Reactionary Radicals, Unite


Bill Kauffman, one of my favorite writers and a long-ago Reason staffer, has a new book out, Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Activists, and a new temporary group blog discussing the issues it raises. (Our own Jesse Walker is among the bloggers there.) Check in there for defenses of radical localism when it comes to time, BBQing, political and musical heroes, and the SDS.

Kauffman explains his intentions better than I could, deracinated cosmopolite that I am. (I always believed, though, that my book, This is Burning Man, a celebration of one of my "home towns," arose from the same salubrious instinct as Kauffman's wonderful book Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, his own account of his relationship with his real hometown of Batavia and its history, though he'd undoubtedly pish-tosh me, or the Batavian equivalent, on that point.) Here's some of what he has to say about himself:

I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn. Like so many of the subjects of this book, I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge's test-tube baby.

And his new book:

In Look Homeward, America, Bill Kauffman introduces us to the reactionary radicals, front-porch anarchists, and traditionalist rebels who give American culture and politics its pith, vim, and life. Blending history, memoir, digressive literariness, and polemic, Kauffman provides fresh portaiture of such American originals as Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, regionalist painter Grant Wood, farmer-writer Wendell Berry, publisher Henry Regnery, maverick U.S. senators Eugene McCarthy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and other Americans who can't–or shouldn't–be filed away in the usual boxes labeled "liberal" and "conservative." Ranging from Millard Fillmore to Easy Rider, from Robert Frost to Mother Jones, Kauffman limns an alternative America that draws its breath from local cultures, traditional liberties, small-scale institutions, and neighborliness. There is an America left that is worth saving: these are its paragons, its poets, its pantheon.

I've always been attracted to Kauffman's loving localism, though in a more intellectual sense than something I'm dedicated to living out–no, I wasn't born in L.A.–which from the true localist perspective is worth less than nothing. I do adore human variety, and loving and connected community, and the spirited and eccentric, but I don't hate modernity, don't mind whatever Melissa Etheridge does to herself, and am too attracted in that modern capitalist way to choosing my own communities to even come close to embracing his outlook in full–in fact, so far from it that my tendency to cheer most everything he writes is somewhat strange, and a sign of his overpowering intelligent passion for what he has to say.

Since many, if not most, of the blanderizing, standardizing aspects of modernity arise from the choices our compatriots make, there is sometimes a regrettable sniff of what you could even call putting on airs and placing oneself above others in the localist celebration of the quality of its ways vs. the sad semi-life that cosmopolite moderns live. But maybe that's just me being defensive. To the extent they represent the celebration of varied and unique human life as it is lived outside the fetid games of busybodying, national, international, or local, I wish reactionary radicals a long and fecund life and always enjoy what they have to say about themselves, their communities, their heroes, and their (our) country.