Toryism Vs. Reactionary Statism

Via Wolcott, this profile of Professor Jeffrey Hart is a pretty interesting read.

Hart is, in Wolcott’s words,

a former editor of the National Review in those more cerebral days before it became annexed to neoconservatism and became another nut-hatchery dedicated to military adventurism abroad and environmental rampage within.

And so therein the profile is an exhibition of the sort that we Lefties love: wingnut vs. wingnut wrestling. Now it’s tempting to say that whoever loses, we win. But sadly, no — that is not the case here.

…because Hart’s a Tory type, the traditional wingnut enemy, the snobby if not always snotty sort that in person delights in cornball Russell Kirkish affectations — tweeds, a pipe, the bow-tie. In politics, they are dull (‘the stupid party’ — JSM) and, well, here’s an AJP Taylor riff describing Toryism:

If Toryism means anything, it rejects the sovereignty of parliament and the doctrine of the Social Contract… In practice, as Macaulay observed, Toryism amounts to no more than defending Whig achievements of a previous generation. In the world of ideas, the Tories have had to make do with unprincipled adventurers…or to borrow from the other side [, like] Burke..[who] was a corrupt Whig hack… It would be unfair to blame Toryism for being short of ideas. Ideas are an affair of the mind, and Toryism distrusts the mind in politics. In essence, Toryism rests on doubt in human nature; it distrusts improvement, clings to traditional institutions, prefers the past to the future. It is a sentiment rather than a principle.

Which is why they are not like us, and we are not like them. (That the above is in the British idiom is of no consequence: Tory sensibility has always been a trans-Atlantic thing.)

Hart is most definitely conservative; yet he finds himself to the left (sometimes very far to the left) of the Bushies:

Yet in 2005, not long after Bush’s reelection, Hart fired his first volley against the administration. In the galley copies of “The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times,� his history of the magazine, Hart included the following statement in his final chapter: “Bush will be judged the worst President in American history, from both a conservative and a liberal point of view, finding a consensus on the bottom, at last, and so achieving a landslide victory that evaded him in 2004.�


An advocate for stem-cell research, Hart debated another National Review editor on the subject in 2004. Early in 2005, Hart wrote a long editorial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “The Evangelical Effect.� Finding fault in Bush’s evangelicalism—in 2000, Bush declared that Jesus Christ was his most influential political philosopher—Hart wrote: “The Bush Presidency often is called conservative. This is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.�

Thus Hart correctly diagnoses what drives Bushism, but stops short of the logical conclusion; he describes the beast but doesn’t really name it. I shall be helpful: to be kind, Bushism is reactionary statism; to be less kind but perhaps more precise, Bushism is crypto- or proto-fascist and constantly building steam to drop all prefixes (not to mention pretenses).

I think this squabble deserves attention because it’s not what we’re used to seeing among wingnuts, which is the now fairly old paleocon vs. neocon model of argument. Toryism vs. Bushism, the dialectic Hart’s story illustrates, is very different. Paleocons (Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimondo, Lew Rockwell, et al.) differ with neocons (the Bush administration and its press cheerleaders) about interventionism and Israel; also, paleocons tend to libertarianism while the Bushies practice blatant corporatism, whatever their rhetoric to the contrary. But paleocons, like the Bushies, are often extreme sorts of religious nuts. Tories like Hart are not, flaming religiosity being anathematic to Tory sensiblities more because of the flame, and less because of the God, factor:

“Like the Whig gentry who were the Founders, I loathe populism,� Hart explains. “Most especially in the form of populist religion, i.e., the current pestiferous bible-banging evangelicals, whom I regard as organized ignorance, a menace to public health, to science, to medicine, to serious Western religion, to intellect and indeed to sanity. Evangelicalism, driven by emotion, and not creedal, is thoroughly erratic and by its nature cannot be conservative. My conservatism is aristocratic in spirit, anti-populist and rooted in the Northeast. It is Burke brought up to date. A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around, but an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense.

Though I prefer Hart’s politics to those of the reactionaries who have ostracised him, I can’t quite feel sorry for him. For years I was under the impression that the quote above which Taylor attributes to Macaulay actually came from Burke, whom Hart plainly worships. Whatever — Hart in the ‘Founders’ reference illustrates the sentiment Macaulay conveyed: the Tory exists to preserve a previous generation’s progress (nevermind for now the thorny problem that, had the Tories of whatever previous generation had won, there would be nothing for the new generation to preserve). Here we get to how Tories like Hart dug their own political grave.

Tories could eventually stomach the gains of the Progressive Era in America, probably because one of their own, Theodore Roosevelt, presided over (actually, co-opted and tempered) many of them. But they could never accept FDR’s New Deal; the domestic achievements of the Greatest Generation are the sort they would never accept. And so they hitched their wagons to superreactionaries. I think Hart vaguely knows this because he fixes the date of the shift correctly:

“Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative,� he concluded. “But the party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt….The consequences of that profound shift are evident.�

Along with the date, the key to that passage lies in the words ‘South’ and ‘Sunbelt’; taking all three together, the politics that spring to mind are those of the man who said, “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.” Barry Goldwater of Arizona’s words — emphasis on the first — sounded the death-knell of Toryism as the dominant rightwing strain in this country. Extremism in the reaction to Civil Rights, extremism in foreign policy (LBJ’s ‘Daisy’ commercial was spot-on), extremism against the previous generation’s New Deal as well as the nascent Great Society.

While Goldwater was personally not so reactionary when it came to cultural issues, the religious nuts congealed around the figure of Ronald Reagan completed that piece of the fascism-by-increment project set in motion in 1964. And what did Hart do? Stick with John Anderson or Gerry Ford or try to keep George H.W. Bush from absorbing too much from his boss? Nah. Hart went to work for Reagan, whose politics were the logical extention of Goldwater’s. Also, Hart presided over the Dartmouth Review, incubator of so many batshit, Bush-loving wingnuts who now pollute the media and further the destruction of “Whig achievements of [many] previous generation[s].” Now Hart is confronted by teeming, screaming, multi-faceted extremism — especially religious — that is the logical extention of Reaganism: Bushism. He doesn’t like what he sees:

Buckley did object to my conclusion that Bush had been the worst American president in that earlier draft. He thought it too categorical, and, at the time I was writing, he was right. That was soon after the 2004 election. But much of the evidence now is in. And I’m sure that somewhere James Buchanan is throwing a champagne party. He’s no longer the worst.


To be sure, Bush claims to be a conservative, and the media generally take him at his word. But the media are what Marshall McLuhan called “low differentiation� in terms of communication.

Bush is not a liberal, and he is not a conservative. He is a right-wing ideologue whose abstract imperatives across the board are characteristically disconnected from actuality. That is precisely the reason why he is a failed president.


Goldberg and Punnuru are certainly correct in saying that I have lost the “intramural debate� among the ignorami who agree that Bush is conservative.

I certainly was not aboard that Ship of Fools, so-called “conservatives� as well as “neo-conservatives� – more correctly neo-trotskyites – who sailed with Bush right over Niagra Falls and smashed to pieces on the rocks of reality below.

Of course, Iraq has been the centerpiece of Bushism, but it’s not the only disaster.


The real-world result of Bushism, what Goldberg and Ponnuru call conservative, is that Bush’s overall approval rating is 31% while Cheney’s approval rating is lost in the carpet. And 27% actually approve the war. Who the hell are they?

If Goldberg-Ponnuru have won the “intramural argument� among the ignorami, their boy Bush has lost the argument with actuality.

I wasn’t the only one who got off that Ship of Fools. So did Colin Powell, but only after he had been suckered into using bogus intelligence to sell the war to Congress and the American people.

[Etc. All good stuff — you oughtta read it!]

It’s a pity that Hart’s version of wingnuttery has lost. It’s also a pity that he helped to make such a nasty bed in which we all have to lay, but he’s welcome to join us in fumigating it.


Comments: 22


To some extent, this divide was mirrored in the history of the original Tory party, which tore itself in half after the February 1974 elections in order to put the Thatcher faction on top of the previously dominant One Nation group (centrist, patrician, pro-European).

Historically, AJP Taylor’s understanding of them nicely shows up that the banner has always been more of a tribe than an ideology – held together by loyalty and a common style. The Conservative Party, in the modern form started by Sir Robert Peel, was intended to uphold that “sentiment” in a political environment transformed by the new mass electorate. It took over some pre-existing things, like the role of spokesman for landowners, the established church, and the monarchy, which means that it has always had to tack between its need to appeal to the petty bourgeois and skilled working class and its permanent reactionary caucus, which really would like to reverse the Industrial Revolution and the Reform Acts and go back to feudalism.

Thatcher recruited the reactionaries to support her rightwing/libertarian agenda (which she bought in from outside the party), working on the principle that she could sell it to the rest – this worked, until the rest finally had enough..


why does the phrase “useful idiots” keep occurring to me? it’s like one of those annoying songs that get in your head and won’t leave.
they fed the beast, they trained the beast, they sicced it on their neighbors; and when it turned and trashed their own house, and chased them up a tree, they give us this “Hey, Whuahoppen?!?”
To change metaphors: Tories, conservatives, whatever, are forever trying to stop the world from spinning- they think that is what is causing their dizziness and nausea: but if/when they get their way (for a moment- it can’t be stopped, only interrupted), gravity fails, leading to catastrophe. Which is never their fault.
Because accepting responsibility would lead to questioning their premises, and thus invalidating their lives.

Famous Soviet Athlete

That Hart piece was fun, but it proves that even the Wise Old Men of Conservatism are completely dishonest. These two clichés must be retired immediately:

“In contrast to Bush, Reagan was very cautious in his use of force… As Margaret Thatcher said, he destroyed the Soviet Union ‘without firing a shot.'”

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

And then there’s this:

“I certainly was not aboard that Ship of Fools, so-called “conservativesâ€? as well as “neo-conservativesâ€? – more correctly neo-trotskyites – who sailed with Bush right over Niagra Falls and smashed to pieces on the rocks of reality below.”

Neo-Trotskyites? What does that even mean? Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

I think I need to turn off my computer now.



It says so right here, so it must be true.


Wolcott has an extended quote that’s delicious as well– Hart defines a social conservative in part thusly:

“He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar’s on the rocks, or both.”

No mention of Cheetos. I wish, though, that Hart would have taken some responsibility for charges like Dinesh D’Souza. Sorry, Professor, but you helped train those who steered (and cheered) this ship into the iceberg.

Famous Soviet Athlete

“He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar’s on the rocks, or both.�

Social conservative or Sean Combs? You decide!

Hate Encrusted Eyes

What I want to understand is why our elite pundits hide this simple fact. Why do they hide the story of the Republican party?
Why do they ignore the extremism that stares them in the face and yells threats?
I mean I know punditry can be terrible amoral and like simple stories; this is what makes the (it-is-always-1972-and-the-hippies-destroyed-everything) narrative so enduring.

But it is not as if the Republican party narrative from 1964 to today isn’t sexy. As a writer it is damn good. You could use the plot from The Fly (Republicans tried an experiment and it failed and are degenerating into something horrible that they can’t stop!) Or you could use Frankenstein (I wanted to build winning conservatism but I created a fascistic monster I no longer control) also known the the W F Buckley story. It’s corny but you know it works.

There are a couple solid meta narratives about the Republican Party waiting for dopey MSM journalists to use. But no dice. Why? I can only conclude that people have been induced to simply ‘chose’ not to use them. No jimmy olson if you tell the story that way we will fire your ass and you’ll write copy for the Peroria Gazette till the day you die.

The Wurlitzer is a mighty machine. God bless the new technologies that circumvent it.


See if I ever again lend those rubes a patina of respectability!!!


Just a thought on the use of “fascism”….

I’m still uncomfortable with this characterization of the Bushies. Not because of their political goals, but because of their political style. I tend to be sympathetic to those who argue that one of the defining characteristics of fascism is its revolutionary (or perhaps pseudo-revolutionary) rhetoric and political style. In contrast, the Bushies continue to cultivate the label “conservative.” They style themselves as merely defending things that are under attack from without. Actual fascist movements (as in Italy or Germany) present themselves as seeking to radically transform society.


Famous Soviet Athlete: Well, some of the first generation of neo-conservatives — Irving Kristol and that crew — did start out as Trotskyites, so the “neo-Trotskyite” thing may not be as much of a non sequitur as it seems.

I offer this link for what it’s worth — it looks like more intra-right squabbling, so it provide some giggles.


BenA: I see what you mean, but IMHO “conservative” is just a word being bandied about, carrying not much more meaning than “not liberal” in its current usage.

I think the Bushies are clearly seeking to radically transform society, and they say as much. As HateEEyes mentioned, they posit reality as being an ultra-1972 (which of course it isn’t …)Their radical transformation is back into a past of perfect morals and order, unquetioned patriarchy and a coast-to-coast sea of shiny happy white Christians (which of course it wasn’t…).

Due to this “returning to our heritage” sort of thing, they can spout all the homey, traditionalist crapola they want and get the warm, fuzzy “conservative” mantle to wrap themselves in like a flag. They howl about enemies without and within, and rouse the rabble, with jackboots on their feet and crucifixes on their dagger sheaths, to do their bidding (out this guy, googlebomb that guy, shut down this vote recount, bomb that abortion clinic). The rabble responds to the father figure, the stern parent, the God, the State. Lies in their service are a higher good than truth. Truth not in the state’s service is treason.

I say drop the “crypto-“. This *is* fascism. Oppression is the *next* step, once their power is threatened. As long as mule is pulling, you don’t need to whip it.

Bush, I dubbeth thee “IL DOUCH-ay”.


Just to add (pile on?) a little… the article extolls Hart for having packed, overflowing classes. The reason for this, however, was not his stellar teaching. My understanding (as I was a Dartmouth undergraduate at the time) is that Hart’s reputation was that of a lush, and “easy ‘A'” —students would take him out drinking, with a raise in their class grade.

and a founder of the Dartmouth Review; one of the first career paths for conservative hack pundits…


Wilfred McClay addresses Hart in a long essay at Commentary Magazine. I’ll be talking a lot more about it on my blog later, but here’s one quick point, relating to Retardo’s analysis, about Reagan – the Gipper functions as sort of an ex-post-facto unifying myth, a conservative Proteus who can be seen to embody whatever any contemporary conservative wants or needs him to.

McClay points out that Reagan, in his day, was vehemently attacked from within the conservative movement as a sell-out and a fraud. The movement is never unified except in the mystic chords of memory.

The Tory/Bushist split is interesting, though. The problem for Tories is that they have always been the court party, since the Stuarts, and their own “principles” are entirely mutable in the face of this – as they first demonstrated during the Jacobite rebellions. Hart feels free to speak from a Toryish perspective now that the unity previously formed around Bush the sovereign has broken down.

It’s very true that Toryism is a tendency, not a principle. It only emerges as a principle when it has nowhere else to go.



I’m not saying that we should simply accept the Bushies self-labeling as “conservative.” I am saying that their desire to label themselves this way is one reason why we might not want to call them “fascist.”

There are plenty of other adjectives to describe the Bush administration–“reactionary,” “far right,” “radical right” to name but three–that are more precise than “fascist.” When the GOP starts a uniformed paramilitary wing, we can talk about “fascism.”

A movement does not have to be fascist to be oppressive or antidemocratic.


mmm dartmouth review–i wonder what prof. hart though about d’souza outapalooza there. i don’t remember him making a fuss.

and the key with the bushies still harks back for to the quote in suskind’s seminal esquire article: “reality is for us to make and for you historians to squabble over afterwards”.

i know it isn’t exact, but it actually says: “we read 1984, sure, and what we took from it? well, it seems like a good idea, but does it go far enough?” truly there is no amount of bladerunner/alice in wonderland/matrix analogies enough to get at the heart of the “Beliefs” of these poseurs. what they believe in, and the only thing they believe in, is winning. winning winning winning. they will do anything to win. along with winning of course comes one conservative outcome: if you are rich, winning will keep you that way, thus “conserving” your place in the class heirarchy. and after winning, only money money money money really matters to these clowns.

bush doesn’t go to church, bush doesn’t read the bible (according to reports), bush gave lip service to religious stuff in the white house (according to kuo). he doesn’t even believe his own religious rhetoric. he doesn’t believe in anything, in particular. he thinks bobblehead dolls of himself are neat. he thinks sadaam’s gun is cool. he’s a nob. it’s the smart guys around him who long ago realized that tom hicks was on to something–here was an idiot who would make them all rich beyond all possible richness. and he has. the neo-trots have always believed you get the little man to follow your policies so that you can do what must be done, and if you have to lie cheat and steal so be it-the neo-cons believe that as well. but the money–it’s so fucking tempting, there is so much of it.

eisenhower was right. the military-industrial complex fucked us all.


yeah! and stuff!!! ummm…. *Italics OFF!!!* ^mystical handgestures^

did it work?


A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around, but an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense.

Moral authoritarian Evangelical: “Forgive me, Assembly o’ God! I have sinned!!!”

Tory conservative: “Well of course I had a dalliance with that trollop, and I got my money’s worth, too! Paid in cash, shook her hand, wished her well.”


the Gipper functions as sort of an ex-post-facto unifying myth, a conservative Proteus

I resent that remark, yo.

Famous Soviet Athlete

Thanks for the link, Matt! Reading it made me feel like I was eavesdropping on a stranger’s family fight, especially because I couldn’t help myself from replacing every mention of Trotsky with “Mommy.”


Just to add (pile on?) a little… the article extolls Hart for having packed, overflowing classes. The reason for this, however, was not his stellar teaching. My understanding (as I was a Dartmouth undergraduate at the time) is that Hart’s reputation was that of a lush, and “easy ‘A’� —students would take him out drinking, with a raise in their class grade.

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons:

First, Hart and the rest of the old-guard, professorial/pseudo-professorial set that used to hang around National Review (Russell Kirk, Buckley, etc.) were just the kind of guys that bemoaned the cheapening of education, the “lack of standards” and various other things – all liberals’ fault, of course – that combined were ruining education in America specifically and in the West generally.

Second, I had the privilege back in 1998 or ’99 (too much wine, can’t remember which year) of sifting through Jeffrey Hart’s papers that he (or someone with the authority to do so) deposited at the – you guessed it – Hoover Institution at Stanford University. They weren’t indexed at the time, so I had to go through every box and folder to find something germane to my MA thesis project. I didn’t find what I needed, but I recall vaguely an interesting series of letters that were addressed to a former student. The student had some sort of beef with Hart; I think, but am not sure, that it was connected to a grade that the student found unsatisfactory. Well, the dispute escalated to the point where Hart threatened legal action against the student. Maybe the student deserved it, but it’s hard to believe that based on my experiences in teaching in college as well as those of my colleagues. I could see someone like Hart pulling that, though.


It’s worth recalling Hart’s racism. From a review of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints in National Review (Sept 26, 1975): “Most people … are able to perceive that the ‘other group’ looks rather different and lives rather differently from their own. Such ‘racist’ or ‘ethnocentric’ feelings are undoubtedly healthy, and involve merely a preference for one’s own kind. Indeed – and Raspail hammers away at this point throughout his novel – no group can long survive unless it does ‘prefer itself.’ … The liberal rote anathema on ‘racism’ is in effect a poisonous assault upon Western self-preference.”


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