Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Addendum to a Review of William F. Buckley's The Unmaking of a Mayor

Thanks to Mark Hemingway, my review of the William F. Buckley book, The Unmaking of a Mayor, appeared on The Federalist http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/28/what-william-f-buckley-can-teach-us-about-donald-trump/

As my review noted, 50 years later, Buckley’s chronicle of his run for mayor of New York City in 1965 hasn’t just held up, it’s gotten better. But with such a rich book there were things which I reluctantly left out or were cut by the editor. To wit:

1) The solution [I should’ve written an approach]”

Such an innocuous, throwaway line, and so much conservative goodness. The progressive offers up solutions, but the conservative knows that this is an illusion. We have only approaches with all the fallibility that that implies. When a bill begins with “comprehensive” we should be especially skeptical.

2) “The complex answer is, surely, that there is a sense of psychic composure when a man who is formally aligned on the other side of the politic fence endorses all of your major platforms: it has the effect of relieving you of all of the disquietude that the existence of alternative approaches to government necessarily pose.”

You begin to understand—almost sympathize—with the progressive loathing for conservatives. It isn’t just that we stand in the way of making the world a better place, we are constantly disturbing the peace. Or at least their peace.

3) [summary of candidates’ fiscal positions] “No responsible person could tell you what kind of taxes we’d need because of the uncertainty of the extent of federal and state aid – Abe Beame”

Another easy to miss item that is very telling; a) it’s refreshingly honest, b) it tells you how much New Yorkers have lost control over their own affairs in the national mania to centralize government.

4) “in the end we are all treated as categories”

Here, my commentary was cut, with malice aforethought, by the editor. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott having defined government directed to an end as enterprise association, noted that it transforms governing into a managerial activity. To direct and reward a large and disparate population requires simplifying assumptions. Hence, the attention to voting blocs and categorization of individuals that Buckley so rightly objects to.

And this, as well as arguments made for federalism and the rule of subsidiarity (also in the book) points to a problem in the conservative movement. It seems to me there is tendency to make arguments a step removed from the source. Our politics are increasingly centralized because they are increasingly Rationalist. Form follows function. A plea for return to federalism is directed at a symptom and leaves the disease untouched.

5) Two final, somewhat related, quotes:

“One always hopes that a serious reporter will seriously listen; and one is ofter disappointed.”

“Politics simply isn’t the place for making distinctions.”

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