The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
 TeasersSam Francis Blogview
/
Ideology

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

If President Bush achieved nothing else in his Inaugural Address last week, he at least provided fodder for media pundits to chew on for a solid week or more.

This is an unusual accomplishment, even for inaugural addresses, most of which are endured and then ignored by those whose job it is to listen to them and talk and write about them.

It was predictable that Republicans would like the speech, but what was notable about responses to it was what the neo-conservatives had to say. “Say” is perhaps not quite the word.

Their reaction was less one of verbal articulation than the kind of gushing one hears in tidal waves and mud slides. The neo-cons liked the speech. They should have, since they essentially wrote it.

The neo-conservative influence on the inaugural address is obvious from its text. The president’s unqualified endorsement of pop utopianism, the Wilsonian principle that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world” is exactly what neo-cons have been peddling for decades.

It reflects their breezy assumption that “democracy” and “liberty” are virtual synonyms (an idea largely foreign to both classical political theory and the Founding Fathers, who thought they had established a republic that mixed forms of government, not a pure democracy). It accepts without question the assumption that “freedom” as the West understands it is a universal value for the whole world and can be institutionalized only in Western political forms.

And from those flawed premises, it draws the non sequitur that American foreign policy should therefore export freedom (meaning “democracy”) everywhere. The premises, the flawed logic, and the reckless conclusion are all neo-conservative commonplaces.

But the speech not only reflects neo-conservative ideology; it was in large part the work of neo-conservative hands. The Washington Postnoted that neo-cons like Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and “a leading neoconservative thinker,” advised the president and his speechwriters on the address.[Speech Not a Sign of Policy Shift, Officials Say, Washington Post, Jan 21, 2005]

So were neo-conservatives Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Krauthammer, and so was Israeli politician (and neo-conservative) Nathan Sharansky, whom the president invited to the White House in November to talk about his own book on exporting democracy.

Predictably, the neo-cons not only helped write the speech but managed the gushing about it afterwards. “It was a rare inaugural speech that will go down as a historic speech, I believe,” Mr. Kristol swooned to the Post. “His importance as a world leader will turn out to be far larger than the sort of tactical issues that are widely debated and for which he is sometimes reviled,” neo-conservative kingpin Richard Perle solemnly pronounced a few days later. “Put this in a historic perspective: He’s already created profound change. All around the Middle East, they’re talking about the issue of democracy. They’re talking about his agenda. It’s an extraordinary thing.”

The neo-con domination of the inaugural address of course reflects their own continuing domination of the administration itself, now entrenched even more powerfully than in Mr. Bush’s first term. Just as the first term brought us war in Iraq, so the second we can expect to bring us wars—well—just about wherever the neo-cons want to wage them. By the logic of Mr. Bush’s speech, that could be almost anywhere that doesn’t conform to what he and they want.

As yet another neo-con gusher, Jonah Goldberg, affirmed, Mr. Bush’s foreign policy is “truly revolutionary.” In that description he concurs with liberal Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who writes that the president’s “goals are now the antithesis of conservatism. They are revolutionary.”

That’s OK, you see, because “the United States is a revolutionary power,” and Mr. Bush has now “found his way back to the universalist principles that have usually shaped American foreign policy, regardless of the nature of the threat.”

What is interesting here is not the flawed analysis of what has “usually shaped” our foreign policy but the convergence of neo-conservatism and liberalism. It’s interesting because for a generation it has been the constant theme of Old Right criticism of neo-conservatism that it is largely just liberal wine in a new bottle.

Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were liberals, and all remain neo-conservative heroes. Their foreign policies, and the words with which they defended and explained them, were barely distinguishable from what Mr. Bush wrapped himself and the nation in last week. The president perhaps accomplished something else in his address: He confirmed once and for all that the neo-conservatism to which he has delivered his administration and the country is fundamentally indistinguishable from the liberalism many conservatives imagine he has renounced and defeated.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Neocons 
🔊 Listen RSS

Mr. Barone’s advice was no criticism, since he fairly gushed with toasty sounds about the similarities between Wilson’s beliefs and Mr. Bush’s “vision of an America spreading freedom and democracy to new corners of the world.”

And in fact Mr. Barone was correct. Wilson is exactly who Mr. Bush sounded like in his speech yesterday.

Woodrow Wilson of course was the president who not only launched America into World War I to “make the world safe for democracy”but also helped forge the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, which helped spawn the chaos that led to Nazism in Germany and World War II.

Among Wilson’s other dubious accomplishments were the creation of the Federal Reserve System, a massive expansion of federal regulations, the federal income tax and the rise of what he called “presidential government” to “get around” the “obstructions” of “congressional government.” Why anyone purporting to represent conservatism of any kind would invoke Wilson as a positive icon is beyond comprehension.

Wilson also resembles Mr. Bush in that he campaigned in the 1916 election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Then, a few months later, he helped bring us into war. Like Wilson, Mr. Bush is rapidly acquiring a reputation for violating the commitments of his last presidential campaign. That, perhaps, is his most notable contribution to American political history so far.

While not exactly a violation of a campaign promise, Mr. Bush’s renewed enthusiasm for amnesty for illegal aliens can fairly count as a betrayal. Though he proposed the amnesty early last year, before the campaign really started, he dropped it after a less than rousing response from Congress. He may have mentioned it once or twice during the campaign, but he has never described it as the amnesty it actually is.

Only after the election did Secretary of State Colin Powell, while on a visit to Mexico, say the plan would be revived .

“In light of the campaign and other things that were going on, we weren’t able to engage the Congress on it,” Mr. Powell said . “But now that the election is behind us and the president is looking to his second term, the president intends to engage Congress on it.”

In other words, we couldn’t tell voters what we were going to do because we would have lost. Now that we don’t have to pay attention to them any more, we can speak plainly. Ever since the election Mr. Bush has repeatedly promised to push his plan through Congress.

Plain Speaking Event Number Two is the proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage. Personally, I am not in favor of it and have written against it in the past, but many conservatives, especially those who supported the president, are, and one major reason they did support him is because he said he was in favor of it too. Now he’s not.

Interviewed in the Washington Post last week, Mr. Bush said he is advised by Republican senators that the amendment can’t possibly pass. Actually, it didn’t pass last year when it came up in Congress, but the religious right and its allies want to push it again.

As the Washington Post noted this week, social conservatives are already grousing about the president’s apparent lack of interest in pushing it . “Clearly there is concern,” said a spokesman for the Family Research Council.

Add to concern about the amendment the president’s appointment of an “abortion rights supporter,” Kenneth Mehlman, as head of the Republican National Committee, and Mr. Bush may start having problems with a large part of his political base. [Bush Upsets Some Supporters, By Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher, January 19, 2005]

Plain Speaking Event Number Three, assuming we don’t count the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and his positions on abortion and immigration, is Mr. Gonzales’ most recent statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “he will support reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire in September.”

Since voting blocs like gun owners were at least as vital to Mr. Bush’s re-election as the religious right and since the expiration occurred because the president didn’t oppose it, this too can fairly be counted as a betrayal of the president’s conservative base.

Is it surprising that Mr. Bush, even before he was inaugurated for a second term, started betraying the conservative positions he took during the campaign and the conservative image he and his handlers so carefully cultivated? No, it’s not. Some of us knew, even before he became president at all, that he is a phony-con.

Those who elected and re-elected him have yet to learn that, but in the next few years, they will—again—have ample opportunity to do so.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement 
🔊 Listen RSS

The Christmas wars just won’t stop, even though Christmas is right upon us, at least for a year and maybe forever, if the anti-Christmas warriors have their way.

While the warriors have been waging their crusade to make everyone from school kids to presidents say “the holidays” instead of “Christmas,” their allies in the media have been pretending the whole war is just a conservative fantasy.

Thus, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne can’t quite grasp why Christians get so upset about people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

“Politicians who speak of ‘the holidays’ instead of ‘Christmas’ now face angry Christian protests,” he asserts.

Well, not really. Most Christians and conservatives simply snicker at that kind of emptiness. What they get upset about is being forbidden to say “Merry Christmas” themselves or call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree, as actually and repeatedly happens. [Peace on Earth?By E. J. Dionne Jr., December 21, 2004]

The reason they get upset is only in part religious and has nothing to do with intolerance, bigotry, fanaticism, or the other dark passions that secular liberals imagine are what invariably explain any expression of religious belief.

The reason they get upset is that the expression of religious belief and the practice of secular customs derived from religion are being banned.

The name for that is not bigotry but tyranny. And the people who defend it are called liberals.

Mr. Dionne seems to take a moderate position on tyranny. He acknowledges, “There is something defective about a religious tolerance open to every expression of religion except for the faith of those who believe most passionately,” but then again, being a good liberal, you’ve got to think of the other side too, which is:

“What in the world is ‘Christian’ about insisting on saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to a devout Jew or Hindu who might reasonably view the statement as a sign of disrespect? At the level of government: Is it really ‘Christian‘ for a religious majority to press its advantage over religious minorities, including nonbelievers?”

The answers, of course, are no and no, and you don’t have to be a liberal to give them.

I don’t think I know a single Christian who would “insist” on saying “Merry Christmas” to a devout non-Christian (or even a non-devout non-Christian), and that’s not at all what the Christmas controversy is about anyway.

Nor can I imagine too many devout Jews and Hinduswho would regard someone wishing them a Merry Christmas “as a sign of disrespect.”

If Mr. Dionne knows such people, I hope he doesn’t introduce them to me.

Now, “Is it really ‘Christian’ for a religious majority to press its advantage over religious minorities, including nonbelievers?” I would think not, but again that’s not what the controversy is about.

The controversy is about whether Christians can celebrate or even observe in public their own religious holidays in a country (or even local community) that is overwhelmingly Christian and has been so throughout its history.

The larger question is that if non-Christian “religious minorities” are offended by the majority religion of the nation, why did they come here at all?

Why do such minorities invite themselves into a society in which they feel alien and then insist the majority abandon its religious beliefs and national identity so the minority can feel at home?

Mr. Dionne winds up quoting Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:“the chief source of man’s inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men.”

He adds, “I fear that in these Christmas debates, Christians are behaving not as Christians but as a tribe: ‘We will pound them if they get in the way of our customs and rituals.’”

But I have seen no evidence (and Mr. Dionne offers none) that any Christian has “pounded” anyone.

It’s the Christians who are being pounded for saying “Merry Christmas” or “Christmas tree,” and those doing the pounding are the non-Christians, or their buddies the liberals.

As for “tribal behavior,” Mr. Dionne, like liberals in general, imagines there is this creature called “man” (or nowadays “humankind”) that can somehow be separated from tribe—nation, religion, community, ethnicity, gender, history, culture.

“During my life,” wrote the great French conservative Joseph de Maistre, “I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on …but I must say, as for man, I have never come across him anywhere; if he exists, he is completely unknown to me.” [Considerations on France, 1797]

De Maistre’s point was that “tribal behavior” is what makes human beings human.

Take it away from “man” or “humankind” and what you get is not “pure man” or “liberated man” but dehumanization, and from that, tyranny.

That’s exactly where the War Against Christmas (and similar wars against other expressions of “tribalism”) is heading.

When it gets there, I’ll bet even liberals, including Mr. Dionne, won’t like it much.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: War on Christmas 
🔊 Listen RSS

A tip of the hat to Charles Krauthammer, Jewish neoconservative (not necessarily a redundancy, despite what many neocons claim) who last week lobbed a much-merited smack at the face of the anti-Christmas lobby.

“The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless,” he writes, and he’s perfectly correct. [Goodbye Christmas? Charles Krauthammer, Townhall.com, December 17, 2004]

Well, actually, he’s not perfectly correct. Despite his defense of the most important traditional (and official) American and Christian holiday, it’s not quite clear from Mr. Krauthammer’s column exactly why we should keep Christmas at all.

The reason it’s not entirely clear: Mr. Krauthammer is a neoconservative, and this is what’s wrong with those people.

The reason the war on Christmas is absurd, in his view, is that “The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.”

What’s absurd is to claim that the observation of Christmas, as most Americans do observe it, is in some way evidence of intolerance or discrimination.

Mr. Krauthammer, as a Jew, allows as to how he actually enjoys Christmas, not for any religious reasons but because it’s an inherently enjoyable and pleasant holiday. He also offers some snippy and well-placed cracks about the sudden elevation of Hanukah, “easily the least important of Judaism’s seven holidays,as a kind of replacement for Christmas.

For the anti-Christmas warriors, it’s OK to observe the religious holiday of one faith or several other faiths, but not the major one of the Christian faith.

That’s why it’s accurate to say that the war on Christmas is not just a misguided crusade of secularist liberalism; it’s pretty much a concerted attack on America’s Christian identity.

But that’s the point Mr. Krauthammer, as a neoconservative, doesn’t quite seem to get. His objection to the war on Christmas is that Christmas is essentially harmless. He has two other objections also.

One is that the anti-Christmas crusade is “ungenerous” and the other that it’s “a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.”

His first reason is fine, but in his second, we begin to approach the issue of what’s wrong with neoconservatism.

What’s wrong with neoconservatism is that it is a form of liberalism, and as such it is incapable of saying flatly and clearly that while Americans certainly enjoy a right to practice whatever religions they wish, Christianity remains the public religion of the nation—whether one believes in it or likes it or not.

Liberals (and neocons) can’t say that because they don’t believe in public religions and (especially) that America should have one.

A “public religion” of course is not an officially established church, as the Church of England is still. Nor is it the religion to which the majority of citizens adhere, any more than a high school glee club founded fifty years ago is young because all its members are under 18. What is true of individual members is not necessarily true of the group.

A public religion is the religion with which a country publicly identifies, and we know it identifies with it because we know it has become vital to its identity as a nation.

It is precisely because Christianity is vital to our national identity that there is a war against it, and that’s the reason also there is now a nationwide resistance to that war by Americans who wish to conserve our national identity.

Thus, the major national holiday is and always has been the major Christian holiday, and throughout American history presidents and public leaders of all parties and persuasions have acknowledged the Christian identity of the country, without any supposition of controversy.

Only recently has an American president (namely, President Bush) gone around babbling “Happy Holidays,” as he did in a press conference in Italy with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week, and even “Happy Hanukah.”

That’s because Mr. Bush is a neoconservative too, and the refusal or inability of neoconservatism to affirm that America does not just “celebrate and welcome and honor” “minority religions” but is publicly and historically identified with a particular religion central to its institutions and values, its culture and identity, has begun to catch up with him.

The more it does, and the more public leaders absorb neoconservatism, the less effective their war against the war on Christmas and the larger war on America will be.

And that’s why, as sensible as Mr. Krauthammer’s column in many respects is, we need more than neoconservatism to conserve our nation.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: War on Christmas 
🔊 Listen RSS

December is not even half over, and already the war on Christmas has started. Out in the Red State of Colorado, where traditional culture supposedly thrives, the city of Denver has waded into a little cultural gunplay that is attracting national attention.

But Denver is not the only battlefield. Increasingly it looks like Christmas may be pitched in the same trashcan as the Confederate Flag.

In Denver, local merchants have for years sponsored a pallid festival called the “Parade of Lights,” which sported Santa Claus but no Christian images. The “mood,” as the New York Times described it last week, “was bouncy, commercial and determinedly secular.” The Parade “shunned politics and anything remotely smacking of controversy, including openly religious Christmas themes that might offend.” (Well, not entirely.) [A Question of Faith for a Holiday Parade, By Kirk Johnson, December 6, 2004]

It’s interesting there’s someone in Denver who thinks that “openly religious themes” in a Christmas event “might offend.”

It’s even more interesting to consider that someone in Denver actually would be offended by such themes.

But perhaps most interesting of all is that nowhere in the entire New York Times story, despite several references to “the controversy,”is a single person or group identified who actually admits to being offended by religious imagery.

The people who were offended were local Christian groups fed up with the absolute refusal of local businessmen to mention religion at all. This year the Faith Bible Chapel sought permission to run a float in the Parade of Lights that carried explicit religious themes with a choir singing hymns and carols.

Permission denied. Too controversial, you see. Can you imagine what would happen if somebody in a Christmas parade actually started singing “Silent Night”? The horror, the horror.

Michael Krikorian, [Send him mail] a spokesman for the Downtown Denver Partnership, which sponsors the parade, says they don’t allow “direct religious themes,” and that includes “Merry Christmas”signs and singing or playing traditional Christmas hymns.

“We want to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region,” Mr. Krikorian smirks. “It could be construed as disrespectful to other people who enjoy a parade each year.”

But the horror of being misconstrued apparently extends only to Christian themes. The Parade of Lights, as the Rocky Mountain Newsreported, “includes the Two Spirit Society, which honors gay and lesbian American Indians as holy people; a German folk dance group; and performers of the Lion Dance, a Chinese New Year tradition ‘meant to chase away evil spirits and welcome good luck and good fortune for the year.’” [Parade prohibition puzzles preacher, By Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News, December 1, 2004]

Sounds sort of like a “specific religious message,” no?

Nevertheless, denied permission to chase away the evil spirits of their choice, “hundreds” of Denver area Christians showed up on the sidewalks anyway and sang “carols about mangers, shepherds and holy nights, handed out hot chocolate and spoke of their faith.”

There you go. The witchcraft trials can be expected to start any day now.

In fact, nothing much happened, except the businessspersons now say they are going to have to “re-evaluate” the event.

“This was always just supposed to be a cutesy parade, for the kids,” says Jim Basey, president of the Downtown Denver Partnership.“The purpose was to get bodies downtown.” No offensiveness for Mr. Basey.

Denver is not the only city to enjoy a little Christmas cultural warfare. The Washington Times reports that the mayor of Somerville, Mass. [Send him mail] as issued a public apology for “mistakenly” calling the local “holiday party” a “Christmas party,” while “School districts in Florida and New Jersey have banned Christmas carols altogether, and an ‘all-inclusive’ holiday song program at a Chicago-area elementary school included Jewish and Jamaican songs, but no Christmas carols.”

In Kirkland, Washington, a school banned a play of “A Christmas Carol” because of Tiny Tim’s prayer, and neighboring libraries banned Christmas trees.

The website Vdare.com sponsors an annual scrutiny of the “War Against Christmas.” It has lots more examples.

Christmas, to be fair, is not an exclusively religious holiday, though Christians are entirely right to insist on preserving that meaning among others. It’s a celebration that has been around so long it has acquired non-religious meanings as well, but meanings that go well beyond Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.

It’s a festival that comes from the heart of the traditional West, which is why music, literature, films and common social customs center around it so much.

At least some of the people who want to abolish it are not intentionally anti-Western. They’re people who have simply disengaged themselves from their own civilization and are entirely indifferent as to whether it survives or not.

Being strangers in their own land, they no longer have a clue as to what Christmas and its symbols mean.

And it’s not only Christmas that’s “just supposed to be a cutesy parade.” It’s everything else their civilization has created.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: War on Christmas 
🔊 Listen RSS

It didn’t take the neoconservatives long to figure out the real truth about the election and explain to us, hanging breathless, what we should think about it.

David Brooks in the New York Times was perhaps the first to unveil it to the rest of us out here in the boonies.

The truth, you see, is that “it is certainly wrong” that the “moral issue” was the driving force in the election. That delusion comes from a “poorly worded question” in the exit polls.

“When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote,”Mr. Brooks writes,

“voters were given the option of saying ‘moral values.’ But that phrase can mean anything—or nothing. Who doesn’t vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.” [The Values-Vote Myth, November 6, 2004]

And if you want a misleading result before you ask the question, you get neocon propaganda. Neoconservatives don’t like the “moral issue” or the white Christian evangelicals who take that issue seriously enough to vote on it.

What the neoconservatives care about is foreign policy, especially how all those white Christian cattle in the backwaters can be rounded up to fight the Middle East wars the neocons are slobbering to wage—World War IV,” as neocon guru Norman Podhoretz likes to call it.

Mr. Brooks, despite occasional reservations about the Iraq boondoggle, is on board for that agenda too, and much of his column sought to explain how the election was really “a broad victory for[President] Bush” and that a national consensus behind the “war on terror” was what led to his victory.

Yet, as I have noted before, only 51 percent of the voters supported Mr. Bush at all, and while he did win the election, there was nothing “broad” about it.

The broad victory was not that of Mr. Bush and his foreign policy but of the moral issue—the massive and simultaneous success of 11 state ballot measures that rejected same-sex marriage.

There’s no “misleading question” involved here. It was straight-forward and so simple even neocons could grasp it, which they do, which is why they are so eager to explain it away before the rest of the country starts talking about matters they don’t want to talk about.

The neoconservatives of course are not the only people who don’t want to talk about such matters—namely, the moral direction of the nation and its culture. The Republican establishment doesn’t want to talk about it either, which is why, as the Washington Post reported last week, evangelicals had to drag the GOP kicking and screaming to support the marriage amendments at all.

In Michigan, state Sen. Alan Cropsey, sponsor of a bill to ban homosexual marriage, told the Post “the Republican Party was not helpful at all. It’s not like they were the instigators. They were the Johnny-come-latelies, if anything.” Several other activists say the same.

So far from Republicans or the White House using the ballot measures to crank out the evangelical vote, the evangelicals themselves—and in some areas Roman Catholic groups—created the movement. Evangelical leader Charles Colson says, “The White House guys were kind of resisting it [the marriage issue] on the grounds that ‘We haven’t decided what position we want to take on that.’”[Evangelicals Say They Led Charge For the GOP, By Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall, November 8, 2004]

What the election returns really tell us, then, has little to do with President Bush (who a week before the election defended “rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do,” and explicitly renounced the GOP platform on same-sex marriage on ABC’s Good Morning America), let alone his foreign policy.

What they tell us is that the Republican Party including its top leader still doesn’t get it and that it still prefers to take its signals from neoconservatives like Mr. Brooks and the cultural and ideological ghetto they represent.

The White House and the GOP didn’t want to support the grassroots movement against same-sex marriage because the people who staff those institutions are more comfortable with the people who write the Washington Post and the New York Times than with the Middle Americans whose votes they desperately want and need.

It’s not easy to argue that a party able to win the White House and both houses of Congress is the Stupid Party, but stupidity is largely a matter of being unable to learn, and what this election tells us more than anything else is that, at least up until Election Day, the Republican Party had learned nothing.

Nor has Mr. Brooks. He and his neocon allies now have four more years to plot how to derail the Middle American Revolution toward which this election clearly points.

If Mr. Bush is not stupid, he’ll derail the neocons from the White House now.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Classic, 2004 Election, Neocons 
🔊 Listen RSS

What will happen to American conservatism as a result of the 2004 election? Obviously, the answer depends largely on what happens in the election, and we won’t know that until tomorrow (or later). But that doesn’t stop pundits from telling us anyway.

Pat Buchanan believes a “civil war” will break out inside the Republican Party over its ideological future, a war between the Bush partisans and their neoconservative allies on the one hand and, on the other, paleoconservatives like Mr. Buchanan, advocates of an “America First,” national interest-based foreign policy, economic nationalism and traditional conservatism—small government, constitutionalism and cultural traditionalism.

The New Republic’s Franklin Foer also thinks the paleos may have a future after the election.

The most recent contribution to this discussion comes from two British observers with The Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, they suggest that whatever happens in the election, what President Bush has done to American conservatism is here to stay. [“‘Bushism’ Win or lose, the president has remade the politics of the right. October 27, 2004

What Mr. Bush has done to conservatism, they argue, is to revolutionize it. He has embraced what they call “big government conservatism,” reversing what both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan supported. “The massive growth in the state during this presidency (faster than under Bill Clinton, even if you exclude the spending on the war on terror)” is at heart “a deliberate strategy.”

Moreover, they claim that Mr. Bush’s use of the state is conservative in that in his intention was “to turn government into an agent of conservatism,” using federal power to impose moral values in ways traditional conservatives rejected (not because they rejected the values but because they rejected the scale of federal power to impose them).

Finally, “Mr. Bush’s boldest contribution to reinventing conservatism” lies in his foreign policy, which centers on spreading democracy across the planet as a moralistic crusade.

Like a lot of foreign observers of America since Alexis de Tocqueville, these two don’t get everything right, but they do spy trends many Americans tend to miss, and they are largely right about the impact of the Bush administration on the body of American conservatism.

To put it another way, the impact of Mr. Bush on American conservatism has been a disaster.

It has been a disaster because every “contribution” the authors cite is not simply a modification or an adjustment but an abandonment of what traditional conservatism means and has meant.

It is, in short, “neoconservatism”—and in a way that has nothing to do with “neoconservative” as a codeword for “Jews.”

The main neoconservative writers—Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, and most others—have long insisted that they don’t share traditional conservative distrust of the centralized state—a distrust that was shared by traditional Jeffersonian conservatives, constitutionalists and libertarians.

What the neocons wanted, wrote their “godfather” Irving Kristol, was “a conservative welfare state,” while Mr. Podhoretz has written that from its beginnings “the neoconservatives dissociated themselves from the wholesale opposition to the welfare state which had marked American conservatism since the days of the New Deal.”

Today, thanks to the Bush administration, they have succeeded in disassociating American conservatism from American conservatism.

Mr. Bush’s use of expanded state power for “moralistic” ends is consistent with neoconservatism as well, though it mainly comes from his alliance with the religious right, a movement that has close ties to the neo-cons.

But Mr. Micklethwait and Mr. Wooldridge may exaggerate the degree to which the president has actually embraced the religious right’s agenda. Most I know in that movement are less than pleased with what he’s done to advance it.

Most obviously, as the authors acknowledge, Mr. Bush’s foreign policy is largely the creature of the neoconservatives all by themselves. The crusade to spread democracy, especially in the Middle East, has been a neoconservative obsession since at least the Reagan administration. Only under Mr. Bush did they have a green light to make it the central purpose of American policy abroad.

The trouble with Mr. Bush’s adaptations of conservatism to fit the neocon mold is that they are fundamentally inconsistent with what most American conservatives have always believed and believe today.

Only by masking them with conventional conservative rhetoric—and by dwelling on how awful the liberal alternatives are—can a Republican Party dominated by neoconservatism expect to keep grassroots conservative support and remain in office.

And maybe it can and will. As neoconservatism entrenches itself as the dominant and defining expression of conservatism, there will be fewer and fewer Americans who even remember what real conservatism is.

Maybe they can still wage a civil war to take back their party and their nation, but the result of that civil war could be as much of a disaster as the last one.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2004 Election, Conservative Movement 
🔊 Listen RSS

In politics, a wise man once told me, there are only two important questions: (1) Who should win? (2) Who will win? You don’t have to be very wise to understand that the answers are not necessarily (or indeed very often) the same.

As to the first question, my own wisdom, such as it is, offers little help. George W. Bush has led the country into an unnecessary and potentially disastrous war and shows no sign of recognizing that we are having serious problems resolving, let alone winning, it. There is no reason whatsoever to think he deserves to be re-elected or that keeping him as president will not lead to further war and further disaster.

His main rival for the White House is no improvement, unable to offer a clear and convincing answer as to what he would have done differently or what he will do better. Given his record and statements, it’s entirely possible that John Kerry would engage us in his own ill-conceived war in the same region, either deliberately or through incompetence.

My advice, suggested earlier, is to forget both candidates. If you think it’s your duty to vote, pick a “third party” ideological candidate—any one of them—and go for him. Otherwise, stay home and read a book. That’s a perfectly honorable and sensible choice, and it sends a message, if anyone wants to receive it.

As to who will win, that’s not very clear either, and that very fact may tell us something about the answer to the first question. The reason it’s not clear who will win is that an awful lot of Americans are having problems answering who should win, and what that means is that whoever does win will have little “mandate” from anyone.

Recently John Zogby, one of the nation’s leading pollsters, spoke to a group in Hong Kong about the election and who might win it, and what he said tells us much the same. Mr. Zogby leans to the Democrats, and that bias should be considered in evaluating what he said, but what he said is mainly of interest because of what he didn’t say.

Mr. Bush’s support in the polls, Mr. Zogby is reported to have said, has never risen above 48 percent, and approval of his performance as president, belief that he deserves to be re-elected, and belief that the country is going in the right direction all are negative.

These indicators are significant because of the “undecided vote,”which in recent weeks amounts to about 6 percent of the electorate. Mr. Zogby says that undecided voters tend to wind up voting for the challenger—as they did in 1980 for Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter. Also, a higher turnout is expected this year than previously, and that too is expected to favor the Democrats. Then there’s the youth vote, which is also heavily Democratic, and a high turnout of young voters, driven by anti-war sentiment and concern over jobs, would also help Mr. Kerry. On the whole, then, Mr. Zogby believes that the election is Mr. Kerry’s to lose.

It is not my point that Mr. Zogby’s analysis and prediction (if that’s what it is) are right or wrong. My point is that the reasons he offers are simply pollster’s reasons. They are essentially policy-wonk reasons or technical, number-crunching, inside-baseball reasons. There is virtually nothing in what he tells us that suggests a strong pattern or consensus as to who should win. And that is not a criticism of him. It’s simply what the trends in this election do tell us—not just Mr. Zogby but virtually everybody.

George W. Bush has been president now for four years, and he went into this race as the incumbent and as a war president, with no scandal and no economic disaster at hand. He should be winning by a landslide, but the blunt truth is that he is barely if at all edging his opponent and may still lose. And no one, with the exception of die-hard Republican partisans, seems to care very much whether he stays president or not.

If there is a pattern in this election, that’s it, and what it tells us is that Mr. Bush has totally failed to convince the country that his policies are the right policies or that he is the right leader to carry them out. He may in fact win the election, just as he won the last one, but if he is unable to win it any more convincingly than he seems to be doing, he will have lost it morally, and he will have no legitimate claim that the country is behind him or that what he wants to do abroad has enough popular support to sustain it through another term.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2004 Election 
🔊 Listen RSS

If neither of the two major presidential candidates excites you very much, maybe you should consider staying home on Election Day and reading a good book. A good book to read on that day or others is Chilton Williamson Jr.‘s just-published The Conservative Bookshelf.Even if you don’t like it, it will tell you about a lot of other books you might like better.

The Conservative Bookshelf is a collection of fairly brief chapters about some 50 classic works of conservatism. “Classic works” does not include Rush Limbaugh or David Frum but real classics by real writers. Mr. Williamson, the former book review editor at National Review and current senior editor for books at Chronicles and the author of several novels and non-fiction books himself, knows the difference between a real classic and the mental belches that today often masquerade as “conservatism.”

Hence, what The Conservative Bookshelf tells us about is what real conservatism is, and it’s definitely not what the Republican Party is selling. “High-powered, high-pressured modern society has largely succeeded in reducing conservatism from a broadly informed religious, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic tradition to a narrow and shallow party politics that often amounts to nothing more than a party line,” Mr. Williamson writes in his introduction. “The Republican Party is the present embodiment of this politics in the United States; yet it has not always been so.”

He readily acknowledges that a Republican political leader like Robert A. Taft—a strong constitutionalist and anti-internationalist—was “the greatest congressional spokesman in his time for the conservative political tradition.”

But Taft’s days are long gone, as are those when conservatism was defined by either the GOP’s “Taft wing” or its intellectual mentors, most of whose books Mr. Williamson discusses knowledgeably.

The conservative classics range from St. Augustine, Cicero and Edmund Burke to C.S. Lewis and British political theorist Michael Oakeshott, with chapters on contemporary figures like Pat Buchanan,Peter Brimelow and others thrown in (purely in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit I’m one of them). Conspicuous by their absence are the neo-conservatives who today have come to dominate what the media define as “conservatism.” Mr. Williamson has reasons for not including them.

“Neoconservatives are distinguished from traditional conservatives,” he writes, “not least by their determination to deny notions of peculiar national and cultural identities, which they seek to replace with the fantastical one of the First Universal Nation. Most important, neoconservatives have relentlessly promoted the secularization of government and of society to an extent that is wholly at odds with the explicitly Christian character of the Western tradition.”

He acknowledges that neo-cons have held some ideas in common with traditional conservatives and have come up with some interesting policy discussions, but there’s not much to include from them in a book like this. At their best, the neo-cons may know all about the shortcomings of federal urban policy, but most are neither very conservative nor very deep.

By now you’re probably catching the drift of what Mr. Williamson means by “conservatism.” What he means is what is today called paleo-conservatism,” and it is called that because what is called “neo-conservatism” has largely displaced it. Mr. Williamson’s description of “paleo-conservatism” is clear enough:

Christian faith, national sovereignty and cultural identity, federalism, republicanism, restraint of capitalism, community,agrarianism, and homocentric environmentalism.” Traditional, paleo or “old conservatism” is therefore not identical with libertarianism (which is for unrestrained capitalism and cares little for community and cultural identity) or “isolationism.”

Several of the authors Mr. Williamson includes are or were militant anti-communist interventionists during the Cold War—Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham and Pat Buchanan, among others.

Indeed, Mr. Williamson suggests that the very word “conservatism”no longer very well applies to what he’s talking about. “The primary distinction within the conservative tradition,” he writes, is “the difference between a conservatism founded uncompromisingly on eternal principles and the conservatism that appeals to historical context and the status quo, prudence and pragmatism.”

The first group, which is where Mr. Williamson and his paleo allies are coming from, he prefers to call “Rightists.” Only the second is “conservative” in the sense that it “seeks to conserve what exists in the present.”

The great dilemma that conservatives who are “Rightists” are coming to face is how they can retain loyalty to what prevails in this country today and remain wedded to their vision of eternal principles.

They are by no means the first generation of the real right to face that dilemma. Many of the thinkers whom Mr. Williamson discusses in his book faced it also in their own times. Reading his account of how they resolved it just might help real conservatives today deal with the same problem.

If you face that dilemma yourself, maybe you should read the book.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Neocons 
🔊 Listen RSS

A tip of the hat to the Department of State, which had the guts and good sense to express its opposition (sort of) to congressional legislation creating an office for monitoring “anti-Semitism.”

The bill passed both houses of Congress by voice vote and was signed into law by President Bush last week.

It’s a very silly and dangerous measure.

“We opposed creation of a separate office for the purpose and opposed the mandating of a separate annual report,” a State Department spokesman told the press. “We expressed the view that separate reports on different religions or ethnicities were not warranted, given that we already prepare human rights reports and religious freedom reports on 190 countries.” [Anti-Semitism office planned at State Department, By Nicholas Kralev,Washington Times, October 14, 2004]

But the Department isn’t dumb. Having seen how easily it passed, the spokesman explained also why the law really wasn’t a problem after all:

“It´s more of a bureaucratic nuisance than a real problem. We are not going to fight a bill that has gained such political momentum.”

You bet your pension you’re not.

The bill did not, of course, pass Congress because there was such a massive groundswell of grassroots support for it. It passed because Jewish organizations demanded it, and no sitting politician wants to get on the wrong side of these groups.

That’s why the bill passed the Senate by agreement and the House by voice vote—there’s no debate and no record of how anyone voted.

Pushed by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and most other major Jewish organizations, the bill requires the Department to record acts of physical violence against Jews, their property, cemeteries and places of worship abroad, and the response of local governments to them.

As the Department notes, it already issues reports on “human rights”abuses, and there’s no special reason why attacks on Jews should be recorded separately.

Why not reports about attacks on other groups—black people, white people, women, Christians?

If the lobbies that represent such categories can make enough noise for it, there would be such reports. The State Department could then spend all its time recording what should be the concern of local police departments.

The Department was right the first time that the bill requires a duplication of what it already does, but that’s not what’s really wrong with the law.

What’s wrong with it is that it opens one more door to the criminalization of thought and expression.

The bill requires only that acts of physical violence against Jews be recorded, not expressions of anti-Semitism, but you can bet the bill’s promoters will soon be pushing to include what they claim are “anti-Semitic” expressions to be reported as well. As press reports noted,“among the attacks that prompted passage of the bill” was “the recent claim by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Jews ‘rule the world by proxy.’”

That’s the sort of stuff the State Department will now have to record and report about?

Last year the British Parliament debated a bill that would have allowed British citizens to be extradited to European Union countries to stand trial for expressing “xenophobia and racism” if the expressions were broadcast into countries where they are illegal, as in several European countries they are. It didn’t pass, and the law just enacted doesn’t do that, but all of it is part of the same pattern.

The pattern is the criminalization of thought—for xenophobia,” “racism,” “white supremacy,” “homophobia,” “anti-Semitism,” “patriarchalism,” and any number of other isms, manias and phobias unknown to any language a few years ago.

What really drives the crusade to criminalize thought and expression is not any legitimate revulsion against real violence (which is already illegal) but the compulsion of powerful and well-organized lobbies to muzzle criticism.

Neoconservatives are already claiming that criticism of them is really “anti-Semitism,” which is what they also said about the recent FBI investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for espionage for Israel, and what the Anti-Defamation League and many other Jewish spokesmen said about Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” and what the same groups say about criticism of Israel or of U.S. policies toward Israel.

It might be a lot simpler if the State Department had to report on what isn’t anti-Semitism.

The list would be a lot shorter.

What is worrisome about the new law is not that the Department will have to duplicate what it already does but that what is not anti-Semitism at all, let alone violence, but merely criticism and dissent will be demonized and curbed.

Maybe in some minds that was the real purpose of the law all along.

And maybe, before the congressmen and senators all shouted their approval of the measure, they should have talked and thought about it a little more than they did.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Anti-Semitism, Thought Crimes 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”