By Juvenal Early
Some time back, I did a survey of some particularly ineffective (flaccid, ILANA might say) conservative voices. It’s time to provide an update on one of them: Crunchy superstar Rod Dreher, or Dreary, as I call him, a blogger who needs no introduction—unfortunately. Evidence that there is no justice on this side of the grave: Dreary has one of the most coveted platforms on the right, plus he has a publisher ready to print whatever 90,000 words he can throw together in any given year.
Dreary spent a few months in Budapest earlier this year, and I think he should move there permanently. Or to Paris, which also seems to hold a special place in his heart. No malice or disrespect intended toward either city, holy places of the West, I would say. But Europe does wonders for Dreary’s attitude—and his opinions. He’s actually good writing about Gothic cathedrals and haute cuisine. Europe is right in his wheelhouse.
Plus, a European posting would more or less preclude him from commenting on the local scene. In America, Dreary is the apotheosis of the craven, sniveling, virtue-signaling Conservatism Inc. (Con-Ink) apparatchik. I think we’d all be a lot happier if we never again had to read his Never-Trumpisms; or his faint and hollow praise of the Founders; or his weaselly approbation of Confederate memorial removal. Or to never again have to see him expound on race and racism in America.
He was doing very well in the land of the Magyars, and near the end of his three-month stay he enthused over Tucker Carlson, who had taken his show to Budapest. Dreary commended Tucker for courage (true) for interviewing Orban and highlighting Hungary’s common sense immigration policy. It was as good as you can expect from the old Crunchy Con.
This was early August. Dreary posted at least one long article in TAC praising Tucker’s efforts. John Derbyshire—of VDARE and “The Talk” fame—praised Dreary’s article, in his own Orban piece. Dreary saw that story reposted in Unz, liked it, and tweeted it out to all his followers, with the message “Good piece by Derb.” Subsequently, he was called out by lite-libertarian Robbie Soave for commending the work of a racist. Dreary, at first disavowed all knowledge of VDARE, claiming that he didn’t know it was a white nationalist site (it’s not, btw). Then he deleted his original tweet.
It brought to mind other times when Dreary virtue-signaled about race. He doesn’t like being associated with anyone on a SPLC list. The trouble is that anyone to the right of Rich Lowry is likely on a SPLC list, and if a conservative wants to stay off the list, he’d better start off conceding about 90% of the playing field (argument) of any given issue to his left-wing opponent.
Back in 2017, Dreary threw a real hissy fit over Pat Buchanan’s post-Charlottesville column. Pugnacious Pat (God bless him) took issue with the Left for labeling enveryone connected with Unite the Right a white supremacist. By present day standards, Pat reminded us, all of the most historically-important Americans were white supremacists. Typical for Pat, he laid out the facts and left it to the reader to decide—although he wasn’t shy about sharing his own conclusions. In this case, the Founders were great men in spite of whatever we think they might have done, and the nation they gifted to their posterity was a generous offering indeed. Read the column and see what you think.
Poor Dreary couldn’t deal with the nuance of it all. His takeaway? “Buchanan is defending white supremacy, straight up.” When I saw that “straight up,” I couldn’t help being reminded of that cutting edge mediocrity Janeane Garofalo on Keith Olbermann’s late, unlamented MSNBC show. That’s not a bad role model for Dreary to emulate, come to think of it.
Dreary, of course, like the rest of the craven horde that is Con-Ink, was quick to point and splutter when it came to Charlottesville. Whereas, Buchanan gathers facts, analyzes, and decides based on firmly-held principles, Dreary is the type to see how the wind’s blowing, then jump on the bandwagon as close to the front as he can. Thus, you had a man of principle being smeared by a drone of the hive mind.
This, of course, was wrong on so many levels. Back in 2003, when Dreary was writing for pro-war National Review, Buchanan was putting his considerable reputation on the line to co-found the American Conservative, a magazine explicitly started to provide a home for anti-war right wingers (with the assiduous exclusion of Mercer, so even that attempt wasn’t an honest reflection of the reality on the right). One of Dreary’s associates at the time, David Frum, wrote a famous article in NR condemning the likes of Buchanan as “unpatriotic conservatives.”
Later, when the Iraq war was exposed for the deceitful quagmire it was, Dreary was able to slink his way over to TAC. By then, Buchanan had left (as had Moneybags Taki), but, let’s face it, there would’ve been no TAC without Pat. Thus, I think Rod Dreher is not only a mediocre dolt, but an ingrate too.
He’s also an ad hominem hit-and-run bandit.
In October, in a particularly egregious case of the pot calling the kettle black, Dreary called out a couple of fellow religious conservatives, John Zmirak and Eric Metaxas, as Beta males, when they backed Donald Trump’s call for a Boycott of the GOP in 2022, should they nominate a lot of RINOs and Never-Trumpers. The tack Dreary took was rather odd, sort of a variation on a theme I first took notice of in a classic Seinfeld episode, “The Outing.” Seinfeld fans will remember the repeated line from that show; “I’m not gay!!!….Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Dreary took issue with a conversation between the two men on Metaxas’s radio show. Both voiced strident opinions about Never-Trump conservatives, like the truly awful David French. I have no problem with strongly-voiced opinion, especially those I agree with. I’m sure you don’t either, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But Dreary didn’t think they had a right to attack French, because French had been a soldier (Ooooooooo!), “a manly thing to do.”
Of the Catholic Zmirak, Dreary—in his oft-confusing style, writes:
“He is a short middle-aged man with a belly as big and as soft as a beanbag. Hey, I’m not short, but I’m only two years younger than Zmirak, and I have the same belly he does. We are men who make our living writing. Unless you’re Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, … it’s not especially the occupation of badasses.”
Of the objectively handsome Metaxas (author, by the way, of the definitive Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography), Dreary writes:
“Eric is an expensively groomed dandy who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This is not a criticism; I like his style! But the idea that Eric Metaxas, of all people, was urging people to give their lives for Donald Trump, is risible.”
Notice what he did there? Dreary basically says, Zmirak is a fat-ass (not that there’s anything wrong with that), so he doesn’t have the right to attack manly-man David French. Metaxas is a fop (though Dreary aspires to that as well), so he should be proscribed from talking tough too.
Incidentally, that “dandy” unkind cut seems particularly misplaced with regard to the urbane Metaxas, who most 58-year-old men wouldn’t mind resembling. Could it be envy on the part of the bedraggled, shirt-out and wispy-goateed Dreary, he of the Mies van der Rohe spectacles? Eric dresses in the stylish manner that at one time was a requirement for grown-up American men, especially those who lived in New York.
In the Who/Whom Era in which we now live, Dreary’s only going to attack the people and ideas he doesn’t like (or can’t understand). If he likes who you are and what you’re peddling, you can conjure up the whiniest hissy-fit in the universe to proclaim it, and he’ll gladly blog it to all the minions who come to his trough for their daily quota of slop.
This is “Juvenal Early’s” second piece for Barely A Blog. His first was “The Dissident Right Has An Idiocracy Problem.” He now has a BAB archive.
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 stepped forward. I’m more than delighted to have launched and to continue to unleashing Juvenal.
This was cathartic to read. I have small quibbles with them occasionally, but Zmirak and Metaxas are both underrated figures on the Right.
Thanks, Luigi, I agree. ILANA wrote a good column a couple of months ago saying that Christians needed to man up, if the West is to survive. I couldn’t agree more. Zmirak & Metaxas have been a couple of those Christians who might’ve fought with Charles Martel at Poitiers 1300 years ago, while Dreary was going to his favorite Halal eatery, where the hummus is to die for (&, just to be clear, I enjoy good hummus).
Juvenal, that’s hilarious. We want more of the hilarity (as opposed to Hillary)
Here’s the column you mentioned:
As a relatively late Millennial convert (to use a somewhat fraught term) to classical conservatism (albeit rather of the Continental than Anglo-American tradition), it has been discouraging to know that both The American Conservative and, to a lesser extent, Chronicles had clearly long since receded from their former glories when I began reading them. If not for stalwarts like Gottfried and Trifkovi?, the latter would have already diminished in its relevance for the paleoconservative remnant; TAC, meanwhile, seems to have taken it upon itself to parlay National Conservatism™ into the Beltway mainstream, with all the obligatory concessions to conventional GOP wisdom which that entails. Hence the distinctly milquetoast flavor that accompanies most recent offerings. (And given the vaguely hawkish tone of their recent China commentary, it is hardly any surprise that Daniel Larison felt that his presence was no longer appreciated there.)
(It should be said, in all fairness, that Dreher is far from the worst writer in that space; that dubious distinction rightfully belongs to the younger cohort—Devlin, Leary, Richardson—whose collective output is a colorless mush of editorializing prose. If nothing else, Dreher is at least an effective aggregator for more useful [and more tightly written] material on the culture wars and invites robust feedback from his readership.)
So I am thankful for your brave voice, Mrs. Mercer, and for the brisk writing style in which it is rendered. Thanks also for hosting the likes of Juvenal Early and Fred Reed on this blog—they have been a welcome supplement to your own brand of polemic. The former contributor, in particular, has been cathartic to read.
P.S. My father recently gave me a stack of old Chronicles issues from the late 90s and early 2000s. It was a more bracing and percipient magazine back then. Browsing the assorted contributions, it’s uncanny how early they perceived the key dynamics driving the cultural revolution and national decline which has only intensified in the interim decades. (They sometimes underestimated how crazy things would get…)
I agree (mostly) with your perceptive comments, Nicholas. Dreary is not actually all bad. He gets it right a fair amount of the time. I enjoyed his dispatches from Hungary (along with food fun, as mentioned in the article) and he’s good about calling out the wokerati. But with him it’s always a case of 2 steps forward, 3 back. As a conservative born in Louisiana, I would say if he can’t say anything nice about Confederate heroes—& their monuments—he should probably just clam up. In 2016, he was blasting Trump on a daily basis, during the primaries, when the alternatives ranged from Rubio to Jeb! to Egg McMuffin. In other words, war, open borders, & globalism.
Chronicles has become TAC; TAC has become NR; NR has become The Atlantic, etc. (Interestingly enough, The Atlantic now & then publishes a good article.) Chronicles at its best, I thought, eschewed comment on current events, except to contrast it to classical age culture, or Florence in the high Middle Ages. They mainly concentrated on culture, the permanent things, the ancient verities, what have you. In the 90s, I read it cover to cover, and it was like a monthly silent retreat. I read a lot of the literature they reviewed favorably, or the classics to which they alluded, and I always felt like that was what kept my furnace stoked a lot more than the tossed-off ghostwritten tomes of the Con-Ink commentariat (Killing Western Civ, anyone?) ever could.
So cool. I love you guys, Juv and Nicholas. Disagree on some aspects: There has been nothing worse in recent years than the dreary columns on Chronicles. Lackluster is kindly put. Raimondo’s meandering: just awful. Sinecures most. The movie reviewer: vomitously puritanical without any pizzazz. And Juvenal tackled the female talent at Chronicles and TAC over this space. A disgrace. One long whine and nag and rehash of hackneyed “ideas.” The word “banality” doesn’t begin to cover it. These people think that they create talent by conferring positions on the unworthy. Their duty is to reflect talent in the paleosphere. (Btwy, Rob Dreary is an awful writer.)