There has been quite a lot of e-mail exchange between me and Lawrence Auster about the Kalb/Islam issue.
The first reaction of Lawrence Auster, when I sent him the Jim Kalb quote, was to thank me for it (he was unaware of this position by Kalb), and then he posted it and replied.
My reaction to this was to say:
To this Auster answered:
You respectfully disagreed, and even "explained" his context. What else could you do?
But herein lies the problem that I see. And we all have our limits, even you.
If Jim Kalb belongs to traditionalist conservatism, there is no political substance to it.
And if it is a movement, it seems to be a movement that is bound in its respect for Kalb's position. Which surely distracts the movement and hampers it.
But the important thing is that this whole affair made me question what is at the core of trad conservatism.
Regarding my Powerline comparison Auster wrote:
While the comparison between VFR (comments by Auster and Bruce B) and Powerline holds true in one dimension, it differs in many others; many of which are to the disadvantage of Powerline. Kalb is of course not the sort of idol as Bush, and VFR has not expressed groupie-hood toward Kalb. But the similarity is a very important one. Whenever a person presents himself as belonging to a certain group or movement, there will always be things that he has to deny or block out of his mind, in order to being able to sustain this position. It is true of people presenting themselves as pro-Bush neocons, who have to block out and deny the many times Bush screwed his base, and how he's pushing for national suicide of America by mass amnesty. It's true of people presenting themselves as Catholics, who have to block out and deny the Vatican II's embracement of Islam, by saying Muslims adore the same one god, and how they are included in the plan of salvation simply by remaining Muslims. It's true of people presenting themselves as anti-racist non-bigots, who have to block out the idea of halting immigration, among other things.
Lawrence Auster presents himself as a traditionalist conservative. This sets limits to how Auster can behave if he wants to continue presenting himself as a trad conservative. For example, he cannot attack Jim Kalb as fiercely as he attacks e.g. Mark Steyn, even if Jim Kalb deserves it just as much. If he did that it would undermine the possibility for Auster present himself as trad conservative. Auster has to make himself blind to the utter seriousness of Kalb's position, and how it torpedoes the substance of trad conservatism (if there is going to be any substance of value in it).
Kalb's position is not simply the one of ignorance about Islam. He takes it a step further and claims that Islam is superior to, and preferable to, contemporary modern liberalism. Modern liberalism which, with all its serious flaws, is one of many incarnations of European civilization. It has turned into a kind of soft totalitarianism which is bringing us down, but as any European incarnation it is mixed with the many traditional and typical features of European civilization; it still is European civilization. Without this consciousness there is no substance to a defense of European civilization. Trad conservatism does not have this consciousness. Trad conservatism is too obsessed with the idea of modern liberalism being evil, to being able to see the full picture.
A main weakness of Western history has been how soon Westerners label each other as heretics and evil enemies, while lacking the focus on Islam as an enemy, even inviting Muslims as allies. There are numerous examples, e.g. how during the crusades the Catholics invaded and weakened Byzantium, and thereby helped paving the way for the subsequent Islamic conquest of Constantinople. This sort of treason against European civilization continues today. Much of it is coming from the conservative side, e.g. from Dinesh D'Souza, Le Pen, Mark Steyn and Jim Kalb. Based on an excessive despise of liberalism (or Jews), and therefore the willingness to reach out a hand to Islam, one way or the other.
In the case of Jim Kalb, monotheism trumps European civilization. Already there Kalb's substance for a defense of European civilization is gone. This is a sort of treason that is far too common among believing Christians.
The single worst aspect of modern liberalism is how it invites Islam into our lands. If modern liberalism is going to be criticized, this has to be at the top of the list. Jim Kalb's position that Islam is preferable to the contemporary West does not help here. His weakness vis-a-vis Islam puts him in the same category as the liberals themselves. It's a position that is all part of the problem, and has to be strongly opposed.
Where does Lawrence Auster end up in all this? Let's go back to what he posted at VFR. His first reaction to Kalb's position on Islam. Auster who otherwise has a good position regarding Islam and the West, is here hampered by his affiliation to trad conservatism, and this forces him into acrobatic straddling: Jim Kalb's position has to be treated respectfully, while Auster still want to make his points about Islam. He ends up in a lot of "on one hand"/"on the other hand", trying take a balanced position and to reconcile the irreconcilable. He writes:
The "consciousness that modern liberalism is so evil that anything, including Islam, would be better than it". This is where you lost me, Auster. This sentence alone shows what's wrong with trad conservatism. And the talk about Islam not being exactly evil, and more like a predator. Auster only consider Islam from the point of view as an external threat. He cannot allow himself the internal perspective: how it is, from the inside, to live in a Islamic society. He cannot allow himself such a full and fair comparison between modern liberalism and Islam, because that would open a cleft between him and Jim Kalb, and that would shake the whole fundament for Auster in presenting himself as a trad conservative.
Instead of attacking Jim Kalb--as he would if it were Mark Steyn or Robert Spencer--Auster is going out of his way in explaining for the "context" of Kalb's remark, and even describing Kalb's position as expressing "consciousness" (as part of his confused "on one hand"/"on the other hand" act.)
Lawrence Auster has a good position on Islam. But he needs to drop his affiliation with Jim Kalb. This is hampering him and weakens him. It puts him in a sort of "usual suspect" position, where, among all the sense that he makes, some things cannot be clearly said because of his group affiliation.