10 April 2007

Hyper-Caffeinated Crunch Con.

A Godspy review of Look Homeward, America: in search of Reactionary Radicals & Front Porch Anarchists, by Bill Kauffman:
It is an occasional convention in conservative literature to talk about the “real split” in the world that animates contemporary political and cultural disagreements, a split deeper than the more pedestrian divide of Republicans versus Democrats. Russell Kirk liked to quote Eric Voegelin’s remark that the “great line of demarcation in modern politics...is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other.” Rather, it is between materialists who recognize only a temporal order and those who admit to a higher, transcendent order. To Voegelin, liberals and totalitarians of various stripes were essentially alike in their progressive materialism, the price of which was “the death of the spirit.”
Kauffman describes himself as ‘the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn.’ In this he concurred with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who in his famous 1978 Harvard Address, referring to Western liberalism and Eastern communism, said that, “The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.” For Solzhenitsyn, the disease plaguing both sides was the belief that man’s chief task was to “search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them.” More recently John Lukacs described the real split in America as being between “progressives” (more often than not misnamed “conservatives”) and “conservationists.” “It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live.” It is the divide between those who cultivate a “true love” of their country and those with only a “rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people,” between ahome-loving domesticity and a wandering nomadic life, “between the ideals of stability and those of endless ‘growth.’”
In Look Homeward, America, Bill Kauffman offers a detailed and often idiosyncratic look at the “real split” underlying American society and politics. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, one of Kauffman’s unlikely heroes, that real split lies between those who love the old American republic and those progressive dreamers who would sell their patrimony for a bowl-full of the centralized, mechanized American Empire. Be forewarned: this is not a book for those seeking confirmation of their already accepted political stereotypes. Rather, Look Homeward, America is Kauffman’s quest through American history and its living landscape to find those he lovingly calls “reactionary radicals and front-porch anarchists.”
The coin of love? Is he crazy? He probably is: all God’s children are. The result is, by design, impossible to categorize. Kauffman’s collection of throwbacks and throwaways, retreads and retrofits, hillbillies and hell-raisers, poet politicians and insubordinate patriots is a stinging rebuke to political categorizers, taxonomers of the soul, and those who reduce humanity to the talking heads and soundbitten ghosts of American punditry. Kauffman describes himself as an “outsider even among outsiders” and “the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn.” His is a Middle American, profoundly un-imperial patriotism based in love of American music, poetry, quirks and commonalities, historical crotchets, holy fools and eminent Kansans. ...I celebrate, I affirm old-fashioned refractory Americanism, the home-loving rebel spirit that inspires anarchists and reactionaries to save chestnut trees from the highway-wideners and rural schools from the monstrous maw of the consolidators, and leads along the irenic path of a fresh-air patriotism whose opposition to war and empire is based in simple love of country.
This is what binds Kauffman and the subjects of Look Homeward, America together: their unbought love of home, of their own patch of ground, of their communities and the heritage of their region.
Here's the whole thing.


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