April 12, 2007
[Professor Gottfried delivered these remarks at a March 20 conference in honor to mark the publication of Shots Fired, a collection of the writings of the late Sam Francis.]
Reviewing my summary for an advertisement of a book on the conservative movement soon to be published by Palgrave-Macmillan, [VDARE.COM note: You can pre-order it here] I was struck by how contemptuously I had described my subject. My work shows how the conservative movement has descended from any semblance of high moral purpose into a mishmash of think-tanks, media outlets and publications, which seem unrelated to anything that is historically recognizable as conservative.
This agglomeration of intersecting, heavily-funded operations was the eventual but not necessarily intended creation of a journalistic clique, one that in the years following World War Two cobbled together a movement that would be called "conservative." This "conservative" creation had then moved leftward; and it made alliances, into which eventually it would be swallowed up, with neoconservative ideologues and Republican operatives.
My book does make distinctions between the postwar conservative movement, which for several decades marched behind National Review, and the neoconservative colonization of the same movement, a process that was well underway by the 1980s. On a wide range of issues, the first was clearly more traditionalist than the second.
Postwar conservatism at least on occasion adhered to William F. Buckley's stated plan for his new fortnightly in 1955 to stand "athwart history, yelling Stop," In addition to their persistent anti-Communism and their calls for dealing firmly with the Soviets, post-World War II conservatives took emphatically rightwing positions. They were critical of the civil rights movement and its leaders, and they did not welcome the political mobilization of American blacks, which they viewed as a force that would drive the federal and state governments toward the social Left.
These self-described conservatives also expressed some of the same skepticism about the welfare state characteristic of the interwar Right. In the 1950s and 1960s, before their publication began its long journey leftward, they attacked the belief in equality as contrary to both human nature and limited government.
By contrast, neoconservatives celebrate the democratic welfare state. They believe in democratic equality, what they describe as "moderate feminism," and the march of social progress.
They also believe that it is the mission of the American people, indeed its "national purpose" to bring their liberal, secular, and egalitarian values to other societies. Those who resist this vision are not only mean-spirited but are seen as "flirting with fascism."
Since the neocons' foreign policy focus heavily on the geopolitical interests of the Israeli nationalist Right, those who oppose it, for whatever reason, were lumped together as "anti-Semites." This kind of negative judgment is basic to how neoconservatives view their critics on the Old Right. White Southern traditionalists are dismissed as racists, particularly if they refuse to condemn the Confederacy or fail to appreciate Martin Luther King sufficiently. Up until the mid-eighties when an alliance came about with the ultra-Zionist Religious Right, the leading neoconservative publication Commentary featured articles about how the New Testament had contributed to the Holocaust.
My book draws an extended comparison between today's "movement conservatives" and those who had once joined the American Communist Party. On the whole, these would-be conservatives seem intellectually and even morally less appetizing than their Communist counterparts.
Unlike contemporary movement conservatives, who parrot party lines without giving much indication of cognitive life and who are ready to turn their backs on those who displeased their neoconservative masters, many old Communists had spent years painfully reconsidering their partisan engagement. They had balked at the about-faces in party policies they had seen take place; and the disenchanted had splintered into sects that exemplified their versions of an uncorrupted Marxism or of a pristine Marxist-Leninism. They also typically did not earn money by working for Communist think-tanks; nor would they have been able to appear on Communist news channels, an option that did not exist at that time. Most of these Commies accepted poverty as the price of their commitment; and those who bought Sunday suits looked far more dignified than the overweight popinjays, those whom Taki calls chicken-hawks smoking their fathers' cigars, who continue to pop up on TV with disgusting regularity.
Even assuming that these former Communists had lunged rightward, it is unlikely that they would have declared Martin Luther King first, to be a womanizing Communist dupe and then in response to further instruction, have proclaimed him to be the quintessential conservative thinker or even a latter-day Thomas Aquinas.
People who do this are either abysmally stupid or egregiously unprincipled, but many American Communists were neither one nor the other. Communists back then also thought that they were rallying to an oppressed working class that was destined to triumph. Unlike our postwar conservative movement, they imagined that they spoke for a class that was the instrument of revolutionary change.
In contrast, today's movement conservatives base their claim to lead on being Republican Party shills and on being able to offer constantly updated packages of "values," e.g. democracy for everyone, or some ready-to-wear human rights imperatives.
This claim to be for "values," which originated among postwar conservatives, has taken the place of standing for real historical groups, that is, for groups that a genuine Right might be interested in championing. Indeed it was the destiny of postwar conservatism to have supplanted such a Right, which had once prevailed among opponents of the New Deal and Wilsonian internationalism.
But the postwar movement had something supposedly better: anti-Communism, which it combined with windy affirmations about being for the "West." The long-term result was a situation in which the "values" that defined the movement moved steadily leftward. And this went on in accordance with, among other things, the building of useful friendships with media potentates and a vigilant eye toward jobs, salaries, and social acceptability.
The assertions by Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg and other Solomonic intelligences, that conservatism is not about one's "nation" or "tribe" but about human rights, underscores the drifting and shifting of their employer, National Review. What is described as conservatism is precisely its opposite: namely, an unmistakably leftist posture invoking universal equality and competing with the political Left for who is further to the left ideologically.
The role of this postwar conservative flagship publication as a willing advocate of neoconservative politics speaks volumes about whither the movement has gone.
It also tells much, or so I would contend, about the shifting sands on which the movement was founded. It first usurped an older Right, which was built on the loyalties of a mostly small-town, Protestant America, and its choice of New York and later, Washington as the focal points for conservative activities was indicative of the alliances that this movement would build for itself.
Postwar conservatives then caved in during the 1980s, before a swaggering neocon occupation force; and this affected the entire movement, save for a principled remnant, part of which is still present in this room. Further, the aforesaid cave-in was truly massive—and, unlike what I suggest in the first edition of The Conservative Movement it involved a wholesale flight into the neoconservative camp.
At the time I could not believe what was taking place. It still staggers the mind that a relatively small sociological group, New York liberal Democrats who had come out of an Eastern European Jewish radical tradition and who carried all kinds of cultural baggage, would walk in and occupy the largely Christian, anti-New Deal Right. They would not only occupy but purge and reconstruct it, and the new masters of the house would be able to count on those who were there to do their bidding.
Note that the representation of this process, as the building of bridges, entirely belies what transpired. What I witnessed was a cave-in—and not the integration of marginal groups into a rightwing mainstream.
While it may be hard in this case to tell the chicken from the egg, the conspicuous ease with which the neocons took over may have enhanced their effectiveness as fundraisers. This seems as plausible as the alternate hypothesis, namely, that everyone and his cousin kissed up to them because they came with deep pockets. Those pockets could have been rendered deeper by the friendly neocon takeover of the conservative movement and its considerable assets, a fiefdom that fell into neoconservative hands or under neoconservative control in only a period of several years.
At this point I would note a distinction borrowed from my longtime friend Sam Francis, which I have subsequently tried to develop. It is between conservatism, which is an archaic and by now spent force belonging to the nineteenth century, and the Right, which is the home of everyone in this room.
Unlike conservatism, the Right is a continuing, creative reaction to the Left, a defiant response from an already weakened Christian bourgeois society that is in the process of being liquidated.
Sam was also on to something when he insisted that any attempt to combat the multicultural Left must begin as an explicitly reactionary endeavor. The Right, properly understood, does not seek to be the true interpreters of leftist shibboleths, in the manner of global egalitarians who are quibbling about some aspect of affirmative action or like those who are sympathetic to gay marriage but who want to introduce it slowly. Rightists oppose the Left as the source of social and moral confusion, and they seek to neutralize those political institutions that serve its purposes.
In The Conservative Movement, I labeled this tendency "paleoconservatism". Because opposing the Left is not what the misnamed "conservative movement" has been doing, or what its would-be presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani would likely do, if the neocons and their hirelings manage to get him elected.
One noteworthy reason that the neoconservatives have ascended to power, a situation that even their incitement of an ill-fated foreign war cannot do much to weaken, is their association with the postwar conservative movement. Their success in occupying its heights has provided them with undeniable cachet. They have become the successors to the project which Bill Buckley had launched in the 1950s and had then handed over to his badly-chosen New York friends. Despite their scornful comments about the anti-Semitic, racist rightwing fanatics who had shaped that movement before they came on the scene, once the mass defection occurred, the neocons could point to their succession to conservative leadership.
They have prevailed, moreover, with loads of assistance from the liberal establishment. Whenever the neocons go after someone on the right as an "extremist," the New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, and other likeminded publications jump and fetch. The attack must be true since presumably it came from serious sources on the serious Right. Those who disagree with the neocons from the right, we are urged to believe, are not to be taken seriously, except as cranks whom responsible conservatives have had to marginalize.
In 2005, when William Buckley attained his eightieth year, leftist journalists, led by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, slobbered all over him for having saved us from the "wing nuts." Dionne confessed to having had a longtime, presumably metaphorical, "illicit love" for Buckley, for having toned down a movement once animated by prejudice. [Buckley: The Right's Practical Intellectual by E. J. Dionne Jr. Tuesday, October 11, 2005; Page A17]
Such an effusion of gratitude goes back at least as far as a column published by Suzanne Garment in October, 1985 in Wall Street Journal, hailing Buckley as a champion against nativism and anti-Semitism. Although "you can still hear an echo of the Right's more distasteful origins" in the pages of National Review, said Garment, Buckley and his successors had "pried conservatism loose from the fingers of its more demented followers." [There's Nothing Like a Libel Trial For an Education, By Suzanne Garment; The Wall Street Journal; Oct 11, 1985]
Please note Ms. Garment's lingering concern about the rightwing extremism in a magazine that even then was in the hands of neoconservatives and of those who kowtowed to them. I suppose that one can't be energetic enough about resisting rightwing bigotry.
This brings me to the most controversial part of my analysis of the neoconservatives' empire, the role that the media establishment has played in promoting this expansionary endeavor. It is not by accident that left-of-center national newspapers feature neoconservative columnists or that TV channels present pasty-faced, neocon popinjays as esteemed analysts of current events. It is also far from a random occurrence that neocon TV and neocon publications and institutions readily invite liberals to jabber with them but keep us at a distance.
Everyone here might have perceived, just as I have, the refusal of the media Left to reach out to the antiwar Right, despite the fact that the Left claims to be ardently against the invasion of Iraq. One could not have guessed from either the NYT and WP or network TV that a large chunk of the Old Right was opposing the military engagement as vehemently as was the Left. One needed to be truly obtuse to miss this fact, given the ferocious rightist opposition that could be found in widely-visited websites and in widely distributed publications. But this was not the kind of fact that the Left wanted to publicize, not even after NR devoted a cover story to "Unpatriotic Conservatives."
The point to be made is that the neocons and the liberal establishment both wish to keep our side from entering the political discussion. And until now they have managed this well. The question is whether we can come up with a plan to break the cordon sanitaire; and if we can, what can be done.
The first thing to be done is to abandon the silly idea that we have pals on the left, who would embrace our side, if only they knew how we feel. For those who continue to nurture this infantile illusion, let me assure them the Left knows exactly what we're about and they are delighted to talk to the neocons and to keep us off the radar. The Left can easily come to terms with the neocons on most social issues, as long as the neocons are permitted to push their global democratic mission.
In fact the liberals and the Left should adore the neocons if only for how thoroughly they have cannibalized our side. That could not possibly displease our leftist adversaries.
Why would the NYT's editorial board feel anger that the neocons prevented old-time Southern states rightist, M.E. Bradford, from becoming Director of the NEH in 1981?
And why would the Left feel uncomfortable that Commentary rages against Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran as "anti-Semites". It engages in exactly the same smears itself.
As painful as the idea might seem to some, the left-of-center media community is overjoyed with their talking partners. And they're not likely to exchange them for us, because of the relatively trivial fact that the neocons have pushed W into starting a Near Eastern war.
Imagine how great our pleasure would be if we were able to select our talking partners on the left! Wouldn't that be preferable to having to face such opponents as raging feminists, inflamed advocates for Mexican illegals and hypersensitive gays?
The second proposal is that we start looking for megabucks and if we find them, we should buy our own newspapers and TV channels. But even if we achieve both goals, we should count on hostile name-calling from the other side. Neocons and liberals would work nonstop to keep us from crashing their party. They would do exactly to us what the conventional leftist and the leftist-by-another name parties have done in Belgium and France to such rightwing populists as the Vlaams Belang and Front National. They would scream we are fascists, and they would forbid their multitudinous dependents from associating with us. Nothing would change in this relation, even if we had the means for acquiring and running TV channels and newspapers.
Contrary to Irving Kristol's empty boast in The Neoconservative Persuasion, Europe does not lack this "new kind of conservative politics", which it would do well to adopt. Rather we and the Europeans have taken over the same faux conservatism, whose objective function is to make sure that a real Right never gets to challenge the current PC hegemony.
Our neoconservatives and Republicans at home, and the leftward-moving center-right in Western Europe, perform this critical role by waging mortal combat against our side and by embracing the Left's social positions while pretending to have to yield to the inevitable on social and immigration questions.
Actually it is not the Europeans but we who must learn from our transatlantic counterparts. Rather than trying to connect to movements which treat us as non-persons, we must strive to mobilize our own structures and resources. This meeting today may be seen in the context of this renewal but obviously a lot more must be done to give us a chance to break through the wall of silence and the social ostracism that the two intertwined Lefts have used against us.
Like European rightwing populist movements, we must present ourselves not as the other conservatism but as the only residual opposition to the Left.
Note that the Front National and Vlaams Belang do not pretend to be part of the system that their adamant opposition has forged. They continue to insist that they stand outside of the "bande des partis" the "party gang" that has corrupted their country or region by encouraging multicultural invasions and radical cultural reconstruction.
This is the adversarial position that we too must take in our war against the combined forces of the Left. It naturally goes without saying that absent the necessary resources for crashing the political discussion, we shall not be able to succeed.
But not being captive to despair, I believe that in a country with the wealth of our own, it is still possible to open this desperately-needed front. And it is still possible to draw political personalities, who lean in our direction, into alliances. Such personalities can act as spoilers, particularly in the Republican Party, by making sure that candidates who take neoconservative phrases too seriously lose elections.
If we alone cannot build a party organization that will be in a position to win electoral races, particularly in view of accelerating, politically-abetted Third World immigration, we might still work to retard the further march of the Stupid Party leftward.
Even better, we might contribute to planting the seeds that could eventually lead to a party of the Right. Although unlike the Europeans, we cannot take advantage of a pluralistic system, in which an unmistakably rightist party can find parliamentary representation, we can still aim at putting pressure on the national parties.
For those who call for the decentralization of power, national borders that have ceased to be porous, and a true counterforce to the multicultural Left, their course of action must be directed toward the future. And this means an avoidance of the impulse to look back at now broken friendships.
Pace my delusional acquaintances, the Heritage Foundation and National Review are not panting to have us back. It is undignified as well as futile to nurse the hope that we can patch up our dispute, perhaps if we hire a conflict-resolution expert.
We must erect our own opposition, and this daunting task will have to be approached from outside of a closed establishment.
And as a very first step, we would do well to discard encumbering allegiances to a movement in which some of you grew up, but one that deserves to be consigned to the dustbin.
Its rushing into the arms of bizarre leftist invaders suggests its deplorably weak convictions. Its recent examples of timidity, venality, and the abandonment of traditionalist principle stand before us as something we should never in any circumstances allow ourselves to follow.
Paul Gottfried (email him) is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism.