How I Came to Believe What I Do: The Genealogy of My Ideas
I realized recently, it is impossible to know who a person is online, in writing, in terms of the genealogy of ideas, from one or two posts or an article. So much of what is considered ‘conservatism’ in the US is really a form of classical liberalism. Much of it derives from flawed ideology. Many of the folks that write and speak as conservatives often come from or are influenced by these various afflictions. Oftentimes they say good words, talk about concepts in the right way, but how to know? One has to almost parse their writing for certain keywords or go through an entire series of articles to realize where they are really coming from. Most Americans simply do not have the time for that.
In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I offer two articles that describe the genealogy of my ideas and what I mean by paleoconservative, a term that has in very recent years come to have differing meanings. I may begin to use the more descriptive phrase Protestant Christian, anti-federalist, old-right conservative (however that is long, so I will attempt to claim a legitimate position within the paleoconservative label).
Growing Up, Early Years
Summary: older Xer, country boy, dogs, guns, old men eating peanuts, church.
Time and place are important, real conservatives believe this to be true. I am an ‘old’ Generation Xer, I grew up in a semi-rural spot in South Carolina. We had a few acres, I had access to hundreds of acres of forest, fields, streams, and marsh. I hunted, trampled and roamed with my dogs, beagles mostly. This was the pre-opioid crisis, pre-desolation rural south, a time before development and suburbia had reached my home. I had the privilege of meeting and knowing regular, ordinary yet extraordinary folks. Generation Xers, the older among us, are the last American generation to have real conversations and see in action people that grew up in a very different time, a time where electricity and cars were not ubiquitous. Mine is the last generation to have any real connection to all of the people that came before us, the folks that were America for most of America’s history. This was formative. In a way, if conservatism is to be saved, Gen Xers will have to do it, we are the last to know real, traditional Americans.
I went to church three times a week growing up, Protestant and at first charismatic and then Reformed Baptist. This was also formative.
I was a child of the 70s and a teenager of the 80s. My first political involvement was heading up the campaign for Ronald Reagan at my middle school mock election. I actually shook his hand at a campaign rally in a nearby city and wrote him a congratulatory letter upon his election. I framed and kept his reply to me.
Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech had a great impact on me. I had always planned to make a career in the military, but that speech motivated me to join just a few weeks after my 17th birthday. I joined the Reserves in high school and remained throughout college, moving over to the National Guard but you get the point.
Here is an article I wrote in 2012 that summarizes what dogs, old men, simple preachers, and my father taught me growing up.
Summary: I am not an academic professional anything. The Citadel, class of ’90, History; Excelsior College, Interdisciplinary Studies; Command and General Staff College; Liberty University, Public Policy (underway). With a few other colleges thrown in here and there that just for courses. I consider myself an interdisciplinarian of the generalist, instrumentalist sort. I differ with interdisciplinary methodology in that my epistemological view informs me there exists a notion of absolute truth.
I attended The Citadel in Charleston. A conservative, all-male (at the time) military college; class of 1990, a history major. There I met CAPT John Coussons, USN. I had many professors, some I recall, some had an impact, but if I have a genealogy of ideas, it began with Cussons. I took every class he taught, stayed one summer to attend a special seminar and frequently visited with him at his home with others to socialize and discuss various topics. You might, rightly define me, as a student of Coussons. It was under his lectures, our discussions and his ideas that my conception of the world and an understanding of what I learned growing up came to take form.
My education did not stop in 1990. Later, in the Army, it was easy, and cheap to take courses and I did at almost every post I was assigned to. I collected ‘credits’ from a wide variety of colleges, simply because the course interested me. My interests were in philosophy, history, and politics. Excelsior College was a favorite back in the 1990s because of the wide variety of distance courses they offered.
In the 2000s I began toying around with various graduate programs, again cherry-picking courses here and there. I had no plan other than to take what I liked that was available. Command and General Staff College was the first time, in a long time, that my learning was ‘institutionalized’ and focused, that was beneficial.
I am a large fan of Coursera and The Great Courses. I have completed many of their offerings in economics, philosophy, and history. Because, why not.
Finally, upon retiring from the Army I decided to formalize my efforts. I wanted to know what the Conservative, Inc. colleges were teaching, so I began a graduate program at Liberty University in Public Policy and History.
However, everything I have learned since 1990 was shaped in some way by what I learned from CAPT John Coussons. I learned from him the importance of place and time and the value of the education those old men from my youth and my experiences taught me. You might, rightly define me, as a student of Coussons.
Summary: Spent just over 32 years in the Army. Retired as a junior field grade officer. Went places, saw stuff, did things.
My Army career of thirty years took me around the world, to all the continents except Antarctica. I meet people where and how they live. I saw the great wonders of history and the capacity of man for pure evil. I saw suffering and resolve in the face of suffering.
My work sometimes found me training foreign and indigenous troops, living with them and serving with them. Later, I worked on teams concerned with anti-corruption and later still counter-threat finance. In other postings, I spent too much time seeing the inefficiency of large bureaucracy – and the capacity of man for evil. These were formative experiences, nitty-gritty history, geopolitics and anthropology lessons.
I was against the war in Iraq and later Afghanistan early, after my first rotation in fact. I wrote about that anonymously. Yet I deployed many more times and did my job as best I could. Duty is important. I began reading and dialoguing with folks at places like Antiwar.com and Soldiersforthetruth.com.
Summary: Christian, Reformed, Protestant. Christ-centered, radical, reactionary, unapologetic and firmly fixed in tradition and truth
I was raised with a simple theology that progressed in complexity over time. I became a believer as a young teen, but a real follower of Christ in the 2000s. I ascribe to a Reformed, Calvinist view of Protestant Christianity. I believe tradition is vital to restrain man’s proclivity toward error. My Christianity informs, inspires and guides my core view of metaphysical reality. In my view, Christianity is a permanent thing in Western and American culture.
Summary: Coussons, Buchanan, Wilson, Livingston, Dilorenzo
Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 ‘Cultural War’ speech resonated with me. At the time I was perplexed how the Republican party, a party I thought stood for real American and conservative values, could not listen. How the party could reject Buchanan disheartened me. I was dismayed that American ‘conservatives’ could reject Buchanan in favor of H.W. Bush, an establishment, globalist guy with no care for culture, tradition of morality. I found it amazing that Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their organizations and other like-minded evangelical protestants could not and would not support a man that held to all the core beliefs they said they stood for.
This fresh off the heels of so many televangelists scandals opened my eyes to the big business of evangelicalism and their desire to please and be part of the establishment. After 1992, I never looked at the establishment Republican Party nor of the established Protestant evangelical movement the same. I became the stereotypical cynical and skeptical Gen Xer.
I found voices that spoke to my brand of anti-federalist conservatism in the emerging Southern movement. Much of the early history of that movement, the 1990s specifically, is lost to inaccurate portrayals, straw-man descriptions, and outright lies. I attended meetings, heard lectures, read the books and essays the movement produced and dialogued with authors and leaders in the movement. It was not the ‘neo-confederate’, ‘racist’ or ‘anti-American’ thing the Internet now claims. The accusations that it was filled with revisionist history are true only insofar as one accepts that the intellectual efforts of the movement ‘revised’ history to a state generally accepted prior to the 1950s and 1960s. In the movement’s application of historical interpretations, these were true to the same views men the anti-federalist held in 1789 and thereafter. Nothing revisionary, radical or different in their interpretation; it was just not preferred, not mainstream at the moment and conflicted with the narrative that supports the classical liberal establishment.
Certainly, the Confederate battle flag played a role in the movement, as a symbol. Symbols are important. However, I can honestly say, the movement was not racist and not what the SPLC and subsequently the mainstream media portrayed it to be. It was dangerous simply because it spoke truths that were incongruent with the establishment narrative, but not filled with hatred of racism.
If some that were involved in the Southern movement back in the 1990s later adopted more radical views, that reflects only upon them and their ideological journey. None of the men I admired or followed took such a path then or in the years hence.
I met Dr. Clyde N. Wilson early in my involvement, only briefly at first. His writing, both academic and polemic became the second greatest source of my conservative education. I was not privileged to officially study under Dr. Wilson, I cannot claim, as Brion McClanahan, to be his last Ph.D. student. I can say, that in the years since first briefly meeting Dr. Wilson, he has been my academic advisor, guide and mentor. His mentorship and guidance in the formation of and chairmanship of The Calhoun Institute were invaluable to me.
Wilson taught me to relook at Calhoun, to see him as a Burkean realist conservative. To reexamine Jefferson, to weed through his often-contradictory writing, to find an articulation of the anti-federalist, republican view of the framing. If my formal education began with Coussons in the late 1980s it was finished with Clyde Wilson over the following thirty plus years.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, I listened to Rush Limbaugh some, because well he was right about Clinton; that was easy for him to be right about. I stopped soon after the War on Terror began to expand, I saw Rush as an establishment guy.
I enjoyed the writing of Thomas DiLorenzo, the Kennedy brothers, some things from Thomas E. Woods and others from the Mises Institute (I picked up some libertarian economic ideas that I later expunged in large part from my philosophy).
My reading list expanded beyond the Southern Movement writers, I re-read Edmund Burke, read Russell Kirk, more on Calhoun and re-read portions of Jefferson. I ran across Mike Church on the very early morning drive to physical training. He reminded me to get after first principles. I began to read a lot more enlightenment writers. I came to understand how classical liberalism went wrong from the start.
I came to understand the differences in ‘conservatism’ in America – the sort that derives from classical liberalism through the federalist path and the sort that exists on the margins, unheard, unrepresented and outside of the establishment; old-right paleoconservatism. I came to recognize the words that reflect different meanings, “founders versus framers” for instance. I began to notice the tenets of true conservatism weaved into segments of the establishment’s rhetoric but twisted to simply appeal to ordinary Americans. I began to understand the real influence of the Straussian school culminating eventually in Conservative, Inc.
The 2000s Anti-War, Paleoconservative Movement
I blogged a bit, anonymously, in the 2000s and kept up with some of the emerging voices of conservative dissent against all that was going on with Rumsfeld, Cheney, the Patriot Act, endless and expanding wars and corporate corruption through DoD contracting. It was in the 2000s that the paleoconservative movement and philosophy had perhaps the best chance to influence America, and it was in the 2000s that many purists perhaps became rock-throwing dissidents that alienated themselves from consideration.
I align well with the views of many of the writers at The American Conservative, yet I disagree strongly with their resistance to see the growing power of the liberal coalition as an existential risk to the very fabric of traditional American culture – correction they see it, but talking is not enough right now. Throwing rocks is not enough.
I regularly read and agree with Chronicles and The Imaginative Conservative, often works at Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I also regularly read The Abbeville Institute (the remaining last bastion of the intellectual wing of the Southern movement).
I was never a Trump supporter; I gave up supporting political candidates some time ago. However, in light of the absolute existential threat to the traditional American culture, around year two of Trump I began to pay attention to what his populist supported presidency might mean for conservatism. I am coming to believe he might not save the culture, nor conservatism, but he might buy precious time for authentic conservatives to articulate what conservatism should mean for America’s future. I disagree often with folks that I share a philosophical foundation with on this view.
Beyond toying around at writing, I serve as a sounding board for the wife, routinely solve ‘problems’ for my adult kids, act as an emotional support person for my Boxer, take care of mama, run a small consulting firm, build things (poorly), attend church, participate in some local civic organizations and love life.
Twitter at @onlyBarryLClark.