Tory Anarchism in America: An Interview with Daniel McCarthy

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

73 Responses

  1. Lovely stuff. Makes me think of reading Gore Vidal reading and quoting from The Wizard of Oz: “A curious thing about Ugu the Shoemaker was that he didn’t suspect, in the least, that he was wicked. He wanted to be powerful and great and hoped to make himself master of the Land of Oz, that he might compel everyone to obey him . His ambition blinded him to the rights of others and he imagined anyone else would act just as he did if anyone else happened to be as clever as himself.”

    The silver standard, the gold bars, the farmer the industrialist….everyone seems to forget that Dorothy didn’t really want to go home after all, in the final book she brought Auntie Em et al back to Oz…..

    plus ça changeReport

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Evelyn […] Waugh

    I propose a politics based on taking revenge on our first wives in as many venues as possible.Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    This is great stuff. It’s odd though, A far as I can see, that it ends with an approving nod to free-marketism. If anarcho-Toryism agrees on that with the all-inclusive liberalism to which Mr McCarthy strongly contrasts it early on, then doesn’t it turn out they agree on an awful, awful lot about what is in theory good in political economy?Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Odd, not inexplicable or contradictory, just so I am clear.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew says:

      A very good point, Mike, and something I was thinking about prior to the interview actually and now more since.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        It’s clear enough how in theory markets are compatible with anarchy, though I think most market theorists who want to promote the success of markets in practice do not hold out anarchy as the best or even a desirable environment in which to pursue that end. I’d like to hear more, though, if Mr. McCarthy would like to follow up, about how for him political free marketeering(!) is embedded in a Tory disposition that respects institutions, tradition, and even honored individuals over abstract ideas and social formulae.Report

  4. Francis says:

    Some disconnected thoughts:

    1. It’s not clear what the definition of “liberalism” is in this interview. Is it the idea that government can provide solutions to certain societal problems?

    2. If urban / suburban American lifestyle is so offensive, why not move? The Great Plains states are incredibly empty compared to the coastal states. There’s lots of opportunity out there to get away from the ‘soul-sucking’ sameness of suburban America.

    3. If the answer to the question posed above is that you stay because of your job, then aren’t you really just complaining about other people, and how their choices are different from yours? Wishing that everyone else would be more like you seems to me to be (a) an utter waste of time and (b) not terribly libertarian / Tory anarchist.

    4. Before I agree with the premise that the federal government enforces economic centralization, I need to see some data, because it seems that California and Mississippi are very different.Report

    • Heidegger in reply to Francis says:

      Francis writes:
      2. “If urban / suburban American lifestyle is so offensive, why not move? The Great Plains states are incredibly empty compared to the coastal states. There’s lots of opportunity out there to get away from the ‘soul-sucking’ sameness of suburban America.”


      Great comments, Francis. How I HATE liberal cultural elitism, that sneering, derisive tone when describing “fly over”country, and the complete lack of any culture and sophistication flyovers have –if the “soul-sucking” bourgeoisie is such a painful thing for these elites to endure—then get the hell of this oppressive environment. Give us our bowling alleys and strip malls any day, just please leave us in peace. It should be noted that fly-over country has produced about 90% of this country’s greatest writers, musicians, poets, painters/artists, composers, etc. They may move to either coast but they cannot escape their cultural roots.Report

      • RTod in reply to Heidegger says:

        In addition, the Coastal states have given us Jersey Shore; that alone should force us to be forbidden to use the word Cultured, Elite or Educated when describing ourselves for thef next year or so. Honestly, you have to punish us immediately or we’ll never learn.Report

      • iluvcapra in reply to Heidegger says:

        I am aware of the great art of the American “middle.” These people were usually not writing about Big Box retailers or the “Ownership Society” or their freedom to decline health insurance. They were usually writing about the beauty of the land, their families, their God and their church, and about how the bank was stealing their home and how the mill owner was screwing them.Report

    • iluvcapra in reply to Francis says:

      “Liberalism” in the sense McCarthy uses here is probably “classical Liberalism,” which is the belief that individual rights and liberty are more important than social obligations and tradition, and that a government should defend rights like free speech, the right to life and property. Both parties in the US hold a liberal consensus; the statist usage of “Liberal” is a creation of 80s propaganda, and was meant more to imply “libertinism” or “excess.”Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to iluvcapra says:

        I can’t say I agree. Liberalism as he uses it appears to be a generic term, including classical liberalism but also both of its modern offshoots — interventionist/social-democratic liberalism and also libertarianism. The change in meaning of the term “liberal” in American usage — making it a synonym for only the interventionist/social-democratic tendency — dates to well before the 1980s, too.Report

        • iluvcapra in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Yes you’re right, liberal is Liberal when he talks about “liberaltarianism.”Report

        • Would you say that “liberalism” as McCarthy uses it here corresponds to a certain belief in “equality” – whether that is a relative equality of results as the interventionist/social-democratic tradition may see it or a relative equality of opportunity as the libertarian tradition may see it?Report

          • LarryM in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            No, he is using it in a very different – and historical – sense. Egalitarianism is certainly characteristic of MODERN liberalism, but historically “liberals” broadly defined were by by no means all egalitarians.

            Historically, and literally, liberalism means freedom.* Now, that doesn’t mean that, by opposing liberalism, McCarthy wants to see people in chains. The “anarchism” should be a give away there. But he’s harkening back to a very different, frankly pre-enlightenment, vision of how society should be organized. Pre-enlightenment, “freedom” in the modern sense was simply not as salient an issue in society as it is now. Not that constraints on freedom were always the heavy hand of the state. Tradition – including religion and traditional authority arrangements – also severely limited “freedom” in the modern sense. And it went deeper than that. However you want to characterize it – as something desirable at some level, or as people being “brainwashed” in some sense to accept severe restrictions on autonomy – the simple fact is that, pre-enlightenment, the masses didn’t hanker after “freedom” in the modern sense. (The rural peasantry was often one of the more conservative classes in society – and when they did “rebel,” it was often (ostensibly at least) in defense of “traditional” privileges that were being taken away or ignored). (The rural underclass was a different matter, and part (most?) of the story of the rise of modernity is the rise of urban populations).

            Now, step back. McCarthy isn’t calling for us to go back to THAT, and his preferred social arrangements might actually leave us MORE free in some respects.

            The problem for McCarthy, though, and it’s one he is obviously aware of, is that a Tory sensibility has no concrete tradition to harken back to in a nation where the “tradition” is a liberal (broadly defined) one. His answers to this dilemma are not (to me) entirely convincing.

            *Of course, by disrupting traditional social arrangements, which were often very unequal, liberalism in that sense can be seen as egalitarian. But again, not inherently so: arguably an entirely free society will be even less egalitarian – as many critiques of libertarianism argue. (Some libertarians disagree with this, while others agree (or are agnostic) but don’t see egalitarianism as a virtue).Report

  5. James Hanley says:

    infrastructure and social capital in America often seems exhausted.

    This kind of statement drives me crazy. One of these things is measurable, the other is not, but both are thrown out there as though the exhaustion of both is inarguable. There’s lots of talk among political scientists about whether Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone thesis about the decline of social capital is real, or whether he just measured the old indices in a world where there’s still plenty of social capital, but just found in new indices. For example, if bowling leagues are down–and even that has been disputed–participation in homeowners’ associations is up. There’s also the problem that there’s no agreed upon definition of social capital. For me, I still feel comfortable asking my neighbors to watch my house and pick up my mail while I’m gone, or to jump my car if it won’t start, etc., etc. If those sorts of neighborly elements of mutual trust count as social capital, and I think they do, it’s not at all clear to me that social capital has really declined, because I see others indicating similar experiences with their neighbors.

    As to the infrastructure problem, it really depends where you are. Most infrastructure is built at the state and local level, and in many places it’s just fine. There are some serious problems, but that’s primarily due to an aging infrastructure, and that’s going to happen at some point, no matter how prosperous you are. All we really need to do is stop spending our money on military infrastructure and we’ll have enough and to spare to keep up our internal infrastructure.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley says:

      Maybe it all just depends on where you are…?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Well, I’m in Michigan. It doesn’t get much worse than that, and I’d still rather be here than in Mexico, as far as infrastructure goes.Report

        • Heidegger in reply to James Hanley says:

          James, do you also find it deeply insulting to have coastal cultural elites describe our “fly-over” country as soul-sucking sameness of American culture? Them are fightin’ words to us proud midwesterners!Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Heidegger says:


            Actually, the soul-sucking phrase seemed to refer to suburbia, so I was envisioning the L.A. suburbs where my in-laws live. And as much as I don’t care for it, they seem happy there. As far as I can tell they still have undessicated souls.

            I do tend to get a bit annoyed at the misperceptions of flyover country as cultureless, though. For pete’s sake, Michigan has given us the MC5, the White Stripes, Alice Cooper, Al Green, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Iggy Pop, and the whole Motown sound. Minnesota’s right behind in great musicians. Illinois gave us Allison Krauss, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just one category of culture. Chicago, for example, is the architectural capital of the U.S.

            But mostly I feel a sort of snide condescension toward those who look at flyover country with snide condescension. They don’t know what they’re missing. And the great majority of people a great majority of time in those coastal meccas aren’t actually participating in their great cultural events. They’re doing what we do, and what people do all over the world, hanging out with friends. Meanwhile, what keeps a place like Broadway economically viable is tourists….including those from flyover country.Report

            • tricstmr in reply to James Hanley says:

              Excellent comment. Having grown up in Chicago (&Evanston) and then studied in Germany for a few years and now ending up back in Madison, Wisconsin, I find big complaints about teh cultural wasteland to be rather bizarre. The culture here is different, and it has a different ebb and flow, but what really seems to be missing in these critiques is that it can often be the absence of stimulation that leads to new perspectives and approaches to the world.

              In any case–while I found this interview to be quite interesting, it did strike me as suffering, in many ways from the pink cloud syndrome of really being more about complains of abstracitons and ideas than really offering any solid/concrete steps forward.

              I mean really, after all of the critiques of what’s wrong–the answers are ‘well–more decentralization would be good…”
              Okay–great–people have been saying that for years–and it has gotten absolutely nowhere.

              Take a fucking stand and put out a list of policy proposals that everyone will hate and find ridiculously impossible–but that can be more of a starting point for conversation than vague platitudes about how to actually make things better..

              One cranky old-school midwestern truman-liberal’s thoughts..Report

            • As someone who was born and raised in Michigan and lives in Minnesota these days and who partner grew up in North Dakota (and very proud of it), I second your viewpoint.Report

            • Rufus F. in reply to James Hanley says:

              You’re right of course about flyover country. It’s definitely not a new distinction. Pretty much as soon as there are cities, there’s a sort of a town and country distinction. I’ve read some pretty entertaining Roman comedies about the arrogant city slicker being outwitted by the farmer he only assumes is ignorant. It’s sort of a classic rivalry. What I think makes it worse now is that so much media is produced in those major cities, like NYC or L.A., not to mention Paris or Toronto or London. So, if you live in the hinterlands, you’ve got a much better idea what life is like in the cities than vice-versa (although, of course, most big cities are populated by people who’ve moved there).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                When I grew up in Michigan, my Michigan relatives constantly made fun of my Kentucky relatives for being hillbillies.

                When I moved from Michigan to New York, I was immediately categorized as being from “cow country”.

                In that moment, I became enlightened.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

                When I used to visit NYC from Virginia, people would ask, very politely, if I knew how to ride a horse, grew up on a farm, etc.Report

              • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Is it really news that people have stereotypes about people from other regions.. You wouldn’t believe some of the things country folk think about city folk. Why i’ve heard tell those city folk just arent’ good people and don’t love the US like country folk do. Boy those coastal elites are all ( fill in blank). It’s all stupid. But there is a special kind of dunce cap for people who complain about being looked down at for where they life and then look down on others for where they live.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to greginak says:


                Out of curiousity, was that directed at my comment where I complained about being looked down on, and then expressed how I look down on others?Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to greginak says:

                One of my absolute favorite incidents of this was on a news program a number of years ago after an insanely horrible crime that occurred in a small town in Kansas. Some crazy person had entered a convenience store and decapitated a stranger for no apparent reason. (Not sure about all the details, but you get the idea. It was insanely horrible) Anyway, they’re interviewing an old timer from the town, lived there all his life, and he says, “This kind of thing doesn’t happen in a town like this. Sure, in New York City, this kind of stuff happens all the time. But not here!”Report

              • tricstmr in reply to greginak says:


                It’s not really news that people have stereotypes. What’s rather humorous/can become irking is when the supposedly intellectual, wordly, and generally more educated group displays profoundly ignorant, incurious, and dismissive attitudes towards another group, which generally makes them look like huge hypocrites.

                That’s just rather dumb and politically it is counterproductive.

                In any case–I know all about the country folk here. I live in Madison, Wisconsin–Population 210k, with the County around 400k. I consider this to be a “very large small town” in many ways because a huge chunk of the people who make up Madison grew up towns of 5-10k and their social behaviors and attitudes are profoundly different than someone like me, who grew up in a Metro-area (Chicago) of 5million+. In addition, my stepdaughter is dating a guy who lives in a house in the middle of fucking nowhere and who thinks that Madison is a SCARY BIG CITY that he could never in a MILLION YEARS contemplate living in (he even has issues being here–he is scared to drive here). So I know the differences that exist and the I’ve chatted with my stepdaughter’s boyfriend and tried to dispel a lot of claptrap that he thought (that all liberals hate and want to take his guns away, that we all hate all of the military, that we all spend tons of money and look down on all of the rural population all the time..), and I did that all the while knowing that I could never live like he does–well, I’d be profoundly unhappy doing so–and that this view of mine really didn’t mean that much at all in the grander scope of things..

                In the end, its about not being an ignorant and self-righteous/smug douchebag. It totally undermines any argument one could make about the awesomeness of cultural diversity (and it is awesome–I think about the uncountable number of different restaurants on Clark St. in Chicago) and why cities are cool, if such people then go around dismissing the same kind of diversity when it relates to rural folks.

                Learn from people and be willing to teach others and we would all do better…Report

              • I thought you might mention Athens and Sparta. That might make an interesting post.

                Another interesting post might be on how mass media technologies have allowed cities to represent themselves in aggregate in the same manner as the pre-bourgeois nobility. Would you say that suburbs and fly-over country really have the same relationship to big urban centers like New York and Chicago that tenement farmers once had under the manor system?Report

    • Francis in reply to James Hanley says:

      we could also raise taxes a smidge. CO2 (and its equivalents) happens to be a massive adverse untaxed externality. We could generate needed revenue and help prevent a really unpleasant environment circa 2100 at the same time.

      Paying more in taxes is not actually the end of the world, despite protestations of many to the contrary. Europeans manage to pay substantially higher taxes without revolution or disfunctional economies.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Francis says:


        Actually, here’s a question: Do you think the big ol’ American government will spend its tax revenues as wisely as the little European economies? Or do you suppose much of our tax dollars will go instead to overseas contingency operations and expensive bombs?Report

        • Francis in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          They already do; it might be nice to pay for some of those JDAMs instead of expecting our descendants to do so.

          More generally, one of the things that sucks about being an anti-war American liberal / libertarian / anarchist is that the US govt gets to borrow money far too cheaply largely because everyone else’s govt sucks worse. Despite our foolishness, large investors buy our debt faute de mieux. So taxpayers don’t see the consequences of their actions. And so they make lousy decisions. And so here we are.Report

          • Heidegger in reply to Francis says:

            Francis, taxes NEVER are used to pay down a debt–the added revenue is ALWAYS used to fund more idiotic programs. It is never more advantageous for the government to spend our hard earned monies than for us to do so. That’s why State and Federal workers are paid 66% more than the, Dreaded Private Sector, to perform the exact same tasks. Feeding at the trough must end, now.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Heidegger says:

              Prices in the private labor economy does fluctuate more than in public employment, it is true. But that means that in good times, public employees are making less then their private counterparts for similar work. Stability and generous benefits and pensions thru good times and bad are exactly the incentives that in theory allow us to retain quality individuals in the public employ and preserve institutional competence in the bureaucracies as their political leadership changes unpredictably at regular or irregular intervals.

              Lotta bad words that are not welcome or accepted without interrogation here, I realize. Go to town if you like – I’m not inclined to step up to defend them as such. I’m just voicing the the idea, and saying that it does seem to me that’s it’s been a pretty reliable and useful one for a lot of years in a lot of places. But others see the world entirely differently, and the times, they are indeed a-changin’.Report

            • RTod in reply to Heidegger says:

              I’ve never understood the whole theory that drives the idea that there is a “government class,” and would appreciate someone explaining it to me.

              Even assuming that gov’ment employees make more (and I’m not sure that they do – most use collective bargaining, and don’t, I believe, make more than a union worker in the private sector), why is that a sign of “feeding at the trough?”

              Where does this assumption come from that public employees should not be allowed to negotiate higher wages, must use the worst oldest crappiest furniture/computers/whatever, give up their pensions (or at least make sure that their pensions ensure they are far poorer than everyone else when they retire), and that this is all a sign of a robust free market economy? How is this not just knee jerk scapegoating?

              I’m seriously asking, and would welcome being convinced otherwise.Report

              • North in reply to RTod says:

                R.Tod, a few answers:

                -Private sector unions negotiate with business managers who are selected indirectly by shareholders/business owners. Public sector unions negotiate with government officials who are either elected or appointed by elected officials. Union involvement in the electoral process often can create a situation where the unions can elect people who are more sympathetic to the union and in effect control both sides of the table in essence voting themselves a raise.

                -Private sector unions costs land on only two entities: the owners of a business (through reduced profits) who can choose to divest themselves of ownership or customers (through increased prices/lowered quality) who can choose to take their business elsewhere. The costs of public sector unions land squarely on voters who do not have such similar freedom to rid themselves of those costs.

                -Unions get better deals for their workers but this cuts into the profitability of a company. That’s all well and good; an excessively parasitic union will cause a company to become unprofitable/uncompetitive. The company may well then die and the union dies with it. Governments cannot (easily) go out of business. They have a captive tax base. Public sector unions thus lack the upper limit on their rapaciousness that private sector unions have.

                -The drive in the private sector is cost control/profit making which can naturally incents them to squeeze workers. Unions are a valuable counterforce to that drive. The drive in the public sector is towards effectiveness and empire building. This is not necessarily bad for employees and in many ways is good for them. There is not the same need for collective bargaining in the public sector. Thus public sector unions provide much less benefit to society as a whole (possibly they provide a negative benefit) than their private sector counterparts.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to North says:


                Good explanation. Just one minor quibble. Contracting out government tasks to private firms* does allow citizens to select service providers other than the public employees union. Many municipalities have come to discover that many services can be provided at high quality by hiring private contractors. And in some cases the public employees’ union has actually won back the contract in the next re-bid, after initially losing it, because they learned and put together the best bid.

                (I should emphasize that when contracting out services government is still providing for them, they’re just not directly producing them. So this isn’t an argument for be taken as “getting rid of government,” but as “finding ways to enable government to operate as efficiently as possible, for the benefit of its consumers (i.e., taxpayers).Report

              • North in reply to James Hanley says:


                Absolutely I agree whole heartedly but I would humbly submit that the level of waste and inefficiency (ie negative utility to society) necessary to make elected officials get off their buns and explore these issues would have made any private unionized firm go out of business or shake things up years or decades sooner.

                But yes, absolutely I shouldn’t suggest that public sector unions don’t have upper limits, those limits are just higher than they are on private sector unions.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to North says:

                Agreed. Completely.

                How wonderfully harmonious.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

      My girlfriend lives in a fly over part of central PA just a little south of the NY border. It might not be as spread out as the plains states, with Pittsburgh only an hour and a half drive from her, but in the end there are more cows and dear per square mile than people.

      Brookville (her town) is also the county seat of Jefferson County, so they have a quaint main street with shops and restaurants and lawyer offices that all face the courthouse. Everyone knows everyone, for better or worse, everyone drives 20 miles over the speed limit cause it takes so long to get anywhere, and the largest danger is probably posed by teens who are drunk driving.

      Where do they all shop? At a Walmart that is 15 or so miles down the road.

      I have family that lives in the mountains up in central New Hampshire. Beautiful main street with bed and breakfasts, a theater, chuch, library, hardware store and grocery shop. Everyone there also drives 20 miles over the speed limit, and no one locks their doors at night, cause everyone knows everyone.

      Where do they shop? At a strip mall in North Conway.

      I’m not going to suggest that the cities are much better, or that many poorer people wouldn’t possibly benefit from a Walmart plopping down somewhere in say, N. Philly. But as far as I can tell, it’s tight-nit city blocks, where residential and commercial mix, with lots of foot traffic that can actually still support “mom and pop stores,” including used book stores, music shops, meat markets, cafes that aren’t starbucks, etc. I might not know 1% of all the people i come in contact with on a daily basis in this environment, but I’ll know the owners of the shops and anyone else I see on a repeated basis.

      Just two examples, though both used relatively mountainous areas that are largely spread out, there might be many rural places with much more condensed small towns that negotiate this gap better.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Except if I needed to make a purchase at three in the morning, I never shopped at Walmart when I lived in the city (pop: millions). Then I moved to a small city (pop: 50k) and discovered the virtue of a place that is open late, has what I want, and good selection. Now I live in a town of less than 5k and drive 50 miles to get to the Walmart of the nearest “city” (30k). I never had a strong opinion on Walmart and the like before, but I sure do now.

        On your broader point, I’m not sure the added value of knowing the owner of your book store over actually knowing a good percentage of the people you live with?Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

      With regard to infrastructure, hasn’t the ASCE put the price tag for just rehabilitating it at 2.2 trillion?

      I’m not sure that even includes increasing access to wi-fi, broadband, high speed rails, etc. You know, the stuff China is spending on, and Japan already did.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to E.C. Gach says:


        I can’t vouch for the figure, but let’s assume it’s correct. That’s about the number for federal receipts this year. Since infrastructure is not an operating cost item, that’s the kind of thing we can legitimately borrow for. In fact infrastructure projects, whether public or private, are almost always borrowed for, and taking on an infrastructure project that’s equal to your annual revenues is not necessarily bad, or even abnormal. For example, how many people buy a house that’s not equal to more than a year’s income?

        Additionally, not all of the infrastructure needs require federal spending. A great deal is taken care of at the state and local level (yes, often with federal funds, but not all of it), so that we’d need to calculate the total infrastructure needs as a proportion of the cumulative federal and state budgets, at a minimum, perhaps including municipal budgets as well.

        Third, not all of that infrastructure needs to be publicly funded. I’m very dubious about whether most localities need public investment in wi-fi and broadband. Private infrastructure development of that seems to be penetrating localities very well. Some years back we were worried about a gap in access to the internet, between wealthy communities and poorer ones, urban ones and rural ones. Now we worry about the gap in connection speed between those communities–the internet is available everywhere, and wi-fi/broadband are coming along behind. Heck, I use my cable provider for high speed access–my sister, who isn’t well off at all, gets it through her cell phone service provider. And a consortium of some sort is running a high speed line through my area, southern Michigan, that my college and the city (particularly the library, but also other city departments) have thrown in some money for so that they can be connected, which will provide our relatively poor and remote community the highest access speed available–even if people will have to trudge down to our local library to get it.

        And some of our public projects can be privately funded. Indiana’s lease of the 80/90 toll road to a private consortium has resulted in it being the only state with a fully funded set of planned road projects. One long-delayed project is the building of a new US 24 from the Indiana state line to Fort Wayne. As the only direct road between two manufacturing cities, Toledo and Fort Wayne, 24 has long been an extremely dangerous road, because it was a windy two-lane highway filled with tractor-trailers. Now it’s as fine a road as you’ll find in the country.

        And, perhaps this is at the level of pure nitpick, it’s questionable whether we need high speed rail, or very much of it. High speed rail is, so far as I know (and someone will surely correct me if I’m wrong), solely for moving people around. It makes some sense in densely populated areas, so it might make sense in the NE corridor–Boston to D.C. But it probably would just be a pointless vanity project elsewhere. Good transportation’s not really a big problem in this country. We have a great private freight rail system that’s had big improvements in efficiency in the past couple decades, and very rapid air cargo transport as well.

        So, to sum up, I don’t really think the cost is the primary problem, unless you’ve accidentally remembered wrong and the actual costs are far higher. The problem is our political focus that has us delaying these projects and spending on much more wasteful things, like a military that’s far larger than what’s necessary to defend our country. I think, anyway, that it’s priorities, not cost, that is the problem.Report

        • Agreed. High speed rail is an ideal form of transportation for the Japanese archipelago, since it is an archipelago, and almost every square inch of flat land is covered by dense human development.

          America on the other hand is a huge, wide-open rectangle (even including the northeast). Unless we are prepared to heavily subsidize rail travel indefinitely (which may not be a bad idea as fossil fuels become more expensive), I don’t think magnetic high-speed rails could compete with cars and America’s amazing network of Soviet-defying blitzkrieg highways.

          Compared with Japan at least, America has a variety of diverse topographies lending themselves to diverse infrastructures. (Boston could benefit from a more bicycle-friendly infrastructure, I think. But I have no idea really despite having lived there for most of my life.)

          Infrastructure is one of those things that it seems must be planned in at least some capacity, but would likely benefit at scale from the judicious employment of local knowledge. Japan had the dubious advantage of being able to rebuild and design from scratch after its cities of paper were nearly eradicated by allied firebombing towards the end of WWII.Report

  6. Robert Cheeks says:

    E.D. thanks for this conversation. It is very smartly done and I’ve learned a great deal and though it has not moved me off my default position, paleo-‘conservative’, you’ve managed to make me goosey about the word ‘conservative’ because it demands some explication of what it is, specifically, I’d like to conserve. Maybe it’s FDR’s programs or LBJ’s Great Society?? And, though it’s neither the label ‘conservative’ does not accurately explain, does it?
    Daniel McCarthy’s a brilliant interlocutor and your questions were right on, consequently, it’s interesting that in his comments on returning to the Nation’s political roots in Madisonian republicanism he did not mention a spiritual renewal?
    At the risk of offending many here, and following Voegelin, it is obvious that not only must the ‘people’ come to Jesus but they must also seek out those ‘philosophers’ who understand human order and its achievement as the ‘antithesis’ of the failed American ‘system building’ ideologies.Report

    • In Italy you have about 28 political parties, none of which really matter because Silvio doesn’t rule over anyone, each of the 20 regions works on its own, with its own political system. Bologna is basically communist and seems to function at the highest, wealthy, well run, etc.

      You can play with all these isms all day long but you have to produce things that other people want and no one does this like Germany. When they ran into trouble last year Merkel simply cut the budget in half, halved the military and made sure the ‘austerity’ measures were as painless as possible. And yes, Merkel may have to write some Dear Juan letters but China’s bailing out Spain, one of the 3 peripheral states, so who cares. I’ve lived in several countries and saw the entry into Malta and Italy, it hit those w/fixed incomes, but they can change the currency, tho they won’t because it’s all about moving and working without too many bank fees, etc.

      America, like Britain, simply doesn’t produce stuff that people want anymore. The Banker’s shell game is wearing thin and Wall Street and the City of London are going to be hit hardest, when the greenback is no longer reserve currency, and the precious sterling will wish it had joined the ranks with the euro. I could be wrong, but haven’t been so far. But it is a very random world and the world is slowly dismissing America and America simply doesn’t want to think about this. But economists theories are only that in today’s interdependent world, you just cannot apply a theory to it, it’s constantly changing….

      What does America make anyway; Microchips, movies and munitions, but munitions make no money for anyone but the arms dealers, really, and Bechtel. And for heaven’s sake, the European economy is far larger than N. America’s economy.

      My fellow Americans just don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room, the war dept, which is where all their precious debt goes at present. The Fed, which is as federal as FedEx keeps borrowing at 0 and prints money that WE have to pay the interest for….this is insane. And, it produces no jobs. Most of the better jobs have been offshored, do you think they’re coming back, they are not. And what IS going to deliver this new economy? What.

      And because the EU is all about sovereign states, they can’t print money and Italy, unlike the others , owes not a dime to the global banks, only money to itself. And, and, and, we could go on, but no one is really talking about what wrong…and boy, this year will see all the individual states selling off their parks, buildings, streets, it’s really just bizarre and yet the debt keeps kicking in…..americans should be studying this link and understanding what it actually means…

      • James Hanley in reply to bailey alexander says:

        Bailey, A question and a critique.

        Question: In what ways would you say Bologna is basically communist. (I don’t know it at all, so I truly am curious).

        Critique: America does produce a lot that people want. Net U.S. manufactures, contrary to popular wisdom, are at record highs, even when adjusted for inflation (or where, before the recession, and there’s no fundamental reason to think they won’t be again). And we actually do export a phenomenal amount. Mostly what we produce is in fact high-value added things, like machine tools, which we exports large amounts of. It’s the low value-added things that we tend to import. The reason is that we still have a highly productive labor force, due in large part to technological innovation, but also to training and education. We pay other people to make the cheap stuff, while we make the high quality stuff.

        The problem is not that we don’t produce what the world wants, but that we refuse to live within our means, both citizens and government.Report

        • Italy has so many political parties that they simply choose which ism to apply to their regions, Bologna is basically run with a lot of communist ideals, maybe blended with some socialism and it seems to work. Every time I go to Bologna, I’m struck by how well organized, how wealthy it appears and the fact they have the best food in Italy doesn’t hurt.

          Family’s from San Fran but I mostly grew up in Seattle, where we produced at one point, about 35% of America’s exports. I don’t think MS, Nordstrom and Amazon, etc are doing quite as well as they once did although our ‘diplomats’ are bribing hardcore for Boeing sales.

          You bring up some good critical analysis, I’m being rather general but backing it up with specific examples. Up until 6 mo’s ago I had an IT consulting company in Seattle, I’d seen the tech boom up close and personal for almost 2 dozen years. I’m no longer physically there to market and it’s become harder each year, but what I was rather surprised by but how much Microsoft had given to India and China, and those jobs aren’t coming back….so we’ve gone from this Industrialized era to Services and Information, but we can’t last just on call center jobs….that’s my thinking….and again, this sale of the state’s assets just freaks me out on one level, but what else is there, what else is there, indeed……Report

          • James Hanley in reply to bailey alexander says:


            As it turns out, the value added of much of the high-tech sector isn’t nearly as much as people (including me) have thought. That’s a major part of the reason why so much of it gets outsourced–there’s not enough value-added to justify paying the higher salaries demanded by American tech workers. High value-added tends to show up in surprising places. Not just machine tools, but, just to name two that I happen to know of, development of medical prostheses (the non-cosmopolitan town of Warsaw, Indiana, is, for whatever historically random reason, a major center for this), and (regrettably) cigarettes.

            That’s not to denigrate high-tech. I’d rather have more of that than more cigarettes. But on a sheer cost/benefit scale, cigs have a higher value added than microchips (or so the guys at Marginal Revolution told me, iirc).Report

            • Hey, whatever the market dictates, absolutely. I’m currently looking for rental space in Amsterdam. There’s so much space that landlords are keeping their spaces empty because they can’t get anyone to cover the mortgage, even as they lose more and more money, and yes, the Dutch are ‘tight’, but I’m able to negotiate on my terms because of what the market dictates.

              And yes, Germany does support Europe and has been the economic engine for some time. But the Germans, as they produce, save and open up even more manufacturing plants, are getting tired of it, rightly so….the EU zone was primarily about insisting upon NO MORE WAR and allowing its citizens to move about more freely with less financial fee and to carry their trade, allowing other countries to exploit that trade…but the union was always unstable and there were always ‘issues’…..but some countries are more pragmatic about what their ‘issues’ are and how to address them.

              But yeah, whatever the market dictates…that’s why my husband’s in Kazakhstan and not back at Microsoft in Seattle, but he’s always been an international consultant so he likes the renaissance aspect of it, learning more, engaging with other cultures, etc.

              And I do think that MADE IN GERMANY, ITALY and the rest counts for something, people still need quality, just depends, doesn’t, or maybe not, someone’s commenting in a far more detailed manner and knows much more, I just chime in from what I know from direct experience.

              Comment about priorities is spot on, absolutely spot on…Report

              • “the EU zone was primarily about insisting upon NO MORE WAR and allowing its citizens to move about more freely with less financial fee and to carry their trade, allowing other countries to exploit that trade…but the union was always unstable and there were always ‘issues’…..but some countries are more pragmatic about what their ‘issues’ are and how to address them.”

                So, to return to the interview, would anyone else agree with me that this statement excerpted above basically describes the American Republic from the founding up until the Civil War?Report

        • What James say is true. Look at the manufacturing output of the top 10 nations — we produce significantly more than the other nine, and with just 9% of private sector jobs in manufacturing. Manufacturing is a global team effort now, with different countries building a part of the whole — we tend to do the difficult techy stuff here. This nationalistic scorecard of “Made in ____” is useless knowledge now, because one thing can be made in parts all over, one part here, another part there. Brain work is going to becme more and more valuable — what we need is better educated workers or more open immigration for brain workers to come here. This change in manufacturing will likely affec all countries, and what I hear about Italay is that growth is stagnant, that innovation is lacking and companies are losing out to China and other more dynamic producers, the work force is old and the unions aren’t allowing new ways of doing things. Europe has grown slow, comfrotable and sleepy in the global economy, although, like you say, Germany has done well — but they can’t support Europe.Report

          • RTod in reply to Mike Farmer says:

            Well said.Report

          • E.C. Gach in reply to Mike Farmer says:

            “Look at the manufacturing output of the top 10 nations — we produce significantly more than the other nine,”

            Can you point me toward some statistics? Is there a specific measurement of our manufacturing output somewhere?

            For instance, our total exports are 3rd, behind China and Germany. And our per capita exports are 46th, according to rough estimates on wikipedia. Of course that doesn’t correlate exactly with manufacturing, and doesn’t account for manufactured goods consumed inside the country. Is their a more precise measurement somewhere?Report

            • James Hanley in reply to E.C. Gach says:


              I didn’t review it closely, but try this

              The reason we don’t export as much is because our consumer market for manufactures is large enough to suck up so much of what we produce. And that’s because we’re so much wealthier than China, and so much bigger than Germany (so there’s both GDP per capita and absolute GDP factors).Report

  7. Matty says:

    “Tory” means something more than Conservative or conservative, it’s about loyalty to persons and institutions rather than abstract ideas.

    There is an irony here that Mr McCarthy seems unable to name the persons or institutions he is loyal to, when asked directly he talks instead about political changes he would like to see. If anything he is loyal to the abstract idea of not being loyal to abstract ideas.

    Maybe something like a monarchy is needed to scale up the kind of personal loyalty he seems to value to a national level.Report

  8. Francis says:

    just for the record, I see far more complaints about sneering derisive tones than I ever see the underlying comments themselves. Defensive much?

    btw, bonsai is a plant. banzai means “charge”. I learned this watching the original Karate Kid movie. Does knowing the difference make me a liberal elitist? Does the source of my knowledge — a middlebr0w hero movie, not an Ivy League education — change the analysis?Report

  9. Freddie says:

    Is this Heidegger dude for real? I mean he has to be a really dry parody, right?Report

  10. greginak says:

    @James H.- No it wasn’t directed at you. I live in Alaska-Palin Country, “real america” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, in the same breath, utter contempt for “coastal elites” and complaints about being looked down upon due to being from fly over country. I don’t mind hating on the hate at all, its the hypocrisy i don’t like. To many people want to hold onto their regional stereotypes while whining about those directed at them.

    FWIW i grew up in NJ and i heard little contempt for middle ameriica. I have also heard how the place i grew up in is somehow not quite the right kind of America, you know all that latte sipping, abortions for fun, volvo driving traitor stuff. And I can’t stand politicians or others who whip up those regional stereotypes and hatreds. I do hear one sort of regional hate quite a bit in on one side of the political aisle. While i’ve heard a lot about how one group of people are just traitorous, america hating so and so, i don’t really hear people looking down on fly over country.

    FWIW part 2. I’ve made a point to visit all 50 states and found things to like/do in all of them. I think there is a lot to dislike about the homogenization and strip malling of America.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

      OK, Since I actually did do that, in jest, I was afraid maybe I’d been taken seriously when I didn’t mean to.

      But do they really have abortions just for fun in New Jersey? After watching Jersey Shore, I can’t believe in the lattes and Volvos, but the abortions, well, maybe. (And that’s the problem with TV shows like that.)Report

      • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

        Cool. Apropos of nothing much- Years ago a boss of mine in NJ liked to run a super bowl pool. It was the kind of thing where you put in a buck and were randomly assigned a box on a 10×10 grid , then numbers were randomly drawn for the X and Y axis which is how you got your potentially winning numbers. In other words it was cheap, completely random and just for fun. We had a secretary, from Iowa, who refused to play, and was then deeply suspicious of everybody else at our little mental health center, because she was told all the gambling in NJ was controlled by the mob.Report

  11. Herb says:

    Good stuff. I especially liked this:

    “We can at least lose our illusions: Americans continue to think, and to be told by economists, that our economy is spontaneous and natural and free, while Japan is mired in mercantilism and Europe is socialist.”

    I kind of wish this sentence was around a couple weeks ago when people were telling us that net neutrality policies weren’t needed because the internet is so spontaneous and natural and free.Report

  12. Larry M says:

    Really interesting stuff. A few mostly unconnected thoughts:

    I find myself much more sympathetic to McCarthy’s thinking than I should be given that:
    (1) While not self identifing as a liberal, I am definitely part of the liberal tradition as broadly defined by McCarthy.
    (2) I am not a cultural traditionalist at all (while at the same time decrying SOME of the cultural trends that McCarthy decries).

    That said, McCarthy is of course a marginal voice on the right – unfortunately – and in the real world of political alliances, the kind of people talking about devolving power to the states aren’t interested in doing so on the issues that mattermost to me – and in fact would do so mainly in the areas where I think the Federal government does some good. I would perhaps support a kind of “grand bargain” which devolved power across the board to states & even smaller governmental divisions, but that isn’t on offer.

    Moreover, while McCarthy is obviously aware of the problems with a conservatism that looks to tradition in a nation where the tradition is liberal (broadly defined), I don’t think he adequately deals with this contradiction (in the interview or in his other writings, to the extent I have been exposed to them, mostly on his American Conservative blog).Report

    • Larry M in reply to Larry M says:

      Also, while not having time to enage specifically some of the comments upthread, people need to be very careful about not shifting definitions. Mr. McCarthy, despite his own critique of liberalism writ large, doesn’t necessarily have complete sympathy with the current right populist critique of liberalism – and in fact would probably argue that many of those critics are located broadly in the liberal (philosphically, as broadly defined) mainstream themselves.Report