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Impressions of the Propertarian Institute & H. L. Mencken Club Conferences

[1]2,943 words

Having gone to various types of conferences in my life — corporate, libertarian, etc. — I can say that the lasting benefits of these things tend to be less in the actual talks or panels themselves than in the social opportunities for hobnobbing, networking, and just plain socializing. Meeting like-minded individuals, discussing with each other how we arrived at our positions, exchanging book recommendations, and hitting the hotel bar is what you remember most about a conference.

In the past couple of months, I’ve gone to my first two Dissident Right-oriented conferences, Curt Doolittle’s half-day Propertarian Institute Conference on “Western Civilization: Circumventing the Frankfurt and Postmodern Schools” held in NYC in September, and the recent annual H. L. Mencken Club Conference [2] in Baltimore which Paul Gottfried has been putting together for the past ten years.

So, in this spirit of the social aspects of conferences, below are some general impressions of my experiences at these two, with an emphasis on the sorts of people I encountered.

Propertarian Institute Conference

As a reformed libertarian myself, before the Propertarian conference I confess I didn’t know much about propertarianism [3] other than it being a novel twist on libertarianism, an approach that is attempting to pivot away from the abstract moral foundations of classic libertarianism and towards a more empirical theoretical foundation, one that frames social interaction and exchange as being iterations of ‘property’. (The Propertarian enthusiasts I spoke with are anxiously awaiting Curt’s planned magnum opus on the subject.) Nonetheless, I went primarily because the topic was to be on the Frankfurt School and because Kevin MacDonald, Tom Sunić, and Ricardo Duchesne were each to be participants.

The whole need for the conference organizers to deploy a counter-intel ‘meet at Location X, at which point you will receive a map to Location Y a few blocks away’ approach, while totally understandable in our ideological sphere, lent an air of potential ‘danger’ to the day’s events, something that brings with it an unexpected sense of exhilaration and immediacy, one that I’m sure various readers already understand. I also suspect this psychological element will dissipate over time the more you go to such conferences.

While the panel discussion was a bit scattershot and all too brief, it goes without saying that the speakers themselves are all very sharp people. Ostensibly, the conference was to be about the influence of the Frankfurt School on American culture, but this topic was barely touched upon at all. Instead, it became a sort of free form conversation led by Doolittle, who tried to steer the proceedings in a certain propertarian direction.

Kevin was kind enough to sign my dog-eared copy of The Culture of Critique [4] and I was able to talk to him a bit about particular subtopics addressed in his seminal trilogy, a series of books that, collectively, have been a major turning point in my own intellectual journey (on a scale as my previous discoveries of Hayek’s notion of spontaneous order and, before that, Popper’s thesis of falsificationism.) As a footnote, I should also mention that Kevin is quite the tall guy, with a physical appearance and youthful vigor that defies the fact he’s in his 70s. But then again, 70 seems to be the new 60.

Speaking to Tom Sunić was a treat, as I had recently read his book Homo Americanus [5]. I expressed to him that my two big takeaways from his book were: 1) his thesis on the New England puritan roots of today’s American brand of secularist progressivism and political correctness, and how it frames issues in terms of a Manichean binary of absolute good vs. absolute evil (with no gray in between), and 2) how the genealogy of political correctness can be directly traced to 1945 Western Europe, when (especially in France and Germany), an immediate and over zealous de-Nazification program of West European universities was conducted by the Allies and their newly installed ‘democratic’ governments. By purging these universities of virtually every variation of conservative thinker and book, a massive intellectual vacuum was created which was rather quickly filled by Marxists, Freudians, and the various hybrids thereof. In other words, the Allies threw the baby out with the bathwater and the rest, so to speak, is history. Sunić cites many French and German books of recent years exploring this topic (books that, unfortunately, are not translated into English and likely won’t ever be, unless the diligent folks at Alt Right publishing houses such as Counter-Currents do something to remedy that), leaving me both all the more impressed with Sunić’s fluency in many languages (his writing in English is superb for someone who is not a native speaker) as well as leaving me feeling rather downtrodden at my own, ahem, ‘linguistic homogeneity’.

An after-conference gathering at a nearby pub provided a great opportunity to meet like minded people of all ages. I am always eager to hear individuals’ stories of their own intellectual odysseys and what led them to land on the shores of the Alt Right or Dissident Right or whatever you want to call what is happening. The attendees at this conference skewed young, with a median age I’d guess was about 30 or 35. Among the individuals I met were some Red Ice employees/volunteers (the event was filmed), some Doolittle acolytes, and a pair of young, crisply dressed Identity Europa kids who, as it would turn out in the ensuing days, were likely the devilish figures behind what would become a moral [6] panic [7] at NYU, where (ironically) the conference was held, simply for leaving behind a few of those iconic and memetically-effective Identity Europa flyers. I had a hearty chuckle with those guys in recounting Nathan Damigo’s “punch heard around the world” fist-a-cuff with Moldilocks, that living embodiment of smelly feminism and pornographic libertinism. At NYU, we were meeting in the belly of the beast, and post-conference, that beast tried its best to vomit us out of its system and get to the bottom of how such a travesty was ever allowed to take place in the first place.

H. L. Mencken Club Conference

Emboldened with the positive experience of this Propertarian Institute conference, I suddenly felt less hesitant about future verboten conferences, so I signed up for the annual Mencken Club Conference in Baltimore. Paul Gottfried is a top-notch writer, a classicist firmly rooted in the Dissident Right camp when it comes to issues such as immigration and the importance of cherishing and nurturing the European roots of our national identity.

With respect to the JQ, which has historically been a sensitive subject within various camps of the Dissident Right, Gottfried has engaged respectfully [8] with the ideas of figures such as Kevin MacDonald and others, which is a big reason I went to the Mencken conference, despite the fact that the conference’s scheduled speakers skewed older and heavily Jewish. While it is far beyond the scope of this essay to address various nuances to the JQ, and what it means for us normatively, it seems to me that when and where one can engage with Dissident Right Jews constructively, such opportunities should be pursued rather than avoided. At a minimum, such intellectual engagement has the benefit of better understanding the full array of Dissident Right positions, but also, in keeping our eyes on the prize, it can help build [9] bridges [10].

Going into this conference, I had actually been hoping to, somewhere along the line, have a discussion with at least one dissident right Jewish attendee specifically on the JQ, but I now realize something like that is easier said than done, and as a social-setting goal would be rather awkward to broach. (To this point, I would say: where are the Mencken Club panels addressing aspects of the JQ, especially given how H. L. Mencken himself would occasionally allude to Jewish particularism?)

Nonetheless, I met smart and interesting people at this conference, which as I noted above, is what conferences are all about. I met young academics and professionals, all of whom were very much on the same wavelength as me when it comes to how we perceive, for example, the intricacies of the Alt Right, what it is, what it is not, and where it may be going.

As I also mentioned above, for obvious reasons hotel bars are prerequisites for a successful conference. While mingling with a few people in the bar area, a guy to my right kindly offered to buy the immediate small circle a round of drinks. It was just as we were discussing our favorite websites and writers. At one point I said “Have you guys checked out Z Man’s stuff?” to which one of the others smiled and said “Yeah, that’s Z Man [11] right there,” gesturing to the guy buying the round of drinks. (I only tell this anecdote because Z Man has already posted [12] about his attendance of the Mencken conference. I believe I’m one of the ‘kiddie table’ attendees referenced in his post.) Appending to an old cliché, the Alt Right (still a workable term for its inscrutability) is a small world, albeit one that appears to be steadily growing.

As a hopeless Anglophile, meeting John Derbyshire was a high point for me. He kindly signed my hardcover copy of We Are Doomed [13]. “Ah, you should have gotten the soft cover version,” he joked, “All the typos and other mistakes have been corrected.” I mentioned how I have occasionally used his famous column “The Talk [14],” the one for which he was unceremoniously purged from National Review, as a red pill breadcrumb to various parents with kids. With a glass of red wine in tow, he was most cordial and gentlemanly, a fountain of learned insight and witticisms.

On the Anglophile theme, I was able to touch base with Peter Brimelow, who (long ago having cited a post of mine from many a moon ago) surprisingly recalled my little blog and the fact that I went offline for several years, which is true. His acknowledgement left me feeling pretty good, a figurative goose to the cheek. I say this for the benefit of others out there who, while toiling away with their own blogs and such, may sometimes go through bouts of ‘Is it worth it?’ discouragement. You never really know who out there may be surfing your site. In some conversational context or other (I can’t recall the details), Peter mentioned having a twin brother. “Is this a Boys from Brazil type of situation?” I asked, which got a laugh out of him.

In terms of the conference panels themselves, the one I most looked forward to was a discussion of what the Alt Right is and where it may be heading, which featured Gottfried, Derb, and Keith Preston. I sensed an exasperation by the first two elder statesman as to the Alt Right phenomenon, both of them believing to varying degrees that the Alt Right will never likely move beyond marginal status. But to measure the Alt Right’s effectiveness in terms of raw membership numbers is misleading at best. The Alt Right is an organic, online social force and will probably stay that way, which isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, as we are in uncharted waters. The Alt Right is also leaderless, much like the implicitly white Tea Party movement was, and this is also a good thing. When it comes to the increasingly rapid changes in how technology alters not only the routes of communication but the norms of communication, there will be more frequent and more profound generational gaps in how people understand it all, something I myself am of course not immune to.

What Gottfried and Derb don’t fully understand is the disproportionate influence this relatively low-membership movement is having on cultural discourse. A well-placed meme (such as the recent brilliant “It’s okay to be white” signs currently spreading across college campuses and now even high schools) can exert a significantly disproportionate influence on the public cultural arena. In this respect and others, only Preston sufficiently ‘got’ what the Alt-Right is about. I’m not familiar with his work [15] but, as luck would have it, I was seated next to him at the Saturday night dinner, and had an interesting conversation with him on the remarkably zig-zaggy and esoteric route his own intellectual journey has taken him.

Austrian-school libertarian Tom Woods [16], a polished speaker with a sizeable online following, spoke on the overall state of the libertarian movement today. A notable takeaway from his talk is his personal guess that upwards of 50% of the libertarian base is anti-immigration, while the loudest voices in the libertarian movement (as well as the Libertarian Party’s leadership) are still 100% open borders, a dichotomy that parallels the gap between the Republican Party’s leadership and it’s base.

Peter Brimelow briefly discussed the Trump agenda and its immigration-related prospects. Robert Paquette described his career-long antagonisms with administrators and various committees at Hamilton College, while Robert Weissberg used humor to punctuate various stories of P.C. madness he has witnessed over the years at the University of Illinois. Michael Hart had a speculative presentation on how the U.S. might be partitioned into two nation states, along county-by-county lines.

One of the risks, I would imagine, for conferences like this is for the panels to not be too general in scope as to become nothing more than a grand instance of ‘preaching to the choir.’ In other words, you need a sufficient degree of specificity in the topics in order to evoke constructive questions, discussion and debate. In some ways, I suppose, there is a certain unavoidable aspect to this for the no doubt hard work involved in organizing a conference like this. As a result, this may be another reason why the informal socializing with interesting characters is the real benefit of a conference. To provide a couple of other quick examples, among the attendees I spoke with was a young libertarian Christian seeking to comport his Lockean-inspired natural rights theory with Hoppe’s attempt to build a coherent, ethnostate-supportive political philosophy from nothing more than an abstract non-aggression principle. And where else would I, quite unexpectedly, meet a college-aged, second generation immigrant who is a Catholic convert from The Religion of Peace. I mean . . . wow.

In terms of moving the Dissident Right sportsball forward in a pointed direction, Carl Horowitz’s talk “Why Have Corporations Become Bulwarks of the Cultural Marxist Left” was the best presentation. As someone clearly familiar with the ins and outs of corporate stockholder meetings, Horowitz described his own past attempts at fighting corporate SJW forces at stockholder meetings, something virtually any one of us has the power to do. It’s an admittedly unsexy endeavor but one with some potentially significant payoffs. The point, he noted, is less in expecting the shareholders to actually pass one’s proposed motions (as an example, Horowitz used his past efforts to pass motions that “Company X should discontinue contributions to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network”) than it is in the public display of getting the microphone and raising an issue the company is involved with. Having a brief pitch ready, and delivering it effectively, forces a vote on the matter and may even generate press. Horowitz noted that on some occasions he has gotten upwards of 30% of the vote of a major corporation’s shareholders, and has been quite encouraged seeing the approving nods from various shareholders as he spoke.

At a jam-packed, after-event gathering in Keith Preston’s hotel room, which was generously stacked with booze by another English chap whose name I didn’t quite catch, I had a stimulating discussion with Richard Pollack, a veteran D.C. politics reporter now working for The Daily Caller. Pollack had spoken earlier at the conference about liberal bias in the D.C. press corps, focusing on the current proliferation of Clinton-related scandals such as Uranium One and his own reporting on the ongoing Podesta Group connections to Russia. Upon audience questions, he described what an apparently great and fair-minded boss, as well as overall swell guy, Tucker Carlson is. Fielding a question about whether or not TC reads “sites such as VDARE,” Pollock was diplomatic and coy, simply saying that The Daily Caller offices receive email blasts from all sorts of different groups and that these are read. (FWIW, Tucker’s show is pretty much the only cable news show worth watching, the only one that dares to get close to the preconditions of Dissident Right concerns. Tucker is exploring, I suppose, the furthest regions that his Civic Nationalism, and the brass at FNC, will allow him to. Plus, I haven’t yet tired of the highly entertaining ‘Tucker Porn’ segments where, with the best of poker faces, he throws a Leftie guest some rhetorical question and enough rope for the person to hang his/her/ze self with, which most of the time leads to an entertaining BTFO moment.) In any event, Pollock told me that in his many decades of Washington reporting, he has never seen a D.C. press corps so openly hostile towards a sitting POTUS, nor so overt in their outright activism, as what he is witnessing now.

All in all, the 2017 H. L. Mencken Club conference was a good time, an event which unfurled smoothly and without any Antifa autistic screechers, a most welcome fact and one that one of the conference organizers attributed to the ‘geriatric’ quality of the conference. (Gottfried noted that this year’s conference was their highest attended one yet.) Again, it was great meeting such good, smart people, who are on various sides of the Gottfried model. I’ll definitely be attending future Mencken Club conferences as long as Paul, who is now 75, himself keeps chugging along and organizing them.

The author writes at Logical Meme [17].