Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:40

Survey of Conservative Magazines: Know Your Enemy

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Survey of Conservative Magazines: Know Your Enemy

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.

In its January 27th issue National Review published an outstanding article,

"Green Drought: California's farmland lies fallow for a fish," by Charles Cooke about the San Joaquin Valley where 13 percent of all agricultural production in the United States is concentrated: 250 crops (80 percent of the world's output of almonds, for example). And where Greenism is destroying that production. The article is about Harris' Farms, where 9,000 of its 15,000 acres lie fallow, "devoid of water and therefore of crops and workers." Why? Because in 2007 the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won a lawsuit to force more protection for the Delta smelt, an insignificant fish already protected by the absurd Endangered Species Act, arguing that the pumps directing water from the reservoirs in the river deltas to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond were killing too many Delta smelt. So the pumps were shut down, water was severely curtailed, and farming thrown into chaos and uncertainty. In California if you don't know how much water you can depend on from year to year, you can't plan so can't plant. The water allocation varies from one year to the next, but it's never enough.

If this manmade drought is devastating to farmers, to their workers it's catastrophic. In 2009 for instance, when the allocation was especially meager, the unemployment rate was 45 percent. Democrats, both state and federal, are solidly behind the Greens, and the GOP is moribund in California and nationally quite uninterested in disasters caused by Greenism.

The account itself is almost flawless - thorough, concise, gracefully expressed - and Mr. Cooke shows some glimmerings of understanding about Greenism, as these quotations show:

. . . The peculiarly suicidal instincts that rich and educated societies exhibit when they reach their maturity. . . .
. . . The later chapters of The Decline and Fall of the U.S. will make interesting reading . . .
. . . [Americans] are assiduously inoculated from exposure to reality and they enjoy the time and sense of material security that is necessary for a religion such as environmentalism to flourish. . . .
. . . Complacently convinced of their infallibility, legislators in the nation's richest state have prostrated themselves at the feet of many silly ideas in recent years. But for authorities to have put the livelihood of millions of citizens at the mercy of a tiny little fish is almost too much to bear.

But, like so many conservatives, the author cannot really see the forest for the trees. For instance, he notes that the NRDC wants to curtail farming the valley "on the peculiar grounds that it isn't native to the area," but he sees it merely as something bizarre. Unable to fathom the implications, he cannot see that Greens want to destroy all modern agriculture in their campaign to herd us all into utopia of a "simple" impoverished pastoral society. Until conservatives recognize the deadliness of Greenism and make it their big issue, we will continue along the road to catastrophe.

Here is a book - The Revolt Against the Masses, by Fred Siegel - reviewed the Feburary10th issue of The Weekly Standard that should be of interest to our readers. The subtitle, "How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class," accurately limns the subject, and the reviewer, Vincent Cannato, in "The gentrification of the American left," scrupulously traces the intellectual lines governing the subject of modern liberalism so that we can see the book's argument in the context of current conservative thought. So he enunciates the argument, associated with the Claremont Institute, that the Progressives of the Teddy Roosevelt era, thinking that the Constitution was archaic, incapable of dealing with the modern industrial economy's power, wanted to curtail its cumbersome restraints in order to empower a strong administrative state. In this view, modern liberalism, a lineal descendent of Progressivism, is a "corporatist alliance of big government and big business," and state power and social control is the essence.

Fred Siegel differs from the Claremont view, seeing liberalism as a rejection of Progressivism (and middle class norms) by radical writers and intellectuals after World War I. Anyone familiar with the cultural avant garde of the time will agree with that. What inspires modern liberalism in Siegel's view is the "contempt in which it holds bourgeois society and its norms."

The reviewer thinks that both Siegel and the Claremont writers are correct because each describes one aspect of liberalism, which is aggressively focused on the expansion of state power to regulate the economy and provide "social justice," "while at the same time being radically civil-libertarian . . . and dismissive of bourgeois conventions." He sums up the vital relations of those two theories when he says

As much as liberalism is a political or economic theory, it is also an attitude or pose, a way of thinking about the world and one's fellow citizens.

During the 1950s there was an accommodation of liberalism with the moderate right. Cannato writes:

Republicans would not seek to roll back the New Deal while liberals would fight Communism abroad with containment. Both sides agreed that the way forward was through economic growth, not redistribution. There was a great expansion of the middle class, of prosperity, but intellectuals and their cultural hangers on derided the era, condemning its vulgar consumerism, belittling the lives of middle class Americans. The cultural upheavals of the 1960s brought to the fore the radical anti-bourgeois aspects of liberalism, now manifested in the Obama administration.

Siegel's book gives us a nuanced conception of modern liberalism, which, joined to the Claremont's writer's characterization of it as a lust for state power and social control, creates a more complete and complex idea of what we must combat. It is wise to know your enemy and Siegel's book helps.

In February, we gave a couple of lectures in Oklahoma (to engage us, contact our agent, Jo Ann Gardner, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and while there we visited the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa and the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. These two museums are chiefly notable for magnificent collections of Western art: paintings by Frederick Remington (as well as his bronzes), Charles Russell, Walter Ufer, George Catlin, and many other less well-known artists. The cumulative effect is breathtaking. The intensity of Western light is overwhelming, the colors as rich and varied as the huge landscape. This was a stunning revelation to us.

We returned to find the February issue of The New Criteron in our mailbox, and when we turned to the Art section, the contrast with our recent experience was depressing. The lead article is about an addition to a museum in Fort Worth, whose collection is mainly of British and French 18th and 19th century portraits. Two "Exhibition Notes" follow, one about a collage artist, "a combination of fairy tale ambiance, steampunk art, and an oleaginous Surrealism." The other notes an exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky's early work, another abstract painter. Next is the "Gallery Chronicle" notes of a series of exhibitions of contemporary artists, all of whom seem to be trying to find ways to construct incoherence. That the NC takes this stuff seriously is no surprise; it has always been dedicated to Modernism. What always surprises us is that such sharp critics of liberalism cannot see that the Modernist movement in art begun before World War I was a signal of the decadence that would eventually contaminate all our culture. Art and culture always precedes politics.

Hilton Kramer, founder of the magazine, was no fan of American art (unless it was Modernist) and we are sure he and his successors would dismiss the art we saw in Oklahoma with contempt, just as modern liberalism looks upon the middle class (whose taste is reflected in those museums) with scorn. It is too bad that the only conservative magazine that interests itself in esthetic matters is still so mesmerized by what was once thought to be a liberating force in art, that it cannot see that it was only a harbinger and decline.

For ourselves, we were immensely cheered by our Oklahoma experience. *

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