Tristyn has scooped me a little, but, for those of you who don’t read the Yale Free Press blog, I’ll first say "Why?" and then remind you that everybody who’s anybody spent this past Saturday in Gun Wavin’ New Haven asking ISI’s illustrious representatives whether conservatism has a future. (Short answer: Um . . . .)
I can do Tristyn one better, though: She has translated the experience into a series of quotes ("I’m not a father or a husband, so I’m causing the collapse of Western civilization, I know"), but I can only fully express my gleanings in dramatic form. This is by no means a comprehensive account—I omit, for example, the exchange that Larison, Wilson, and I had on whether or not Joseph Pieper would have regarded The Big Lebowski as a celebration of sinful sloth or Christian leisure—but just think of it as the Bad Quarto of Hamlet : The soliloquies are there in bits and pieces, but every one of Marcellus’s lines is intact.
ALLAN CARLSON, a statist
HELEN RITTELMEYER, DARA LIND, WILLIAM WILSON, NICOLA KARRAS, TRISTYN BLOOM, KATE MALTBY, Yale Mafiosi
ANTHONY ESOLEN, PATRICK DENEEN, scholars
FAKE THOMAS JEFFERSON , the Evil League of Evil
HELEN: It was a bad pun.
WILL: No it wasn’t.
HELEN: "Put Locke in the lockbox?"
WILL: It was definitely bad. I’m saying it wasn’t a pun.
HELEN: Whatever. His point was still wrong. We can’t just junk the Declaration of Independence.
WILL: Well, you’ve got a problem then, because everyone with a brain blames the Declaration for the fact that there’s no authentic American conservatism. You can be an American traditionalist, but, as long as your tradition is an Enlightenment liberal one, your traditionalist will be unconservative. Unless you’re a slaveowner or something.
HELEN: Yeah, but words are like numbers. You can make them say whatever you want.
WILL: No! You might get "liberty" to slide into something more conservative like "ordered liberty," but "ordered autonomy" doesn’t even make sense.
HELEN: It doesn’t have to. Garry Wills said that every man listening to Lincoln at Gettysburg "had his intellectual pocket picked," because Lincoln, A, put the Declaration front-and-center, and, B, made it say what he wanted it to.
WILL: Which was?
HELEN: I’m not entirely sure, but it had a lot to do with sacrifice. He took a document which had been animated by a spirit of Nobodytellsmewhattodo and used it to justify "swearing by the blood of the Revolution" and "sacrificing unceasingly upon its altars." Liberal autonomy and redemption-by-blood don’t make sense together, either, but Lincoln made it work.
WILL: So the prophets of the next conservatism are Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln?
HELEN: Basically, yeah. And I know a scholar who’s an expert in both!
HELEN: David Bromwich.
WILL: Who’s that?
HELEN: A liberal.
NICOLA: Wow. I haven’t read this guy’s book or anything, but basically he just decanted all the small government stuff out of conservatism, right?
NICOLA: Why would he do that?
WILL: I dunno. Spite?
TRISTYN: Hey, look on the bright side. At least he admitted that a distributist-looking economic system would require massive government intervention.
NICOLA: Yeah! And doesn’t every yeoman garbage-collector deserve to hang out his own shingle?
WILL: Yeah, and doesn’t Wal-Mart deserve to be taxed into oblivion? They’re too affordable.
NICOLA: You’re joking, but that’s exactly what Allan Carlson was saying.
WILL: I know!
NICOLA: I don’t care if you’re not on board with markets. You still have fuzzy trad reasons to oppose government meddling, like the fact that it always-always- always perverts organic communities.
WILL: It’s almost like Robert Nisbet never even happened.
HELEN: Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. It could be some new kind of Christian libertarianism: we’ll raise your taxes, but then we’ll feel really guilty about it!
WILL: Man, you go from zero to Catholic in ten seconds, don’t you?
HELEN: Sin boldly, repent boldly? Sin ironically, repent ironically!