Anatomy of a Conservative

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The Vitruvian Man, a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, during a press visit of the “Leonardo da Vinci” exhibition to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of his death at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, October 20, 2019 (Benoit Tessier / Reuters)

Today, I lead my Impromptus column with beauty — the issue of beauty. Human beauty. Physical attractiveness. Does it matter in life? Oh, baby. A column by David Brooks — “Why Is It OK to Be Mean to the Ugly?” — occasioned some thoughts.

I also touch on anti-Semitism, “Latinx,” Mike Pence, and a bunch of other issues. I end the column with — believe it or not — cucumbers. And a story about.

Sandwiched in between somewhere are remarks about Winston Marshall. You may know him by now. He is, or was, a guitarist and banjo player for Mumford & Sons. He has quit the band, under a barrage of social-media pressure. This is, pretty much, a cancelation.

Marshall wrote a statement about this affair, which is moving (and also infuriating, I think). In my column, I zero in on the man’s political self-description. He writes,

. . . when forced to politically label myself I flutter between “centrist”, “liberal” or the more honest “bit this, bit that”. Being labeled erroneously just goes to show how binary political discourse has become. I had criticised the “Left”, so I must be the “Right”, or so their logic goes.

My comment is the following:

I think a lot of people are “bit this, bit that” — but it is uncool to admit, in this age of extremes. This age of absolutism, cocksureness, and tribalism. Anyway, I wish nothing but good to Winston Marshall.

After I wrote my column, I saw a story from the Associated Press. Bear with me, please, because this is related — related to “bit this, bit that.” Let me quote from this news report (which is whimsical and serious at the same time):

HILLSBOROUGH, Calif. (AP) — Fred Flintstone fought the law — and he won.

Technically, the owner of the fanciful Flintstones house in a posh San Francisco suburb settled a lawsuit with the town of Hillsborough. But the agreement will allow Fred and his friends to remain.

In a yabba dabba dispute that pitted property rights against government rules that played out in international media, retired publishing mogul Florence Fang defended her colorful, bulbous-shaped house and its elaborate homage to “The Flintstones” family, featuring Stone Age sculptures inspired by the 1960s cartoon, along with aliens and other oddities..

The town, however, called the towering dinosaurs and life-size sculptures “a highly visible eyesore” and sued Fang, alleging she violated local codes when she put dinosaur sculptures in the backyard and made other landscaping changes that caused local officials to declare it a public nuisance.

Here is a little clash between individual expression and community sensibility. I would come down on the side of individual expression, right? I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think about this case — other than that I find it (a) charming and (b) interesting, providing political and philosophical food for thought.

I discussed the case with two colleagues, who came at it from different, and sharp, angles. There are myriad angles to the case. I thought of Bill Buckley, and his use of the word “streak.”

“Within every conservative,” he said, “is a streak of libertarianism.” So true. And the conservative, classically speaking, has other streaks, too. Or you may prefer to think of them as organs — organs of the body (of various sizes, doing or representing various things).

There is the libertarian organ. And the communitarian organ. The traditionalist. The populist. The gonzo (to use a word that Burke probably would not have). And so on.

The conservative, poor guy, has to think. He does not have a dogma to follow, or to nod at. He has to think, often case by case. Which requires work, but which is very satisfying, I think.

Anyway, I would like to read a Kevin Williamson piece on this subject — about the Flintstone house and so on — and pieces by sharp others as well.

Again, for my column today — which has items to delight and tick off — go here.

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