Lucky me, to be invited to try the beta version of Google’s newest and coolest app — Séance!

After a quick download and install, I wasted no time in launching my first “collaboration,” picking three figures from the spirit world: Abe Lincoln (primal Republican!), Teddy Roosevelt (Rushmore Republican!), and Ronald Reagan (late Republican!). Given the state of Republicanism in this country today, I couldn’t think of a better trio to convene…

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Me: Gentlemen, thanks for allowing me to summon you up this way.

TR: Bully stuff, these new machines!

Me: I wonder if you have all been following the fortunes of your party over these last few years?

Abe: Misfortunes seems the better word, my friend. I see no defenders of our good old Whig tariffs nor anyone speaking of another homesteading act which is so sorely needed, now that so many citizens no longer own their own property free and clear.

Me: But Mr. Lincoln, were you not struck by the candidacy of Herman Cain, perhaps the most successful black man ever to seek our party’s presidential nomination? Did he perhaps remind you of, say, Frederick Douglass?

Abe: Sir, I knew Frederick Douglass. And Herman Cain is no Frederick Douglass. (Pained laughter from TR and Reagan.)

Me: Any other opinions on our recent primary debates?

Reagan: Ah well, yes, I’ve got an opinion. I thought they were the biggest collection of bad actors I’ve ever seen. (Group laughter again.) You know, Maggie Thatcher and I once shared a vision — but this economy is not what we envisioned. Where is the ownership society in this country? Had I known what that Alan Greenspan really had in mind…

Me: Any comments on particular candidates? The late Rick Perry?

TR: A damned drugstore cowboy! I see he and his kind now even doubt whether conservation, as I called it, is still an important matter. But they are all very keen on protecting the trusts! It’s incredible that our government has ceased concerning itself with the growth of monopolies in almost every industry. What, pray tell me, has happened to my legacy?…

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At this point, my PC froze up and I lost my three interlocutors, just as they were about to give me their reading of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin!…

Still, this brief and dispiriting little chat was enough to make me wonder what has led to the collapse of the G.O.P. and whatever political coherence it once may have possessed. Four major factors, I think, could be cited.

First is the rise of ritual purity in politics. If you are of the Right, you can have no traffic with the Left, lest ye be contaminated. Some Democrat (not to mention the Prez) have a good idea? No matter: the man is unclean — therefore his ideas are also. If you are a candidate so ill-advised as to make a ritually impure statement, beware a money bomb (in the form of a media campaign) crashing through your window from the keepers of the flame.

Russell Kirk had something to say about the replacement of thinking (or, as he might have said, the conservative imagination) with this kind of blinkered ideology: “Conservatism, I repeat, is not an ideology. It does not breed fanatics. It does not try to excite the enthusiasm of a secular religion. If you want men who will sacrifice their past and present and future to a set of abstract ideas, you must go to Communism, or Fascism, or Benthamism.”

In our current crop of Republican candidates, we have the spectacle of people who have enthusiastically made such sacrifices in the name of messaging and from simple fear of being purged.

Second is the final victory of Saul Alinsky. After first corrupting the Left in the 1960s with tactics of demonization, ridicule and personalization of political differences, Alinsky’s legacy has now thoroughly infected the Right, especially the talk radio talkers. A few hours of this ideological monomania and you begin to feel like a character in the Matrix.

Third is the supplanting of genuine affiliation with a kind of virtual society, not limited to members of either political party, and one obsessed with politics in a profoundly deconstructing and unconservative way. Moreover this virtual life, feeding off the continuous news cycle, participates in the latter’s innate culture of conflict, suspicion, investigation and destruction — the neophilia epidemic we are constantly undergoing as we seek to escape from whatever is local and therefore boring. This dynamic is one of the reasons our media industries have become our major mental polluters and our ersatz educators.

Indeed the media — mainstream or otherwise — now function in the opposite fashion to books, for example, in their way of inoculating us against any reflection, analysis or wonder. In pursuit of “being informed”, we endure a daily referendum on what appears to be happening. (As C. John Sommerville once pointed out, the real margin of error in polls is 100%.)

Fourth is the rise of economic panglossism and the “I am John Galt” mentality. The former amounts to a quietistic trust in the invisible hand (which, last I checked, remains invisible) and the latter is mostly the college frat boy’s version of social darwinism — something like P.J. O’Rourke in a serious mood. Many Republicans have invested emotionally in the idea that because large-scale social engineering mostly fails, society itself deserves our indifference. This notion squares with Mrs. Thatcher’s famous remark that there is no such thing as society.

Notions of the common good, if you can find any, dwell primarily on the left side of things. “Republicans for the Common Good”? No such group exists. In the GOP, we are (almost) all John Galt.

So Abe, TR, Ron: I thank you for your time but I don’t think Humpty Dumpty is salvageable at this point. And we don’t need Google software to see that.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I would agree we also need to excoriate the Democratic party as much. The thing we need to remember is that at the end of the say even the policies of the Republicans mentioned here were fraught with limitations, and that we ultimately need to have a civil society that can either subjugate or behave independently from politics to preserve our ancestors traditions.

  2. The most important criticism is self-criticism. While it is fun to excoriate the Democrats, our concern should be mostly with the party that claims to be “conservative.” If we reject self-criticism, we reject thought itself. The “complaints” that we are insufficiently partisan should be taken as a compliment.

  3. This site spends a good deal of time criticizing the Right largely because its writers are people who are conservative and would like to see conservatives actually acting like conservatives.

    And especially with the current crop of Republican candidates, we haven’t seen too much of that.

  4. @JM: “The most important criticism is self-criticism. While it is fun to excoriate the Democrats, our concern should be mostly with the party that claims to be “conservative.””

    Good grief. The next thing we know, he’ll be saying judgment begins with the house of God.

    Dude. Get a life. Don’t you know winning is the only thing? It doesn’t matter what you win. Just win!

  5. While basking in the sultry glow of Medaille’s tribute to “self-criticism”, I am also enjoying the writers choice of “conservatives”….Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan. Teddy , though a robust and hearty fellow and a friend of Conservation was the original Neo-Conservative. He was a gunboat diplomacy fellow of the highest level. Reagan, on the other hand, talked a good line but left us one of the biggest deficits in history.

    Conservatism, as this daft popular culture would have it consists of a kind of crusading big government nanny state wed to a level of effulgent indignation that the original Puritans would have considered over-reaching. The meshing of the so-called “cultural conservatism” with the kind of unhinged government we now possess is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps we shall be burning books and paintings on the steps of the Met.

    Truth be told, if left to its own devices, the media-junkie Cultural Conservatives of our era would create a kind of antipode to liberally inspired California politics with overlapping Propositions and Stalking horse Propositions and a steady addiction to the printing press.

    A Conservative is best served in an atmosphere of subsidiarity and with liberty, for good or bad uppermost in mind and his or her most relevant Representatives close at hand and clear in sight, efficiently dispensing with the noisome obligations of self government.

    Not to mention the dire need of, as Newt recently declared to clap Chavez in irons and “bring liberty to the Venezuelans”….as if this debt strapped nation of deficit junkies really still knew the stuff of liberty.

    We seem now to be patently unable to quiet ourselves for even a moment and ponder a differing opinion for fear that we might not pass muster with the prevailing totalitarian thought streams.

    I am reminded of the period of 1775 to 1776 when the Brits knew they had a damned problem on their hands and despite his reservations, Governor Tyron returned to New York and arrived in the lower bay just as the newly appointed Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington was undertaking his triumphal March toward Boston. Blood had already been been spilled in Concord and Washington showed up in New Jersey, waiting to enter the Lilliputian Gotham just as Tyron entered the harbor. Tyron, to his everlasting credit elected to postpone his ceremonial arrival into his city….clearly his more than Washington’s…. by 4 hours in order to allow Washington to make his procession into Town. The local soldiery was divided appropriately. A riot was averted…..if only for a period uncertain. Everyone then was ready for war intellectually but they knew what war was and so were hoping that somehow, it might be averted by reasoning , expansive minds.

    This is a discursive form of government we possess ladies and gentlemen, it demands discourse or withers on the vine. The current G.O.P. debates are the antithesis of discourse . They redefine the definition of pandering and reduce the electoral process to farce. But this is only the warm up. When this craven GOP primary period is re-directed to the Democrat vs. Republican debate, the farce will only be increased because the attention span of the populace is now miniscule. Both Conservative and Liberal forces have discerned this and stockpile loads of rotten red meat to toss the pant-hooters in the ape cage.

    However, there shall at least be some congruence. The talk of indispensable nation and Garrisons across the globe will be agreed upon and one-upped by all.

    Meanwhile, nobody shall possess a simple clue as to how to bring back this Republic of States safeguarding a nation of beloved laboring freeholders. Why?

    Its really quite simple. “Local” is now a pejorative. We actually think we can create a “global village”.

    It would be nice of course, this “global village” where the Hindi lies down with the Shiite and the Sunni don’t drop a bomb into the love fest while the Christians are presiding with their Drones in order to maintain the flow of oil while mortgaging their future to the rising Yellow Horde but it is, in the end, a kind of outrageously hilarious futility.

    Our own petty political process demonstrates the failure in spades. Here we are, in the most pampered and productive nation in history and we throw up our hands and surrender to the sordidly, obstreperously masturbatory pleasures of partisan gridlock.

    We are, in this day, giving a clinic on the worst suspicions of the men who sat in that humidly hot room in Philadelphia, with its windows locked shut, attempting to craft a lasting polity out of a people of divergent aims. These men knew the present and looked forward. We seem entirely too transfixed to the recriminations of the last 48 hour news cycle. It is no wonder that all we know is debt. Perhaps debt has disabused us of the love of future, it makes us resent it because it means we must re-pay our profligacy. Who might love the future when all it represents is the repayment of debt?

    Well, each and every Framer was indebted to British Factors and still, they devoted their lives to a future of liberty and free-holding simplicity.

    They did not bloviate on a Moon State, they planted seeds and traded real goods amongst one another and did it with good humor across national backgrounds.

  6. A delightful eruption, D.W. I’m afraid you misread my title, however: it was not The Closing of the Conservative Mind. As you note, none of the three worthies I summoned up would fully qualify for that adjective.

  7. Why yes Crim, silly me, I automatically conflated “conservative” with “Republican”, an altogether hollowed-out notion.

    The genius of Totalitarian systems is that they produce symbols with no concrete meaning and then set to work prompting the populace to vociferously debate the various symbols in order to distract them from the thugs sitting in session.

  8. Very true. It also seems to be an endemic issue to the kind of politics that the US has. The Faroe Islands has two right wing political parties and both have gained seats. In the US we have half a party at most.

  9. Just one small quibble: It was Abe who broke the tariff. He didn’t officially eliminate it, but he introduced a “temporary” income tax, and the gov’t quickly began to derive most of its revenue from income. Before 1860, tariffs were essentially the sole source of federal money; after Abe’s War of Northern Aggression, tariffs were only half and went down quickly thereafter.

    The change is clear in the table on this page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariffs_in_United_States_history

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