A Reply to Dan Riehl

For those who haven’t been following my writing at Post Right: I’ve worked myself into quite the brouhaha over my opinions about Mark Levin, who has added me to his list of the World’s Most Deranged Bloggers. Dan Riehl has taken offense to this and done his best to call me out here. Post Right is loaded with posts, from me and many of my compeers, related to this matter, but I want to offer a direct response to Mr. Riehl here. I had hoped to post in the comment box beneath his initial screed, but my reply has proved to be far too long. Without further, ado, then, I offer it.

***

I’d initially decided not to enter this fray, not to enter the lion’s den, as it were, but, having been defended by souls kinder than I deserve, feel something of an obligation to speak for myself, ideally deflecting any criticism, infantile or, occasionally, rational, from them and toward me.

First, as others have noted, something strikes me as manifesting a sort of disconnection, a level of disingenuousness, if not outright hypocrisy, about criticizing me for voicing my disdain for Mr. Levin without actually having listened to his program and then calling me “an apparent moron” without knowing anything about me, the opinions I hold, the educational achievements on my record, or my writing beyond one apparently controversial online screed.

If, Mr Riehl, you bothered to read any of my relatively few postings as Post Right, or at my personal Weblog, then I retract this statement. However, nothing suggests that you did. On the other hand, I at least read summaries of Mr. Levin’s daily program before making any comments. This is, I agree, not the same as listening; however, notwithstanding any nuances or exceptions that he may offer during the show, these summaries, paired with writings of his available across the Web, suffice to paint a picture of his views. Also, I did take the time to read the debate between you and Mr. Friedersdorf, wherein Mr. Levin chimed in and wherein Conor excerpted the original broadcast segment that so appalled him. So, although I admit that I was perhaps venturing slightly beyond safe ground in waging my “war” against Mr. Levin, I have proceeded far more safely than you have, and I did do some legwork, so to speak.

Regarding the very first sentence of your post: I’m not sure why an anti-Levin screed at a Weblog hosted by The American Conservative surprises you as it does. The magazine’s non-mainstream perspective(s) are quite obvious. Some of your commenters, replying to your philippic against Mr. Ford, have called it a right-wing version of The Nation. That’s not quite right, but it does hit on the anti-war nature of the publication. I’m not sure that anything about being anti-war, particularly when our Wilsonian leaders find pretext for war just about anywhere, is anti-conservative. Taft, Kirk, et al., I think, would agree. I wholly admit that I may be wrong, given my age and the sadly small amount of Kirk that I’ve read, but he strikes me as having been a pretty anti-war sort of chap. TAC has a lot more in common with Kirk and Taft than with neoconservatives, the Republican Party, and mainstream conservatism.

Your comment about my attire in one picture is a bit perplexing, particularly given that you’ve apparently no eye for context. That photograph was actually taken on my family farm. There’s nothing Wyatt Earp-esque or Bad Bart-esque about it. I’m just a country boy; my family owns farmland, my grandfather’s been on that farm since 1914, and I drive our beat-up 1988 Chevy truck as often as I do my car. Such an ad hominem attack (if it’s even worthy of Latin) seems, to me, to below what passes for sincere, honest discourse about ideas. Again, I’m young: I may simply be missing out on the salient point here.

(Truth be told, I wish I’d one of my three-piece-suit photographs up; I’m curious to see how you’d have responded, especially if it had been one in which I’m wearing a pink shirt. I can only imagine what fun you may have had at my expense!)

The broader point about your linking to my Facebook profile, as Patrick addressed in response to your post about his input on this whole kerfuffle, is that, whether or not Facebook is public, linking to it is, in the words of a friend, “so sixth grade”. It’s useless (particularly given the ease wherewith I changed my profile picture) and, to those not in my network, not my “friends”, and not “friends” of my “friends”, the profile is inaccessible. Visitors who click on your link see my profile picture, my networks, and a couple of my “friends”. It’s not offensive or wrong; just silly and slightly creepy.

A grad student all of 26 years old, versus Mark Levin’s significant accomplishments in multiple fields – from Reagan’s White House to the bestseller’s list … but Mr. Wilson’s nemesis Dennis passes judgment without ever having listened to Mark’s show??? Spare me, please. At least the guy is honest enough to tell us just how utterly stupid he is right upfront with that revealing bit of idiocy.

(A quick, minor correction: I’m not a graduate student anymore, as I have earned my master’s degree, and I’m only twenty-five. Where you got twenty-six is a mystery to me, but not particularly relevant.) Although, I reckon, there’s something slightly impressive about having served in the White House, serving as a lackey to a Federal official, even the president, hardly wows me. I guess that’s the Anti-Federalist in me; I don’t trust the presidency, and I’m perpetually baffled by the right-wing adulation for a man whose policies were anything but fiscally conservative. Moreover, given the absolute rubbish that makes the bestsellers’ list (as I’m sure you and Mr. Levin both would agree), I’m not very interested in that feat. I’m not going to contend that Mr. Levin isn’t intelligent or successful; both are obvious. These facts neither make him any more qualified to comment than I am nor indicate a higher — or lower — level of intelligence. Yes, I did pass judgment without listening — though, as I’ve noted, I did at least do some legwork. Having listened, finally, to some of Mr. Levin’s program, I am only further convinced of the correctness of my beliefs. (See here, if you — or your readers — so desire: http://www.amconmag.com/postright/2009/07/01/one-more-levin-post-someone-stop-me/ ) I may be stupid and honest, as you charge; at least, as you also note, I’m honest.

In the comments to your post about Patrick, and in the post itself, you reject the label “neoconservative” for both yourself and for Mr. Levin. I’ve not read enough of your material to comment on you. However, I’m not sure that I agree with your assessment of Mr. Levin. “Neoconservative” is, mayhap, thrown about too easily, too frequently, by other conservatives (paleo, reformist, or otherwise) and by leftists; however, having listened to Mr. Levin claim that President Obama has a “hate-on for Israel” — a patently absurd comment to make —, and knowing of his strongly interventionist tendencies, I can only extrapolate that he, indeed, is at least moderately neoconservative. As I’ve noted a hundred times if once, he does seem to be sincere in his belief in limited government respecting domestic policy — and I haven’t heard or read enough to have a clear idea of where he falls on “social issue” —, so I’m willing to grant that maybe he’s not a pure neocon, but he certainly seems to have similar proclivities, and his interventionist tendencies restrict his respectable views on limited government to the point of making them irrelevant. The welfare state and the warfare state are pretty inextricably intertwined, as are expansion of government for the purposes of what Professor Bacevich and others refer to as “American exceptionalism” and the continued expansion of Federal interference with our lives. To paraphrase Mr. Levin, “There’s a reason why they push big government in foreign policy: Because it leads to bigger government at home, much more surreptitiously.”

AND NOW, relatively briefly, a few replies to some commenters.

*Rhod: I’m not sure that your characterization of TAC is quite right. There’s definitely truth to it, but it’s a very incomplete characterization. I only fit into one of those groups — the “isolationists” —, and it’s hardly how primarily describe my views. Also, since when is “crank” an epithet?

Don’t worry *SacTownMan, I’m well aware of the limits of my intelligence. However, I’m not sure what’s “NEW” about my conservatism. Though I’ve done copious amounts of reading (and “reading”) in my day, the breadth of my knowledge is limited. However, I do know enough to draw on Aristotle, Aquinas, Burke, Belloc, Kirk, Röpke, and others — none of whom I’d call “NEW”.

*mark l.: Don’t you think limiting political viewpoints to merely two poles, dubbed “liberal” and “conservative”, is both unhelpful and passé?

rather than arriving at a position based upon the two competing ideologies, they must calibrate their position relative to the other’s point on the line. It becomes a matter of defining their beliefs upon who they will not stand next to, rather than arrive at their locus based upon the primary, and only real, question.

I don’t even know what to make of this. I’ve been defining and re-defining my beliefs for a helluva lot longer than Mr. Levin’s been anywhere near my radar. I’d be more than happy to “stand next to” him on those issues where we agree, should I ever have to, but a “No Enemies to the Right” mentality is not my cup of tea.

*Mrs. Peperium:

Well Bush Derangement Syndrome had to go somewhere. And if it did, it couldn’t have focused on a more marvelous target – Mark Levin. You really do have to be deranged to think at 26 or 30 years of age you are in Mark Levin’s league. Why a 40 year old would be hard pressed to be in Mark’s league. Think about how many of Mark’s accomplishments a 26 year-old would have to outright dismiss to believe this about themselves. Positively breathtaking. These * writers * really ought to consider applying for a White House Fellowship – Obama could use them-well.

I’ve already addressed most of what you cover here, but I’ll return to one point. Age has very little to say, ultimately, an Mr. Levin’s feats in his life, though respectable, hardly put him in some unattainable seraphic or Elysian league. He’s just a guy with opinions; he just happens to have a microphone, experience that dazzles the vapid, and a vastly larger audience.

I’m not really sure that Mr Obama’s White House has any interest in someone like me. They seem generally to disapprove of localist, anti-interventionist, anti-corporate, anti-statist conservatives.

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why you question our conservative credentials with asterisks; I guess all of that “big-tent” malarky proves itself to be what it is when someone inside the figurative tent dares to question someone else.

*Rob Crawford: That sounds like snark to me. Tsk, tsk.

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My recent work at Post Right

“Friedersdorf on Happy Meal-Conservative Talk Radio”: Conor ably calls out Mark Levin, et alios

Caritas in Veritate: Pope Benedict has a social encyclical due at month’s end.

“Call Me Skeptical”: Netanyahu, in my humble estimation, is a snake. A “sovereign” Palestine, as he envisions it, will be no freer of Israel than George W. Bush was of Dick Cheney.

“My Only Thoughts on Perplexing Persian Politics”: I sympathize with the reformists (although I question the reformist credentials of Mousavi), but believe that complete American inaction is the best course of American action.

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Starting today, I shall be dividing my resumed Weblogging between this humble site and Post Right the newest Weblog hosted by The American Conservative. I am ineffably grateful to Kara, Dan, and everyone else at TAC for welcoming me and for providing another wonderful, necessary outpost for the “Alternative Right.” We’ve a great, supremely eclectic group of contributors, and here’s a good, succinct description of the site:

This is the most experimental (at least in theory) of TAC’s panoply of new blogs. Some of the writers who will be featured here have appeared in the magazine, others are joining us for the first time in the virtual world. There are just two common denominators: everyone is under 40, and all our PostRight bloggers take a jaundiced view of the conventional left-right spectrum. So here you will find a motley collection of left conservatives, front-porch republicans, anti-statist liberals, locavores, libertarians, and more. Stick around and see what they come up with.

I’m pretty sure that, too some extent or another, all of those descriptors except for “anti-statist liberal” fit me. This should be fun.

Wendell Berry, Kirkian

From “The Use of Energy”, in The Art of the Commonplace:

The energy that is made available to us by the living things, on the other hand, is made available not as an inconceivable quantity, but as a conceivable pattern. […] It was mastered, better than our scientific experts have mastered it, by “primitive” peasants and tribesman thousands of years before modern science. It is conceivable not so much to the analytic intelligence, to which it may always remain in part mysterious, as to the imagination, by which we perceive, value, and imitate order beyond our understanding.

[My emphasis. – NPO]

Is this not, in a particular way, just the moral imagination whereof Burke and Kirk so eloquently scribed?

Support Your Daily Source of Principled Conservatism

Last month, the editors of The American Conservative announced that without a significant increase in financial resources, this bastion of reasoned thought on the Right would go under. Happily, they announced that, having enjoyed most generous responses from their readership, TAC will survive, although now as a monthly, rather than bi-weekly publication.

Recently, John Schwenkler’s Upturned Earth, always one of my favorites, moved to the magazine’s Website, joining Dr. Larison’s Eunomia and @TAC. The word on the street is that, within the next couple of weeks, they’ll be further expanding the magazine’s online presence, thus providing even more of a supplement to the excellent fare they proffer on paper.

If you don’t read the aforementioned Weblogs, then make a point of doing so. Bookmark The American Conservative, consider subscribing to the magazine (which, I note, is the only magazine to which I subscribe that I make a point of reading cover-to-cover within a few days, rather than allowing issues to pile up: Suck it, The New Yorker!), and, if you can afford it, consider making a donation beyond the subscription rate (which I intend to do if, ya know, I ever have a source of income again!).

Seriously, folks, support and enjoy this magazine. Any organ that can print articles suggesting that Carter wasn’t all bad, that Reagan wasn’t all good, and that Norman Mailer could have done wonders as mayor of NYC (written by Mailer’s youngest son); interview Mailer and Ralph Nader without selling out or using the interviews as excuses to trash these folks; and still legitimately pass as conservative is surely worth reading! Methinks that Burke and Kirk would agree. Röpke, too!

And This Is How I Say “Good-bye.”

Over the last few months, I have been dreadfully remiss in my attending to this Weblog; on a couple of occasions, I attempted, rather vainly, to light the fire under my posterior, as it were. But nothing. Not for lack of interest, rest assured; I simply haven’t had the time and energy. People far busier than (Schwenkler has a wife and kid, and another on the way, is finishing up a dissertation, and was doing the whole find-a-job thing (He’s heading to Maryland in January; I’m disappointed that I’ll be back in Indiana well before he’s here.), and he still, with the assistance of the wonderfully bright J.L. Wall, maintains Upturned Earth!) are sating their readers’ demand for worth-the-while output, and I’m not even reading and commenting on others’ posts with the frequency and, sometimes cogency, with which I did in the past.

The last five months of my life have been so completely permeated by the absurd, the baffling, the crazy, and the distressing that I simply have not been able to maintain Nathancontramundi. For this, I am sorry. However, I return to Indiana in two weeks. With a minor operation, with pain-in-the-rear enjoying-life restrictions to follow for a few weeks, on my radar, I eagerly anticipate redoubling my efforts here, and elsewhere online, and slowly catching up on the piles of books through which I should love to make my way. For now, please, sit tight, and don’t lose any more hope than you doubtless have. Enjoy, below, how I say good-bye to whatever little readership The Terrapin Times has — and, equally, if not more so, to my beloved staffers.

*****

“Reflections on the Revolution in College Park: A Bittersweet Farewell”

As the quaint cliché goes, home is where the heart is. At the foundation of conservatism, I have come to realize, lies a love of place — not of just any place, but of the place(s) where we have roots, ties, and responsibilities. And so, as my career as a Terrapin nears its end, I prepare to load the Camry for one final tour down I-70, readying myself to take the most conservative action I have in a long time: On 27 May, I return to the fertile soils of northern Indiana — where my roots run deep — that have nurtured me these twenty-five-plus years.

I am going home.

For how long I shall reside there I know not, and how far from North Judson, a sleepy hamlet of some two-thousand people (Not a stoplight in town!), I eventually wander remains a mystery (though I cannot envision myself straying more than a couple hundred miles at most). Until I “figure out my life” yet again, in my parents’ home, built more than a century ago, in part by a great-grandfather, just a few blocks from the grocery store that he co-founded, which remained in the family from 1902 until 1997, shall I abide.

Doubtless, whenever possible, to my grandfather’s farm, on which my father grew up, and on which Grandpa Joe was born ninety-five years ago, I shall venture, whether to mow the lawns; to find some excuse to start up the decades-old John Deere 4020 or to swing an axe (an action the salutary benefits whereof are, I submit, incomparable); or to hear, with absolute glee, the same tales wherewith Grandpa has regaled me time and again: stories of my ancestors, of my hometown, of life in a simpler, saner time — and of the homemade box kite, with dynamite attached, with which Great-Uncle Frank managed to startle the residents of town, about two miles southeast of the farm, into believing that the Führer had ordered the Luftwaffe across the Atlantic and into the Midwest in the mid-1930s.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I await the end of May with bated breath. Much of my academic experience here has failed to satiate my esurient intellect; the perpetual enslavement to my car that suburbia impels exasperates me to no end; and pestiferous, sometimes unequivocally loathsome, roommates and, in a couple of instances, students, have grayed multifarious hairs atop my head.

Nevertheless, to claim that I have no regrets about leaving the Old Line State would be to lie. I have made some good friends, occasionally learned a thing or two, and truly enjoyed the brews at Franklin’s. More than anything, I shall miss The Terrapin Times: the satisfaction of producing a newspaper; the strange sense of achievement found in one final read over the paper at four-thirty in the morning; the opportunity to publish seldom-heard voices on a campus devoid of respectable media; and the wonderful friendships that I have developed whilst superintending this tendentious tabloid.

The year has gone less smoothly than I had hoped. Beset with limited finances and minimal newspaper-management experience (particularly at the university level), we published fewer issues than I had planned, and began to do so later than I should have preferred. Despite sincere intentions to the contrary, we failed to develop advertising connections and to increase our paltry list of subscribers. In my opening editor’s letter, in the October issue, I outlined numerous goals I hoped to achieve and features that I wanted to instill in this publication. My successes have fallen discouragingly short of the mark.

Nonetheless, I rejoice!

Over the course of this year, we quadrupled the number issues of the Times published over the previous two years and more than quintupled the number of pages that have comprised these print editions. Though it has been a tedious venture, and only recently has featured posts not written by me, our Weblog finally has something of a presence in the right-wing virtual world. Last year, infrequent meetings were poorly attended; this year, genuine camaraderie has developed amongst staffers and our weekly meetings have proven to be wonderfully convivial events, dedicated as much to joking, story-telling, and ranting as to newspaper business. Finally, ably assisted by dedicated editors and supported by a wonderful group of writers, I have managed to leave the paper with leadership already in place, with a small reserve of funds to go toward beginning the new academic year smoothly.

Had we printed three, rather than only two, issues this semester, making the transition would have been easier, but, having worked with next year’s leaders to prepare this final edition under my watch, I remain quite hopeful for the future of the paper and, thus, for the state of intellectual and political conversation on a campus so utterly devoid of it that certain students felt protesting the continuation of a benign benediction at commencement to be a sensible course of action — until a rainstorm revealed their lack of any real principles.

And so, without further ado, I retreat from the corral, giving way to incoming editor-in-chief Zach Rubin and incoming publisher Sarah E. Martin, and ride into the sunset.

Farewell, Maryland, my Maryland. Go Terps!

And remember, Sic Semper Tyrannis!