Once, our own Jim Ceaser summoned forth an evocative dialogue between Con and Pomocon . The drama hinged on how compatible were the two concerning those Three A’s — affectation, authenticity, and authority. Though their subtle advances and defenses could never be mistaken for the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy’s, it is fair to say a certain amount of eros was in the air, with Con accusing Pomocon, I believe, of a certain deficiency in erotic longing for reality and its authority.
If ever a celebrity there was who could bridge the apparent Con-Pomocon gap without merely celebrating their diversities, one would think Benjamin Disraeli should qualify. Lord Beaconsfield is something of a champion or touchstone for “reform conservatives,” for whom ‘government’ is not by definition ‘the problem’ and for whom ‘accomodating to the times’ is at least occasionally inevitable and at least periodically salutary. Yet accomodationism Back Then meant kicking political progress forward so as to keep intact a far more conservative social order than any to be jealously guarded by the heterodox-cons of today. In a nice irony, the reformocon’s enfant terrible , Reihan Salam, has hinted at some of the subtler relationships between accomodationism and History by denying Sam Tanenhaus the pleasure of tracing a continguous Beaconsfieldian tradition back from (say) Chambers to Diz to Burke. Adding to the funhouse aspect of it all, Andrew Sullivan continues in pursuit of a certain style of Oakeshottian accomodationism — a strain of conservatism read out entirely by the wide-enough-ranging Tanenhaus — and Alasdair MacIntyre remains on record as denying Burke the pleasure of his own identity, which for MacIntyre was an opportunistic and tawdry exercise in proto-pomocon performance art.
If MacIntyre is at all successful in giving Burke-friendly conservatives pause, and if Tanenhaus, whatever the faults of his broader diagnosis of ‘movement conservatism’, is right to see a tradition or throughline of sorts running from Burke to Disraeli to ‘us’, who is to tell us, then, what to think of Disraeli? Disraeli, who appeared to synthesize so well all the conflicting currents of conservatism. He was as near as anyone to embodying that thing MacIntyre also hasn’t a kind word for, the Judeo-Christian tradition; he was a Prime Minister and a novelist; he was a conservative and a dandy. Yet in no way was Disraeli a shorthand or stand-in for his times. Disraeli was not a consequence of The Way We Live Now. More plausibly he was a one-off — I mean this as praise — but, for that reason, he raised certain possibilities suitable for mass adoption (or at least imitation) that resonate today.
On precisely that ground did Anthony Trollope consign him to the boo-hiss side of his big book of reckoning, An Autobiography (Vol. II, 84-86):
There is one other name, without which the list of the best known English novelists of my own time would certainly be incomplete, and that is the name of the present Prime Minister of England. Mr Disraeli has written so many novels, and has been so popular as a novelist that, whether for good or for ill, I feel myself compelled to speak of him. He began his career as an author early in life, publishing Vivian Grey when he was twenty-three years old. He was very young for such work, though hardly young enough to justify the excuse that he makes in his own preface, that it is a book written by a boy. Dickens was, I think, younger when he wrote his Sketches by Boz , and as young when he was writing the Pickwick Papers . It was hardly longer ago than the other day when Mr Disraeli brought out Lothair , and between the two there were eight or ten others. To me they have all had the same flavour of paint and unreality. In whatever he has written he has affected something which has been intended to strike his readers as uncommon and therefore grand. Because he has been bright and a man of genius, he has carried his object as regards the young. He has struck them with astonishment and aroused in their imagination ideas of a world more glorious, more rich, more witty, more enterprising, than their own. But the glory has been the glory of pasteboard, and the wealth has been a wealth of tinsel. The wit has been the wit of hairdressers, and the enterprise has been the enterprise of mountebanks. An audacious conjurer has generally been his hero,some youth who, by wonderful cleverness, can obtain success by every intrigue that comes to his hand. Through it all there is a feeling of stage properties, a smell of hair-oil, an aspect of buhl, a remembrance of tailors, and that pricking of the conscience which must be the general accompaniment of paste diamonds. I can understand that Mr Disraeli should by his novels have instigated many a young man and many a young woman on their way in life, but I cannot understand that he should have instigated any one to good.
The wit of hairdressers! Never have the younger generation’s would-be pomocons received such a devastatingly well-planted kiss-off. Yet . . . a good hairdresser is a good thing, a great thing if they know how to keep quiet. Trollope’s compressed and contemptuous brief against Disraeli boils down to a basic charge of unmanliness — a resort to the fatuous sort of wiles which a certain kind of man expects and even relishes when coming from a girl or woman advancing her own cause in the world. Trollope’s Disraeli sounds like a pickled pouf. Trollope sounds like Rieff talking about Wilde at his trial, sitting there like a ‘bored queen.’ (Rieff is kinder to Disraeli, more concerned as he is with the authoritative position of his real Jewishness.) It might be a basic point, then, that to be young and a pomocon is a trickier business for guys than dolls. At any rate, Trollope suggests that pomocons of all varieties must attend not only to the reality of manliness — whatever that might be — but the reality of the soul, for which the trappings of earthly life are ultimately not more than the paste diamonds of Being. ‘Ultimately’ carries a special freight for pomocons; our leftie posties are at least smart enough to have demonstrated a thing or two about ‘the self’, though they have tended to abandon, in the process, any theory or practice of the soul and the I that contains all three of body, self, and soul — without being merely any of them. A pomocon, as I see the matter, aspires to read all three of affectation, authenticity, and authority within the parallel, interlocked terms of the self, the I, and the soul: a human triune which hearkens us unto that which created it, and us.