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On Perpetuating The False Narrative Of The GOP And Conservative Establishments

28 January 2020 @ 16:53

Over at Law And Liberty, Bruce Frohnen has written a review of the book American Conservatism, 1900-1930, by Joseph Postell and Johnathan O’Neil.  It is Insightful, also Useful in that it has saved me some valued denarii and very valuable time purchasing and reading it.

Some highlights from the review:

Readers seeking a fair representation of conservatism as a whole during the period from 1900-1930 will be disappointed in American Conservatism, 1900-1930, Joseph Postell and Johnathan O’Neill’s collection of primary source readings. This is not all bad. As noted in the title of the book’s introduction, this is a volume focused on “Constitutional Conservatism,” and not one concerning the deeper social and cultural criticism that flowered during this era among poets and literary critics. Still, the editors present less a collection of conservative writings on constitutionalism than a representative sample of mainstream, establishment conservative responses to political Progressivism. While the resulting collection is valuable, it presents a narrow, sanitized, and somewhat superficial picture of American conservatism.

It seems that Postell and O’Neill’s book is a case of the Useful Idiots of the Victors [The Left In America] writing History [more on this later].

More [emphasis mine]:

At its heart, Progressivism was (and is) an attack on the Constitution and the rule of law. Progressivism’s basic premise is that formal structures limiting the federal government to its enumerated powers (principally separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances) are ill suited to a democratic society procuring the security and well-being of its people. Thus, any serious opposition to Progressivism must be rooted in defense of our limited, republican Constitution. The selections here highlight responses to Progressives’ program of national administration, seeking to defend limited, constitutional rule and more fundamental local governments and associations. Unfortunately, the editors choose to exclude selections from the New Humanists (Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmore More and other important thinkers) and the Agrarians (especially those who contributed to the Southern manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand, published in 1930). In this way they avoid dealing with difficult debates over principle and policy along with fuller treatment of difficult race issues from the time. But they also fail to present a deeper and more nuanced picture of American constitutionalism and its cultural roots.

As Mr. Frohnen points out: many strains of conservative thought are left out of their treatise — a fatal error for any work claiming to study the whole variety embedded in it’s subject.

Perhaps these other conservatives were left out on purpose to further the aims of the authors to hoodwink conservatives who are not deeply familiar with this period. I have long maintained that the GOPe and The Conservative Beautiful People are, ultimately, nothing but Useful Idiots of The Left. They seek to ‘better manage’ Leviathan — a Fool’s errand if there ever was one.

Mr. Frohnen wrote: In all fairness, it should be advertised for what it is: a presentation of establishment Republican ideology from the early 20th Century.


As I argue in my book, On The Causes And Effects Of THE PRESENT CRISIS In America, too many conservatives have sought over the decades to turn the Conservative Philosophy into an Ideology — something Russell Kirk, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and others fought to make the Right understand was a Betrayal of said Philosophy.

As I wrote in the Book:

Let it be stated again: a conservative is someone who rejects Ideology. Conservatism is ‘a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order’. Conservatives are ‘sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata’ [quotes by Russell Kirk].

These New Right Ideologues are Discrediting and Delegitimizing the Conservative Cause — to protect and sustain Freedom, Ordered Liberty, Morality, and Virtue — by their Unthinking Embrace of Ideology, which pulls down conservative thought into the gutter with the rest of the Ideologues.


There certainly are highlights. Calvin Coolidge — the one arguable conservative giant of the early 20th century — is well represented in essays describing the American character, the limitations of law in maintaining a good society, and the importance of self-government within the American tradition. The editors also include several important writings from James M. Beck, a powerful thinker who also played a key role as Solicitor General and later fought in Congress and the Supreme Court against the New Deal. Beck was an early analyst of limited, republican government’s need for a constitutional morality among officeholders, sustained by a popular ethos of restraint and desire for limited government. His selections present a powerful argument against administrative centralization and the debilitation of the people’s character by government overreach.


There is some enlightening discussion of Progressive-era constitutional amendments. Most important is the focus on the 18th Amendment. Excerpts from both Beck and Nicholas Murray Butler touch on the severe damage the demand for national prohibition did to both federalism and the rule of law. Both highlight how increasing demand that the national government restructure social institutions and individual character undermined self-government and helped produce Progressivism and the administrative state.

Prohibition, a Triumph of the Progressives, laid the groundwork for The New Deal, especially in the Erosion of State and Local Control, which are the bedrocks of a Constitutional Republic.¹

But, sadly…

More typical are selections from William Howard Taft. Taft, a mainstream Republican who lost the presidency to Woodrow Wilson on account of Theodore Roosevelt’s outsized ambitions and increasing radicalism, was no deep philosopher. His Supreme Court decisions were decidedly middle-of-the-road for the time, as was his thought more generally. Often termed a half-hearted Progressive, he nevertheless sought to maintain the formal structures of constitutionalism in the face of Progressives’ centralizing zeal. The editors include Taft’s well-reasoned argument against TR’s claim to a presidential prerogative, defending the Constitution’s essential nature as a grant of limited, structured powers.

Mr. Taft, while, perhaps, in possession of The Conservative Instinct, was never a great Defender of it.  Frankly, he had spent too much time as a High-Level Bureaucrat and suffered a lack of Philosophical Energy.

Mr. Frohnen:

The low point of the volume is a set of readings from Warren G. Harding. One learns from these readings principally that Harding’s obscurity is well deserved. His encomiums on American traditions of individual self-help and community self-government seem tailor-made to appeal to middle America. But his oft-stated determination that the federal government shall make Americans “safe” and that it shall help the people “progress” as part of a united humanity, while easily dismissed as part of the rhetoric of the age, are no less vapid and Progressive-Light for all that.

The editors are correct to highlight (if not to define as “conservative”) this “me too” mindset. It culminates in Herbert Hoover’s paean to “equal opportunity” in a 1928 campaign speech about “constructive government.” Hoover, who would soon lose the presidency to FDR, engages in the kind of organizational enthusiasms that characterized his time in public office. Committees, administrative boards, and a host of government organizations operating on a “principle of co-operation” would, he claimed, make it possible to expand the role of the federal government without destroying Americans’ fundamental associations and character. Without resorting to open government control, this “wonder boy,” as Coolidge derisively called him, would see that the people were cared for by an overarching set of national institutions. “Cooperation between the government and business agencies” would even “mitigate the violence of the so-called business cycle.” History proved otherwise.

Certainly our modern day Republican and Conservative Establishments ‘are no less vapid and Progressive-Light’.  One immediately thinks of Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, Rich Lowry, and Bill Kristol, to name just a very few.

They gladly wait for the crumbs to fall from the Table Of Power and, like the Collaborators they are, they will protect those sitting at the table so that the supply of crumbs is never exhausted. They happily submit to being the servants of those in Power And Control. [from THE PRESENT CRISIS]

Herbert Hoover was a Progressive Republican.  As Amity Shlaes pointed out in her book, The Forgotten Man, Hoover was the Godfather of The New Deal, helping to start the set-up of what she [rightly] calls ‘the entitlement trap’ with the national government assuming roles once held by the State, County, and Local Governments.  Thus was weakened The Sovereign People.


Taken as a whole, this volume furthers a specific narrative within conservative thought. It presents a kind of anthropology or prehistory of the establishment conservatism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Republican administrations of Bush I and II, and the conservative think tank and foundation complex that grew up around them supported a “respectable” brand of conservatism that emphasized low taxes, economic growth, and pro-business policies within the confines of the Administrative State. The failures of this brand of “right wing liberalism” have been noted in many times and places. Still, the similarities with selections in this volume are striking. One can find parallels even in the major characters, with Coolidge playing the role of Ronald Reagan, the heroic but somewhat naïve partisan of American civil religion, and Herbert Hoover as the feckless George W. Bush, albeit with a much better command of political facts, administrative law, and English grammar.

Damn well put.

Mr. Frohnen later in his review covers the subject of Substantive Due Process, which I will leave for you to read.

He concludes, in part:

In sum, the editors have produced a volume that perpetuates the “Wall Street vs. Main Street” divide in American conservatism by essentially ignoring the religious and cultural dimensions of a time of great change and unrest in the United States. Labor challenges, Wilson’s assault on civil rights (especially among immigrant groups), and the determination to forge a national character as well as national markets and standards of conduct, all escape notice in this volume. Why? Because the editors do not merely limit themselves to reproducing conservative writings dealing with constitutional issues. They also limit themselves to reproducing the kind of persons and arguments readily subsumed in the narrative of prudent, moderate, establishment Republican Party loyalty….

I would only disagree with his use of the word ‘prudent’.  Rather it should be ‘Pragmatic’, as Prudence is a trait of the Non-Ideological.

I urge you to take the time to read Bruce Frohnen’s whole review by clicking here.

…conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the
statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its
probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and
radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much
heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph
of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being
complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he
acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

—Russell Kirk, Ten Conservative Principles



¹ Most people are Unaware that cities and towns used to administer their own Welfare Programs — some would even have published the names of those on the Dole.  This was the correct policy because one should be Ashamed to be supported by Taxpayers.


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