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Donner Party Conservatism

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Joe Scarborough wishes to inform you that he wore an onion on his belt, which was the style at the time:

Feinberg’s dunk is sufficient to deal with Morning Joe. But it does remind me that there may be people who haven’t read John Holbo’s classic review of Dead Right, so I thought it was worth bringing it to their attention:

This sentiment or intuition or feeling (whatever you call it) produces a strangely hypertrophic concern with what seem (to me anyway) like rather ornamental details:

“If I am bearded, and I notice that my boss and the last four men in my section to win promotion are clean-shaven, I will find myself slowly nudged toward the barbershop. If the owner of the gas station across the road from mine smiles a lot, and I don’t, I will find myself forcing a cheerful manner myself, no matter how snarly I may inwardly feel. People who do not have to work for a living, however, can indulge themselves in a hundred little peculiarities of behavior – one reason that the English upper class is so famously odd. Millions of Americans now live as free from the pressure to conform as any English lord, thanks either to the direct receipt of welfare or to civil service employment where promotion is by seniority and firing is unheard of. The fact, as much as any fashion change, explains the sudden flaunting of ethnic difference in manner and dress that so distresses Patrick Buchanan in his native city. Relatively few vice presidents at Proctor & Gamble would dare wear a kente cloth or keffiyeh; nobody who intends to earn very much of a living in the polymer business can hope to get away with not learning English; but city hall employees and welfare mothers can do both.

So the cultural conservatives are simply deluding themselves when they hope for escape from the unpleasant task of resisting every enlargement of the ambit of government action and trying, when opportunity presents itself, to reduce that ambit.” (p. 196)

This is supposed to sound sober and sensible. If cultural conditions are functions of economics, you can’t change the culture without altering the economics. So conservatives must keep up the titanic, colossal, epic, probably cosmically doomed and tragic economic struggle to keep government small … so people will not dress funny or wear their hair in hairy ways? Sort of wimpy, as ragnaroks go. Notable disproportion here between means and the wished-for end. Even if you are the sort of person who feels deeply offended by funny, ethnic clothes (we’re off the deep end) – even if you think it is anything like your business to dictate fashion sense to everyone around you (we’re so off the deep end) – how could you possibly think it was so important as all that? And yet immediately we are off and running about after the bourgeois virtues, all dying out: thrift, diligence, prudence, sobriety, fidelity, and orderliness. I won’t bother to quote. Why can I not exhibit all these virtues beneath and/or behind a beard, kente cloth and/or keffiyeh? Frum seems to find it too obvious to bear arguing that the trick is impossible. (Yet he can’t actually think that.) Does Frum seriously believe there are no shrewd, sober businessmen in those parts of the world where businessmen wear beards and keffiyehs and kente cloths? (Obviously he doesn’t. That’s crazy.) So what does he think? I think he just has a powerful feeling that: things ought to be a certain way. And if they are that way, everything will be all right.

Bearded Guy: I like my beard.

Frum: You should shave it.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because it should have been the case that you were too afraid to grow it.

BG: But I wasn’t.

Frum: But you should have been.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because you are wrecking the culture.

BG: Why?

Frum: Because the culture will decay and then the economy will fall apart and we’ll all be poor.

BG: Because of my beard?

Frum: Just think about it. Our economy depends on a healthy culture.

BG: But you don’t even care about the economy. You said you don’t.

Frum: I wish you hadn’t mentioned that.

BG: But I did.

Frum: Look, if you shave the beard, everything will be … better.

BG: You’re a moonbat.

Frum: It’s all related to … foreign policy and wheelchair access in public school, in ways that … would take a long time to explain.

BG: Get away from me!

Frum: Look. Just shave your beard!

Seinfeld had his Soup Nazi. Frum is sort of a Suit Nazi. (OK, that’s too mean.) A kente cloth-free zone. An advocate of radical (what shall we call it?) sartorauthoritarianism. Society and culture conservatively dictate everyone’s dress code down to a whisker.

And why?

Because otherwise you wouldn’t be (wait for it) FREE!

It’s long, but worth reading. And, credit where credit is due, while Frum’s affirmative defense of American conservatism was a massive FAIL his argument that Republicans can win elections on conservative platitudes but have trouble governing on the agenda because people hate it remains relevant.

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