This is adapted from a talk that Peter Brimelow gave to the National Policy Institute 2015 Winter Gathering, "Beyond Conservatism."
As Richard Spencer said, I have been hanging around the late, great American Conservative Movement for what seems like several hundred years, so he has asked me for an autobiographical talk tonight.
I was working on the Hill, for example, in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected President. I worked for a U.S. Senator whose last name I won’t mention as a professional courtesy. But we did get enough stuff into the Congressional Record opposing Affirmative Action to ensure he would never be a Supreme Court Justice!
This is actually not unique to America: most First World countries think something like this. The Poles, for example, think they have a particular Catholic heritage; the French think they’re French and uniquely civilized; they take that pretty seriously.
But in fact the Founding Fathers didn’t think this at all. The most famous statement is from Federalist 2, by John Jay, which I’m sure you all know (except for the SPLC spy here of course!) He said basically said the reason we can make a federal union work is that we are all the same people:
Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people; a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…
And when Jay said “professing the same religion,” he didn’t mean Christianity—he meant Protestantism. At the time of the revolution, America was 98% Protestant.
That’s Protestant—not Proposition!
Now, obviously, things have changed since then. But by degrees. America has evolved much faster that most nations have done, but it did evolve in a similar way. The process that took England more than a thousand years, for example, took just 200 years here.
Now, in fact, I must admit that I did immigrate to an idea—a Proposition. I immigrated to the American Conservative Movement. In the late 1960s, my twin brother and I decided that all was lost in England. I remember sitting in the University of Sussex history library and reading National Review—we actually had to force the library to resubscribe to it because they’d let it lapse on the grounds that conservative movements in America didn’t amount to anything.
This was the American Conservative Movement that began in the 1950s in opposition to Eisenhower. It nominated Goldwater in 1964. It elected Reagan in 1980. And it won the Cold War. It also ended the Great Inflation, which was the major economic event of the mid-20th century. Now, I’ve discovered that nobody under 40 has any memory of the Cold War. Richard was too young and Jared Taylor was on the other side—he was cutting cane in Cuba! Isn’t that right, Jared? But nevertheless, I take it very seriously. I still think that was a very important achievement.
However, that was then and this is now. There is this famous quote from Eric Hoffer, which summarizes the whole thing: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.“ That’s what’s happened to the Conservative Movement.
I won’t say that the Conservative Movement in the 1960s and 1970s was exactly like Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome:
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old.
But it wasn’t the rat’s nest it is now.
I used to interview Milton Friedman regularly for Forbes Magazine. He told me once that when he was a young man—he was then in his late 80s—the only people who espoused classical liberal economics were very clever (although frequently mad, because you have to be pretty mad to stand up to peer group pressure—like the way we do now). He said that, at a certain point, he was greatly shocked to begin to meet stupid classical liberal economists—because the movement had developed to the point where they could survive. There was enough of them around to achieve critical mass.
I would say the same was true for conservatives. There was a serious deterioration in the average standard in people you would meet by the 1990s, precisely because the movement had been so successful.
I don’t believe that Bill Buckley was, in fact, the maker of the Modern Conservative Movement—something else we’re incessantly told. He was on the wrong side of the Panama Canal issue, which is what reignited Reagan’s primary challenge to Ford in North Carolina in 1976. He wanted to give up on Goldwater before the California primary in 1964, Neal Freeman has recently revealed. He was even trying to get Pat Moynihan to run instead of Reagan in 1980, according to Richard Brookhiser. My candidate for the father of the Modern Conservative Movement, or at least its midwife, is Bill Rusher, who was the publisher of National Review and vitally involved in the Draft Goldwater campaign, as well as a mentor to many of us.
But I do think that Bill Buckley was the breaker of the American Conservative Movement. He was complicit in its breaking, specifically by purging what we now call Patriotic Immigration Reformers (to distinguish them from the…other kinds of immigration reformers) from National Review in 1997-8. This was part of a process that prevented the emergence of a healthy National Conservatism, focused on the American nation-state and the welfare of the component parts of the historic American nation, to replace the Cold War coalition—and that in fact perverted the Cold War coalition into the monstrosity that Steve Sailer calls Invade The World-Invite The World-In Hock to The World.
The post-1980s success of the Republican Party created a Beltway Right. It enabled a lot of people to make their living from conservative politics—what we now call “Conservatism Inc.” Their job was basically to mediate between the conservative electorate and the Permanent Government, which of course was institutionally liberal.
The problem is that mediation is a two-way street. Norman Podhoretz wrote in his autobiography Making It about what he called “the Brutal Bargain,” which is a bargain that he claimed Eastern European Jewish immigrants had to make conform to Anglo-American society. I don’t know how brutal it was, but I do think that there was a Brutal Bargain that a lot of these conservative operatives made. They went native with the Permanent Government. They ceased to take more controversial stands.
It became possible to become a professional Token Conservative in the MSM, a position that is now avidly sought. I remember Bill Rusher analyzing the career of George Will along these lines. Will had begun as the Washington correspondent of National Review. Then he started to infuriate NR readers by writing stuff during Watergate attacking Nixon (whom Rusher, by the way, detested as insufficiently conservative). This is the scenario that you’re all very familiar with: “The Conservative Case for X,” X being some desired liberal goal. My friend David Frum has made a career out of this too. And then Will got himself translated, because of he’d attracted favorable liberal attention, to become a Washington Post syndicated columnist and network TV Talking Head. Rusher pointed out to me that Will was very careful never to talk about any of the liberals’ hot-button issues. That’s Standard Operating Procedure for many ambitious young men at the moment, and ambitious women as well—a classic example being Rich Lowry’s “Al Sharpton is Right” column, when it became obvious that defending George Zimmerman was a hot-button issue.
There are also structural problems with the Conservative Movement that, frankly, I didn’t predict at all. Perhaps I could have done if I’d thought more about the economics of political campaigns.
One problem is the emergence of what Ross Douthat has called the “Donorist Party.” The sheer power that the big donors now have in U.S. politics seems to me quite different than what it was 30 years ago. There’s an expert on Sheldon Adelson here, so I won’t say too much about him—but my impression is that he’s basically bought a foreign policy from the Republican Party. He’s in the process of buying domestic liberalism as well. And he’s made a number of distressing remarks about immigration recently. (He’s great on immigration into Israel).
But at least the Donors generally want to win the elections. The second structural problem is the emergence of the political consultant class. And it’s is not clear at all to me that political consultants actually want to win the elections.
I don’t know how many of you have been unfortunate enough to be involved in legal action, but if you are, you’ve got realize that it’s a three-way fight. There’s you, there’s your opponent, and there’s your lawyer. And your lawyer is not on your side. His job is to get as much money as possible out of you, frequently in collusion with the other side’s lawyer, and then move on to another client. That’s really the way lawyers operate. You can’t trust in them to defend your best interests. They’re not your champions.
Similarly, these political consultants are always looking for the next gig. There’s a club of consultants, like a clique. They don’t want to get involved in certain issues because that would cause them trouble down the road with their peer group, and with their next clients, who they get by referral.
So we see the rise of candidates who are clearly Donor Traps, people like Fred Whatsisname [Thompson]—he was on television [Law & Order]—who materialized as a Presidential candidate a few year ago for some mysterious reason, raised several million dollars which was spent on the consultants, and then abruptly vanished. That happens all the time. The consultants are about to do the same thing with Carly Fiorina. She’s got enough money, and can raise enough money, to attract their interest.
I will say this is not a problem unique to the Right—it’s a problem on the Left too. If you read Dick Morris’ book Behind the Oval Office, you’ll see that Clinton got really mad with him because Morris was running an “air war”—consultants always like to run as many television ads as possible because they get commissions on them—and poor Clinton was whoring himself out having tea parties in the White House and getting into trouble for it, because he had to raise money to spend on Dick Morris.
Similarly, when Obama was running in the 2008 Democratic primaries, one of my friends on the Left told me that it was really hard to oppose him because his campaign was spending so much money on the little magazines—it was just bribing them. It made it very difficult for them to oppose Obama.
The result of all this is that there was really no second act for the American Conservative Movement.
After the Cold War ended, there was a brief interglacial in the 1990s, with books published which could not be published now. For example, my book, Jared’s book, The Bell Curve, and so on. That sort of thing is gone now. We can’t get these books published anymore.
Consequently, the Conservative Movement was utterly unprepared when the Left shifted its ground and struck back. It was no longer interested in classical Marxism or traditional socialism. It was interested in Cultural Marxism and identity politics, at least for non-whites, as Jared just pointed out. [White Survival: Beyond Left and Right, American Renaissance, March 3, 2015]
It also reinvented socialism. I call it neo-socialism: focusing on equity rather than efficiency—the need to intervene in the economy to ensure just results, rather than efficient results.
Thus the Conservative Movement completely failed to deal with Affirmative Action. This is a subject very close to my heart because I spent a long time in the 1970s and 1980s working on it (see above). It was almost impossible in those days, and still is, to get Affirmative Action written about in the MSM. The great book on Affirmative Action’s impact on white men, now more than 20 years old, Fred Lynch’s Invisible Victims, is called that precisely because there’s almost no journalism about the impact of Affirmative Action on white men (and, of course, their families). Basically what happened was that Affirmative Action was a deal done by the corporate elite with Leftist and racial activists, at the expense of the younger white men in their organizations.
I remember, in the early 1990s, being at a National Review conference with Jack Kemp. I was going on about Affirmative Action and why it was important as a wedge issue. And Kemp flat-out said to me: “There’s no Affirmative Action. Just a bit in universities.” He simply had no idea whatever of its magnitude.
There still is no serious academic work on the economic impact of Affirmative Action although it’s a simple exercise in regulatory economics. The economic burden that environmental regulation is calculated; it’s never done with Equal Opportunity regulation.
And, of course, the Conservative Movement totally failed to deal with the impact of the 1965 Immigration Act and the simultaneous collapse of enforcement against illegal immigration. The facts are very simple, as you know. The federal government is electing a new people. Here we have a country that was 90% white in 1960; whites will be in the minority by 2040. This is a demographic transformation without precedent in the history of the world. But it simply doesn’t enter American politics, at least not in those terms.
Because the Bland Bargain is particularly acute on anything to do with race. The fact is that what Gunnar Myrdal famously called the “American Dilemma”—how a black and white population can live together—has not been resolved. It turns out that the integration has not solved this problem. It’s much more intransigent than people thought. But this fact cannot be discussed.
Thus the impact of The Bell Curve, which was published 20 years ago and summarized what was actually well known in academic circles but had never been published in the MSM, has been zero. It’s been completely repressed. Jared was talking about how National Review was more outspoken about race in the 1960s. But even in 1994, it ran a cover story about The Bell Curve with a whole compendium of articles. That’s unthinkable now.
In the early 2000s, after George W. Bush was elected, I was talking to a friend I’d known on the Hill who had worked for Senator Jesse Helms. (Jesse Helms, for those of you who don’t know this, was very hardcore—his background was segregationist and to the end of his life he was still secretly a segregationist, or at least that’s what everybody used to claim. And, incidentally, he was a key figure in Reagan’s 1976 primary victory in North Carolina, which saved his career—and, I believe, America).
I was talking about the propaganda that Karl Rove had put out about how essential it was for the Republican Party to “outreach” to minorities. I mentioned Steve Sailer’s refutation on VDARE.com, in which he argued that the real target of opportunity for the Republican Party is the white vote. That’s where it can increase its share dramatically, because the white vote is very much larger than the minority vote. You could have enormous increase in the GOP’s Hispanic share and it wouldn’t make very much difference overall because Hispanics only cast 9% of the general election vote, whereas whites are casting up to 70%.
My friend said to me—and remember he was somebody who had worked for Jesse Helms without qualm—“Peter, if you say that here inside the Beltway, not only will you be denounced but you’ll be completely shunned on the Left and on the Right. Nobody will associate with you.”
Of course, I ignored him and VDARE.com went on publishing articles about the white vote [Applause]. And we were named a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So he was obviously right!
So here you have a party which is afraid to appeal to its own base. What a fantastic example of the moral hegemony that the Left now has over the Right in America!
There are some people who did try to adapt to the end of the Cold War. I did in my small way, with the immigration issue. But the great example is Pat Buchanan, who is the great Lost Leader of American politics just as Enoch Powell was in Britain. He did write a piece in Newsweek after he left the Reagan administration which really tried to rethink Conservatism in the post-Cold War Era. His 1992 primary challenge to George Bush was actually triggered by Bush’s betrayal on Affirmative Action. Bush allowed legislation to go through reversing a favorable Supreme Court judgement. And Buchanan was also very good, as you know, on immigration.
Unfortunately, he happened to attract the ire of the neoconservatives, basically because of his foreign policy. He had called for post-Cold War retrenchment and they never forgave him. They succeeded in fatally damaging his political career. It isn’t clear to me that this was done in the interest of the United States.
Nor is it clear to me precisely why the neoconservatives are so hostile to any candidate who espouses patriotic immigration reform. Individual neoconservatives are sensible. But the group as a whole, and particularly Norman Podhoretz’s circle, are relentless on the topic.
I actually expected, when I published my 1992 immigration cover story in National Review, that the neoconservatives would be on the right side. I remember we arranged a dinner with Ira Mehlman of FAIR and John O’Sullivan, then the Editor of National Review, to talk to Norman about it. And he said he agreed with everything we said—but he still couldn’t go along with us for reasons that were unclear to me. He doesn’t talk to me anymore, so I don’t know what his attitude is now.
Neoconservatives were a tremendous addition to the Conservative Movement during the Cold War. They lent enormous intellectual weight to the anti-Communist arguments that we were using. But, just as Shelby Foote said Pickett's Charge was the price the South paid for Robert E. Lee, so I think that the failure of the Republican Party to handle the problem of immigration has been the price it paid for the neoconservatives. It may prove equally fatal.
So what happens next? At a partisan level, the Republican Party is obviously terminally corrupt. For 40 years, I’ve argued with people about conservative politics, and they would say it’s just a racket to defend Big Business, and I would have all kinds of elaborate arguments why it wasn’t. But it is. [Applause].
And that’s what’s happening right now in Congress. The Republican Congressional Leadership has been attempting to smuggle Amnesty past the base for some time. Now they’re acquiescing in what is clearly an unconstitutional Administrative Amnesty, because they can’t figure out any other way of doing it. They’ve got to allow the President to do it unconstitutionally, and pretend to object.
The late Lyn Nofziger, one of Reagan’s strategists, used to have a blog on which he wrote a very thoughtful article saying he’d come to the conclusion that immigration was an issue that could not be handled by the current party system. It would actually break the party system, just as it did when the parties were broken by the Know Nothings and the Civil War. (The blog is down now, but VDARE.com has preserved the article by going into the Wayback Machine!).
Some of you may have seen Pat Caddell’s recent interview in which he said that his polling shows that about half of the Republican base doesn’t trust its leader. Half the base! Half the base doesn’t trust its leaders! Caddell said he’s never seen a result like this.
Herbert Stein’s law, as you know, says when things can’t go on forever, they don’t. And this can’t go on forever.
In Canada in the 1950s, they had a very colorful politician called John Diefenbaker. He eventually became Prime Minister, to everyone’s great amazement. He was a sort of Jimmy Carter, with the same sort of wildly chaotic government. When he was facing re-election, the shell-shocked party strategists were thinking about what to do, and the only slogan they could come up with was “Give the old [expletive deleted] another chance!”
Similarly, with the Republican Party, I think there’s a point at which people are going to say “[Expletive deleted] this! We don’t care anymore whether the Democrats are going to win. We just won’t vote for the Republicans.”
That’s why we’ve already seen the white turnout fall in both in the last two Presidential elections.
What about the Conservative movement? This makes me very sad, because the success of the word “conservative”—as you know it polls much better than the word “liberal”—is one of the very few cultural triumphs that we’ve had. I put it up there with the War On Christmas, which the Main Stream Media has to write about, even though it hates it. (Similarly, most people know what Political Correctness is. That’s another cultural success we’ve had.)
So I’m very sorry to give the word “conservative” up—but I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that we’re going to have to.
If Jeb Bush is a “conservative”—I’m out!
What we see in America is what VDARE.com calls GAP, a Generic American Party, which represents the historic American nation. By default, that’s the GOP…right now.
And there’s the Democratic Party, which is a party of minorities, what Steve Sailer calls a Coalition of the Fringes. It’s fundamentally a minority party. That’s not immediately obvious because its leadership, and its MSM mouthpiece, is heavily white. But that’s the reality. I call it America vs Anti-America. That can’t go on forever either.
We’re headed for interesting times.
Ultimately, I think the Conservative Movement, or whatever it calls itself, was the voice, the creation, the representation of the historic American nation.
In 1961, Enoch Powell gave a speech on St. George’s Day about the collapse of the British Empire—which was a huge shock to that generation because it had happened so quickly, just like the demographic displacement of the historic American nation. He said:
That phase is ended, so plainly ended, that even the generation born at its zenith, for whom the realization is the hardest, no longer deceive themselves as to the fact. That power and that glory have vanished, as surely, if not as tracelessly, as the imperial fleet from the waters of Spithead.
And yet England is not as Nineveh and Tyre, nor as Rome, nor as Spain. Herodotus relates how the Athenians, returning to their city after it had been sacked and burnt by Xerxes and the Persian army, were astonished to find, alive and flourishing in the blackened ruins, the sacred olive tree, the native symbol of their country.
So we today, at the heart of a vanished empire, amid the fragments of demolished glory, seem to find, like one of her own oak trees, standing and growing, the sap still rising from her ancient roots to meet the spring, England herself…
We in our day ought well to guard, as highly to honor, the parent stem of England, and its royal talisman; for we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth.
Now I have to say that I don’t still see much sign of that in England yet.
But maybe we’ll get lucky here.
Thank you very much.