservative or otherwise, may disagree about the wisdom of intervention in Grenada or whether we pulled out of Vietnam too early or not early enough.  They are not confused, however, about whether another nation’s interests have priority over our own, nor whether we should pursue a policy of imposing revolutionary “democratic capitalism” overseas for humanitarian reasons.  The latter pursuits are rooted in a Jacobin desire to reorder the world’s peoples to conform to a unitary concept of “human rights.”  Paleoconservatives are concerned above all with maintaining our integrity and independence as a people, and this instinct defines their more limited and “selfish” rhetoric on both domestic and foreign affairs.

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