September 27, 2019
Author: Chilton Williamson
Someone has sent me a link to a recent article in the Washington Postby George F. Will, the noted columnist and Puritan atheist divine. It was kind of him, but misguided. The title of the piece is “‘National conservative’ policies are full of oxymorons.” Will’s complaint (he complains a lot) is that “national conservatives,” including Tucker Carlson, are really socialists because they “advocate unprecedented expansion of government to purge America of excessive respect for market forces and to affirm robust confidence in government as a social engineer allocating wealth and opportunity.” I don’t know. I do not have excessive respect for market forces myself, but I also have no confidence in government as a social engineer, or indeed anything much at all.
As for national conservatism, I am in some doubt as to what it is since there seem to be about 57 varieties of conservatism (I quit counting long ago), some of them perhaps even invented by market forces. In my four decades in conservative journalism I’ve participated in far too many debates about what conservatism really is. My conclusion after so much time and spilled ink is that there probably is no such thing. Conservatism, as Michael Oakeshott thought it was, seems to me finally a matter of disposition: the disinclination to be bothered by any new thing unless it is shown to be absolutely necessary. I am, of course, wholly familiar with the national greatness conservatism advocated by David Frum and Bill Kristol that got us into the disastrous and humiliating Iraq War and made John Bolton a television celebrity as a lagniappe. To be fair, Will came to oppose the war after having (as I recall) originally supported it. He was, after all, a protégéof the late Irving Kristol–father of Bill, a prominent neoconservative scholar himself, and indeed a founder of that deplorable intellectual and political cult. Will seems to be suggesting in his column that he is a genuine conservative, while Carlson is not. I wonder. A year or so ago he lit into the late Russell Kirk at a meeting of conservatives at Yale and went on to do the same to Christianity. (I was not present, but a good friend and colleague of many years was.) Kirk could be an academic bore, but otherwise there was no real harm to him and he certainly was a conservative, though more perhaps in the European than the American vein, and a member of the founding generation of National Reviewin the mid-fifties. Will, then, has much faith in the free market, but little if any faith in God. That doesn’t sound very conservative to me, especially as conservatism began as a defender of Christianity and an enemy of secularism, laissez-faire, and the industrial system. Of course, things change.
In these days of mixed categories and intellectual confusion a conservative, just like anyone else, can best be identified, if not defined, by the enemies he makes. Tucker Carlson makes the right—meaning liberal– ones. I doubt the same can be said of George Will, though I don’t really follow along. (At least, it certainly couldn’t be in the past.) I watch Carlson’s show most nights, so in his case I speak from direct observation.
There is a further, and final, point to be made. If national conservatism is Trumpism and Tuckerism, which holds that America should turn her attention and her resources to solving her own problems, improving the lives of her own people, and minding her own business while putting herself and her interests first, then that is a vast improvement over national greatness conservatism, which meant minding everyone’s else affairs and attempting to save and improve countries that don’t really wish to be saved, and are incapable of improvement in any case.
27 September 2019