Introducing “Juvenal Early,” a new contributor to Barely A Blog. (Myron Pauli, where are you?)
Once upon a time, the epistolary fluff ensconced at The American Conservative was detonated daily by the “pugnacious” Lawrence Auster. When Auster died, a void opened up. The “typically shapeless pieces” coming out of paleoconservative quarters, at once “weird and solipsistic”—Auster’s delicious descriptions—have escaped scrutiny. Going by the pen name “Juvenal Early,” a disillusioned former donor to Chronicles has begun the healing, here on Barely a Blog. Why “healing”? Well, bad writing is plain hurtful. It is healed by a brutal take down.
The Dissident Right Has An Idiocracy Problem
By Juvenal Early
Annie Holmquist has a by-line at Chronicles Magazine, the long-time stoic voice of paleoconservatism, now flagship of the Charlemagne Institute. I’ve been reading Chronicles for nearly 30 years, have even made donations over that time (so singular and important did I think their work), since back when they were the most important publication backing the first Pat Buchanan Presidential campaign. That was just before the editor (who’d rather remain nameless where Chronicles is concerned these days) began unashamedly labeling his monthly column “Hard Right.” Times have changed. Annie’s there now and whoever holds the purse strings at Charlegmagne clearly wants chipper Annie there, and is banking on the cult of youth over hardened realists; passive and silly over strong, strident voices.
Annie was at it again recently, bless her heart. In an election postmortem on the Chronicles Blog, she wrote:
“I was feeling the oppression of these gray days when a note from a friend landed in my inbox. He made some joke in relation to election voter fraud and suddenly I found myself giggling.”
–“Laughter Will Win Against Totalitarianism.” (11/20/20)
I tried to picture past Chronicles writers and the many subscribers I know giggling over the prospect of Kamala Harris being one senile heartbeat removed from the Oval Office. Oh yeah, that’ll show the bastards! Didn’t someone tell Annie? The Revolution is on the march. Angry old reactionaries like me (who, I’d argue, comprise most of the dwindling Chronicles readership) want red meat, realism. In any case, I wondered who’d be telling us jokes as the “peaceful protesters” approach. Laughing at a knee-capped Antifa is one thing, sure, but this? Typical Annie.
The night before the election, Annie had protested vehemently (vehement for her) about Chronicles’ recent defenestration from Facebook:
“Though we feature articles and concepts that are typically right-of-center, we are not dogmatic and feature a range of ideas and authors. In fact, 60 percent of our audience is Democrat or Independent…”
–“Facebook Throttles Outsider Voices On Election Eve.” (11/2/20)
She might have been describing U.S. News & World Report. Old-time Chronicles people might label themselves a lot of things, e.g., Dissident right, paleocon, cultural warriors, the aforementioned hard right, even Southern Agrarian, but “right of center?” Check the masthead.
Did Rich Lowry take over, when I was sleeping? And what’s with the implied diversity: “range of ideas and authors…60% Democrats or Independent?” Sure, we’re not all registered Republicans, but that’s only because, Trump aside, who’d want to admit he’s a Republican, tepid and pusillanimous as they are. It was like Annie was ceding 90% of the argument to the left. Sure, there are plenty of extremists out there, but not us. Why should Facebook shut us down? We’re safe.
Only the inertia of old age keeps me from cancelling my subscription right now, but I can’t see myself renewing it.
The Dissident Right has a mediocrity problem. It’s an old story. Bosses promote mediocrities who don’t threaten them. Mediocrities entrench. Mediocrity takes over and promotes those who don’t threaten them. It’s a downward spiral. Just a guess. I’m the customer. All I know is I read a lot of bad prose, and then I need to search in increasingly obscure places to find quality writers.
Annie reminds me of a writer at The American Conservative (TAC), Gracy Olmstead. Another soft, passive, inconsequential voice. Conciliatory, or, in a word, boring. Early on, TAC wasn’t bad. Pat Buchanan was a founder. Pat is smart, well-read, genial, but don’t be fooled. Pugnacious Pat won’t give an inch where principle is concerned. He pulls no punches. Pat set the tone for TAC. Hardened, principled writers predominated. Anti-Iraq War conservatives unafraid to be called unpatriotic by the likes of David Frum (“The Frumbag”).
Pat’s gone from TAC now. Enter Gracy.
Contra Pat, Gracy may not even know what a punch is. In an election year piece, she was warning pro-life Christians to unhitch their wagon from the Trump train, lest they finally come a cropper, when the Real Trump emerged. This, in spite of the fact that Trump had recently demonstrated great courage by becoming the first sitting Republican president to address the annual Right to Life March in person. No, you can’t trust him, Gracy warned, stressing Trump’s past peccadilloes. He was a hypocrite. Presaging what was always going to be a brutal, polarizing election, Gracy tut-tutted that we needed to get past all that. She wrote:
“To remain true to one’s conscience…(is) far more important than party allegiance. … This could apply to the unborn, to refugees at the border, or to the victims of our proxy wars… where has the partisan spirit made us blind? “
“How Political Parties Kill Our Commitment to the Good,” (2/18/20)
Not exactly the ally you’d want on the ramparts. Was she saying we should we be bipartisan with the Democrats (truly, the Evil Party now)? “Refugees at the border?” Does this woman take NYT reportage at face value? Well, possibly. She has started writing the occasional piece for the “Old Grey Lady,” joining NYT’s other safe, house conservatives David Brooks and Ross Douthat, those two unbending champions of, oh, the hell with irony at this point.
I noticed that after she’d been at TAC for a while, Gracy seemed to find her niche in a post-Pat section called The New Urbanism, “New Urbs” for short, created in response to the rise of gentrification or at least in the spirit of it: cities are fun, cultural, good for the whole family. Good place for Gracy, who seems like the nurturing type, steeped in the early millennial culture of therapeutic America. A couple of years ago, in an article bemoaning the collapse of our civic institutions, she pulled out all the stops, sparing, it seemed, not a single therapeutic buzzword when positing a fix for “Institutional disillusionment”:
“…hopefully it will… force us to press into the good… communities that nourish our souls. …. foster circles of trust—that can slowly nourish and heal what’s broken.”
-“Our Civic Institutions Are Self-Destructing” 8/28/18
“Communities that nourish our souls?” Sounds like an ad for a great big hot tub full of oatmeal to me. That was two years ago. By now, I hope the New Urbs is recommending bulletproof glass and fire-retardant building materials for the family’s urban fixer-upper. Something BLM-proof.
Do Annie and Gracy represent the new wave of the Right? Soft, passive, mushy, inconsequential bunk! To paraphrase the late Harry Dean Stanton in the 1983 Cult Classic “Repo Man:” Dissident Righter (writer) spends his life getting into confrontations.
Time is short. Barbarians are inside the gate. When it comes to right wing writers, I’ll suggest two rules: Avoid bad, boring (“flaccid”) prose and women who go by diminutives.
Two sob sisters, sure, but don’t bad things come in three’s? I’ve always thought so, thus, I offer TAC blogger Rod Dreher, whose surname looks like “drear” to me. Call him Dreary. You’ve seen him: metrosexual, Mies van der Rohe glasses, soi disant “Crunchy-Con.” He’s got a sweetheart book deal. Dumbs down Dante, astroturfs Solzhenitsyn—seems like his publisher will take any 90,000 connected words pissed out of his laptop and put them between hard covers.
I check Dreary’s blog occasionally. My observations: his favorite peers seem to be Douthat and Brooks; a Never-Trumper, he has a hissy-fit over every POTUS tweet; he still reads the NYT; his racial masochism surpasses even that of Nicholas Kristoff; he thinks being born in a Southern state and saying y’all makes you a real Southerner. I believe the Dissident Right needs real Southerners: Stonewall’s at the barricades. Can’t say what Dreary thinks of the real Stonewall Jackson, but one can guess, given how he once described the greatest Southerner, Robert E. Lee. In an article in defense (sort of) of not tearing down the Lee statue in New Orleans (Dreary is from Louisiana), he wrote:
“I think it a blessing that the Confederacy lost the war. Lee fought for a bad cause. But Lee, for all his sins, was a complex figure, one worthy of honor — again, despite his sins…I would have left the Lee statue alone…”
–The Day They Took Old Dixie Down, 5/19/17
In other words, “I don’t really care if they tear it down or not.” Would he care to elaborate on why Lee’s cause was bad or about all those sins Lee committed? I doubt Dreary would argue the point at a meeting of the Baton Rouge Sons of Confederate Veterans. Better to keep virtue-signaling from the safety of his blog at those antiquated racists. (He deletes unfriendly comments from his blog.)
Maybe the fault lies with TAC, who, since Pat left, hired both Dreary and Gracy, plus a bevy of other lukewarm scribblers, too numerous to mention. TAC, born in opposition to Dubya’s Iraq War, was once at the vanguard of the Dissident Right. Nowadays, they’re outpacing the Overton Window in leftward movement. I say we vote them off the island. But even then, what’s the matter with Chronicles? Whoever said all right-wing organizations eventually move left, knew what he was talking about.
Thus, Annie, Gracy, & Dreary, sob sisters all. Basking in the comfort of their sinecures and book deals. You can’t blame them for taking the money. The fault isn’t with the author; the fault lies with the people who published it, marketed it, and bought it. That’s America; we get what we pay for, or maybe we pay for what they give us. I forget which.