Exclusive Interviews
Daniel McCarthy on the Future of the American Conservative Magazine and Taking Back the Right
By Anthony Wile - October 17, 2010

Introduction: Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative (www.amconmag.com) and a founding member of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters. In addition to his work at The American Conservative, he has been a graduate fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, senior editor of ISI Books, and Internet communications coordinator for the 2008 Ron Paul presidential campaign. His freelance writing has appeared in many U.S. and UK periodicals, and he is frequent contributor to online and print publications of Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty.

Daily Bell: We thank you for your time.

Daniel McCarthy: I am delighted to talk to The Daily Bell. You've interviewed many of my heroes in the liberty movement, and Switzerland has had a high place in my esteem since I visited the country in 2004.

Daily Bell: Give us a little bit of your background.

Daniel McCarthy: I'm 32, a native of the American Midwest, where I was born and attended university. From a fairly young age I took an interest in politics and political journalism, and the latter eventually become my career. I got started in a semi-professional way by writing for LewRockwell.com. For most of the past decade I've been an editor at The American Conservative, with a break in 2007 and early 2008, when I worked for a book publisher and then the Ron Paul presidential campaign. My freelance writing has appeared in The Spectator, Reason, Orion and a variety of other outlets.

Daily Bell: Do you identify yourself as a libertarian, a conservative or both?

Daniel McCarthy: Conservative, ultimately. My assumptions about human nature are closer to those of Edmund Burke than those of Jefferson or J.S. Mill and my view of politics is informed by Hobbes, Hume, and Oakeshott more than by Locke and Nozick.

Conservatives have much to learn from libertarians, however. Libertarianism conveys better than any other political perspective how inherently dangerous the state is. Quite apart from whatever good one might think government power does – and there are reasons to doubt it does any – the harm it inflicts upon individuals and society is undeniable. Unfortunately, coercive power is a persistent feature of human life and attempts to abolish it usually only succeed in redistributing it.

There can be a great deal of common ground between libertarianism and conservatism in practice. The gravest danger the social order faces today is not, as some think, moral anarchy or ennui brought on by too much freedom – the plight of the "Last Man" – but the democratist urge to redeem the world through political power. To preserve our social order, a conservative must be as implacably opposed as any libertarian to messianic statism.

Daily Bell: How did you come to your conclusions?

Daniel McCarthy: Largely by negation. American "liberalism" – a kind of pseudo-capitalistic social democracy – was evidently a philosophy for small spirits; it's the faith of a farm animal, really, free to feed and breed but not to find rules for its own existence. My youthful rebellion against the pervasive state-liberalism of America, however, never took a Nietzschean direction – I've always been more inspired by Burckhardt and Coleridge. Less thunder, more lightning.

In the 1990s I was impressed by the convergent critiques of managerial statism developed by libertarians of the anarcho-capitalist school, particularly Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and paleoconservatives such as Paul Gottfried. They demonstrated that the modern state has a deep value structure, often of a leftist bent, beneath its facade of cultural neutrality. More recently I've come to recognize that anarcho-tyranny can have a "right-wing" cast as well. The problem with Bush and Cheney was not that they were covert leftists but that they were anti-constitutionalist right-wingers. They were teleocratic, to use Oakeshott's term.

Daily Bell: How did you end up at American Conservative magazine?

Daniel McCarthy: I was in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis studying classics when the magazine launched in 2002. Its editors, Taki Theodoracopulos, Pat Buchanan, and Scott McConnell, were writers I admired. Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign had sparked my interest in politics and I followed Taki's columns avidly. I first wrote for the magazine in the spring of 2003 after a satire I wrote for Lew Rockwell attracted the editors' attention. That summer the magazine had an opening for a staff writer. I went to Washington, interviewed, and got the job.

Daily Bell: What is the future of the magazine?

Daniel McCarthy: We're going to take back the Right brain cell by brain cell. I became editor of the magazine this summer, shortly after we received nonprofit status. We faced a cash crunch at the same time, which put the print magazine on hiatus for a few months. But now our immediate obstacles have been overcome and print resumes this month.

The two great intellectual and grassroots movements that have breathed life into the American Right in the past 20 years have been Pat Buchanan's paleoconservatism and Ron Paul's libertarian constitutionalism. The American Conservative brings those movements together, along with other opponents of our country's endless wars and debt economy. We're forging the intellectual superstructure for a new, more realistic Right that will ultimately displace the neoconservatives. Our nonprofit status makes fundraising easier and insulates us from partisan politics – the siren whose song lured the 20th-century conservative movement to destruction.

Daily Bell: What is the future of libertarian movement?

Daniel McCarthy: Having a future beyond websites and think tanks will require that libertarianism co-opt the political Right in America rather than being co-opted by it. The Tea Party movement is semi-libertarian; it has the potential to be turned in a libertarian direction. But the danger is that if it does come to be identified with libertarianism, libertarians might be tempted to put power ahead of principle.

There was an opportunity like this once before. The turning point was Goldwater – his Cold War foreign policy aside, he might have been the beginning of an effective libertarian movement, but instead the movement he inspired turned in an anti-left rather than anti-state direction and was soon subsumed by Nixon and the Republican Party establishment.

Daily Bell: Is the military-industrial complex eroding?

Daniel McCarthy: No. Too many libertarians and conservatives are like Marxists in their belief that the material contradictions in the present system will ultimately bring it down – with some golden age of liberty to follow. This is apocalyptic nonsense. Look at history: Rome went on as an empire for centuries after the fall of the republic, despite continual crises. When the empire finally did collapse, civilization collapsed too – literacy plunged, life expectancy plummeted. It was no triumph for "barbarian freedom," which is a bogus concept in any case.

The military industrial complex may have to make adjustments, but a state that is a fiscal basket case can still survive a long time as a garrison state: look at the Soviet Union. America is not as economically wrecked as the old USSR was and the USSR was able to maintain its military industrial complex till the very end. North Korea is another example. The military industrial complex, left to its own devices, will outlast our liberty, easily. To end it will require active political effort on our part, not just waiting for some imagined inevitable collapse.

Daily Bell: What will happen with the war in Afghanistan?

Daniel McCarthy: Much like the Iraq War, the Afghan conflict is changing but not ending. At some point U.S. forces will be reduced, but drone attacks and various other operations will continue, the Taliban and other rebel forces will not go away (until something even nastier comes along and suppresses them), and Pakistan could well supply the spark that ignites World War III. The neocons are partly correct that only a transformation in the social values of Central Asia and the Mideast can accomplish what they want to achieve. But in trying to bring about that social revolution by force we are preventing it from happening the only way it can happen – from within – and we are strengthening the most retrograde elements in those societies. Our enemies are heroes to their people because they resist the foreign oppressor.

Daily Bell: Did America win in Iraq?

Daniel McCarthy: U.S. forces never lost a battle; we deposed, captured, tried, and executed Saddam Hussein. And the U.S. has installed a compliant government and now has the world's largest "embassy" there, along with plenty of troops. If this isn't victory, what is?

But it isn't victory because none of this actually improves America's security: on the contrary, we have created martyrs for our enemies' causes. Terrorism is fueled by ideology and by occupation. We've occupied two Muslim countries in the past decade, while acting as policeman and overlord of the entire Muslim world. This will inevitably generate blowback.

Daily Bell: Will America go to war elsewhere in the world under Obama?

Daniel McCarthy: Yes, but his wars will not look like his predecessor's. George W. Bush was remarkable in the frivolity with which he sent hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy other countries. The more usual thing for American leaders to do is to send light forces and bomb, bomb, bomb. Obama is a return to "normal." The Afghan War is already turning into a new war, called the Af/Pak War, and creeping into Pakistan, which is a far more dangerous place than Iraq or Afghanistan. And as The American Conservative's Phil Giraldi has reported, the pieces are in place for bombing wars and special-forces deployments in Yemen and Somalia.

Some day there will be another massive terrorist attack in the U.S. and America will invade some third party to make another burnt offering to the god of war. But it'll probably happen under a Republican, not Obama.

Daily Bell: What is happening to the Obama presidency?

Daniel McCarthy: Obama has discovered to his surprise that the country is the opposite of what he thought it was. He thought it was a militaristic society that wanted him to maintain Bush's policies in war and national security, but also a socialist-liberal society that wanted much bigger domestic government programs. Turns out his own base isn't thrilled with his domestic socialism – it's not enough for them – and much of his base hates his foreign policy. The right, meanwhile, isn't propitiated by Obama's foreign policy and hates his socialism. So he has no friends – he represents a war socialism that has no base. Only Republican ineptitude can possibly save him, but fortunately for him, there's always plenty of that.

Daily Bell: What is happening within the conservative movement? Is it growing stronger?

Daniel McCarthy: The conservative movement in America isn't conservative and isn't a movement. It's a jobs program for Republican apparatchiks between Republican administrations. It survives by bilking old people out of their savings by telling them that the Cold War or the sexual revolution is still at fever pitch. There is however a grassroots Right of sorts, and it's re-energized by not having to carry the dead weight of the Bush administration and by having a weak liberal like Obama to use as a scratching post.

Unfortunately, in politics, policy trumps elections. And policy is made by a special class of people. The grassroots can elect whomever they like – even Sharron Angle or Christine O'Donnell – but insiders like David Frum will always be the ones who wield policy-making power. An effective libertarian or authentically conservative movement will need to have a policy elite of its own. Too many Americans actually believe that democracy works the way they're told it does – that elections are the be-all and end-all of politics. Elections aren't even half of it.

Daily Bell: How does American Conservative fit into the larger movement?

Daniel McCarthy: We try to remind anyone with a conscience that conservatism, and even the conservative movement, used to be better than this. It used to be smart and at least semi-principled.

This reclaiming of the name "conservative" and of the Right's history helps, I think, to inspire young people, as well as the not-so-young, to cleanse the conservative movement or build a new and better one. America is in some senses a very right-wing country, in that it doesn't like overt socialism, and so it will almost always have a strong right wing. The question is, what kind of right-wing? A nationalistic, militaristic, corrupt right wing like the neocons, or an intelligent and humane right wing like The American Conservative?

Daily Bell: What do you do want to accomplish next?

Daniel McCarthy: The next step for the magazine is returning to print and expanding our operations as resources allow, revamping our website, and penetrating further into other media. The American Conservative has a tremendous potential for growth; I'm confident there are enough principled and intelligent right-wingers out there to support us. There are a lot of people who should be reading this magazine. The mission is to make sure they discover it.

For me personally, I'd like to find more time to write longer, more theoretical pieces and perhaps a book or three.

Daily Bell: What do you think of Ron Paul?

Daniel McCarthy: He's the real thing. He's not just a classical liberal but a classical American, in the mold of some of the Founding Fathers and of such great men of the Old Right as Sen. James A. Reed and Rep. Howard Buffett. Too many people think that Paul is alone and without precedent, a beautiful freak. But he's the product of real traditions – Austrian economics, American constitutionalism – and those traditions, if strengthened, can create a generation of Ron Pauls.

Daily Bell: What do you think of the Federal Reserve?

Daniel McCarthy: It's exactly as dangerous as its critics in the Austrian school of economics say it is, though it must be remembered that the banking system as a whole is behind the Federal Reserve, not the other way around. The new movie "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is pretty good on that point.

Daily Bell: Should we return to a private gold or bi-metallic gold and silver standard?

Daniel McCarthy: It could be a gold standard, which would be traditional, or it could be some other real-world monetary standard. What's important is to get away from fiat currency, which gives banks and governments working together enormous powers to reshape society, undercut the productive economy, and get us into wars. But even the gold standard won't stop all of that.

Daily Bell: What do you think of the Hannity/Limbaugh wing of the conservative movement?

Daniel McCarthy: They create a sophisticated virtual reality driven by emotions rather than intellect. They uphold the myth of an all-pervasive, all-powerful American Left, when in fact real power in this country has been held by a statist and financially monopolist Right for at least 30 years. Even the culture is defined more by this corrupt Right than by actual radicals, which is why our culture is mediocre and offensive only in the most banal ways. We have lowest-common-denominator depravity, designed – or as good as designed – to distract everyone from what power in Washington and Wall Street is doing. Hannity and Limbaugh are pied pipers.

Daily Bell: What do you think of Sarah Palin and Dick Armey?

Daniel McCarthy: By default I'm critical of both of them, but they both have, or once had, some potential for good. Palin was a Buchananite and she symbolizes an anti-Left mentality that I think mistakes its real enemies but that is not a bad thing in itself. Unfortunately she's not smart, and there were no smart traditional conservatives in place to influence her, so she borrowed her brains from Randy Scheuneman and Bill Kristol. That didn't have to happen, if our side had been properly prepared. Armey is smart, one of the smartest people we've had in Congress, but he's cowardly and opportunistic. When he knows what's right he usually doesn't have the guts to do it – he has admitted as much in the case of the Iraq War. They're the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion of the American Right.

Daily Bell: Let's ask some sociopolitical questions. Do you think the US federal government should cease to fund public schools?

Daniel McCarthy: It funds a great many programs, from Head Start to No Child Left Behind. I would leave all education programs to local governments and ultimately to parents; the federal hand in education is overwhelmingly detrimental. You can justify all kinds of awful things that you wouldn't normally do if only you say you're doing it for the children – just look at the libertarian mania for vouchers, which are simply handouts of other people's tax money. Republicans are even more desperate to placate the education lobby than Democrats are, so there's no chance that the federal government will get out of education; the best we can hope for is less damage and less growth.

Daily Bell: You mentioned the Tea Party but we'd like you to discuss it a little more in depth. Is the Tea Party being co-opted?

Daniel McCarthy: The worst thing about the Tea Party is that it doesn't need to be co-opted. It was always largely stage-managed by Republican consultants and the appearance of conflict has been generated because there are competing factions of consultants and insiders. The grassroots may be sincere in their anti-government feelings. But the problem is that the grassroots Right believes what they were taught in civics class: that democracy is about elections. You elect someone you like and he votes the way you want. That's not politics at all. Somebody gets elected, but he votes where his interests lie and where his advisers tell him to vote. If you want to control his votes – actual policy – you need to have your people in place as his advisers and you need to make sure his interests coincide with yours. But the tea party doesn't have coherent interests; it's all emotion and no strategy.

Daily Bell: Is the Internet having an effect on the conservative movement?

Daniel McCarthy: What's interesting about the conservative movement as it is now is how old it is. It's an old media movement. Its mouthpieces are Fox News on television and talk radio and their average viewer or listener is in his 60s. It does have an Internet presence, but liberals are stronger and libertarians are proportionally far stronger. Conservative Internet sites tend to be as dumbed-down as conservative radio and television, while libertarian and liberal sites are relatively highbrow. This isn't because conservatives are dumb, it's because the conservative movement is run by dim-bulb political hacks and very old men who long ago lost the power to think in anything other than cliches.

Daily Bell: Do you think the war on drugs can be won? Should drugs be legalized?

Daniel McCarthy: The war on drugs is unconstitutional. It took a constitutional amendment to ban one intoxicating substance, alcohol. What changed so that mere congressional edict could ban others? But there's a lot of money in the war on drugs and the war on drugs acts as a good proxy for other things – like religious passions and racial animosities. Americans are the most drugged people on the planet, but they believe they are absolved of their pharmaceutical sins as long as the drugs are prescribed by priests in a white coats. It's nonsense.

Yet as is so often the case in these political and social conflicts, both sides are quite wrong. The drug warriors are worse, but the drug culture is in many ways a culture of irresponsibility and self-indulgence, a fundamentally servile culture. You can easily see the powers that be changing their minds and instead of banning drugs encouraging them – giving us conditions like those of Huxley's Brave New World. So much the better if people freely demand their soma rather than having to have it forced upon them.

Daily Bell: Do you think President George Bush did a good job of representing Republican virtues during his administration?

Daniel McCarthy: The old Republican virtues were a sense of class, emotional frigidity, a desire to balance budgets and some commitment to minding our own business in foreign policy. Robert A. Taft exemplified those virtues. Bush was their antithesis.

Daily Bell: Some say the Obama administration is a kind of Bush-Lite administration and that there is not much difference between the two parties. What is your opinion?

Daniel McCarthy: Obama is worse than Bush-lite, he's more like Bush-plus in many respects, since he has centralized the economy even more and has actually expanded some of Bush's military and executive powers. On the other hand, he deserves a little credit for at least drawing down troops in Iraq and he deserves great credit for not being John McCain, who would have taken us to war with Iran by now.

The Democrats are generally the less dangerous party because they are less attuned to the country – they favor domestic socialism, which Americans don't much like, and a more multilateral foreign policy, which neither doves nor hawks like. They have no following, so the amount of harm they can do is limited. The Republicans talk about freedom and capitalism even as they practice corporatist socialism and they talk the patriotic God-and-country talk that the American people love to hear.

This means they can whip up the public and do many more dangerous things both in foreign policy and in the economy. But the only thing that can counter the Republicans' debt-inflation-war ideology is some other kind of right-wing force that can be patriotic and religious without being nationalistic and apocalyptic, that can talk about economic freedom and actually cut government and balance budgets, not spend like a wastrel and promise that "growth" will solve our problems. That's the kind of Right that Ron Paul's movement might build.

Daily Bell: Anything else you want to add?

Daniel McCarthy: Daily Bell readers will find much to enjoy in The American Conservative, including Austrian economic thinkers such as Tom Woods and Tom DiLorenzo and insightful analysts of world affairs such as Andrew Bacevich and John Mearsheimer. Visit the website at www.amconmag.com and subscribe at www.amconmag.com/subscribe. You can also make a donation to help us expand at www.amconmag.com/donate.

Daily Bell: Books our readers should look at? Articles?

Daniel McCarthy: Anyone who would like to get a sense of the best that conservatism is capable of as a philosophy would do well to consult The Dilemmas of American Conservatism, a volume recently published by the University Press of Kentucky. I contribute a chapter on Willmoore Kendall, a brilliant, challenging right-winger, but I'm not being modest when I say my piece is the least of the essays in this collection. In general, I recommend the works of Bertrand de Jouvenel, particularly On Power and Sovereignty, to every libertarian, conservative, or person interested in freedom. And for edifying perspectives as well as sheer pleasure, you can't beat the writing of Auberon Waugh, master of the vituperative arts. His books are hard to come by in the U.S., but a new anthology of some of his best stuff, Kiss Me, Chudleigh, is soon to be released in the UK.

Daily Bell: Good luck with the magazine.

Daniel McCarthy: Thank you very much, and keep up the invaluable work of The Daily Bell.

After Thoughts

Daniel McCarthy is just the kind of person we were writing about following last week's Doug Casey interview. We were trying to point out how the very fiber of the conversation about freedom has undergone a radical reinforcement and how so many more people, especially young people, are now fluent with it. And here comes McCarthy. Read his interview.

Indeed, he becomes exhibit A for our perspective that classical liberalism and libertarian literacy is a growing, even unstoppable, trend. As smart as he is, we will observe again that McCarthy is not alone in his perspectives, abilities or age. McCarthy and young people like him everywhere are increasingly a kind of walking death knell for power elite business as usual.

There is no way, even ten years ago, that this interview would have reached the kind of sizeable audience that it will attract today. Also, and just as important, there is no way either that 20 or even 10 years ago, McCarthy would have had the libertarian knowledge base that he presents so eloquently. This is the reality of what the Anglo-American power elite faces as it musters to conduct business as usual.

Ron Paul, the Mises Institute and thousands of web sites and bloggers with a libertarian or conservative-libertarian and hard-money perspectives have provided an invaluable education. This rediscovery of fundamental perspectives about how civil society is organized and relates is a most formidable phenomenon.

Human beings have a kind of biological imperative to use the most modern toolkits of the Age. And this is not like the 1990s or the 1980s. A brand new toolkit is available. That is the Internet itself, which has created a process of discovery that will work itself out over decades and has nothing to do, for instance, with the political cycle.

Ironically, the surge in the rediscovered wisdom of the ages (the New Enlightenment, we call it) is being driven by two main factors. We used to think that the truth-telling of the Internet (a modern Gutenberg press) would be enough to generate the societal changes that we anticipated. But its impact has been immeasurably strengthened by the continued unraveling of the credibility of the current elite system of economic authoritarianism (central banking, etc.)

Again, what is going on today is a process, an evolution that likely cannot be stopped because it is rooted in millions of years of evolution and the modern (and ancient) human psyche. It is only when one looks at the evolutionary processes now unfolding within the context of the past 5,000 years (and then 50,000 years) that one can truly understand the nature of what is occurring.

In our article "Moon Hoax and Margaret Atwood" we tried to show how communication breakthroughs are speeding up. We wrote, "Technology begins perhaps with cave painting and Cro-Magnon tool kits some 30,000 years ago and proceeds to hieroglyphics on clay tablets about 5,000 years ago. Then comes the Western alphabet about 1,000 years ago and the Gutenberg press about 500 years ago. See the pattern, dear reader? The gaps between major communication revolutions are growing considerably smaller."

Each time there is a major communication revolution, the power elite loses control and has to work hard to reestablish it. As these revolutions are generated more and more closely, the ambitions of the elite to impose world governance on the earth's teeming billions become less feasible. We are entering a time of increased freedom and intellectual ferment and creativity in our view – not a time of increased Orwellian oppression.

Daniel McCarthy is the very product of the evolution that we have attempted to chart these past two years (and for nearly a decade before that). He stands on the shoulders of those who came before and his insights will be increasingly magnified by this ongoing economic crisis and the 'Net's own, ongoing evolution. It is McCarthy's voice, in our estimation, and the voices of many like him, who will provide the choral accompaniment of the New Enlightenment.

Ironically, we believe that McCarthy himself does not anticipate the kind of radical change we see in the offing. But we ask people (and McCarthy as well) to consider what has already occurred in just the first decade of this 21st century. The US military industrial complex (from our point of view) is weakening as a result of two unsuccessful (and increasingly unpopular) wars, while the economic buttresses of the current corrupt economic system (including central banking and the graduated income tax) are gradually eroding as a result of the current economic crisis.

We see continued rebellion against the elite promotions that we chart every day. The global warming promotion is itself in ruins and the carbon currency and controls that were supposed to be credibly implemented as a result are in disarray as well. The scarcity promotions generally are failing. We believe the water promotion (and then the food scarcity promotion) was supposed to have been well underway by now. But you cannot have a water scarcity promotion without an explanation. The explanation was supposed to have been global warming. So the whole chain of bogus events has begun to fall apart.

When change – real change – comes, in our view, it will come quickly; perhaps more quickly than anyone anticipates. Sure, in the short run the change may be authoritarian. But authoritarian enterprises in this Age of the Internet will not last long in our humble view.

It is not Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or even Glenn Beck (with all his contradictions) who are the likely voices of the future of the West. Listen to McCarthy and his generation to hear a modern voice.

Posted in Exclusive Interviews