I “foam at the mouth,” or so noted a very sweet and technically adept colleague of mine, Kathy Kellie, who volunteered to format my footnotes electronically, before my new book Baseless Conservatism: Making Sense of the American Right, went back to the copyeditor at Macmillan. She noted a persistent habit of mine each time that I describe the modern administrative state reaching for power. “You must be very conservative!” Kathy opined, as she glanced over my corrected footnotes one last time. I retorted that by now I was on the verge of becoming a “rightwing anarchist,” in view of the control over social behavior and education that public administrators have taken for themselves even in our lifetimes. (Kathy is only two and half years younger than I and therefore able to remember a time when Americans actually treated our democratic welfare state with a bit more suspicion.)
Most surprising about Kathy’s statement, however, was not that she recognized my distaste for “democratic administration,” an attitude that I never try to hide, but rather that she understood that being on the American Right means despising the current regime. There was a time when this association was not as automatic as it is now becoming. Indeed the anger directed by the media and by the Anti-Defamation League and its near-identical twin, the Southern Law Poverty Center, against anti-statist groups underscores the unavoidable link between big government and the Left. Historically of course the state has not always been associated with the Left, and certainly in Europe statolatry was a characteristic of the anti-democratic Right. Although European conservatives may have meant something radically different when they referred to the “state,” they never hesitated to exalt political authority.
In the US during the 1950s the then newly formed “conservative movement” worked to instill its own appreciation of the American government; the writings of Russell Kirk, for example, proposed an historical and conceptual bridge between monarchical England fighting the French Revolution and the US Republic keeping at bay the new revolutionary threat represented by the Soviet Union. More recently, the neoconservatives have tried to make their own connection between expanding American administration and national greatness. Although the argument here has not been that the state is a counterrevolutionary instrument (the neoconservative position is exactly the opposite), neoconservative global revolutionaries Joshua Muravchik and Michael Ledeen appeal to a movement conservative sensibility going back to the Cold War. Note that before neoconservative scribbling began to celebrate the American government as an agent of world democratic revolution, George Will and Gertrude Himmelfarb were already fashioning a more traditional-looking lineage for our welfare state. Both linked welfare state administration to a conservative paternalism extending back to Disraeli and (before neoconservative Teutonophobia got the upper hand) to the Prussian chancellor Bismarck. But let’s keep the bigger picture in mind: For decades the American state meant for the establishment Right the necessary means for combating world communism and therefore its expansion at home was seen as a tolerable development.
This may no longer be the case in terms of the way Americans understand political polarities. While the Left rails against the bogus Right (that is, the neoconservatives) as the sponsors of a military state that is taking away popular liberties, it knows where its real domestic enemy is to be found. The media Left lurches fitfully into attack mode against the Militia Men as rightwing extremists, a reaction that is never apparent when it discusses the Black Panthers or Hispanic racial nationalists. One likely reason is that, in contrast to designated indignant minorities, “rightwing extremists” are not clients of the administrative state. In fact they would be happy to junk this entity entirely. And whenever the Left here or in Europe is promoting its social engineering policies, it urges obedience to judicial-administrative governance, as the appropriate democratic behavior. I doubt that the Left really believes that the worst thing about the Right is neoconservative militarism. The long-term enemy is those who want to get rid of the system of behavioral control that the central government set up in the twentieth century, in order to equalize it subjects through confiscation and threats as well as redistributed goodies and to fight every alleged form of discrimination. It is also quite likely that the pro-immigration fanaticism of the Left here and in Europe, before which the right-center can be counted on to bow, betrays a more sinister political project, creating social ferment that will require further anti-discrimination initiatives from those at the top. It is for me hard to imagine anything advocated by the Left (or by the fake Republican opposition) that does not necessarily entail an even bigger surrender of power to the servile state.
The establishment Left embraces the buzzword “democracy” because it understands what this term now signifies, centralized government run by self-certified experts, who define for us what “democratic” means. Democracy and total control, as Robert Nisbet stressed in his classic The Quest for Community over sixty years ago, are not only compatible but increasingly in the Western world indistinguishable. Kathy was correct to attribute my loathing for the democratic welfare state to my essentially rightwing views. These views do not flow from a libertarian philosophy but from something even more primordial, my revulsion for the Devil and all of his works.