My response to Streiff at RedState

May 27, 2016

My recent article at the New York Daily News has received a moderate amount of attention. I don’t think what I said was particularly controversial, as it seems generally congruent with the recent GOP election results. Still, a few people on social media and elsewhere have taken issue with my remarks. I do want to quickly respond to one critic. Streiff, over at RedState, did not care for my analysis.

 

Streiff says that my “alleged field of study is American conservatism.” It is pretty clear that this is more than alleged. American conservatism is one of my fields of study. I’m not sure how I could have published a peer-reviewed book on the subject without studying it first. I should note that the reaction to the book has been pretty favorable so far; I’ve yet to have a conservative reader accuse me of getting the major facts wrong (which is not to say that it is without mistakes). One can dispute my interpretation of data and historical events, but I can claim with strong evidence that I know the conservative movement pretty well.

 

Streiff takes issue with my claim that the conservative movement views a hawkish foreign policy as non-negotiable. Stating, “I’ve never encountered anyone who equates ‘superhawk on foreign affairs’ with conservatism. Seriously. I would argue that isolationism or non-interference in world affairs is a much more common point of view.” That makes me wonder if Streiff was actually watching the GOP nomination race this year. Aside from Rand Paul and Donald Trump, it seemed all the rest of the candidates were trying to outdo each other in their belligerent stance toward Putin’s Russia and the Assad regime in Syria. Both Kasich and Christie threatened to shoot down Russian planes. I suppose that whether one can be classified as a “super hawk” is a subjective question, but I would put George W. Bush and anyone who wants to return to his foreign policy stance in that category.

 

The notion that an aggressive foreign policy is a hallmark of the conservative movement was not born in my imagination. This has been the case since the early Cold War, when conservatives were pushing for a “rollback” of Communism and William F. Buckley declared that taking an offensive stance in foreign affairs trumps all other concerns and principles, going so far as to say, “we have got to accept Big Government for the duration [of the Cold War] — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.”

 

Ronald Reagan also described conservatism as a three-legged stool, including economic conservatives, social conservatives, and foreign policy conservatives (also known as hawks). There are plenty of links to demonstrate this, but here’s one from RedState.

 

Streiff also notes that my article “also omits being opposed to abortion from his list of tests which is ironic because RedState, which is about as conservative a site as you will find on the internet, only has one hard and fast rule. We are pro-life.” I thought it pretty obvious that pro-lifers fit in the category of “cultural traditionalist.” I suspect the Venn Diagram between traditionalists and pro-lifers overlaps almost entirely.

 

He makes (what I thought to be) an unusual claim by stating “And anyone who thinks ‘cultural traditionalist’ is a meaningful term in conservative circles really needs to have their head examined.” I don’t know about that. Edmund Burke seemed to think tradition was important. Russell Kirk clearly agreed (“Tradition and prescription are the guiding lights of the civil social man.”). A collection of Richard Weaver essays was titled, In Defense of Tradition. I’m on pretty firm ground saying that the intellectual conservative movement has long backed cultural traditionalism. If ordinary self-described conservative Republicans do not care about tradition, then that only further proves my point that there is a disconnect between the conservative movement and the electorate.

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