Friday, October 07, 2005

DARK HORSE. Goldberg says:
I think it would be a fun exercise -- on the occasion of NR's 50th -- for my colleagues to answer who their favorite founding father of National Review was, and why. I think we should exempt William F. Buckley because that would be too easy.
I'm not invited, but I'll play. My nominee is Joseph de Maistre.

Like Buckley, de Maistre was a far-Right Catholic repulsed by the egalitarian movements of his time. Also like Buckley, he was well-educated, even gifted, but hated Enlightenment (or what we now call reality-based) thinking and, as described in Isaiah Berlin's great essay, was not content to disdain it but "set himself to destroy" it:
In place of the a priori formulas of this idealized conception of basic human nature, he appealed to the empirical facts of history, zoology and common observation. In place of the ideals of progress, liberty and human perfectibility, he preached salvation by faith and tradition. He dwelt on the incurably bad and corrupt nature of man, and consequently the unavoidable need for authority, hierarchy, obedience and subjection. In place of science he preached the primacy of instinct, Christian wisdom, prejudice (which is but the fruit of the experience of generations), blind faith; in place of optimism, pessimism; in place of eternal harmony and eternal peace, the necessity -- the divine necessity -- of conflict and suffering, sin and retribution, bloodshed and war....
It is not a perfect fit in all cases, but a surprisingly good one in general.

It may be argued that the National Review crowd is more generous with the dispensation of freedoms than de Maistre. They certainly like to talk about freedom -- especially, these days, in the Middle East (and God knows they love the idea of wars for freedom). They are fiercely devoted to some ideas associated with freedom -- e.g., "political incorrectness," and related, baser sorts of populism. But in matters of public policy such as the Patriot Act and consensual sexual activity, they are mostly anti-freedom; as to the free-markets thing which supposedly makes all conservatives True Sons of Liberty, they talk surprisingly little about it, and seem more concerned with top-down Federal policies. Though the Little Guy, beset by regulating liberals, gets a pat on the head from time to time, the NatRev people mostly put their faith in princes.

This, I think, is because they have all been splattered with Buckley's chrism, and have absorbed the idea that man is fallen and can only be redeemed by the intercession of the One True Church, of which National Review is a branch. As they cannot announce themselves with the traditional iconography, they use Gipper and Maggie as the Joseph and Mary of their Holy Family, with the role of Jesus rotating among conservative top-guns. Bush Jr. serves at the moment, and by the NR acolytes He is routinely flattered as tough-minded and beloved of the People even when it is most clear that He is not; and they frequently read anonymous anecdotes about His goodness into the public record.

My other nominees are Hitler, Satan, Robert Welch, etc. But this one, like Judgelet Miers, is so left-field it could work.

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