While reading recent diatribes against me, I’ve noticed that my detractors are experiencing what German playwright Bertolt Brecht characterized as “Verfremdungsaffekt.” This is a process by which familiar objects and settings are made to appear new and strange, so that the observer finally views them in an unaccustomed light. This process may have befallen David Frum, who in “The Unpatriotic Right” treats me like a weirdo — who had just broken unexpectedly into his area of vision. In point of fact Frum knows lots more about my career and me than he is willing to let on. His family and my in-laws as well as the two of us had been acquainted with each other for many years, before he depicted me in National Review as a ranting pedagogue, whose students were running away from him.
Now an even more startling case of how the familiar is rendered unfamiliar has come to my attention. In a book of complaints about neoconservative foreign policy, Imperial Designs (Routledge, Fall 2004), Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College Gary Dorrien scoffs at me as “an eccentric anti-neoconservative,” who blames his opponents for “professional rebuffs.” At my advanced age I have grown generally indifferent to slights, but Dorrien’s insult may take the cake for dishonesty. The fact that he views himself tautologically as a “liberal Episcopal” theologian may or may not help explain his duplicity. Certainly Dorrien must be aware that I have published on scholarly themes beside skirmishing with neoconservatives, most recently a trilogy on the managerial state and its shifting ideologies. With due respect to Frum’s snide comments, it is hard to believe those were the only biographical data about my career that my newest detractor could draw on. I know this is not the case, because eleven years ago, Dorrien published an altogether respectable book on the neoconservatives, which quotes me repeatedly as a reliable authority. Never does the author suggest in this earlier work, before I had published scads of things on other topics, that I was a nutcase fixated on my professional setback, which were unfairly blamed on the neoconservatives. Why have I now attained this dubious status as a crank?
Allow me to speculate! Dorrien can’t stand the fact that I, together with others on the Old Right, had anticipated by decades the attacks he’s now launching. We on the right have been making critical observations that only accredited leftists in Dorrien’s ideological box are permitted to publish. It is therefore necessary to vilify or treat dismissively those on the wrong side of the spectrum whose ideas the Left wishes to copy. Contrary to those deluded paleos, who still nurture the hope that reasonable journalists on the left will join us against the neoconservatives, Dorrien’s contemptuous reference to me show exactly what one can expect from the other side. Last year I attended a conference at Swarthmore on foreign policy that included both establishment left and Old Right critics of the Bush foreign policy. What struck me was the tendency of the academic Left to lump together everyone on the right, including those sitting on the same panel with them, as global democratic imperialists. This tendency was so ritualistic that the anti-Bush conservatives gave up trying to distinguish themselves from the Weekly Standard editorial board.
This confusion on the left about who we are does not result from invincible ignorance. It stems from the Left’s contempt for those who think differently from them on social, economic, and constitutional issues, even if some of our views about foreign policy occasionally overlap, as they apparently do right now. So great is this scorn that leftists like Dorrien cannot even recognize our common ground. And I for one have given up trying to point it out.
Nonetheless, this common ground may be more elusive than real. Unless I’m mistaken, Dorrien, like other liberal Democrats, probably went along with the Clinton administration, when it offered its own dress rehearsal of the neocon imperial design, in Kosovo. Did Dorrien object when Clinton ordered the bombing of Serbs who had taken no aggressive action against us? Did he raise his eyebrow when Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Albright bullied the right-center Austrian government in 2000, when that government was about to allow the anti-immigrationist conservative Jorg Haider into a ruling coalition? Did Dorrien worry about an “imperial design” when Madeleine Albright expressed her concern to Senator Helms that our vast army was not getting used enough? Somehow I doubt that the Reverend Dorrien did any of this. It is, after all, only “eccentrics” on the right who despise global democratic imperialists in both parties equally.