As I mentioned yesterday, I really liked Peter Beinart’s tribute to Michael Kelly. (Reg required). I also said I have some quibbles. Here you go:
Well, first of all, I was delighted to hear that Kelly was a believer in “Hidden Law” — a Burkean/Hayekian view of conservatism championed by Jonathan Rauch among others. I’ve written about Hidden Law a lot of times and I am a big believer and fan of the formulation. Here’s how Peter neatly describes Kelly’s views:
Mike’s traditionalism made him a conservative, but not of the contemporary Washington variety. Many of today’s “conservatives” are in love with theory, with efficiency, with remaking the world according to the abstractions in their minds. Mike was a conservative in the older, cultural sense. He wanted to preserve the unwritten rules, built up imperceptibly over time, that define morality in most people’s lives. He revered the old-fashioned Capitol Hill neighborhood in which he grew up, and he believed that such communities developed organic standards of conduct far more subtle and dignified than outsiders understood, standards that needed to be protected from the sledgehammer of ideology and law. In Mike’s view, the primary threat to those standards came from self-righteous liberalism—with its intrusive mandates about smoking, gender relations, and shoveling the snow from your sidewalk. But conservatives could threaten them as well. Some on the contemporary right might have fired those old ladies at the White House in the name of efficiency; others might have done so for the greater good of the conservative movement. Mike would have loathed that, too.
Good stuff. As Tommy Boy says: Me likey. But I guess my problem is this: it is precisely this sort of traditionalist conservative that Peter and the New Republic dislike the most. Oh they have bad things to say about the free-market ideologues too. It is a liberal magazine after all. But the New Republic likes conservative ideologues largely because they don’t have the “taint” of old school conservatism. It’s been reaching out to the Weekly Standard as kindred spirits for the last couple years. AEI scholars are welcome in the pages of TNR. Its positions on free trade, racial quotas, even the wars on terror and Iraq are in sync with the ideological and ultra-rational branch of conservatism, not the branch whose roots go back to traditional arrangements and so forth. I don’t have time to go find examples, but I could swear that the conservatives who invoke tradition and ritual are the ones most likely to be called racists, homophobes and sexists by various New Republic editors.
Now, obviously, Peter has no such thing in mind when he calls Kelly a traditionalist, nor should he. Kelly was by all accounts a generous, kind and decent man. And I guess that’s my point. There are plenty of other traditionalists who don’t deserve that treatment either.
Oh, and the usual full-disclosure: I’ve happily become friends with Peter over the last year, largely because we’re on CNN a lot together. Not sure if that matters to anyone.