Benjamin Wiker is no neo-con, nor does his book belong to that class of trendy, neo-con hit-pieces put out by the likes of Hannity, Beck, Levin, or Limbaugh. And for all the book’s merits (which are many), I have a serious criticism of Wiker that applies not just to him, but to all the would-be “conservatives” who follow in Russell Kirk’s footsteps. But first, the good:
This book sat on my shelf far longer than it should have. I thought it was a simplistic survey of ten books, so I put off reading it. Actually, it’s a book-length introduction to the “conservative” worldview; Wiker uses different men (and two women) to make his points, preferring to contrast conservative thought with liberalism.
I’m not going through all the different topics and people covered by Wiker, but I was happy to see him include the likes of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Chesterton in his line up. He also included Hilaire Belloc (who wrote: “The Servile State”). Additionally, I was unfamiliar with Voegelin and thought Wiker’s chapter covering his work was very helpful. He also covers F.A. Hayek, noting his Austrian economic influences and explaining away his atheism. I also enjoyed Wiker’s scouring of Ayn Rand. He points out how atrocious her personal life was, concluding that she was a pathological narcissist, whose contributions are ostensibly conservative, but fall tragically short of the mark.
In short (and this is my way of summing it up), Wiker says conservatives believe something like the following proposition:
“God and the universe, are too infinitely big for us to ever get a rational grasp of.”
One result of the truth of this premise is that mankind is most happiest in intimate social settings. We discover our world through the connections we make with others, most immediately, our families. Moving outward, we have tribes, then cities. This, says Aristotle, is the most basic human element. As other “conservatives” in Wiker’s list note, once society moves beyond the township (or the state level), it gets too big to be effectively managed without tyranny…but all that sort of analysis is built on the above mentioned premise.
I’ve had to learn this premise the hard way. I was reared in a Presbyterian tradition that values rational consistency and rigorously logical propositional relationships. God, it always seemed to me, was put on the autopsy table and dissected for analysis.
The real body of Christ isn’t on any autopsy table though. It’s in Heaven, at the right hand of the Father. Along with a friend of mine, I’m coming to have very negative thoughts about Calvinism and the Calvinists.
Wiker’s section on the Jerusalem Bible was worthwhile for helping foster a religiosity based not on rationalization, but on a heart-felt appreciation for the characters in the narrative. The Jerusalem Bible is translated from a literary perspective and helps the reader become immersed in Scripture as a story instead of as a polemical text, where the words are treated as raw data for building theological models.
This is all well and good, but what of my criticism?
Wiker constantly harps on Aristotle for his support of slavery and blindly praises Belloc for rejecting it, in both cases, without thorough analysis. Further, Wiker completely ignores the major contributions to conservative thought offered by the Southern agrarians (though he briefly mentions Richard Weaver in the first chapter). I don’t fault him for not covering the southerners, he only has so much space, after all; but, I suspect he’d have been more open to mentioning them had they not supported positions which would, had he mentioned them in a favorable light, hurt Wiker’s chances for publication.
And that gets me to my most pressing point:
Wiker, like most of the other paleo-conservatives, says a lot of great things, but never *ever* will he apply these to a particular people. It’s as if, on Wiker’s view, any group of people, from the Aztecs to the Mau Muas, could be “conservative” if only they hold to a certain few social practices and habits.
In this, he stands with Russell Kirk, Pat Buchanan, and all the other would-be conservatives who, nevertheless, are so dominated by the liberal elite, they can never admit to loving a particular people…white people.
Europeans are the great white elephants in all paleo-conservative living rooms…always present, but never mentioned.
I don’t want to be a “conservative” if I can’t conserve the people along with the habits.