Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pat Buchanan And My Journey To The Left

I don't always agree with him, but Pat Buchanan’s latest article on the decline of the American labor movement is worth reading, and so are the comments below. I was surprised to see so many pro-union comments on the American Conservative website, given that the Old Right often tends toward economic libertarianism, lionizing Ron Paul and the Austrian School. Pat Buchanan, however, has always had a strong populist side to him, and he is one of the few prominent American conservatives to raise concerns about social justice and the plight of the American worker. Indeed, on economic issues I think Mr. Buchanan is arguably to the left of most modern Democrats.

Reading Pat Buchanan’s writings on globalization, with his powerful descriptions of collapsed industrial towns in the Midwest and elsewhere, caused me to completely reevaluate my political philosophy. I used to be a typical GOP conservative. I believed in the power of the market to self-regulate and produce a kind of Leibnizian “best of all possible worlds.”  I was also a social conservative, as I still am today.  Eventually, this combination could not hold. The reality of global capitalism, with its rootlessness, its utilitarianism, its disregard for families and communities torn asunder by capital’s endless search for great and greater profits, started to become clear.
My own experience as a member of the College Republicans reinforced my misgivings. The leadership of my school’s GOP group was comprised mainly of the sons and daughters of upper-middle class professionals from the Chicago suburbs. They cared little about the social or cultural issues that were important to me, but they were very keen on anti-unionism. Having grown up around police officers, firefighters, municipal employees, tradesmen, and other unionized workers I knew that many of the stereotypes of greedy, lazy, and incompetent union workers were untrue.
Soon, the scales fell from my eyes, and I was able to comprehend the true nature of capitalism as an essentially anti-conservative force.  Reading the works of the great French counter-enlightenment authors, such as Joseph de Maistre and the Vicomte de Bonald, revealed a different kind of conservatism, one that did not submit to capitalism but instead critiqued it on the very grounds of preserving Christian civilization. Eventually, I discovered figures such as Giorgio La Pira and Jakob Kaiser who were able to formulate a more modern form of Social Christian thought. But it all started with Pat Buchanan.


  1. Hi John!

    I have come to a positive reappraisal of Pat Buchanan in recent years for the same reasons you note, as I found myself identifying with certain elements of the Old Right more and more. Your experience is particularly interesting to me, also, since I came to similar positions from the other side, approaching traditionalist conservatism via Howard Zinn (introduced to me by my rad-trad middle-school history teacher), Eric Hobsbawm and Shlomo Avineri (all leftist authors) and the left-liberal blogger David Neiwert.

    And that article by Pat Buchanan is utterly brilliant! Thank you for sharing it.

    All the best,

  2. Thank you, Mr. John, for sharing the link and your own story. I myself had a somewhat similar experience; I remember repeatedly trying to find an ideology or group to identify with only to find myself becoming quickly dissatisfied or even disillusioned. This went on up until my later college years when I decided to stop trying to label myself anything and draw my own conclusions. So far, that seems to have worked out for me.

    The article really is great. Pat Buchanan has plenty of moments where he is spot on, something even my strongly liberal family members concede.

  3. Sorry for the late responses.

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for the comment! That is really interesting. I have read a bit of Zinn and Hobsbawm but not Avineri or Neiwert. I will have to check them out! I find Christopher Lasch to be an interesting author who ended up as a kind of traditionalist (although I don’t think he used the term to describe himself) while starting out as a Marxist. Antonio Gramsci seems to be the left-wing writer who most often serves as the “gateway” to traditionalism for some. I am not sure why that is, since I have not read much Gramsci myself.

    Hi CA,

    Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I hear you. I am not sure how I would be labeled now. My views are pretty far outside the GOP vs. Democrats dualism that is presented as the only reality by the media. But I think there are a lot of people like us out there, it is just that the powerful and wealthy only allow certain voices to be heard through their control of the major media outlets.