Monday, May 08, 2006

The Risk for Traditionalist/Crunchy Politics

Guess who turns out to be a Crunchy Con? Prince Charles, actually. Or I should say, the Duke of Cornwall. It's all in the latest issue of National Geographic (yes, the one with the Gospel of Judas in it). In his role as landlord of 135,000 acres, he puts his very, very old money where his clipped British mouth is in being big on historic preservation, organic agriculture, integration of town and country, walkable spaces, the whole nine yards.

Most of the dukes left the tenants and lands alone. Not Prince Charles, who oversees the estate's work to an astonishing degree. His 72-strong duchy staff has learned not to build any new cottage, or fell an acre of woodland, without first seeking the royal nod.

This reminds me of Prince To, a Mongolian lord in the 19th century who got all kinds of ideas about reforming his subjects' lives: stopping expensive feasts, making subjects save money, doing household work more efficiently, bringing all the little Buddhist temples into one big monastery. That last one earned him the enmity of the lamas, who joined in with the commoners to petition the Manchu emperor to please get this guy to leave us alone.

Now, many of Prince Charles's ideas actually seem like quite nice ones. But if you're like me, there's something about having them instituted by a prince that makes that gets your hackles up. They even had a picture (not on line) of tenants organically weeding his carrot fields, face to face with the dirt.

Now, there's another article here that just pushes all my buttons. It could be that it's Jacob Heilbrunn, an annoying leftist, writing about Jeffrey Hart, an even more annoying conservative poseur.

Heilbrunn writes:

Hart approves of Goldwater, noting that Western conservatism ultimately produced Reagan. But Hart fears—no, loathes—the Southern, Bible Belt conservatism that also began to emerge as a major force in the 1960s and has reached its apogee in the Bush administration. To Hart, a staunch Catholic, evangelicalism actually goes against real conservatism: "[E]vangelicalism's focus on individual experience—the 'personal relationship' with Jesus as savior—works precisely against creedal Christianity, with its structure of dogma and authority."

Well of course, about what really preserves "creedal Christianity" Mr. Hart, is wrong, which he'd have known if he'd read this.

Heilbrunn can see the basic realities:

Hart, it seems, yearns for a High Church conservatism, soaked in Anglophile traditions, in which conservatives behave like William F. Buckley Jr.—fine wines and harpsichord playing in the background—rather than Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. Lowry and company, with their embrace of Low Church conservatism and the modern-day GOP, have encouraged the ideological slide. Meanwhile, the GOP has prospered, but the result has been a tyranny of born-again bumpkins in the hinterlands.

How credible is Hart's case? Certainly, the idea that Nixon could have created a durable center-right coalition that ignored evangelicals is simply fanciful. Karl Rove is right: A GOP without the credulous believers would be condemned to failure at the polls. (It's no coincidence that newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito immediately wrote an obsequious letter thanking James Dobson of Focus on the Family for his support.) And it was Nixon himself who championed the "southern strategy" that has come to be one of the pillars on which current GOP ascendancy rests.

Hart has a vision of a benign, aristocratic conservatism, but America was never a plausible candidate for this ideal. The truth is that, whatever feats of intellectual prestidigitation conservative thinkers like Kirk may have performed, they bore little relation to the realities of a country with a booming free-market economy.

What's the common thread with the fact that Hart's vision has gone nowhere and Prince Charles? That conservatism (or leftism, for that matter) that doesn't have a place (a big place) for upward mobility and liberty for all (even tenants), is a dog. Hart's agenda is the agenda of snobbery and snobbery will kill even otherwise worthwhile agendas, like getting people to save money by cutting back on unnecessary expenses or get their hands dirty weeding carrots. Maybe Prince Charles is not a snob, but if you're in that kind of position, it's very hard to be an earnest reformer and not come across as one.