Two Cheers for Tranzis

by Reihan

For John O’Sullivan, the central political conflict going forward will be that pitting transnational progressives, or Tranzis, against nationalist conservatives.

To sum up, Tranzi-ism is an ideology that extends regulation over the full range of human activity while exempting the regulators from democratic control by transferring governance from national democratic parliaments to unaccountable bureaucracies in independent agencies, the courts, and supra-national bodies.

This informs his subtle and smart view of Obama as a post-national figure, outlined in a recent National Review. As of yet, nationalist conservatives have failed to unite against Tranzi-ism, which, in O’Sullivan’s view, accounts for their weakness. I wonder if this gets it right, or if O’Sullivan is (mis)using a Euroskeptic lens to (mis)read the American political scene, and in particular the immigration question. To what extent can we disentangle anxiety over lawbreaking and disorder from a more systemic, ideological concern over American sovereignty? Because I share O’Sullivan’s hostility towards juristocracy, I find a lot to appreciate in his analysis. But I worry, perhaps more than he does, about the divorce between the political right and the transnational business class. O’Sullivan writes:

The first task for a serious conservatism is to de-mystify the unaccountable bureaucracies that are not only our enemies but also the enemies of the nation-state, religion, small independent businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs, families and married people, and patriotic and self-reliant citizens.

Earlier on, he explicitly identifies "senior managers in multinational corporations," glorified corporate bureaucrats, with the transnational progressives. This reminded me of Corey Robin’s "Endgame," in which he made a closely related observation. And it also reminded me of Shell’s fascinating Global Scenarios, which my friend Matt Frost sent to me a few days back. I’ve always loved scenario planning, from Russia 2010 to Peter Schwartz to Andy Marshall. The Scenarios offer a window into the multinational worldview.

The first of these “possible futures” is called Low Trust Globalisation. This is a legalistic world where the emphasis is on security and efficiency, even if at the expense of social cohesion.

The second, Open Doors, is a pragmatic world that emphasises social cohesion and efficiency, with the market providing “built-in” solutions to the crises of security and trust. The third, called Flags, is a dogmatic world where security and community values are emphasised at the expense of efficiency.

I think we can tell which scenario the good people at Shell like least. Nationalist conservatives can be dismissive of the "cosmocrats," and say good riddance to them. The trouble is that many of the "small independent businesses" and "aspiring entrepreneurs" share in at least some aspects of the Tranzi worldview. Assuming an antagonistic relationship between the transnational class and the patriotic and self-reliant risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In The Only Sustainable Edge, a terrific book with a terrible title, the authors argue that the offshoring and outsourcing are small parts of a much larger phenomenon they call "dynamic specialization." And "dynamic specialization," in turn, is aided by "productive friction," the process (roughly) by which firms learn from customers and competitors. At the risk of twisting the authors’ terms beyond recognition, the most open economies will get smarter and richer faster because they will benefit from productive friction. This applies to the global market for talent.

So while I share many of O’Sullivan’s reservations about the European Union, labor mobility is facilitating the creation of agglomerations of skill that will drive a great deal of growth. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for immigration reforms that are sensitive to cultural anxieties and wage pressures, but it does mean that the Tranzis aren’t always wrong. There is a way to reconcile these tendencies, but I’ll save that for later.

America’s Greatest Political Blogger?

by Reihan

It goes without saying that I think Andrew Sullivan is America’s Greatest Political Blogger, but I consider myself his loyal sidekick and stooge, so perhaps that doesn’t count. Who would come in second? I think a strong case can be made for Daniel Larison, a polymathic paleocon young fogey with a scintillating intellect and a scabrous wit. Larison is a great enthusiast for things unmodern and antimodern, he is a Byzantinist, and he is an enthusiastic believer in the virtues of the Old Confederacy. He doesn’t just want the United States out of Iraq — he’d like to see the United States splinter into a half-dozen or more pacifist agrarian republics. How’s that for anti-war? Suffice to say, I’m pretty sure he finds most of my interests, enthusiams, and allegiances more than a little insane. On top of that, I’m pretty sure he’d want my immigrant family to hightail it back to rural South Asia, where we could live a more authentic life of spinning khadi and worshipping Khali.

All this is to say that Daniel and I don’t always see eye to eye. For example, as I blog I am wearing a mammoth stovepipe hat modeled on that worn by Abraham Lincoln. But yes, anyway, I like to think I recognize a true talent when I see it, and Daniel is it. Recently Daniel moved his blog, Eunomia, over to the website of The American Conservative. I urge you to check it out, particularly if you think his ideological commitments sound absolutely insane. Just think: this guy studies the Byzantine empire for a living and he knows politics better than just about any professional journo. Antimodernist though he may be, Daniel reminds me of the many virtues of the Internet age.

I’d also recommend, in an entirely different vein, that you read Will Wilkinson, the yin to Larison’s yang and a person I’m convinced will become one of our most important public intellectuals. This used to be a minority view, but it seems the cat is out of the bag. My sense is that these two guys can’t stand each other on a visceral level, in no small part because each sees the other as the embodiment of much that is wrong with the world. I love them both, which is a testament to my utter incoherence.

Let me also abuse my privileges here by urging Brad Plumer to blog more. I am willing to raise money for a significant bounty of some kind if that’s what it takes.

A Tory For Obama

Jeffrey Hart, the ur-conservative, endorses Barack Obama:

Jeffrey Hart sat at his kitchen table in slippers, reading Barack Obama’s words aloud. The retired Dartmouth professor, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, wore on his shirt an artifact of the 1900 Republican presidential ticket — a McKinley-Roosevelt pin.

“I am not opposed to all wars,” Hart intoned, quoting a 2002 speech before the Illinois State Legislature in which Obama, then a state senator, had warned of the perils of invading Iraq. “I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Looking up from the page, Hart nodded his approval.

“Very Burkean,” he said, referring to the 18th century Irish political writer Edmund Burke, hailed by many as the founder of modern conservatism. “Prudential. A sense of history, and what we’re up against there.”

Limbaugh vs Conservatism

John Cole reminds us of some basic truths:

It sure would be nice to think that the base of the dwindling GOP is not as batshit insane as the nutters at the NRO, Red State, etc., but I have not seen much evidence of it. The thing that needs to be said, over and over, though, is that Rush Limbaugh and those guys simply aren’t conservatives. They just aren’t. Radically restructuring government to create an unaccountable executive is not conservative. Building a security apparatus that is designed to spy on citizens is not a conservative principle. Runaway spending and bloated budgets are not conservative ideas. Torture and permanent aggressive wars are not conservative principles. Fearmongering and keeping the electorate scared is not a conservative principle. And on and on.

Religion And Conservatism

Joe Carter criticizes what he calls "Sullivanism" – a form of conservatism he thinks is closer to Eric Cartman than Edmund Burke. He raises a lot of points. But his core case is that conservatism, in his view, cannot lose a sense of transcendent, revealed, objective truths in its relationship to society. This is the crux of the matter, and it is a very complicated question that I’ve been trying to figure out most of my adult life.

I’d respond as follows: I don’t think the kind of conservatism I favor denies the existence of objective moral truth. It denies our capacity to access it easily or without layer upon layer of error. My basic concern with Christianism is its conflation of religion and politics but also its erasure of the distinction between what is true for ever and what is true for humans in the practical here and now. This core distinction between theory and practice, between eternal truth and temporal politics, is, to my mind, the central contribution of conservatism as a political theory – and that is why fundamentalism is, in fact, the Tcs2 nemesis of conservatism, not its complement. The theory-practice distinction enables conservatism to resist both the rationalist problem-solution approach to politics and the absolutist idea that politics is about conforming a messy human world to unaltering divine Truth. It resists both liberal managerialism and fundamentalist Christianism.

But it’s not a denial of God, or an abolition of a moral order, let alone a dismissal of tradition as it has shaped us and our society. It is imbued with skepticism – not nihilism. And because Oakeshottian conservatives understand how blindly human beings live – blind as bats – the patterns of behavior and language and politics that we inherit actually become more important, not less. It’s all we know as a society – where we’ve been and how we got here. That’s the foundation for all social change, and sometimes it will mean radicalism and sometimes gradualism and sometimes pragmatism – and every decision is filtered through a prudential judgment that adjusts for the current moment and its perceived needs and intimations.

I don’t think this is a refutation of Burke; it’s actually an extrapolation of his message for a post-modern generation. And it acknowledges, in a way that the theoconservatism doesn’t, the profound shifts in human consciousness over the past century, the lessons of science and evolution, the success of the limited liberal state, and the threat of the fundamentalist psyche – Islamic and Christian – to Western freedom. This conservatism’s core interest is in protecting the remarkable freedom we in the West have achieved for such a short period of time in human history and pre-history. And in conserving that freedom – and in being vigilant against its many enemies, including those who come in the name of God and country – it is, in my view, the most authentic expression of the conservative temperament around.

I don’t expect a Huckabee supporter to find this persuasive, any more than I expect Huckabee himself to have grappled with any of these issues in any depth at all. But I certainly think its place within the American conservative conversation is as valid as any fundamentalist’s.

Touchy, Touchy

Jonah Goldberg has a very thin skin. But there are only so many hours in the day and it’s primary season and a discourse on the fascistic tendencies of left-liberalism in the early twentieth century is not that urgent a topic. I promise I’ll read the thing. And yes, of course, every author is envious of another author’s success. And I’m actually sympathetic to the notion of fascism’s leftist origins. Sounds about right to me. But airing a few obvious rejoinders is not exactly a mortal sin.

Meanwhile, I have a new book coming out! Alas, it isn’t called anything as catchy as "Liberal Fascism." In fact, it’s called

Intimations Pursued: The Voice Of Practice In The Conversation Of Michael Oakeshott.

While stocks last, heh. Actually, the burgeoning (okay, you need some context for that adjective) field of Oakeshott scholarship has spawned new interest in publications about the great man’s thinking. This book is my doctoral dissertation – eighteen years on. It’s about Oakeshott’s grappling with the philosophical place of practical wisdom within his own world of ideas. Only the third dissertation ever written on Oakeshott, and relying only on the work he authorized to be published, it’s now available for pre-order.

In his time and place, few dedicated themselves more thoroughly to the debunking of state power and the pretensions of liberal rationalism than Oakeshott. And he wasn’t doing it to make a buck either. If you’re interested in a very close reading of many of his more obscure writings, this book is for you!

Oh No!

I’m agreeing with Michelle Malkin:

I need a man. A man who can say “No.” A man who rejects Big Nanny government. A man who thinks being president doesn’t mean playing Santa Claus. A man who won’t panic in the face of economic pain. A man who won’t succumb to media-driven sob stories.

A man who can look voters, the media, and the Chicken Littles in Congress in the eye and say the three words no one wants to hear in Washington: Suck. It. Up.

Yeah, but look what happened to McCain in Michigan.

How “Left” Is Obama?


Ross takes me to task for downplaying Obama’s liberalism. That’s a little unfair for a blogger who wrote last May:

He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I’ve heard in my lifetime. As a conservative, I think he could be absolutely lethal to what’s left of the tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and small government that I find myself quixotically attached to.

I don’t expect the Democrats to be the party of limited government. But any reward for the Republicans after the massive expansion of government power and spending under Bush would be much more fatal. Because it would destroy even the potential for a party of limited government in the future – by ceding the GOP to spendthrift Christianists. So voting for Obama to punish the GOP and then hope for a revival of conservatism in the ashes doesn’t seem like such a contradiction to me. I find it staggering that commentators on the right who have said virtually nothing about Bush’s nanny-statism and fiscal irresponsibility these past few years start raising these issues immediately with Obama. Yes, Bill Bennett, I’m looking at you. I’m sorry but you have zero credibility on these matters. And neither do most of the Beltway Republican punditocracy.

I also just think that Obama is a pragmatic liberal. His judgments in the past have been largely practical and reasonable. He is not an ideologue. Nor is he an excessive partisan. Those qualities are admirable from a conservative point of view. As for Burkeanism, I agree it can be an amorphous concept. Because it allows for a great deal of lee-way for prudence to determine particular judgments in history, it allows for minimal change and maximal change within its boundaries. I don’t think this makes it meaningless as a concept. It is the way a society changes that Burke was interested in. He backed the huge change of the American revolution, for example. And all we’re talking about with Obama is a prudent response to an ill-begotten war, some measures to tackle a failing healthcare system and an attempt to tackle the emergent problem of climate change. And all in a spirit of national reconciliation. This is no Robespierre, Ross.

Ross claims there is still some space to the left of Bush. Sure – but much less than there was eight years ago. Put it this way: if a Democratic president had added $32 trillion to the next generation’s debt in eight years, if he’d bungled a war, if he’d abrogated habeas corpus indefinitely and authorized torture, do you think a Republican would be criticized as a leftist for wanting to withdraw troops, and extend healthcare insurance – without mandates – for more of the working poor?

Come off it. There are two possible solutions to GOP degeneracy: Obama and McCain. As of last week, there appeared only one: Obama.

(Photo: Getty.)

Frum’s Conservative Soul

Ross likes David’s new book. I haven’t read it, but the reviews suggest it has many proposals that seem eminently sensible to me. Frum explains:

My big concern at the moment is precisely that the radical rise in American economic inequality since 1980 – and the serious slowdown of midde-class income growth that has set in since 2000 – will tempt America to adopt quack economic ideas that will impoverish this country and do radical damage to the world economy.

My prescription for that – for raising middle-class incomes – involves universal (private-sector) health insurance, curtailment of unskilled immigration, greater subsidies to lower-middle-income saving, and tax reforms aimed at lightening the burden of the payroll tax rather than the income tax – and a bunch of other ideas that will alas cause my old colleagues at the Wall Street Journal editorial page to sputter and cough.