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The Conservative Tradition

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 20 years ago, in 2004, on the World Wide Web.

Isn’t it great to know that the intellectual bodyguard of the party currently in power in Washington stands for limited government and individual liberty? So much so that when Ted Kennedy–one of their most hated opponents, but also a man a man whose presence on an aeroplane poses no threat to anyone else–is prevented from boarding a plane because of a secret, unaccountable, government no-fly list forced on private airline companies by the fiat of the Executive Branch of government, and which has been repeatedly used in acts of political harassment, one can certainly count on them to make a bold, principled denunciation of this shameless invasion on civil liberties by a overbearing government. For example, here’s National Review Online on the incident:

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE [Steve Hayward]

Ted Kennedy on the no-fly list? Supply your own punchline.

Posted at 08:12 PM

Ho, ho, ho. Nor is this the first time that American conservatism has extended this sort of charity towards Mr. Kennedy:

So, I ask the question – is Senator Kennedy a traitor who says things which give aid and comfort to the enemy, or is he just plain and simple stupid? There are no other options on this – pick one, or the other.

Let us be clear about this — there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the liberation of Iraq; about whether or not we should have gone in, and about the manner in which we went in, and about how we have performed since we went in; there are, however, no legitimate criticisms to be raised about the reason we went in, nor can there be any legitimate point for an American to make other than that we should be doing more to win this fight. To criticise the reasons we went in and/or to do anything which indicates an unwillingness to see this thing through to final victory is the statement of a fool, or a traitor. No two ways about it.

We’ve given the left a pass long enough — its [sic] time for those who are of leftwing opinion to make their final call: which side of the river are you on? If you’re on America’s side, then you want total and overwhelming US victory — and just to really spell it out; this means that our enemies are dead or begging for mercy. I challenge you — choose, and let you be known for what you are by what you choose — patriot, or traitor.

— Blockheads for Bush 2004/04/09: Is this treason, or stupidity?

I have to disagree, though, with Jeffrey Tucker’s suggestion that this sort of good-hearted charity and principled defense of liberty is a new trend in modern-day conservatism. It is actually a long-standing tradition of the Right, from the Old Right’s defense of peace and prosperity for all:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…. All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.

— Senator James Eastland, addressing a rally of the White Citizens Council in 1956

… to the vigorous defense of liberty and principled opposition to all forms of invasive power by the leading lights of the New Right, such as the folks behind the National Review:

the thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security, … we have to accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores…

And if they deem Soviet power a menace to our freedom (as I happen to), they will have to support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant of centralization of power in Washington — Even with Truman at the reins of it all.

–William F. Buckley, The Commonweal, 25 January 1952

Thank God Above for the Right: they’ve been staunch defenders of an orderly freedom for lo these many years. And by orderly freedom, of course, I mean the freedom to take orders from an all-powerful righteous government. Or else.

Further reading

7 replies to The Conservative Tradition Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Mark Noonan

    So, what is your answer to the challenge? Which side of the river are you on? Do you want complete American victory in Iraq, or are you of another opinion?

  2. Sergio M�ndez

    Change the words “American” and “Iraq” above for “German” and “Poland”, imagine yourself in 1939, and what do you have?

  3. Mark Noonan


    What I have if I were to do that is a conversation with a completely uneducated person.

    And, I thought as much – don’t have the guts to come out and say what you are.

  4. Sergio M�ndez


    You presume to know to much about my education. But I wonder about yours when you ignore that the same kind of rethoric you are using today to call anybody who disagrees with your hero Mr Bush, was used over and over by totalitarian regimes all over the world in the last century.

  5. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Whose Side Are You On?

    In his comments on my post yesterday, Mark Noonan asks what my answer to his challenge is—to wit: We’ve given the left a pass long…

  6. Rad Geek

    I’ve already given the bulk of my reply to Mark’s direct question elsewhere; I do, though, want to take a moment to point out that whatever one thinks of Mr. Kennedy’s political opinions, the mere fact that he expresses them could not possibly constitute an offense under the law of treason, and it could not possibly justify using the violent power of the State to assault him. Conservatives who claim to favor limited government, private property rights, and individual liberty should acknowledge this; instead it seems that at least some of them prefer to accuse him of federal crimes for dissenting from the President, and others to take glib humor from the schadenfreude of him being detained and harassed under a secret and completely unaccountable “no-fly list” forced on private enterprises by the Executive branch of the federal government. I do not know where Mr. Noonan stands (although his commentary in BfB is not promising); but I do know where the folks at National Review stand, and where (as Jeffrey Tucker discusses admirably in his article) the leading lights of the Right stand generally.

    Perhaps this means that the Right is as corruptible by power as anyone else–that is the moral that some libertarians, for example, have taken. But I think the historical record shows that violence and domination are part and parcel of the ideology of the Right, and of conservative thought (although these are not necessarily the same thing); and that they have been since the inception of these tendencies. Hence the post on “the conservative tradition.” (If you really want to dig deeper, we can move onward back to the origins of the French Right and of English conservatism during the period of the French Revolution; the record only gets more bleak the further back you go.)

    That was, more or less, the point of the post; and it is a point that is not touched upon by Mark’s questions. Sniping over whether Mr. Kennedy is right or wrong does not quite touch directly on the issue of how using State violence against him could possibly be justified, or why conservatives allegedly standing for limited government and private property rights have not had the wit or the courage to denounce this invasion on individual liberty.

— 2005 —


    I happened across this, and love this site. It really socks it to the rectally-inward Neanderthals who claim to be for “true Americanism” – which is the reason that I chose to become an ex-American over thirty years ago.

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