Although Bill Hawkins and I have not agreed on all political and historical questions, until this week I continued to respect him as a principled, intelligent person. Hawkins, or so it seemed to me, was a Lincoln Republican, who praised the consolidated national government achieved by the victorious Union side in the War Between the States. He also consistently applied his nationalist principles taken from an earlier age by being a critic of liberal immigration policies and an outspoken advocate of tariffs. Although his views would not appeal to readers of this website, as someone who can appreciate nation states and the efforts involved in building and sustaining them (I am to Ralph Raico’s consternation an admirer of Bismarck), I could tolerate, even if I did not entirely share, Hawkins’s politics. Certainly I would not have put him into the category of those assorted half-recovered Trotskyists, global democratic warmongers, and salesmen for propositional nationhood exemplified by neoconservatism.
But, to all appearances, I got Hawkins wrong. In a featured diatribe in the neoconservative-financed FrontPageMag.com, this erstwhile friend of mine went to town on the “leftist, anti-American libertarians” and other members of the “defective Right” who oppose our military presence in Iraq. Now I have not always agreed with Justin Raimondo, whom Hawkins debated at a John Randolph Club meeting in Washington last week. Justin and I debated (more or less) the same issue, whether the US should withdraw from Iraq at once, over which he and Hawkins famously locked horns a few days ago.
Having declared where I’ve stood on this issue, it also seems to me that Hawkins’s rant against Justin and other Ron Paul supporters leaves much to be desired. Hawkins talks up the “authentic conservative tradition,” but is oblivious to the fact that avoiding foreign entanglements was a keystone of that tradition for decades. The paradigmatic American conservative circa 1950 was the quasi-isolationist Robert Taft and not the democratic crusaders FDR and Truman. If what Hawkins says about the antiwar Right really being the “anti-American Left,” is true, why doesn’t the Left happily embrace Raimondo, Rockwell, Paul Craig Roberts, Ron Paul and all of the other paleolibertarian and paleoconservative opponents of the war, who are supposedly hugging the left? (By the way, I am surprised that Hawkins didn’t notice at the meeting he attended that old-line traditionalists as well as libertarians were calling for immediate American withdrawal from Iraq.) The liberal establishment does not reach out ecstatically to Hawkins’s “disagreeable lot” because they know and hate those who are opposing the war from the right. Nobody in his right mind would confuse Ron Paul’s partisans with anyone on the left. Nor have the neocons done so. Hardly ever do Hawkins’s new-found buds allow antiwar figures from the right, as opposed to those from the left, onto their talk shows. The one time I saw the rule broken, when Ron Paul appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, the guest was treated with shocking rudeness. This was all the more telling since I heard O’Reilly last night gushing all over his honored guest Jesse Jackson, who presumably also opposes the Iraqi War.
Hawkins’s remarks on Murray Rothbard as an anti-American Communist sympathizer are also open to question, despite the fact that Murray once did seek an accommodation with New Leftist opponents of the war in Vietnam, an undertaking that he then rapidly abandoned when it became obvious that the two sides were divided by too many domestic issues. As for the notion of Murray applauding Soviet despotism, this is a vicious urban legend. This great Austrian economist was a champion of laissez-faire capitalism and an enemy of socialism. However, he was an opponent of Cold War militarism and the national security state, and an early advocate of détente, which disturbed the National Review crowd, with whose views at the time I happened to agree. But that was quite different from being the leftist that William F. Buckley presents, in an attack obituary written immediately after Murray’s death.
As Fate would have it, Hawkins highlights (and links to) that attack in his brief against Murray. Unfortunately Buckley’s credibility is suspect, as Hawkins would learn from consulting the relevant chapters in my just-published book on American conservatism. Buckley has constantly laundered the history of the postwar conservative movement that he founded and then handed over to the neocons. This has involved misrepresenting those whom he cast out of his movement, including Murray, and exaggerating the compatibility of the neoconservatives with those whom these new friends were allowed to supplant. It is hard to think of any public intellectual in my lifetime who has played more loosely with the facts surrounding his own accomplishments and misdeeds. There is for example nothing that Buckley or his liberal luncheon companions say about his attacks on Old Right enemies in the early postwar conservative movement that seems to check out.
Finally I am taken aback by Hawkins’s newly discovered affection for the true American Right, the neoconservatives, whom he is protecting against “the ignorant bashing” of the “defective Right.” I remember a time when Hawkins joined in this bashing, when it came from an older friend Anthony Harrigan, whose views on the neoconservatives were the same as mine. Having written several books on these former “liberals who shifted right during the Cold War, attracted by the strong foreign and defense policies that were the hallmark of traditional conservatism,” I do not consider myself “ignorant” about their activities. Most of them ended up as Cold Warriors but not as “traditional conservatives.” They managed to turn the later phase of the Cold War into a neo-Wilsonian crusade to spread their version of democracy worldwide. With due respect to Hawkins, neocons did “pervert foreign policy,” at least as that policy was understood on the anti-Communist right of the 1950s. They also brought along their own massive baggage when they took over the conservative movement, e.g., neo-Wilsonian, ultra-Zionist enthusiasms, and a willingness to move constantly leftward on social issues.
Neocons have ruled the “conservative movement” with an iron fist and as someone whom they kicked out of it as unceremoniously as they did Murray Rothbard, despite the fact that I never opposed the Cold War, I recognize democratic centralism when I see it. These are all criticisms Hawkins too, if memory serves, once made in conversation, and I would be gratified to learn why he has suddenly swerved over to the other side, and at an age when he is not likely to benefit from his new, powerful patrons.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.