Only Anarchists Are Really Conservative
[This article originally appeared in Liberty Watch.]
"It is only the anarchists who are really conservative."
The rank-and-file Republican will recoil at that statement, believing it to be unpatriotic, impractical and foolish. The Republicans' blind allegiance to the flag, the GOP and the state is unwavering: convenient for those who wish not to tax themselves with thinking.
Author Bill Kauffman, on the other hand, is a thinker, and writer of the first order. There may have been better books than Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists, published in 2006, but I didn't read them. In Look Homeward, Kauffman celebrates those uniquely American radicals who make this the country it is, and does it with humor, grace and keen perception.
My first memories of the author are from Liberty Magazine conferences where he spoke with sly wit and self-deprecating humor. His books are equally engaging. Kauffman has described his politics as "a blend of Catholic Worker, Old Right Libertarian, Yorker transcendentalist, and delirious localist." He has also called himself, "Jeffersonian," an "anarchist," a "cheerful enemy of the state," a "reactionary Friend of the Library," and a "peace-loving football fan."
For the uninitiated picking up Look Homeward, the author describes his anarchist as being "the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn." Those he honors are political radicals of all stripes, with each having a deep sense of conservative social values.
Kauffman continues to live in the county he grew up in, Genesee County in Upstate New York. One of the prominent themes of Look Homeward is that war displaces people from where they grew up. The state drafts young men and women to fight in far away lands, killing people they don't know. If the state doesn't call away young people they leave to work in cities, manning the factory jobs created by the wartime boom that soldiers are forced to leave behind. Nothing destroys families and communities like war.
"The die was cast," Kauffman writes. "For the next six decades (and God knows how many more to come), Iowans looked away from Sioux City and learned to pronounce, if not understand, Seoul, Vladivostock, Phnom Penh, Fallujah. [E. Bradford] Burns concludes: 'A significant victim of the world war was regionalism. The war eclipsed it.'"
Kauffman became an anarchist after working for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for two and half years. He came to Washington "a skeptically cheerful liberal," and "left quoting the mid-century anarchist Frank Chodorov." He opens the book with a chapter devoted to Eugene McCarthy and Moynihan, a chapter that includes a discussion of Robert Moses, the man who never learned to drive but was responsible for the highway system in New York with its 627 miles destroying and disrupting many neighborhoods.
Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and was a pacifist to boot. The Catholic workers held "an anarchist distrust of the state," according to Kauffman.
Insubordinate author Carolyn Chute is a self-taught novelist living in the Maine woods. She founded the 2nd Maine Militia, "the militia of love," and lives with a husband who is illiterate. Chute makes the point that left-leaning yuppies are worried about peasants in other countries while at the same time they "hate and fear the American working class and peasantry, especially when Jethro has a gun."
Kauffman laments that we Americans get older but no wiser. We are fat, dumb and happy, in what Robert Nisbet called "the heart of totalitarianism." Kauffman quotes Nisbet, "the masses; the vast aggregates who are never tortured, flogged, or imprisoned, or humiliated; who instead are cajoled, flattered, stimulated by the rulers; who are nonetheless relentlessly destroyed as human beings, ground down into mere shells of humanity."
But Kauffman is not ashamed to be an American. He contends that there are two Americas, the televised version that the rest of the world hates, and then there are the rest of us. Big government, big corporations and big media form the America that has "no heart, no soul, no connection to the thousand and one real Americans that produced Zora Neale Hurston and Jack Kerouac and Saint Dorothy Day and the Mighty Casey who has struck out."
Whatever your ideology, Bill Kauffman's words will touch your soul and make you long for his America.