Buckley on Markets: "Horrifying," "Repetitious," "Like Sex"


Commentator Jon Utley, who offers this summary of the recent FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, recently pointed me to a very interesting May 4 Wash Post piece by political scientist Corey Robin. A contributor to the new anthology Cold War Triumphalism, Robin discusses how conservatives found in 9/11 a justification to return to a higher calling in politics: Empire building. In recounting conversations he had with William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol in 2000, he writes:

"The trouble with the emphasis in conservatism on the market," Buckley told me, "is that it becomes rather boring. You hear it once, you master the idea. The notion of devoting your life to it is horrifying if only because it's so repetitious. It's like sex." Kristol confessed to a yearning for an American empire: "What's the point of being the greatest, most powerful nation in the world and not having an imperial role?"

Robin continues:

For neoconservatives, who had thrilled to the crusade against communism, all that was left of Ronald Reagan's legacy after the Cold War was a sunny entrepreneurialism, which found a welcome home in Bill Clinton's America. While neocons favor capitalism, they do not believe it is the highest achievement of civilization. Like their predecessors -- from Edmund Burke, Samuel Coleridge and Henry Adams to T.S. Eliot, Martin Heidegger and Michael Oakeshott -- today's conservatives prize mystery and vitality over calculation and technology. Such romantic sensibilities are inspired by questions of politics and, especially, of war. It is only natural, then, that the neocons would take up the call of empire, seeking a world that is about something more than money and markets.

Immediately following 9/11, intellectuals, politicians and pundits seized upon the terrorist strikes as a deliverance from the miasma Buckley and Kristol had been criticizing. Even commentators on the left saw the attacks as stirring a sleeping nation; Frank Rich announced in the New York Times that "this week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade-long dream."

Whole thing here. While there are many things to disagree with, it's a very interesting piece, one that not only gets at post-Cold War tensions between libertarians and conservatives but, more important, the pan-ideological attraction of war, empire, and more.