Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Red Toryism lands in America

posted by Rod Dreher

Greetings from Georgetown, where we heard tonight the English public intellectual Philip Blond introduce Red Toryism to an American audience. Blond is an engaging speaker and and real optimist about the possibility of positive political change (at dinner tonight after the speech, it was encouraging for a pessimist like me to hear him speak so vigorously about how world-changing ideas can start small). He’s just received a huge launch in this country, courtesy of David Brooks’ Friday column. Excerpt:

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aide societies and self-organized associations.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.
The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.
The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

Is Red Toryism an idea whose time has come? I’ll be on a panel at Georgetown on Friday talking about it. More here later. It was a pleasure tonight, by the way, to meet several readers of this blog, as well as cultural avatars John Schwenkler and James Poulos, the latter of whom has shaved off his steampunk sideburns, alas for us all.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 5:08 am

I’m not sure about Red Toryism. But last night, the Georgetown Hoyas sure did have a devastating loss.

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Reaganite in NYC

posted March 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

Rod, thanks for sharing what David Brooks is saying today. However, I found equally interesting what he said on Wednesday about efforts by Obama and Pelosi to resort to the aptly-named “Slaughter Rule” to ram through this monstrous health bill:
“Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?”
“Yes, I know Republicans have used the deem and pass technique. It was terrible then. But those were smallish items. This is the largest piece of legislation in a generation and Pelosi wants to pass it without a vote. It’s unbelievable that people even talk about this with a straight face. Do they really think the American people are going to stand for this? Do they think it will really fool anybody if a Democratic House member goes back to his district and says, ‘I didn’t vote for the bill. I just voted for the amendments.’ Do they think all of America is insane?”

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posted March 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

There’s a reason why power continues to centralize no matter which movement is in charge. People who want power will fight to obtain it. Once they obtain power why would they reduce the power they fought to obtain?
To summarize, people who want power should under no circumstances be allowed to have it. *
To summarize the summary, people are a problem. *
* I plagiarized these last two lines from Douglas Adams.

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Franklin Evans

posted March 19, 2010 at 10:43 am

Non-Adams summary attempt: People got what they wanted at the expense and loss of what they needed.
For me, the aggressive hostility to local community embedded in the “revolutions” is the key. No extended family can provide the direct supports indicated (child care, help during financial distress, etc.) when its members are hundreds of miles apart from each other.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 11:03 am

Crusty is back, and grouchy as ever.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 11:20 am

Wasn’t “Deem and Pass” used for the Bush tax cuts? I wouldn’t call that smallish. Also I’m seeing a couple of statements about what the “Boys at Normandy” fought for. The New Deal/WWII generation expanded and redefined the role of government a lot more than Obama will ever do.

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Bryan Wandel

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

Rod- I was at the talk last night, and it seemed like Blond was talking about a kind of constitutionalism, in the broadest sense of constitution (and the broadest sense of political). On a philosophical point, do you think this is just another attempt to re-envision the whole state, rather than actually seeing the particulars in and of themselves? And on an economic point, what does it mean to adjust economic constitution to local/dispersed centers? I mean, how can change be made through government agency without being disruptive? Isn’t the solution more one of shifting consumer practices, in order to take into account the whole interaction of every transaction, rather than hiding in the anonymity of a faceless purchase? I can’t make the roundtable today, so forgive me if that is being discussed there.

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Charles Cosimano

posted March 19, 2010 at 11:31 am

It landed in America, ran into American political reality and crashed with a resounding thud.
Or is anyone really foolish enough to think that politicial idea with “Red” in it is going to get anywhere in the US?

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posted March 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Rod (and Bryan Wandel), isn’t what Blond’s talking about basically state-sponsored localism, because 1, in the UK conservatives are more comfortable with (I would say less hypocritical about) the state and 2, the state is the only conceivable entity with the power to go up against market forces and financial elites.
Of course there’s an inherent conflict in localism being planned (even in a facilitating kind of way) by the central powers. But more than that, current U.S. political tribalisms don’t allow for even subtle attempts to make it work.
I’m sure U.S. conservatives, as Brooks begins to do, will talk a lot about in the U.S. this will have to happen organically, without the use of state power. And there will be continued examples of it working — wherever localists are rich enough (ie Whole Foods type places) to cordon off their projects from hostile forces (such as the temptation to sell your property to the highest bidder once your local coop has made it an incredibly attractive place to live).
But beyond that, how does it happen in any meaningful way?

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posted March 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm

It strikes me that “Red Toryism” is another wrapping of Consolidationist expansion where we the people deal increasingly with huge monopolies in imperial corporations and imperialist civil government.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Red Toryism, any sort of Toryism, requires an elite that feels ‘noblesse oblige’ towards the people in its care. As a recent Brooks, channeling Sailer, column points out, much of our new elite feels no identification with or obligation toward hoi polloi.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm

“… any sort of Toryism, requires an that elite that feels ‘noblesse obilge’ elite … “.
Yes, and more generically, it requires competent and decent leaders – and average followers who are mature adults. [That isn’t the US].
Economically, there is the empirical issue regarding economies (or diseconomies) of scale. I think that it is more than a little foolish to turn a primarily analytical matter into an *ism*.
IOW, don’t confuse microeconomics with macroeconomics and political economy.
FWIW, when reading about Radical Orthodoxy, as an agnostic regarding that viewpoint, I prefer to read John Milbank.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 2:37 pm

If the American people are so adamantly against Obama’s health plan that any congressman voting for it risks his political career in this fall’s election, and if anything that is done by this Congress can be undone by the next, why are so many Republicans crying so hysterically about the immenent passage of health care? It would seem to me that bill is exactly what they would like to hang around every Democrat’s neck come November. Unless, of course, they are wrong about health care, the electorate, etc..

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posted March 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Or is anyone really foolish enough to think that politicial idea with “Red” in it is going to get anywhere in the US?
Like, uh, Red States vs. Blue States?
One of the most remarkable turns of the last couple decades is the appropriation of the color red by the right in America.

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Bryan Wandel

posted March 19, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Cannoneo- Your point is important. The issue doesn’t need to be (but could if we let it) state-sponsored localism. It is state-enabled localism. If there were advantages to locality, when the state didn’t have the power to infringe on it, it might seem that now that the state does have that power, the best thing for the state would be to keep hands-off. But the state isn’t the only entity capable of mutating and flattening community. Part of Blond’s point is that the state can help protect the community from invasive forces. It’s true that people are intuitively attracted to WalMart because there is an immediate benefit, but part of the goodness of local participation is that it creates pride and identity in the locale – at which point people might see the benefit to keeping out a WalMart, or not shopping there. Without the local polity, they would have lost the benefit, but not seen it. Bradley’s comment about economies of scale is also important here, because this is not a mere turnin-back-the-clock localism. There is an acceptance that state redistributive funding can help less-advantaged areas, but the administration of things is devolved to the locality, as far as possible. So I think it’s possible, and not really a contradiction for the local to be related to state in some way – financial dependence without administrative dependence. US Dept of Education is already doing this under Obama. The question I have is this: the UK seems more satisfied with slightly controversial dispensing of funding (such as going toward funding grad education of religious topics), but it might be harder in the US to do a no-strings-attached approach.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 4:43 pm

What was the “grouchy” as opposed to the merely clear-sighted and unsentimental part of my post?
The part where I said Blond is only “almost” always right?
; )

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posted March 19, 2010 at 7:06 pm

BobSF: “One of the most remarkable turns of the last couple decades is the appropriation of the color red by the right in America.”
“The terms “red states” and “blue states” came into use in 2000 to refer to those states of the United States whose residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party or Democratic Party presidential candidates, respectively. A blue state tends to vote for the Democratic Party, and a red state tends to vote for the Republican Party, although the colors were often reversed or different colors used before the 2000 election. According to The Washington Post, the terms were coined by television journalist Tim Russert during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election;[1] that was not the first election during which the news media used colored maps to graphically depict voter preferences in the various states, but it was the first time a standard color scheme took hold. Since 2000, usage of the term has been expanded to differentiate between states being typically liberal and those typically conservative.”
“This unofficial system of political colors used in the United States is the reverse of that in most other long-established democracies, where blue represents right-wing and conservative parties, while red represents left-wing and socialist parties.”
In other words the color red was foisted upon the right.

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Your Name

posted March 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm

In Britain, you get a country with rising crime,
Interesting. The Economist of a couple weeks ago, hardly a left-wing rag, had an article on just this thing. The crime rate and teen birth rate have been steadily dropping over the last few years. Beware. This is just a teabagger with a British accent. Remember “Compassionate Conservatism”? This is the same kind of guy. He’ll see a homeless person, and direct him to a tax shelter.

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Anti Dhimmi

posted March 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm

BobSF wrote:
Or is anyone really foolish enough to think that politicial idea with “Red” in it is going to get anywhere in the US?
Like, uh, Red States vs. Blue States?
One of the most remarkable turns of the last couple decades is the appropriation of the color red by the right in America.
What choice did they have? The news media decided a couple of elections back to switch colors on their big election-night maps. Go do a search on “election maps”, note that those from the 80’s and 90’s have Democratic party counties in red, Republican party counties in blue. That changes in the 2000’s. I don’t know if it was decided by the networks (CNN/ABC/CBS/NBC) or by some bureau that provides data to them. But it wasn’t a decision made by any large number of people. Folks in San Francisco didn’t decide to be “blue”, and those in Wyoming didn’t decide to be “red”. So far as I can tell the news media made that decision. Everyone else just got to go along.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Half Sigma on how the Tea Party movement is post-Marxist:
“Just as in the old days of Marx, the value creation classes are angry that the value of their labor is being transferred to other classes which don’t create any value themselves. The difference, today, is that their value is being transferred not only to the upper classes, but also to the lower classes.”
“People who feel that the current system of government is screwing them over are the ones who support a revolution. But there would be no point to a leftist revolution, because it’s leftist policies which are transferring value from the value creators. It’s notable that Obama was elected by the value transference classes. In addition to winning the vote of the poor, Obama also carried the majority of the upper value transference class. This is why the Tea Party movement is moving in the direction of supporting a libertarian revolution rather than a communist revolution. The communists are currently in power, and the upper value transference class voted for them.”
“Somewhere along the way, the Tea Party movement needs to figure out that the government they really want is not a pure libertarian government, but one in which the government prevents the rich from transferring value from the value creators while also not allowing the value to be transferred to the poor.”

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posted March 19, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hard to say how Blond’s pitch would work here in the U.S. I’d be interested in eharing more.
Part of the problem involves just starting a conversation about it. That requires maturity, a quality often lacking among some of our citizens, as Brooks is brave enough to point out in columns about economic issues. And then there’s the problem of some citizens misunderstanding or projecting conditions that don’t exist, as Bruce Bartlett recently pointed out at

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posted March 19, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Part of Blond’s point is that the state can help protect the community from invasive forces. It’s true that people are intuitively attracted to WalMart because there is an immediate benefit, but part of the goodness of local participation is that it creates pride and identity in the locale – at which point people might see the benefit to keeping out a WalMart, or not shopping there. Without the local polity, they would have lost the benefit, but not seen it.
I’m too tired to follow this discussion closely, but this paragraph reminded me of when I was living in New England in the 1990’s. (New England may be one of the last sections of the United States to retain some local flavor, though it is homogenizing fast. I notice it more and more every time I visit.) When I was living there, there were few Walmarts yet, and every time one was planned, the outcry and protests were *huge*. I don’t remember any appreciable local support for Walmart. An occasional positive letter to the editor, perhaps, but that’s about it. There was no local “controversy” — the only promoter of Walmart was Walmart. Yet come Walmart did, slowly but surely. There was nothing the local community could do to stop it. Except not shop there once it opened, of course. Plenty of people stayed away, but low prices are low prices, and once the store was there, many low and moderate income folks determined that they might as well get a good deal if the alternative was a big abandoned box with acres of empty parking lot surrounding it. Once the store is there, it’s harder to stand on principle with a tight budget. But that doesn’t mean the new Walmart shoppers were *asking* for the store in the first place.
This seems like exactly the kind of situation that Blond might argue the state could help with — giving a local community some control over what kind of business community it wants to have. I can foresee some trouble spots with that system, but I’m having trouble seeing how they are worse than the troubles with the current system.

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posted March 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I want to read more about this guy and his ideas. Naturally, they can’t transfer over directly. Our system of government is a rather unique animal. But Blond’s diagnosis: that both the left wing movement of the sixties AND the free market rampage since then have had a negative impact on both society and individuals. Our conservatives’ hope that the damages of the 60s can be repaired merely by emphasizing nuclear families is a little magical. Not everybody has the luxury of growing up in one, for one.
And, as Franklin Evans just put it, “…the aggressive hostility to local community embedded in the “revolutions” is the key. No extended family can provide the direct supports indicated (child care, help during financial distress, etc.) when its members are hundreds of miles apart from each other.”
Much more to be said, and thought through, but I am interested. I come up “Communitarian” when I take a 4 direction political compass map. This sort of political philosophy is right up my alley. In many respects, it’s the complete opposite of the Tea Party Conservatives. But I think it is likely to remain on the periphery. At least in the short run.

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posted March 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm

In other words the color red was foisted upon the right.
I recall no kicking and screaming, no outrage, no different practice from FauxNoose.
Republicans started embracing the color red long before Tim Russert or any media mavens switched it for them. Nancy Reagan LOVED the color red and wore it A LOT. Most Republican women followed suit.
Red is a very effective color in political campaigns. If you don’t think some focus groups at GOP HQ were involved, feel free to remain naive.

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posted March 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Yeah, I’m naive about the Stupid Party….
…hmmm, maybe the GOP did embrace the color red.

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posted March 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I’m terrifically glad to have this David Brooks column in the blog post. Thank you for this, I had heard something about it but hadn’t read it!

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Clare Krishan

posted March 20, 2010 at 10:00 pm

ditto stari_momak
does it not occur to David Brooks when he pens these clauses:
“the public has contempt for the political class and public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace” that they may be causal, but not in the time preference he chose, rather the reverse? Time Preference is key to understanding the political implications of monetary policy: the public are slowly cottoning on to (no, not to the quality of the pulp used to manufacture the paper upon which their currency is printed, rather the facade of smoke and mirrors called Federal Reserve notes ) the obfuscation being perpetrated IN THEIR NAME, ie public debt that is really a indentured servitude for the proles (the pro – letare are the “for begetting” social contingent, in Tory-speak, the “Breeders” those who take on the sacrifices of raising the next generation of your citizen neighbors (Papist-catholics are usually insinuated, but any full quiverr Evangelical can consider themselves honorary members of the much-maligned (even by our culture-wars-PTSD-afflicted bloghost)”pro-life” constituency.
Sorry if you want level-headed opinion out of the UK try this fish merchant instead
(who knows a thing or two about stormy seas: Toby Baxendale on QE (quantitative easing) which the former Bank of England governor Eddie George (my maiden name, but no relation, it is indecorous to speak ill of the dead) admitted to being complicit in []
Bryan Wandel:
“It’s true that people are intuitively attracted to WalMart because there is an immediate benefit, but part of the goodness of local participation is that it creates pride and identity in the locale – at which point people might see the benefit to keeping out a WalMart, or not shopping there” CORRECT – Germany is the only populace I know of who preferred their local retail options – even with inculturate greeters (not) Walmart just couldn’t crack the service mentality of German consumers, and pulled out[] The problem is that local American businesses have a weak service mentality (German retailers make a profit by closing at midday on the eve of the Sabbath to permit their citizen-workers to celebrate their Christian faith in the quite of their own homes. not tempted by 24-7 moloch, anathema to US-style secularists. But me and mine? Post-Cobra, we love Walmart! $4 prescriptions – more than 50% less than the co-pay on our fancy corporate prescription plan ! What I detest about them is their ra-ra motivational sectlike management motivation techniques, shop there? Yes. Work there? Not so much. I’m a libertarian y’see, solidarity is for sacredness of humanlife, subsidiarity and subjective marginality for everything else!

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posted March 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

Here’s the recent Brooks column stari_momak refers to:
And here’s Steve Sailer’s take on it:

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Franklin Evans

posted March 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I’m hoping — work permitting — to attend the public event at Villanova tomorrow evening. I’ll be the guy with (mostly) salt and pepper long hair in a ponytail, tall, glasses and a beard.
I’m a small-time (as in scope, not effort) social activist in the local sense. I follow, promote and lend my time to programs and efforts that support community.
My first comment above is why I do that. I grew up enjoying subtle but deeply influential elements of community that I’ve watched fade away since my childhood: Local businesses that set their supply and demand decisions according to their neighbors/customers, a default sense that all children were the responsibility of all adults (something we can see dying in the entire debate over education reform), and a local, intuitive investment in communal welfare that stated implicitly if almost never explicitly: I help others because they will help me when I need it.
The Walmart phenomenon underscores what has been lost, if also being a symptom of it. We see only the low prices, but no longer see that the “extra” money we spend comes back to us in ways that cannot be measured by the things we buy. It shows up in the stability of the local business which provides jobs for us and our children, the strength of local community expressed in how readily the next generation chooses to settle there, the stability of tax revenue that gives local government flexibility to do long-range planning and still respond to temporary needs.

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posted March 22, 2010 at 2:03 am

Any kind of Red Toryism that tries to make it in the political sphere will be stomped out by the Club for Growth and the talk-show machine that have taken over Republican primaries by turning Republican voters into zombies spouting the same cliches, believing the same pseudo-laissez faire rubbish.

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