Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What is Paleoconservatisim and What Defines a Paleoconservative?

Despite what the term may imply and what detractors of this brand of political and social philosophy may say paleoconservatism is neither tenaciously focused on what was nor is it primarily concerned with conservatism as that term applies to the modern conservative ideology.

Paleoconservatism is a philosophy (a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs) rather than an ideology (the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group). Paleoconservatism is therefore concerned more with how to think about social and political issues rather than what to think.

Paleoconservatives adhere to a belief in natural law and it is practically impossible for a paleoconservative to not also believe in some form of divine law (this is primarily from the Christian perspective although some historical paleoconservatives were/are deist and I know of at least one modern Muslim paleoconservative).

Paleoconservative philosophy is not a descendant of the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment like all current political ideologies (left, right and center). It is rather an answer to those events, a signpost in the road that has in various times and in numerous ways attempted to right the course of human thinking on political and social matters. Paleoconservatives see the inherent deficiency in the power of reason and believe that tradition, culture and accumulated learning must fill the gap where reason fails. This is the primary fundamental difference in paleoconservative philosophy and all political/economic/social ideologies - we know that we cannot know everything and can never hope to build perfect institutions.

This is of course not to say that paleoconservatives disavow all learning and knowledge resulting from the three key eras mentioned above - merely that the ideas and concepts resulting from these events have given rise to dangerous and flawed ideas and ideologies (socialism, communism, fascism, corporatism and democracy) and the idea that human reason - absent any other guiding influence - can solve all problems.

Paleoconservatives are anti-statist, anti-egalitarian and anti-authoritarian. We are concerned with traditions, family, community, civil society and the preservation of culture and identity (a term often usurped by racialist). We have a sense, not just a passing knowledge, of history.
Samuel Francis defined paleoconservatism versus what Americans consider "conservatism" served up by the current political institutions thusly: (Chronicles March 2004)
What paleoconservatism tries to tell Americans is that the dominant forces in their society are no longer committed to conserving the traditions, institutions, and values that created and formed it, and, therefore, that those who are really conservative in any serious sense and wish to live under those traditions, institutions, and values need to oppose the dominant forces and form new ones.
Our philosophy began if not in name certainly in form with Edmund Burke - British MP and supporter of American Independence, opponent of the dangerous French Revolution and leader of the Old Whigs. We owe deep homage to Thomas Jefferson and the anti-federalist as well as to their successors led by John C. Calhoun.

Essentially we paleoconservatives reject the notion that every social problem requires a governmental solution. We believe nations are rightly made up of unique people with unique cultures - we reject the notion of America as a universal nation.

Current paleoconservatives of note (courtesy Chris Abraham) include:
Virginia Abernethy, Mel Bradford, Peter Brimelow, Pat Buchanan, James Burnham, T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., Mark Dankof, Lou Dobbs, Rowland Evans, Thomas Fleming (author), John T. Flynn, Samuel Francis, Paul Gottfried, Kevin Michael Grace, Michael Hill, Russell Kirk, William S. Lind, Donald Livingston, ohn Lukacs, Scott McConnell, Jason C. Miller, Thomas Molnar, Robert Novak, Michael Peroutka, Jerry Pournelle, Charley Reese, William Regnery II, Paul Craig Roberts, Claes Ryn, Steve Sailer, Joe Sobran, Jared Taylor, Srdja Trifkovic, Benjamin Wetmore, Chilton Williamson, Clyde Wilson, John Zmirak

You no doubt notice from that list it includes folks that some mislabel as racist, chauvinist others are labeled by "conservatives" as liberal - that is the problem when a dogmatic and pragmatic ideology meets a philosophy.

What do paleoconservatives read? (certainly not all inclusive) First and foremost Chronicles Magazine, The American Conservative Magazine
Not a regular read but on the list all the same: VDARE, American Renaissance, SOBRAN'S, The Salisbury Review
Most paleoconservatives are regular readers of Lew Rockwell's site (as many paleoconservatives contribute essays there). Of course, that is not the only reason, libertarians have ideas about economic theory that we paleoconservatives do well to consider. As such many of us read much of what the Mises Institute publishes. (of course, it is not all "good-times" between paleoconservatives and libertarians - Thomas Flemming terms Austrian economic theory as heresy).
Here is a very incomplete reading list of books for paleoconservatives.
Paleoconservative organizations- The Russell Kirk Center, The Abbeville Institute, Free Congress Foundation, National Policy Institute, League of the South, Council of Conservative Citizens, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The John Birch Society (mostly paleo)
We paleoconservatives stand on the fringes of modern political dialogue specifically because we refuse to articulate a dogmatic ideology. Our philosophy must be explained and learned, it does not adapt well to one minute sound bites. In fact, most of our positions when reduced to sound bite form come across as unpalatable. The American populace in general is to ignorant or lazy to learn and understand a philosophy. The very people and culture that paleoconservatives seek to save misunderstand us - they want sound bites, instant fixes to problems and an ideology(label) to make it easy for them to pick a side in each issue. Paleoconservatism will not and cannot offer that simplicity - philosophies are for thinking men.

From the "Crunchy Con" Manifesto (personally I dislike the term "crunchy con" and manifestos in general but this list summarizes most paleoconservative principles)

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the contemporary conservative mainstream. We like it here; the view is better, for we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of lie is not to become a more satisfied shopper.
3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity's best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America's wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk identified as "the Permanent Things" - those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world's great wisdom traditions.
5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative. This is particularly true with respect to the natural world.
6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract.
7. Appreciation of aesthetic quality - that is, beauty - is not a luxury, but key to the good life.
8. That cacophony of contemporary popular culture makes it hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. There is no area in which practicing asceticism is more important.
9. We share Kirk's conviction that "the best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them o' evenings, and teach them what is worthy of praise, the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths. … The institution most essential to conserve is the family."
10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. In this sense, to conserve is to create anew.

1 comment:

  1. Fair trade instead of unfair "free" trade should have been used but then, the rest of the article was good. :)