Decadent conservatives

The founding editor of The American Conservative (known here as The Paleostinian Conservative), Scott McConnell, who has twice endorsed Obama for president yet continues to call himself a conservative, has written a typically weird and solipsistic article about me in which, among other things, he cluelessly calls me a European-style pagan fascist like Julius Evola and dismisses my work as a specimen of “radical right-wing disillusion with post-millennial America.” Because McConnell is a thoroughly emotion-driven, negative, and reactive personality, he sees me in the same light. He is incapable of grasping that I am someone who argues for standards based on truth and the good, and evaluates society according to those standards. That is not “disillusionment.” That is moral and intellectual judgment.

Also, Mencius Moldbug has a typically shapeless piece on me in which he pays me extravagant compliments which have precisely zero content. I defy anyone to say what Moldbug’s 2,600 word article means.

I’d like to write full responses to the two, but lack the energy right now. My purpose would not be to pursue the subject of myself, but to illustrate a “conservative” mindset and writing style that have become disturbingly dominant in certain quarters, as people of approximately conservative disposition have become so alienated from contemporary reality that they have given up on making sense of the world themselves, or on seeking a better and truer way. All they desire is to express their sense of superiority to the existing order of things, and they do this by spinning out whatever nonsense they feel like. And if they spin out the nonsense with enough verbal energy and pseudo-conceptual flair, they will find a devoted readership who feel that they share the writer’s superiority. It is very decadent.

- end of initial entry -

Joe H. writes:

The point I think Moldbug was trying to make was a reiteration of something John Derbyshire (an even more nihilistic conservative) made when quoting Jake Wallis Simons, who said “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Church of England.” In other words, he was noting the unifying/ strengthening effect of Christianity he has witnessed at VFR, especially the comments from your well-wishers in recent days.

Still, it is hard to argue against your statement that the type of conservatism personified by Moldbug (or Derbyshire) is decadent. He carries on as if he had never read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” and I suspect he would prefer Faulkner to Hemingway. This use of copious verbiage as a smokescreen (to mask a lack of ideas) isn’t something I would like to associate with conservatives, but it is such a key weapon in the arsenal of “empty black suits” that it is hard to imagine someone like Cornell West (or even worse, Michael Eric Dyson) functioning without it.

February 22

Dan R. writes:

I once had hope for The American Conservative, but in a few short words you’ve nailed them well. Among their latest, incidentally, is an article by that stalwart conservative Jon Huntsman touting “gay marriage” as a conservative cause. I couldn’t even read it. It’s been a couple of years since I stopped subscribing. No regrets.

LA replies:

How can the editors, contributors, and commenters of TAC think of themselves as conservatives? Here in a nutshell is their thought process. The virtually sole political issue they care about is American involvement in the Mideast, and particularly our support for Israel. They hate Israel, reactively support its Muslim would-be destroyers, and want it to be destroyed. And this attitude they define as American conservatism. So, for example, Romney was marginally more supportive of Israel than was Obama, therefore the conservative position was to vote for Obama or at least refrain voting for Romney. Other issues they essentially don’t care about. For example, they see standard movement conservatives opposing homosexual “marriage.” But those same conservatives also support Israel. So supporting homosexual “marriage” is a way of sticking it to pro-Israel conservatives. Anti-Israelism—along with opposition to any U.S. military and political involvement in the Mideast that might benefit Israel—is the totality of their polical being. You will see some of this attitude reflected in the readers’ comments following McConnell’s article about me.

You will also see it much more fully expressed in the October 31, 2012 TAC election symposium. It’s beyond appalling. There is not a single participant who engaged in anything like a mature and responsible thought process about the election, about which president which, on balance would be better for the country. Their whole attitute is, “I don’t like anything, everything’s screwed up, and I don’t give a damn.” To repeat what I said above, these “conservatives” are so alienated from contemporary reality that they have given up the effort to make to sense of the world or to say what’s good or bad, better or worse. They are “intellectuals” who write essentially in the manner resentful adolescent punks.

I wrote up notes on the symposium last November but didn’t post it. I will try do so later today.

Sam writes:

You and Joe H. are spot-on in your assessment of Moldbug. I liken his intellectual style to a gunman who fires off one magazine after another, while aiming in the general direction of some target, and hitting that target maybe once if it all. Reading him is almost never worth the effort.

Sam continues:

Oh dear. Having now read the essay it is even worse than I could have imagined. When he gets to religion, he simply embarrasses himself as he commits one philosophical blunder after another. (e.g. imagining that God is some kind of superfluous empirical posit like Santa Clause or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (To make this mistake is to fail to understand what the classic proofs for God’s existence even were and what a philosophical mode of argumentation is.) I could go on, but never have I read someone who said so little, about so many things, using so many words.

James P. writes:

McConnell’s characterization of you is insultingly stupid and intellectually incoherent. Essentially, it is vapid name-calling unworthy of a response.

Timothy A. writes:

That short piece by Scott McConnell manages to squeeze in both real ignorance (he admits he doesn’t know Evola and Brasillach and proves it by comparing you to them) and feigned ignorance (pretending that he isn’t certain about your religious background).

LA replies:

I’ve known McConnell personally since 1989. He knows I’m a Jew, or rather of Jewish background. Why would he pretend not to know? I think it’s just another a symptom of his lostness and detachment from reality.

Dan R. writes:

You and I had a short discussion about The American Conservative election symposium at the time. Of course, anything in more detail would be eagerly awaited.

Leonard D. writes:

I think McConnell is correct in perceiving your “radical right-wing disillusion with post-millennial America.” You are, by the standards of post-millennial America, radical. And you certainly have been disillusioned, especially over this past year as you have come to realize that it is not our America, it is the liberals’.

As for Moldbug’s piece, I am not sure he would argue with the label “decadent.” He is a poet and loves to languish in words. I do think, though, that there is content to Moldbug’s piece. At least he understands your motives, whereas McConnell cannot grasp them. To McConnell, you are motivated by hate: “hatred … was the force driving his work.” This is the standard materialist dismissal of any opposition based on standards; if you are against gay marriage it can only be because you hate homosexuals, because there are no standards exterior to man. (I don’t understand why many people cannot seem to grasp that other people really do believe what they say they believe.)

By contrast, to Moldbug, “Lawrence Auster is a servant of God,” where “God,” to him, is “a shorthand for the superhuman and perfect, for infinite wisdom and intelligence.” I think this admirably captures your motivations in writing the labor of love that is VFR for so long, and in such times as these. Certainly it cannot have been for the money, the fame, or the women! And Moldbug sees a tragedy about you, in that you are a “leader” in an age that will have no leaders.

But the article is more than the above encomia to you. Certainly I think Moldbug wishes to praise what he admires in you [LA replies: But what does he admire in me? Also, he sent me his article with a note, “I’ve learned an enormous amount from you.” What is the tiniest evidence in his writings that he’s learned anything from me?], but there is more there than that; his point is a larger one than just your situation within modernity. Rather, the piece is a meditation about character, and a strange atheistic apologetic for Christianity. Moldbug is telling us: kingship is more than just domination; it also requires submission. Kingship requires faith: “It is impossible to imagine a king who does not serve the King of Kings. Or rather, if we imagine one, we find ourselves looking for other words, pejorative ones—like “dictator.” … It strikes me as quite implausible that when our dark age ends and the kings return, if ever, it will be under any banner but the Cross.” To understand this fully, you have to understand that to Moldbug the return of kingship is a highly desirable thing. Thus we see a strange thing: an atheist arguing that Christianity is necessary for his grand political project.

Of course there’s more to Moldbug’s article than my brief sketch above. I cannot fully state its meaning. 2600 words do not summarize into three paragraphs. Certainly the ideas I sketch above are there, and form the skeleton of the piece; but there’s more to it. I don’t think a writer has to be brief or plainspoken to create powerful writing. Let me suggest that there should be room on the right for poets as well as plain-speakers.

LA replies:

Well, perhaps you will get me to re-read the piece to see if it’s not as meaningless and worthless as I thought. Thank you for your perceptive angle on it. But still, as commenter Sam said, even if there happens to be some bit of valid substance in the piece, is it worth wading through 2,600 outrageously meandering words to get to get to that bit?

LA writes:

With McConnell’s statement, “[Auster’s] hatred of modernity, multiculturalism, the decline of traditional patterns of behavior in the West was the force driving his work,” we can now safely say that McConnell has passed entirely over to liberalism. The standard liberal view of conservatives or traditionalists is that they are haters. All their opposition to liberal positions comes from “hate.” Since liberalism is identical with the good, opposition to liberalism can only have bad or pathological motives.

McConnell has always been such a substanceless, shifting, formless man (except for his one constant of obsessive anti-Israelism), his positions dictated by momentary adherences or feelings or even job situations (for example, he was pro-Israel when he was editorial page editor of the New York Post, though, as he told me afterward, he was really pro-Palestinian and concealed it), he is like Bertolucci’s Conformist. If America became a Communist regime, I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed on as an apparatchik. Or, short of that, now that he’s no longer editor of TAC, perhaps he will take a job at the Southern Poverty Law Center cataloguing conservative hate groups.

Gintas writes:

I haven’t wasted my time with TAC for a long time. So today, I have. I looked at the John Huntsman article at TAC about “equality” in marriage. Equality, that bedrock principle of conservatism! Huntsman’s piece is just another utilitarian “how the Republicans need to move leftward to get votes” piece. He could have said the same thing in favor of amnesty, or of anything. He is a big-time Republican politician, so his guiding light is “how to get more votes by moving leftward.” So TAC rolls that out as a headline piece; I know I can safely continue ignoring TAC.

Moldbug is an intellectual popinjay. How can anyone take him seriously when he is so flippant about weighty subjects? For example, God. The man is drowning in his own verbiage. Reading him drains the vitality out of me.

Buck writes:

I read Moldbug’s piece as an insult. Greatness? I believe that Moldbug subjects the question of your greatness to ridicule.

Jesus Christ obviously existed when and where He is said to have existed. There are thousands of references to Jesus in the Antiquities, many are non-religious historical references. Further along in his piece Moldbug makes a direct, unqualified reference to Socrates, as if the existence of an actual, real life Socrates is never a question. There is less evidence that the “useful” Socrates was more than a literary device, than the overwhelming evidence of a living Jesus Christ that walked this Earth.

I think he insults Lawrence Auster. His tolerance and false deference to faith belittles Christians with an “ignorance is bliss,” or “I know he is a devout Christian; and there’s nothing wrong with that!” slight of words. He hints at a pretense to almost wishing to be relieved of his heavy burden of secular brilliance by a never-going-to-happen chance fall into faith. But, he will soldier on, though trapped in his chosen milieu of secular humanism. He is back-handedly ridiculing Lawrence and Christians with his fake lament and his lip service to the divine. Rock, paper, scissors. He sounds almost like a pensive victim who feels imprisoned in a superior secular intelligence, but that we can nevertheless rely on him to dependably carry on.

LA replies:

It was also insulting that he refers to my “greatness,” then instantly belittles me when he says that I have stood on the shoulders of dwarfs. I have not stood on the shoulders of dwarfs. In my modest and limited way, I have stood on the shoulders of the likes of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, George Washington, Irving Babbitt, W.B. Yeats, C.S. Lewis, Eric Voegelin, Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose, James Kalb, and other first rate men. Moldbug for whatever reason likes me, and wants to maintain some kind of admiration toward me, but because of his profoundly perverse and distorted mind, he can only end by trashing me and any good I may represent. I would rather not have his praise, unless he first undergoes a change of mind, also known as repentance.

Another point: his idea that my clarity derives entirely from Christian belief is unbalanced and exaggerated, a typical incomplete theory of a secular intellectual. To the extent I have clarity, it comes from the core of the Western tradition, both philosophical and Christian: Reason and Revelation, Athens and Jerusalem.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

I have to object to Leonard D.’s defense of Moldbug’s impenetrable verbosity on the grounds that, “He is a poet and loves to languish in words.” Languishing in words is precisely what a poet should not do. I would expect a poet to say much with few words, not the inverse. It may well be true that Moldbug would not object to the accusation of decadence. However, by the time he was finished not objecting, you would be hard pressed to discern whether, in fact, he objected.

It all seems hardly worth the effort, though I have nothing particularly against Moldbug and wish him well.

LA replies:

Moldbug is a nice person, I’ve always liked him, and he’s always maintained friendly relations with me notwithstanding my repeated criticisms of him.

Sam writes:

I concur with Buck’s comment. Moldbug is trying to damn you with faint praise. He is trying to insinuate that you are a one-eyed man in the land of the blind. This is quite rich, at least to my mind, because I think so lowly of Moldbug and his vapid, self-indulgent prose. He is a philosophical ignoramus and he is never content to express himself in 300 words when 2,900 would suffice. I have never understood his appeal to the reactionary mind. But, to the extent that he wrote that piece with the intent of actually expressing an idea as opposed to simply stringing self-gratifying words and phrases together, I would say ignore it.

LA replies:

I gave my explanation of his appeal to the reactionary mind earlier. The reactionary mind has turned off on reality. Its only pleasure, consolation, and release is a verbal self-indulgence which imagines itself so much higher and more interesting than the alienating present. The readers of such writings “get off” on them like a drink or a drug. It’s pure decadence.

As for damning with me with faint praise, it’s worse than that. Moldbug is incapable of sincerity. What kind of a man writes an article entitled “The Greatness of John Smith,” a supposed tribute to Smith who happens to be mortally ill, then immediately proceeds to tear apart the idea of Smith’s greatness and trashes the idea of greatness itself, because, after all, no greatness could possibly exist in the post-1600 period (the last five hundred years) in which Moldbug has invested such contempt? Moldbug not only has no character, he not only is hopelessly confused, but he is drunkenly infatuated with his confusions and mercilessly imposes them on his readership. I have no hard feelings against him as a person, but as a writer he is unreadable and worthless.

`Leonard D. writes:

I cannot say what Mencius Moldbug has learned from you. I do not know when he first started reading you, although it was before he started his own blog.

I can say, though, what he says he admires in you. I already mentioned two things in my first letter: first, that you are a “servant of God,” meaning a truthseeker (and more), which is exactly what Mencius seeks to be.
[LA replies: I don’t think so at all.] Indeed I think he half-wishes he did have faith in God also; it’s just that he does not. And second, that you are a “leader.” We see this in all the letters you have of people thanking you for your intellectual leadership. In addition he mentions two things I didn’t mention earlier. First, he thinks you are writing the truth about our time: “Do you want to read the true story of the early 21st … ? Find the VFR archive.” Second, that he admires how you are dealing with your current plight: “the strength and honor with which Auster approaches death”. This strikes just about everyone, I think.

As for whether one likes Moldbug or not, that seems to me mostly personal taste. I enjoy his writing both for content and form. I enjoy the digressions and wordplay, the illustrative stories, etc. I always find the accusation of being long-winded to be missing the point. If you like something, why wouldn’t you want more of it, rather than less? To me long Moldbug is good Moldbug because I can enjoy it that much longer. I might point to the existence of the novel. Most people read a novel from time to time. And what is that if not languishing in words?

Allan T. writes:

Mencius Moldbug occasionally does have some interesting insights but his ideology insofar as it is worth discussing essentially is ‘scientific’ materialism which puts him closer to Karl Marx than to any conservative or ‘reactionary’ position.

I was eager to read his article about you but it left me very disappointed.

It is silly and juvenile.

Spencer Warren writes:

Last evening I submitted a comment to the TAC discussion forum which was stiffed. I wrote that McConnell’s entry and some of the comments were in very bad taste. I added that he and the commenters evidently have no understanding of charity and graciousness, which are, of course, traditional virtues.

How crude and vulgar the whole thing is. It could just as well have been published by some liberal or neo-Marxist blog. And that is just the point, isn’t it, the reason we traditionalists are arrayed against all the rest - - leftists and “conservatives.”

February 23

LA writes:

Based on the first paragraph of McConnell’s article, you would think that I am primarily a writer about Israel. In fact I hardly ever write about Israel. But I do have a clear position on Israel that I’ve steadily reiterated over the years: (a) Israel has the right to exist; (b) Israel has the right to defend itself; and (c) and if Israel is to survive for the long term, it needs to remove all Muslims from West of the Jordan, as laid out in a seminal ten year old article by Robert Locke at VDare, which got Locke expelled from TAC by McConnell.

Of course McConnell has the right to disagree with my position on transfer, which is (of course) extreme by today’s standards, as many of my key positions on a variety of issues are extreme—totally off the chart—by the evil standards of today’s liberal-dominated world. He also has the right to disagree with my position that Israel has the right to exist, which he does disagree with. But still, the way he (falsely) portrays me as a writer fixated on Israel, as a person who is even somehow hankering to move to Israel and become a Meir Kahane (which he suggests I would do if, whoops, as he also acknowledges, I weren’t too much of an American and a Christian to boot!), is simply a symptom of his own actual fixation on Israel. I repeat: reactive hostility to Israel and to Jewish neocons has has been the driving force of McConnell’s intellectual life and political beliefs since the late 1990s. One can fairly say (and I have previously demonstrated it) that McConnell has no rational intellectual life. He has an emotional hostility to Israel, and all his other political thoughts array themselves around that animus. So, naturally, given that I strongly defend Israel’s right to exist and unmercifully condemn those who seek to destroy Israel or support those who are trying to destroy it, my pro-Israel position would be in McConnell’s mind by far the most salient thing about me.

At the same time, McConnell’s first paragraph on me is so amazingly weird, incorrect, and incoherent that it deserves to be quoted in full:

Here Larry Auster faces terminal cancer with courage and serenity. Many in the paleocon universe have crossed paths with Auster, a talented writer and disputationist who characteristically began from conservative premises and pushed them to extremist conclusions. At this stage I think his views might be described as some sort of blend of Meir Kahane and Sam Francis, if that were possible. He is, naturally, a foe and frequent critic of TAC, which has nothing Kahanist (and quite little of Sam Francis) about it. His hatred of modernity, multiculturalism, the decline of traditional patterns of behavior in the West was the force driving his work. I suspect by sensibility he could be grouped with various European fascist intellectuals—figures like Robert Brasillach or Julius Evola come to mind, though I am not especially familiar with them, but of course the latter were anti-Semitic and Auster is (I believe) ethnically Jewish and a fairly passionate right-wing Zionist. The sole country in which most of Auster’s views would be mainstream today is Israel, but he was probably too much of an American to emigrate. And if I understand correctly, he converted to Christianity some years ago, which would probably complicate his aliyah.

This remarkable text deserves to be processed in the Austerizer. Maybe later.

Mencius Moldbug writes:

Larry, it seems only a higher power will stop you from misquoting me! Not that the error, of course, isn’t pardonable, but I didn’t write that you’d stood on the shoulders of dwarves. I wrote that you’ve stood on the toes of dwarves—referring not to your predecessors, but your competitors, contemporary right-wing pundits.

Surely you can’t argue that this is anything but an accurate description of your relationship to, say, the National Review stable. Even dwarves do not like being exceeded. Nobody likes having their toes stood on. The only problem is that it’s all too easy to be the tallest man in an age of dwarves.

LA replies:

Here is the first paragraph of your article, which you entitled “The greatness of Lawrence Auster”:

Greatness? I don’t know that anyone can really get away with the word in 2013. What can greatness mean in a fourth-rate world? In a fourth-rate world, the second-rate look great. Worse, they feel great. After all, they stand head and shoulders above their own age. So why grow further? Can we say that a Lawrence Auster saw farther, because he stood on the toes of dwarves?

Whether the word was shoulders or toes, my point still holds. You start off with an extravagant compliment of me, then you immediately undercut and subvert it. Why call someone great, if you are going to deny the possibility of greatness, at least in our time, and if you are going to reduce that person’s achievement to standing on the toes of dwarfs, as though the main thing I have done is criticize the chestless wonders at National Review rather than build a significant body of thought (which, by the way, you say nothing about in your 2,600 word article)?

As I said, you’re a nice person and I like you. The fact that you remain friendly to me notwithstanding my frankly brutal criticisms of your writings speaks very well of you. Nevertheless, you are incapable of intellectual and moral sincerity. The reason? You have too many programs going on your head, and they wildly contradict each other, and you don’t see that that’s a problem and that the contradictions need to be resolved.

Mencius replies:

At the beginning of my essay I offered this theory that all you’d done is stand up to the chestless wonders, which we agree is no great feat. But I offered it only to refute it. Or at least condemn it. Yes, sure, probably in too many words.

My point was really that the distinguishing feature of your work is this refusal to succeed by being second-rate among the fourth-rate. You have achieved this by being a first-rate judge, i.e., a ruthless judge, of your own work. You therefore cannot help but judge everyone by this standard. [LA replies: I think this is true.] Which greatly annoys even the successful second-rate, let alone the third and fourth. But your commitment to a higher standard is so strong that you are willing to accept the social, even economic, consequences of … well, of standing on the toes of dwarves.

An ordinary man can stand on the toes of dwarves. So can a giant—which angers the dwarves all the more, of course.

LA replies:

Thank you for saying that. But this doesn’t change my (and others’) criticisms of your article. You don’t seem to see the problem, that you highly praised me, and then immediately proceeded to diminish me rather severely. You’re wildly undisciplined intelletually, and you indulge too many things in your head to communicate things sincerely and consistently.

February 24

Sam writes:

Moldbug’s reply to you, and to our comments about him, serves further to illustrate the fact that he is a bad writer and a sloppy thinker.

He writes: “Larry, it seems only a higher power will stop you from misquoting me! Not that the error, of course, isn’t pardonable, but I didn’t write that you’d stood on the shoulders of dwarves. I wrote that you’ve stood on the toes of dwarves—referring not to your predecessors, but your competitors, contemporary right-wing pundits.”

Moldbug thinks he is being really clever in his initial essay by appropriating a variant Isaac Newton’s famous statement: “If I have seen further than others, it is only because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.”

Now, by “giants,” Newton is referring to those past scientists and philosophers whose intellectual contributions to humanity made his own discoveries possible. Hence, Newton is referring to the fact that he could not have done what he did unless there were other intellects who came before him and who contributed to his intellectual formation and who made his scientific breakthroughs possible.

Moldbug, in his use of that phrase, does not mean what Newton meant. He isn’t really talking about how there are no intellects upon which we can now “stand,” nor does he give any significance to the distinction between shoulders and toes as extensions of Newton’s rhetorical trope. He isn’t paying attention to what his words and phrases actually mean, he is just writing things that sound good to him. Thus, when he references the “shoulders of giants” phrase and tries to contrast it with is “toes” phrase, he isn’t even trying to express an idea; he is just appropriating the rhetorical power of a commonly understood phrase so that he can drive home one of his usual tropes: “Modernity just stinks, there are no smart people anymore” “Modernity just stinks, there are no great men anymore” and etc, and etc.

And this ties in with the fact, alluded to earlier, that Moldbug’s writings are nothing more than reactionary mental pornography. They go nowhere, they express no ideas, they cop an adversarial affect but tell us no truths. With respect to Mencius Moldbug, there is no “there” there.

Lenny L. writes (Feb. 22):

McConnell was a straightforward neocon through the 1980s and ’90s. He wrote for Commentary and later became the editorial page editor of the New York Post. After the Puerto Rican Day Parade wilding incidents took place in June 2000, McConnell wrote a scathing editorial for the Post that not only condemned the attacks but also noted the numerous cultural shortcomings of the Puerto Rican community in New York. That politically incorrect editorial got him fired and led him to become extremely hostile to the neocons because none of them came to his defense. He then became fixated on attacking Israel as a way of getting back at the Commentary crowd. Israel bashing has now become his primary activity.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 21, 2013 08:32 PM | Send

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