Coming of age with The American Conservative

I must begin by thanking Jordan Bloom for the invitation to become a contributor to The Mitrailleuse. Some readers may know me from my intermittent blogging from about 2009 to 2011 for The American Conservative. Others might even know me for my frequent appearances in roughly the same period at Mondoweiss. And perhaps a few might know me for my first book that was released in 2011, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. In April, the book I’ve been at work on ever since will be released, The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History.

Introducing myself effectively is in many ways exceptionally timely this month with the demise of The New Republic. As an intellectually curious young person who came of age at virtually the very moment of the September 11 attacks, I learned to have a particular hatred for The New Republic at the tail end of its recently much-ballyhooed heyday. I’m mature enough now to have an appreciation for those who are lamenting the apparent demise of the public intellectual and their forum in political magazines as a matter of principle. But in all candor I remain blind to the greatness and romance surrounding TNR, and in particular Leon Wieseltier’s back-of-the-book.

And the reason for this, frankly, is because my adolescent romance for the life of the mind – from politics to literature to ideas – was with The American Conservative. I still remember well when I was 17, first seeing and reading the first issue in the magazine section of Borders at White Flint Mall; two institutions now joined in meeting their reward by TNR, which memorably blasted the premier of TAC as “Buchanan’s surefire flop” (only in the recent coverage did I realize that this was a tasteless reference to The Producers, in the company of their charming headline on the vindication of Iraq realists in 2004, “Springtime for Realism”).

Some background is in order: I was a Jewish kid from Bethesda, Maryland who got his GED as soon as he turned 16. I was in community college for the next two years at the same time I was actively pursuing a highly unstable brew of radical involvements on both the left and right, fancying myself some kind of journalist-revolutionary (like 12-year old Henry Hill, I was living in a fantasy). The critical point of departure for my intellectual journey was some time just after 9/11, as I was becoming enamored with Justin Raimondo, who proved a formative influence to be sure, and discovering that his seemingly half-crazed notion about the Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism was very much true – it turned out my father knew several of them through the Harvard Young People’s Socialist League (Elliott Abrams, Josh Muravchik, and Daniel Pipes well; Bill Kristol just slightly. Anyone curious as to why he didn’t become a neocon should read his recent book on new urbanism).

In other words, the much-storied New York Jewish intellectual tradition, that Carol Kane assured the young Alvy Singer was a wonderful cultural stereotype to be reduced to, was in many ways a birthright. And yet I fell in love with TAC. In that first year or two as America was being conquered by Iraq, I still had high hopes for the Green Party, and even on the eve of TAC’s premier was startled to see Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Cons” cover story at National Review and knowing there had to be a much, much, much better forum for this (by the time the book came out in 2006, I was of course well past recognizing that the typical figure covered in the book, if asked why they weren’t involved with the Green Party, would simply answer “because I like a steak every now and then”). When I was 18 and first living on my own, I subscribed to four magazines – The American Conservative, The Progressive, Chronicles, and an intriguingly semi-serious short-lived left-anarchist bi-monthly called Clamor.

I hardly need revisit the intellectual climate that surrounded the launching of the Iraq War, and why it was no contest between TAC and any more mainstream magazine – even the sincerely antiwar and often thoughtful liberals at The American Prospect could never stir the intellectual passions. Nor does a great deal need to be said here about what slowly but surely disillusioned me with the radical left, though to this day a large part of me is mystified as to why Bill Kauffman (or for that matter Jim Webb, at least in his career as a politician) is considered anything but a perfectly kosher man of the left. (more…)

Exit and human nature: The case of Llano del Rio

Going out to Llano
Llano del Rio
Try to find utopia
In the stucco grids and the tumbleweeds

You got to love that pear blossom
It’ll kill you just like possum
Have you been to the rock foundations?
Where it’s mostly known just for the speed

“Llano del Rio,” by Frank Black and the Catholics

Eighty-eight miles down the road to Sin City lies the rubble of a project the goal of which was to abolish sin itself. And every weekend, thousands of casino-bound travelers pass it by with the same attention they might give to an overheated vehicle on the side of the long and desolate highway. A sand-covered enigma with a history known only to the select few who choose to seek it out, the Llano del Rio colony is a testament to the “old, weird America,” as it has been dubbed—the America of messiahs and schmoozers, of apocalyptic pamphlets and fiery stump orations colored at once by both a starry-eyed realism and a pragmatic utopianism. If time is taken to plumb its depths, it is also a fascinating point of study for all those interested in the concept of political exit, and a sobering reminder of the need for any such exit to be grounded in a philosophical anthropology that views man as a fallen creature, bounded by the restrictions of his nature and limited in his pursuits on earth.


In 1913, Job Harriman was a tired and broken man. He was, in that year, the most popular socialist politician in California, to be sure, but a tired and broken man nonetheless. After a long and tumultuous political career that garnered him attention from around the world, Harriman possessed all the fame he would ever need; it was the victory—the inevitable victory prophesied by Marx—that was sorely lacking.

He made his first run for office in California’s 1898 gubernatorial race, as the Socialist Labor Party’s candidate for governor. Then in 1900, he entered the national stage by joining Eugene V. Deb’s presidential bid with the Social Democratic Party as his nominee for Vice President. Finally, in 1911, he ran for mayor of Los Angeles, in one of the most contentious and talked-about mayoral races in America up to that point, losing to incumbent candidate George Alexander by a smaller than usual margin.

And he would have won it, too, if the system hadn’t been rigged by the capitalists. You see, at the turn of the 20th century, the streets of Los Angeles were a bloody battleground in a war between the forces of capital and the forces of labor, with each side constantly trying to outdo the other in a series of covert and overt contests involving bribery, espionage, political machinations, and the occasional  stick of dynamite. Or at least that’s how Harriman saw things. As far as he was concerned, the business establishment had been out to destroy him from the very beginning. That is why he had been tricked into joining the defense team of the McNamara brothers, two of the union workers suspected to be involved in the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, and men who seemed clearly innocent, until they mysteriously confessed one day in a whimpering statement that reeked of blackmail. Before this confession of guilt, Harriman was poised to win the election easily, with news outlets across the nation raving about the impending socialist future of Los Angeles. But after the startling admission, fear of radicalism swept over the city and his reputation was so badly damaged that his Progressive challenger was able to narrowly come away with the victory.

This loss was the final straw that pushed Harriman over the line. Electoral politics were a sham, a hoax intended to deceive the masses into accepting the pre-approved choices laid out for them by their industrial masters. In order to truly affect radical change and dismantle the empire of capitalism in America, he had to take matters into his own hands. He had to do the only logical thing left to do—he had to become a capitalist.

No one is entirely sure of when Harriman first got the idea of forming what would come to be called “the most important non-religious utopian colony in Western American history,” but the uniqueness of his plan cannot be stressed enough. Sure, Europe might have its New Lanark or New England its Brook Farm, but these projects were, however revolutionary for their time, still tainted with many of the reactionary assumptions of the Old World. And that is why they had failed. The Western frontier, on the other hand, was the land of new beginnings and self-determination, the land of making things work and “changing history instead of merely interpreting it.”

To many of the utopian socialists of yore, the idea of starting up a community as a joint-stock company with the explicit goal of outcompeting capitalistic communities by offering the promise of a life free from competition would have seemed like a contradiction in terms. But in 1913, that is exactly what Job Harriman did, in a move that would have made any Silicon Valley-ite proud. In October of that year, after scanning various regions of California for a suitable location, he and several associates purchased 9,000 acres of land along Big Rock Creek in Southern California’s Antelope Valley, bringing Llano del Rio (“the plain by the river”) into reality. (more…)

Celebrating Christmas with ‘goat-based arson’

This is a great story:

In all, something like half the goats built in Gävle since the tradition began have burnt down. Another chunk have been destroyed in some other way. The survival rate for these things is barely one in three.

On, and in 1968 a couple had sex in it, but apparently that time it survived.

There are two lessons here. One is that festive traditions are pretty mutable. The Gävle authorities think the tradition is erecting the giant Yule Goat. Everyone else thinks the tradition is trying to set fire to it. Both these traditions have co-existed happily, sort of, for nearly half a century.

The other lesson is that people really like setting fire to goats.

Libertarianism and Catholic Social Teaching

Sharp stuff from Opus Publicum:

There seems to be a self-satisfied sense among some proponents of CST that libertarianism is synonymous with insanity, and that is simply not true. There are, I believe, serious philosophical and empirical shortcomings to be found within libertarianism, to say nothing of the fact many (though not all) of its tenets clash with the plain dictates of CST. However, this simpleminded view of libertarians-as-madmen or, worse, libertarians-as-demons should give all of us pause, at least to the extent that we still consider ourselves Christian. And at the very least, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all libertarians—even Catholic libertarians—are committed to the same set of policy preferences. If someone cannot tell the difference between the views of Jeffrey Tucker and Tom Woods on the one hand, and Samuel Gregg and Michael Novak on the other, they probably don’t have any business critiquing Catholic libertarianism.

Not that noting this will likely matter. As I have discussed elsewhere on Opus Publicum, there are a number of young (and some old) Catholics concerned with CST who seem to be numb to the reality that CST neither ordains nor makes much room for socialism. Of course, what is recognized as “socialist” often depends on who is doing the looking; Anarcho-Capitalists are far more sensitive to such things than, say, a Distributist. Still, it should be clear to all with eyes to see that CST imagines a state regulatory apparatus of a far more modest size than what we now see in the United States and Europe. And even though CST does not support the absolutization (or even the near-absolutization) of property rights, the Church’s social encyclicals express reservations about overtaxing and overregulating the economy. What some of these pro-CST Catholics don’t seem to realize is that the further they drift toward unabashed socialism, the more easily their positions are susceptible to withering critiques from the libertarian camp.

Sacred Harp 122: ‘All Is Well’

What’s this that steals upon my frame?
Is it death, is it death?
That soon will quench this mortal flame,
Is it death, is it death?
If this be death, I soon shall be
From ev’ry pain and sorrow free.
I shall the King of glory see,
All is well, all is well.

Weep not, my friends, weep not for me,
All is well, all is well!
My sins forgiv’n and I am free,
All is well, all is well!
There’s not a cloud that doth arise,
To hide my Jesus from my eyes.
I soon shall mount the upper skies,
All is well, all is well.

Tune, tune your harps ye saints on high,
All is well, all is well!
I too will strike my harp with equal joy,
All is well, all is well!
Bright angels are from glory come,
They’re ’round my bed, they’re in my room,
They wait to waft my spirit home,
All is well, all is well.

Hark! Hark! my Lord and Master’s voice,
Calls away, calls away!
I soon shall see — enjoy my happy choice,
Why delay, why delay?
Farewell my friends, adieu, adieu,
I can no longer stay with you,
My glittering crown appears in view,
All is well, all is well!


Secession lagniappe

Happy 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg! Here’s a picture I took on the way to the reenactment two years ago:

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 1.32.32 PM

Sorry it’s been a while since the last one of these, been busy with other things.

Watch this great interview with Keli’i Akina of the free-market Grassroot Institute, which is surprisingly favorable to a restoration:

Student activists pulled down the U.S. flag at UH-Hilo and raised the Kingdom’s flag

Dampier on Puerto Rican exit

Michael Tomasky says dump the South. (Please oh please Br’er Fox, don’t throw us into the briar patch!) Chris Bray responds at TheDC.

Confederate flag comes down in Pensacola, along with all others the city has been under except the federal one.

Citadel’s Confederate flag places bowl game in peril

Related: the real winner of 2014 — the Klan.

Meanwhile, SPLC writer murdered by thugs

Congressional Black Caucus holds up Pamunkey tribal recognition because of a probably-inoperative part of their tribal law forbidding miscegenation with black people. (A big part of the story of why it’s taken so long is the Pamunkey initially negotiated its treaties with the Crown.)

Of nanobreweries and free staters

National anarchists are for Long Island secession

Defense bill takes away tribal lands

Political art upsets Iowa SJWs