April 21, 2003
Jonah Goldberg has complained (March 17) that if he had an Irish name (perhaps like his mother's maiden name?), malicious paleos would not be throwing it around. As someone who coined the term "Goldbergism" to describe current Beltway conservatism, and who has renamed National Review the "Goldberg Review," I thought I might try to explain – and to offer him one pat on the head, since he seems to be so easily hurt.
I for one don't care what Jonah calls himself. There are two reasons I identify neoconservative ideology and NR with this bumptious youngster. Neither has to do with anti-Semitism. Please note: unlike Jonah, I had two Jewish parents. My father barely escaped the Nazis by getting out of Central Europe in the 1930s.
Firstly, I am paying Jonah a high honor. Unlike Cal Thomas, John Podhoretz, Mona Charen, Michael Novak, Rich Lowry, and Sean Hannity, Jonah regularly engages in a process that definitely resembles thinking aloud. And, occasionally, he has interesting, or at least revealing, things to say.
Secondly, I do not want to misrepresent NR, as does its promotional literature, as "William F. Buckley Jr.'s premier journal of conservative political opinion." Buckley is about as much of a presence by now at NR as the cleaning lady who tidies up the magazine's headquarters. Years ago, this idol of my adolescence handed his movement and magazine over to others - as Taki recently learned to his regret when his longtime skiing pal did not protect him against David Frum's attempt to anathematize him recently in NR. Buckley is not in the forefront of anything anymore - as his columns, which read like neocon blotting paper, might strongly suggest.
For that is what neoconservatism is. The reason the self-defined Trotskyist editors at Le Monde published on April 16 a lavishly laudatory feature article [Le stratège et le philosophe, April 16, 2003 Le Monde] on the Straussians and neocons - something they would never dream of doing for a real American or European conservative - is that they recognize the family resemblance. Unlike Buchanan or the Flemish separatists, whom Le Monde and the French neocon daily Le Figaro attack as xenophobes, Le Monde's self-described former Trotskyist chief, Edouard Plenel, knows global revolutionaries when he sees them. Thus Le Monde asserts that the Religious Right "skirts anti-Semitism," but it presents the neoconservatives as "brilliant" and fundamentally opposed to "fascism" (a Trotskyist-neocon code word for the Right).
Similarly, the anti-Communist Jewish liberal Sam Tanenhaus focused his attention (April 16, Slate) on the Trotskyist theme of "permanent revolution" that he and others have found to be at the heart of neocon policies and rhetoric. (Tanenhaus, following the sacred principle that paleoconservatives should never be credited with anything, attributed this insight to derivative liberal interpreters.)
And the New York Times religion editor Ian Buruma has just devoted a long column in the London Times (April 19, If we ruled the world: a tale of two revolutions) to making the same argument.
Thus my term "Goldbergism" designates a particular leftist sectarian tradition, like "Lovestoneites," "Trotskyists," or "Bernsteinians." That all these leftist sects were descended from Jewish founders redounds to our ethnic credit. One would not expect Bill Bennett, Michael Novak, or Cal Thomas to found anything of note. Indeed, neocon goyim seem to be picked for their invincible stupidity—or for never straying from a prescribed neocon position.
Now allow me to call admiring attention to a few near-thoughts in Jonah's April 18, 2003 syndicated column. ["Conservatives want change—when it's necessary"]
In it, Jonah complains that he is baffled by "the inconsistency of the anti-war liberals." He's right. If such liberals were consistent about their leftism, as he says, they would want to "fix the problems of other countries" universally - which is the neocon project. Jonah wants to spend our savings "tearing down the crack houses of the world," e.g. Iraq.
In all of this, the neocons have shown themselves to be consistent leftists. Without frontally challenging the left at home - and indeed while celebrating a radicalized American government and society - neocons work to spread our form of "democratic modernization" throughout the world. Michael Ledeen, who is a fave at NR, tacitly pays homage to Trotsky's concept of permanent world revolution when he praises America's alleged universal commitment to "creative destruction."
What prevents the non-neocon multicultural left from behaving with the same cultural confidence is that they are reluctant to go after Third World, non-Christian thugs. The multicultural left applies a double standard, as Goldberg correctly observes, when judging non-Western tyrants.
Goldberg also correctly observes that
"anti-war conservatives have consistent and defensible priorities. They don't want to muck about with too much stuff abroad because they're afraid we'll track the mess back into our own homes."
This is true, although it does need elaboration. Paleoconservatives believe that the Euro-American managerial state is incompatible with national identities, or with traditional constitutional limits on administrative power. They are also deadly serious about the wish that Jonah expresses only ritualistically ("I'd like to shrink the size of the federal government by, I dunno, half? Two-thirds?"), in the way that Mario Cuomo nominally deplored abortion while actually supporting feminist demands. And paleos are firmly against the alliance between interventionist administration and globalism, whether externally in the form of wars to spread "democracy" or internally in the form of the dissolution of historic nations through non-traditional immigration.
The paleocons would like nothing better than to defund the governmental export of "creative destruction." They are therefore willing to ignore foreign "crack houses" - providing that we make no effort to import them.
I am glad to see Jonah concede the legitimacy of the paleo position. But has he checked with David Frum recently?
Assuming that Jonah actually realizes what he has said, I would like to offer him some advice, as a paleoconservative who had no moral objection to the attack on Iraq.
Generally, the paleoconservatives were indeed reluctant to go to war against Iraq. I believe that, by presenting the war as an ideological crusade, NROnline kept turning off paleos who might have been persuaded by rational, geopolitical arguments. For example, the Old Right is full of white Southerners who take pride in their Confederate forebears. Thus they must have been shocked to learn from NRO's Victor David Hanson that General Sherman's March to the Sea was a moral precursor of the American liberation of Nazi Germany and Iraq. And a majority of paleos do not take retroactive pleasure in U.S. participation in the First World War. Unlike the neocons, they do not believe that the First World War pitted good against evil or that it was a "crusade for democracy." My own family fought on the losing side in that struggle – as did Leo Strauss.
By linking the war against Iraq to certain neocon fixations, Goldberg's buddies made their mission to the Old Right that much harder.
They compound this when they smear their rightwing critics as "anti-Semites."
Paleos who were susceptible to intimidation have already gone over. The rest are beyond being browbeaten–and they have long memories.
Paul Gottfried is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory, and Multiculturalism And The Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy.