One of the benefits of spending the past couple of weeks tracking down and reading Ron Paul’s old newsletters, interviewing his past and present associates and boning up on the history of libertarianism in America (see Reason editor Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, which I recommend) was learning about the strange history of libertarians and paleoconservatives (also explored today by Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez of Reason).
Daniel Larison is a prominent fixture in paleoconservative circles. He writes a regular column for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine and contributes to Buchanan crony Taki Theodoracopulos’s website. He also writes for the popular right-of-center blog The American Scene and is often cited by mainstream political bloggers and publications, including my own. He is no doubt an eloquent proponent of the paleoconservative cause.
He happens, in addition, to be a member in good standing (at least until 2005, when he celebrated ten years of membership) of the League of the South. A little background on the League of the South, which is the most prominent neo-Confederate group in America. The League describes itself as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” and “encourage[s] individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America.” For more on this merry band of would-be traitors, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2000 report on the League, which SPLC labeled a “hate group.”
Larison was stirred to write about his membership in the League after reading Commentary and contentions contributor Max Boot’s review of the pro-Confederate Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, the book Ron Paul recently blurbed. Larison challenges, shockingly, both Boot’s citizenship bona fides and his loyalty, writing of “the first-generation American (and I apply the term here very loosely) Boot.” Such charges of disloyalty, particularly against Jews (I have no idea if Max is Jewish, though he is a neoconservative, and there exists no such distinction for paleocons) is a common trope in paleoconservative polemics and Larison’s is no exception.
Larison’s open nostalgia for the Confederacy is a marvel to behold. While deriding the “freethinking, Yankee spirit and empire that has gone on to devastate so many other societies” he reveres “the humane and decent civilisation of the South that took root in the Southland.” As with most teary-eyed Confederate apologists, he makes no mention whatsoever of that “humane” civilization’s most inhumane practice, referring obliquely only to the fact that the Confederate-era South “was never without flaws.” And it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army who fought to restore America to its founding principles, but those who joined the internal rebellion against the United States, men “who rose to defend, first by the pen and oration and then by the sword, the true political inheritance of the Republic” (emphasis added).
If you can stomach it, read his last paragraph:
The defeat of the Confederacy, though the Confederate political experiment does not exhaust the richness of Southern culture and identity, was a defining moment when the United States took its steps towards the abyss of the monstrous centralised state, rootless society and decadent culture that we have today. In sum, the Confederacy represented much of the Old America that was swept away, and with it went everything meaningful about the constitutional republican system, and the degeneration of that system in the next hundred years was the logical and ultimately unstoppable result of Lincoln’s victory. All of this is in recognition that we are beholden to our ancestors for who we are, and we honour and remember their struggles and accomplishments not only because they can be established as reasonable, good and true but because they are the struggles and accomplishments of our people, who have made this land ours and sanctified it with their blood in defense against the wanton aggression of a barbarous tyranny.
A 1988 edition of the Ron Paul Political Report put this idea much more succinctly:
Beginning with the Civil War and continuing to the present day, advocates of big government have sought to transfer the American people’s loyalty away from Constitutional liberty and to the government.
Larison’s neoconfederate sympathies form a crucial component of the “Old Right” tradition from which Ron Paul emerges. Indeed, the notion that this man is a “libertarian” is laughable; he is an equal mix of the paranoid nativism of Ross Perot, the conspiracy theorizing of Lyndon LaRouche, and the crude populism of Pat Buchanan.
Readers may recall that during the 2000 presidential election, John McCain got himself into serious trouble for far more tenuous ties to neo-Confederates, ties that were also exposed thanks to an article in The New Republic. It’s not my intention to play Kosher Cop (apologies to Larison for using such an un-American word, but my paymasters in Tel Aviv enforce a very strict quota) for the conservative movement. And of course, diversity of political opinion — Larison provides immoderate commentary in spades — is vital in any democracy. But it is inexplicable to me how respectable conservatives make room for views as repellent and noxious as these.