Reading the Reactionary Right on Foreign Policy
This post has an R rating, so if you're not ready for that, maybe skip it
I’ve never discussed this publicly, but I did my PhD at Catholic University of America (CUA)—by reputation a conservative, traditionalist school (long story).
I learned a great deal there, even though I’m not religious—and obviously don’t share their politics. CUA forced me to spent countless hours doing close readings of not just secular (Plato, Aristotle, Burke, Locke, Rousseau) and religious (Augustine, Aquinas) classics, but also the best conservative political interpretations of them.
I mention this because I see almost none of the deeply humanist and preservationist qualities of the conservatism I was exposed to in today’s conspiratorial, paranoid, Idiocracy version of conservatism.
There is, of course, a dark side to traditionalism in any form and I found its political implications incompatible with its own reverence for humanity and community. It also seemed to me fairly indifferent to the problems plaguing the real world. So I went a different way (again, long story).
But the high-minded, philosophically serious conservatism that I saw at CUA was something that socialists, social democrats, and progressives could have co-existed with—even find common cause with at a community level.
I don’t know where those conservatives have gone but the ones currently on the stage are fascists and bullies.
It’s not exactly breaking news that the Republican Party is full of demagogues, conspiracy theorists, fascist-adjacents, and people who manage to talk about the working class in ways that continue to serve ruling-class interests.
That’s no apology for the Democratic Party, mind you, but you just can’t compare the two. One party has a leadership that is slightly conservative, elitist, disdainful toward social movements, and totally unaccountable to anyone but donors. The other party is the GOP.
Yet, shockingly, very few people have thought seriously about the foreign policy implications of a party whose politicos openly triangulate among the interests of billionaires, the defense industry, QAnon, white nationalists, and Trump’s cult of personality. Gone are the Burkeans. To the extent any preservationism is going on, it’s efforts to preserve romantic, heroic, and historically problematic understandings of what America is and who gets to be inside that tent.
Fortunately, there have been a few people of sound mind and reasonable judgment who are dialled into the discomfiting mind-palace of reactionary—not just conservative—foreign policy.
Here’s who and what to read to catch up on a fast-moving space filled with dangerous ideas and bad-faith arguments.