After technical hassles too complicated and boring to describe, my conversation with Ann Althouse is up at BhTV. It got a little heated in the begining and I’ve been trying to figure out why Ann and I had such a problem talking to each other about Frank Meyer, state’s rights etc. Ann’s a nice and reasonable person, after all.
A little background: She and I both attended a Liberty Fund conference on Frank Meyer’s legacy. Meyer was the author of the doctrine which became known as Fusionism (though Meyer didn’t like that label). Meyer was obsessively libertarian in almost all realms, but he alo took the structure of the constitution very seriously, making him a staunch supporter of State’s rights. This put him in the untenable situation of defending States’ rights in the face of Jim Crow. He was right on the constitutional principle of state’s rights, but he was wrong historically and morally about how that principle needed to be applied in reality. We set aside a whole panel session for this topic, though many of us — but not Ann — had already spent the night arguing about this stuff until 2:00 in the morning. Anyway, earlier last week, Ann ran a post on her site implying that attendees of the conference were a little scary because they “believed” too much. I called her post “odd.” She apparently, and I think wrongly, took considerable offense. She later explained that she was really talking about the libertarians and their extreme dedication to ideological conviction. Proof of this, I learned while talking to her, was the lack of realism when talking about the States’ rights stuff.
Anyway, you can learn more and see all the related links by going to BhTV. But what’s been bothering me ever since our conversation is that Ann sees herself as specially positioned — both at the Liberty Fund and in conversations with me — to lecture others about race. I agree with her entirely about how conservatives need to be very careful when trying to sell federalism. But what bothers me is the assumption that conservatives need liberals to tell us about how to be racially “enlightened.” It seems to me — and this is just my theory — that because a roomful of people who were not trying to persuade any audience or play to any constituency didn’t perform the usual liberal rituals about how terrible Jim Crow was, Ann interpretated this as a lack of commitment. Morevoer, she thought the people in the room were woefully out of touch with racial reality and therefore need moral tutoring from a liberal who really understands these things. Maybe at a similar conference full of liberals there would be much gnashing of teeth and teary-eyed condemnations about the legacy of Jim Crow. But, if that’s the case, mightn’t that be a sign of how liberals embrace liberalism to feel good about themselves and morally superior to others? There’s a certain Sorkinesque aesthetic to liberalism, full of self-congratulation and righteous grandstanding, that assumes the world needs liberals to tell everyone else what’s right and wrong.
I’m not saying that Ann is one of those liberals, by the way. In fact, she gets a lot of grief from the left for not playing that game. But, I do think she doesn’t know conservatives (or libertarians) very well, and so when we don’t talk like liberals, or when we don’t talk like conservatives at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — who’re forced to dance a “I’m-not-racist” kabuki every time they make a point — she thinks we don’t understand reality and that we really do need liberals to guide us to enlightenment.
One last point I tried to get in our conversation, but couldn’t. Conservatives were, broadly speaking and with more exceptions than the conventional narrative allows, on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. That goes for National Review, too, by the way. But the left has used this fact to put the mark of Cain on conservatives ever since. It’s amazing to me how eager liberals are to say that intellectual history matters when it’s inconvenient conservative intellectual history. But whenever you try to to turn the subject to liberal intellectual history, all you get back is eye-rolling. One small example: Recently, I wrote that liberals had a long love affair with Fidel Castro. This is simply factually true. And yet, I was deluged by liberal readers and lefty bloggers whining about how either that never really happened or that was old news, hardly applicable to liberals today. Well, liberal and leftwing fawning and excuse-making for Castro is far more recent than conservative support for Jim Crow, thank you very much. The Progressive movement, which we today call liberalism, stands on a foundation of eugenics and theocracy. But, if you bring that up, you mostly get ignorant stares from the same liberals eager to tell me — a guy named Goldberg from New York City — that I have to atone for what “my side” did in the 1960s. I don’t mind coming to grips with my side’s intellectual history, in fact I love that stuff. What offends me greatly is when liberals say conservatives are the only ones who should do it and, moreover, they should only do it when it suits liberal ends.
Anyway, there’s other fun stuff up over there, from robot rights to kid’s cartoons. Time for me to take Cosmo squirrel hunting.