The Nature Conservancy, Little Jerusalem & the Wilds of Kansas

by George Frazier, author of The Last Wild Places of Kansas.

courtesy of hdnews.net
photo courtesy of hdnews.net

Great American Desert, flyover country, perfect platonic flatness, Tornado Alley, Dustbowl, Brownbackistan. Do these reject band names —all digs used at various times to describe our grassland zeitgeist —represent only the prejudice of some non-Kansans, or do they reflect something deeper we’ve internalized about ourselves? I sometimes wonder, when it comes to our wild lands, if Kansas has a chronic self-esteem issue, an inferiority complex of landscape.  One environmental slur I’ve always thought we would do better to embrace (and promote) is “badlands”, in the geologic sense —those rugged western landforms starved for water and sculpted by erosion.

From the Lakota mako (land) sica (bad), the term was first used to describe the whimsically eroded mixed-grass hill country of the Lakota homeland in South Dakota. Although the landscape of the Dakota Badlands is unforgiving (in an Old Testament way), nearly a million Aquafina-clutching vacationers exit I-90 every year to visit Badlands National Park and its maze of buttes, pinnacles and spires. It’s a place of little comfort, but many comfort stations.

Kansas, too, has badlands, but they don’t attract many visitors and you’ll be hard pressed to find a public restroom. This is a shame (well, not the part about the public restrooms). Spectacularly under the radar, steeped in Native American and environmental history, the Kansas badlands are a reminder of the remarkable diversity of landforms in the state.

In the 21st Century, access has become the most significant metadatum of the Kansas landscape.  More than ninety-eight percent of Kansas land is privately owned.  By itself this isn’t necessarily bad – while writing and researching my book The Last Wild Places of Kansas I found that the private land owners of Kansas are the greatest champions and most devoted stewards of our last wild places. But to most Americans, and many Kansans, this lack of access can seem like non-existence, and that’s why most people in eastern Kansas have never heard of the Gypsum (or Red) Hills of south-central Kansas or the Arikaree Breaks in extreme northwest Kansas, our two geophysical provinces most defined by badlands topography.

Sculpted from the soft mineral gypsum (Sun City is home to both the largest gypsum mine and one of the most infamous saloons – Busters – in Kansas), the Gypsum Hills west of Medicine Lodge are a shy but stunning precinct of the southern plains. Canyonlands, Martian soil, sandstone buttes, and mesas create a skyline that looks more like Arizona than Kansas. Tables of gypsum, a mineral that occurs as flat, diamond-shaped crystals of selenite and as a silky pink crust called satin spar, cap the tallest hills. In Comanche County, Ted Turner owns the largest single ranch in Kansas – over forty thousand acres of prairie that includes a sparkling section of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas – completely dedicated to buffalo production. They’ve enrolled more than thirty thousand acres in the lesser prairie-chicken recovery program. They’ve petitioned for water rights to rehabilitate a wetland for migratory birds. Throughout the region caves pocked in the porous gypsum provide habitat for bats found nowhere else in the state, including the Brazilian free-tailed bat.

The Arikaree Breaks – our other significant badlands province — are every bit as stunning and unexpected as the Red Hills, but instead of an erosional substrate of red sandstone and gypsum, the Arikaree breaks are sculpted from loess — a fine glacial soil that covers rock gorges, canyons, gravel ridges, and even small mountains lying far beneath the surface of the Great Plains. Loess and other high plains depositional materials are a result of erosion that wore down the Rocky Mountains. Runoff over the course of millions of years deposited this fine slurry across a vast swatch of the Great Plains.

9780700622191Perhaps even more than in the Red Hills, Native American history echoes across the Arikaree Breaks. Nowhere else in Kansas is the drama of the Indian Wars more evident. The Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose was killed along the Arikaree (just across the Colorado state line) and thousands of Native American survivors of the Sand Hill Massacre fled there to regroup and plan their next move in a seminal moment during the Indian Wars.

Like the Red Hills, the Arikaree Breaks have virtually no public access—only a state-sponsored scenic drive on Kansas Highway 27 north of Saint Francis. Brochures lure would-be travelers with dramatic photographs but then warn them to stick to public roads and stay in the car. Anywhere you set foot is trespassing.

But the landscape of access in the Kansas badlands is about to change. Running west across the Smoky Hill country of the Kansas high plains, a thin vein of chalk monuments adds a third movement to the Kansas badlands trilogy. Encompassing Monument Rocks, Castle Rock, the Chalk Pyramids, and a handful of other sites, gracious landowners have provided access to these wild places for years. At a distance, some of these Niobrara chalk formations remind me of small bison herds turned – a la Lot’s wife —into pillars of salt.

In early October, the Nature Conservancy announced plans to acquire “Little Jerusalem,” located between Scott City and Oakley off of US-83, the single largest rock formation in Kansas at more than a mile across. The 330-acre tract will include about 250 acres of rocks. Described as a “golden city” the site also sports a first class fossil field. The discovery of Clovis points in the area means people have been making pilgrimages to Little Jerusalem since before the founding of “Big” Jerusalem.

The new acquisition adds to the Nature Conservancy’s holdings in Logan County, which has played an important role in recent environmental history. In the mid-2000s, a “prairie dog war” was waged between the Logan County Commission and ranchers Larry and Better Haverfield, Gordon Barnhardt and Maxine Blank. At the time, the US Fish and Wildlife service was considering the Haverfield Ranch for reintroduction site of the black-footed ferret, America’s most endangered mammal. The deal hinged on the ranch’s robust (and plague free) prairie dog colony, the largest on the southern plains. The commission argued that the ranchers’ rights to promote prairie dogs on their property were trumped by a century-old Kansas law granting township boards the authority to poison prairie dogs on private property without the landowner’s permission and send them the bill. Eventually Haverfield and his partners prevailed, and just before Christmas in 2007, the black-footed ferret recovery team released ferrets at the ranch, the first to stalk the dark tunnels of a Kansas prairie dog metropolis since the 1950s. With less notoriety, ferrets were also successfully reintroduced at the Nature Conservancy’s other Logan County property, the Smoky Valley Ranch.

Here’s why I think public access at places like the Smoky Hill Ranch, and soon, Little Jerusalem, is important. Rex Buchanan of the Kansas Geologic Survey has said that we Kansans think of ourselves as a rural people, because we once were. But today, more than 50% of Kansans live in just five urban counties. We’ve become an urban people. In eastern Kansan this trend is accelerating as millennials – priced out of hipper locales on the coasts – have started immigrating to places like Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Emporia, bringing with them a hunger for authentic local experiences in the wild. Many of these newly minted Kansans don’t want to feel like strangers in their own state; they want to “learn the land.” Access at Little Jerusalem and other high quality wild places comes just in time as more Kansans realize what an important role the state played in the environmental history of this nation, a legacy that continues to this day.

The details about public access are still in the works, but I’m glad to hear this wild place will be preserved thanks to the efforts of the Nature Conservancy. This will give people one more reason to head out in search of the true nature of Kansas lands, both the good and the bad.

George Frazier’s book The Last Wild Places of Kansas won the 2016 Ferguson Award for Kansas History. Frazier lives in Lawrence with his wife and daughter.

The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table

9780700623198We are thrilled to announce the release of The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table. The book is the result of years of dedicated work from Frank & Jayni Carey.

Nearly 30 years after the first printing of the original The Kansas Cookbook, the new book is a celebration of wholesome, hearty foods that Kansans call their own. The Careys worked with chefs and cooks from Kansas City to Kismet to highlight the best dishes the Sunflower State has to offer. The recipes, accompanied by Louis Copt’s stunning illustrations, cover the state and palate. From burgers to Bison Bolognese, The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table is a celebration of Frank and cookbook-tourJayni’s passion for food, and the state of Kansas.

Through November and December, Frank and Jayni will be promoting the book at a series of events. Stay tuned, more events are on the horizon…

Frank & Jayni Appearances

Nov. 01 Lawrence Public Library / 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Nov. 03 Holy-Field Winery (Basehor) / Ladies’ Holidaze Night Out Open House / 6:00pm -9:00pm

                                                          Nov 16. Kansas City Public Library (KCMO) /  6:30-9:00

                                                          Nov 19. Pendleton’s Country Market / 1:00pm – 2:30pm

                                                          Nov 25. Final Fridays w/ Phoenix Gallery / 6:00pm – 9:00pm

                                                          Nov 30. KU Bookstore Holiday Open House / 5:30pm – 7:30pm

                                                          Dec 03. French Market (Prairie Village) / 2:00pm – 4:00pm

                                                          Dec 07. Washburn University Bookstore / 2:00pm – 4:00pm

                                                          Dec 14. Flint Hills Discovery Center / 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Intellectual Conservatism Cannot Save the Mainstream American Right

Dr. George Hawley, author of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, has been busy. Of course, when you start this election year publishing a book about the troubles plaguing the American Conservative movement, it’s hard to stay silent. Dr. Hawley has been closely monitoring the presidential campaign and possible fallout from the Republican’s internal bickering…

By Dr. George Hawley

9780700621934As Donald Trump rampaged through the already fragile infrastructure of the American conservative movement, we saw justified panic on the mainstream right and Schadenfreude on the left. Superficially, at least, the Trump campaign seemed to undermine what little intellectual respectability the right possessed, returning us the days when Lionel Trilling could reasonably state that conservatives do not “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” It makes sense that those laboring to foster and maintain a high-brow, literate conservatism would distance themselves from Trump’s brash, populist nationalism. Unfortunately for the #NeverTrump conservatives, the intellectual wing of the American conservative movement is simply not a plausible alternative to Trumpism.

donald-trump-supporter-yells-sieg-heil-nazi-salute-at-las-vegas-rallyConservatives are always quick to declare that “ideas have consequences” – a rallying cry taken from the title of Richard Weaver’s most important book. They argue that, although the left is a collection of interest groups expressing a litany of grievances, conservatism is based on principles. Conservatism officially rejects identity politics; as Ramesh Ponnuru once wrote in National Review, conservatives “hoist their ideas on flagpoles and see who salutes.”  Trump, in contrast, is a pure identity politics candidate, and one with little interest in abstract principles.

Progressives may roll their eyes at the suggestion that conservatives are deeply invested in political theory or that the conservative movement has a long history of rejecting identity politics. But intellectually serious conservatives do view political and economic theory as important, and they try to frame their arguments using universal principles rather than the language of interest-groups.

More so than liberals, conservatives are deeply concerned about their own movement’s intellectual pedigree. This has been true since Russell Kirk wrote The Conservative Mind. Scouring the internet, it is easy to find lists of sites explaining which books all conservatives should read. Conservatives believe reading books by the founding conservatives is more than important; it is indispensable. As conservatives shudder at Trump’s position at the top of the GOP ticket, they regularly declare that the conservative movement has lost its way, that is must return to its roots, to the conservatism of William F. Buckley and Frank Meyer and the other icons of the right. Just re-read back issues of National Review, the thinking goes; they will tell you what you need to know. Columnist Matt Lewis made an argument like this in his new book, Too Dumb to Fail.

When looking for a usable model for the American right, conservatives point to their own movement’s canon – those books written between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s. From The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek to The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, a small number of books forged the heart of America’s post-war conservative political philosophy. For a discussion of the importance of these books and their authors, I recommend Michael Lee’s excellent work, Creating Conservatism. Among these books written by the founding fathers of conservatism, we can find flashes of genuine brilliance. Today’s conservatives are right to admire what was produced by Weaver, Kirk, Meyer, Hayek, Friedman, Burnham and the other journalists and scholars that created the intellectual foundation for the conservative movement.

Unfortunately for conservatives, the intellectual wing of the conservative movement is not actually an alternative to the populist nationalism represented by Donald Trump. Aside from a few stale talking points, these conservatives have little to offer 21st century America. The arguments made in the conservative classics are completely disconnected from contemporary problems and can provide little guidance for today’s policymakers. For all their virtues (and they had many), Russell Kirk, Whitaker Chambers, and Richard Weaver are now largely irrelevant. A policymaker formulating solutions to growing economic inequality, terrorism, a broken immigration system, and all the other salient issues of 2016 will find little guidance from the conservative canon.

Many of the most important works from the early conservative movement were focused almost single-mindedly on the Cold War or on the folly of planned economies. Yet those battles are over. On these issues, the conservatives won, and won decisively. The Soviet Union is not coming back, and the mainstream left has lost interest in state-directed economics. Conservatives can justifiably boast about this victory, but the conversation has since moved on. Contemporary conservatives that insist their future leaders understand the problems with central planning would be equivalent to 1887 Republicans demanding their leaders study the case against slavery. They are building up an arsenal for a battle that is already won.

The left is no longer fighting to nationalize industries; for the most part, the left is fighting to strengthen the social safety net and increase economic equity within a capitalist framework. The mainstream left made peace with free enterprise long ago. When the debate is framed in these terms, a strong knowledge of the errors of socialism is not particularly helpful. If the debate has transitioned from being about ownership of the means of production to questions about the role of government in guaranteeing some minimal level of economic welfare for all, certain aspects of the canon may actually be harmful to the conservative cause. In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek actually expresses positive sentiments toward welfare policies, stating, for example, that “there is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom.”

Although conservatives could justifiably crow about the end of the Cold War, on other issues, the conservatives lost – and lost badly. Unfortunately, the conservative canon does not show a way forward after the left triumphs. Much of the conservative canon was written by authors that viewed the United States as a conservative country, arguing that diligent effort could keep it a conservative country. National Review promised in its first issue to “stand athwart history, yelling stop.” Yet history did not stop in 1955. On multiple issues, especially cultural issues, the left was victorious. If history came to a halt right now, it would simply calcify societal developments that conservatives opposed.

Conservatives love to point to Edmund Burke as their inspiration, especially Russell Kirk’s interpretation of Burke. Yet this brand of Burkeanism is similarly futile for conservatives in 2016 America. Many of the left’s most resounding victories on issues of culture and economics occurred a generation or more in the past. To an important degree, progressive egalitarianism, supported and promoted by a large central state, is now an American tradition. Reversing these liberal victories in any substantive way would require revolutionary changes at this point. Where does that leave the traditionalist working from a Burkean framework? According to Russell Kirk, “Conservatism is never more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation; and the impetuous Burke, of all men, did most to establish this principle.” This brand of conservatism can only lead to a society that moves like a ratchet in a more liberal direction. At most, it can slow the rate of change. Perhaps this is the ideal role for conservatism. But this kind of conservatism surely does not offering an inspiring vision. Who would sign up for such a movement?

It is true that the founding fathers of the post-war American conservative movement were deeper thinkers than the most prominent conservative voices of today. But even the most brilliant conservatives of the 1950s have few valuable insights for current activists and policymakers. This is not a criticism of their work; they were dealing with ephemeral issues of their day, and often discussed them cogently and persuasively. But the world is now very different.

Besides the end of the Cold War, 2016 differs from the 1950s in other important ways that undermine basic conservative assumptions. There may have been a time when big business and cultural traditionalists were natural allies; mainstream conservatism is largely dependent on such an alliance. Is there such alliance today, or even shared interests? Are there any cultural issues where traditionalists can count on support from major industries? The answer is clearly no.

For the most part, big business is not concerned with issues like gay marriage, affirmative action, and abortion. In fact, major corporations frequently align with liberals on these issues. Even corporations that are widely despised by progressives often align themselves with progressive social causes. Walmart, for example, played an important role in killing or weakening religious freedom laws that would have protected businesses that discriminated against the LGBT community. The recent examples of major corporations that fought for more traditional values on questions such as homosexuality and contraception – such as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby – are notable precisely because they are so rare. If conservatism is based on a presumed alliance between cultural traditionalists and corporate America, and corporate America actively opposes the traditionalists, what does that say about conservatism?

Conservatives who think Buckley-style conservatism is a legitimate substitute for Trumpism are mistaken. Conservative intellectuals, those who know who Peter Viereck was and subscribe to Modern Age, have failed to generate real, practical solutions to today’s social and economic problems. Keeping the memory of the founding generation of conservatives alive may be a noble undertaking, but it will do nothing to create or sustain a contemporary political movement that both addresses important issues and has a chance at winning.

A few exceptions aside, conservatives stopped generating new ideas long ago, instead focusing on marketing old ones. Unfortunately, the movement is now showing its age. The claim that Trump is killing mainstream American conservatism is mistaken. Mainstream conservatism was already dying.

 

The New White Nationalists?

9780700624478Kelly J. Baker’s tremendous Gospel According to the Klan was published by UPK in 2011. We are excited to announce a new, paperback printing being released soon. Kelly recently wrote an essay for Religion & Politics.

“White people, the alt-right suggests, are constantly under attack and disenfranchised in American society,” Baker writes in the essay, which begins below. Please follow the link to Religion & Politics to read the entire piece…

The New White Nationalists by Kelly J. Baker

There’s a 1920s Klan pamphlet, The Menace of Modern Immigration, that is worth recalling in the lead-up to the current presidential election. Written by H.W. Evans, the second Imperial Wizard of the second incarnation of the Klan, the cover features a dragon with horns, fangs, and sharp claws vomiting people, instead of fire. A steady stream of immigrants, dressed in supposedly ethnic fashion, flows out of its jaws.

Evans wrote that America was founded by white Protestant patriots “with an inherent, kindred reverence for rightly established institutions.” Immigrants, he sounded the alarm again and again, would destroy everything that white Protestant men held dear: America, religion, traditional norms of femininity, masculinity, and patriotism. For the Klan, immigrants proved dangerous because they could change not only the demographics, but also the culture of America. If the nation were to remain white and Protestant, immigration could not be allowed. Much of what the Klan feared was the demise of the power and privilege of white Christian men.

“God,” Evans wrote, “never imposes insuperable burdens and obstacles upon his children.” God, then, would allow the nation to survive the perils of immigration. The nation did survive, but the 1920s Klan did not….     cont.

The End of the Conservative Movement (Still)…

A few weeks ago we posted a new piece from Dr. George Hawley, author of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, that dissected the possible effects of Donald Trump’s candidacy on the American conservative movement. Because his great piece is even more timely now, we are re-running it below…

By George Hawley, PhD

donald-trump-supporter-yells-sieg-heil-nazi-salute-at-las-vegas-rallyIn American politics, we are accustomed to thinking about people and groups in binary terms: liberal and conservative, left and right, and Republican and Democrat. Because the GOP has established itself as the conservative party, and the GOP has won many impressive victories in recent cycles (presidential elections being prominent exceptions), we might infer that there is large grassroots support for conservatism. At the very least, we should be able to describe the average Republican voter as a conservative. Such a description would be wrong. Observers make this mistake because they fail to understand that conservatism as a general sensibility is very different from American conservatism as an ideology and dogmatic collection of inflexible policy demands. Once we disaggregate these two phenomena, Trump’s success, and the conservative movement’s ineffectual efforts to stop Trump, make more sense.

As a general disposition, conservatism is a normal tendency. If we define conservatism as a fear of radical change, then all societies at all times have had a large proportion of conservatives. Indeed, we may even think of conservatism as the default position of most people. For decades, polls have shown that more Americans define themselves as conservatives than liberals. Republicans are especially likely to define themselves as conservatives.

Yet the major institutions of organized conservatism do not define conservatism as a disposition; to the leading journalists and intellectuals associated with the movement, conservatism requires devotion to the free market, support for traditional values, and commitment to an aggressive foreign policy abroad – the so-called three-legs of the conservative stool. These are the hallmarks of a “true conservative.”

Political scientists use different terms for these two types of ideologies. To understand the distribution of Americans across the ideological spectrum, we must understand that operational ideology is different from conceptual ideology – for the best recent examination of this issue, I recommend Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson. Americans, especially Republicans, tend to be symbolically conservative; they love the flag, consider themselves religious, and enjoy rhetoric about liberty and the Constitution. But when it comes to actual policy preferences, their operational ideology, Americans are, on average, pretty liberal.

Most Americans do not support upper-class tax cuts; they are not pro-life purists; they are not eager for more wars. In fact, this is not just true of Americans overall. Most Republican voters reject at least one important element of the conservative policy agenda. In terms of operational ideology, consistent conservatives are not just a minority of all Americans; they are a minority among Republicans.

To get a sense of just how little the Republican electorate supports the conservative policy agenda, we can examine polling data. Looking at the 2012 American National Election Survey, we see that almost 62 percent of Republicans would support new taxes on millionaires; only about 19 percent said they supported cutting the federal budget for education; fewer than ten percent supported cutting Social Security spending. Republicans are also, on average, rather moderate or even liberal on many social issues. Fewer than one in five Republicans said they wanted to prohibit abortion in all circumstances; a majority of Republicans supported legal recognition for same-sex couples. If we define a “true conservative” as a person who supports the conservative position on every policy issue, then such conservatives are a tiny percentage of the electorate.

Professional conservatives are faced with a frightening reality: the GOP has been successful in spite of its conservatism, not because of it. The Republican Party can successfully activate voters by appealing to their symbolic conservatism; but Republican leaders, conservative intellectuals, radio hosts, and talking heads have had little success in selling the operational conservative ideology to the public. Even Tea Party supporters, those ostensibly intractable devotees of supply-side economics, are divided on corporate and high-income tax cuts.

The weak hold that conservatism has on any segment of the electorate is not a new development. But Donald Trump has put the conservative movement’s weakness on very public display. Trump kept the GOP’s conservative symbolism (the flag, appeals to greatness and patriotism), added an implied element of ethnic grievance, and otherwise ignored conservative dogma. Conservative pundits are right that Trump is not a true conservative, and they are right to oppose him on ideological grounds. The National Review cover story denouncing Trump, the #NeverTrump movement, and Glenn Beck’s Trump-inspired tears were all justified.

Unjustified, however, was the belief that the conservative movement’s hostility to Trump mattered. The disconnect between the conservative movement’s influence on public policy and the public’s actual support for conservative policies is one of the dirty secrets of American politics. The real problem that Trump presents the conservative movement is not that he ensures a new Clinton Administration – though he may. Instead, Trump showed that conservatism is a spent force, easily abandoned by ordinary Republicans when they are provided with a right-wing alternative, even a flawed and erratic alternative.

When Trump won the GOP nomination, in spite of conservative objections, we saw definitive evidence that the organized conservative movement has little popular support. If he goes on to win in November, conservatism is finished. If Trump loses to Clinton, conservatives will try to wash their hands of the defeat. But much damage will have already been done.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, the United States is not a “center-right nation.” The American voting public may be to the right of the electorates in other advanced democracies, but it is certainly not conservative in the sense that William F. Buckley used the term. In fact, despite the claims by various talk-radio personalities, Republicans do not lose because they “betray conservative principles.” Those very principles have been a hindrance to greater electoral success. Trump has broken this illusion, and having demonstrated that there is no conservative consensus among GOP voters, we can expect others to follow his lead. Although the Republican Party will likely survive the 2016 election, its status as a uniformly conservative party will not. The end result of the Trump campaign will be an ideological vacuum on the right, one that will likely be filled by something very different from the mainstream conservative movement we have known for six decades.