Sixteen months from now, when they sit upon the ground to tell sad stories of the death of kings, scores of Republican chieftains will no doubt take a deep sigh of relief at seeing the back of George W. Bush as he sallies off to a Crawford-bound retirement. Although dedicated partisans will forever remain grateful for his depriving Al Gore the presidency, GOP wise men will be left to ponder: What, ultimately, is the legacy Bush 43 leaves behind?
The answer, from a political and philosophical standpoint, should disturb them greatly.
Politically, Republicans are rudderless. Morale among activists is the lowest it’s been since Watergate’s nadir. Many conservatives have resigned themselves to the inevitability of Madam President. And barring sundry self-deluded pontificators on talk radio, no serious political prognosticator can envisage a scenario wherein Republicans will be able to recapture either chamber of Congress in 2008—especially the Senate, where prospects look frightfully bleak.
Democrats, with two Independents caucusing with them, hold a 51 to 49 advantage over the Republicans. With a third of the Senate facing the voters in 2008, nary a Democrat appears to be vulnerable for reelection. Meanwhile, conniption fits abound at the Republican Senate Committee over the possibility of losing the following five seats:
In Colorado, Wayne Allard—a competent, conservative public servant in the mold of his predecessor William Armstrong—is retiring after two terms in office. He never garnered more than 51% of the vote, and Colorado has been trending blue the past few election cycles.
Norm Coleman of Minnesota bested Walter Mondale in 2002 with an exiguous 49.53% of the vote. Ever since he’s been a favorite target of left-wing activists like Al Franken, who is seeking to oust him.
Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, the Upper Chamber’s lone Republican opponent of the Iraq War, has apparently tired of playing the role of pariah and joins Allard in voluntarily packing it in. Though Nebraska is as red a state as any, former Democratic Governor and Senator Bob Kerry looks poised to usurp this seat.
Past Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire recently threw her hat in the senatorial ring, and may very well deny John Sununu a second term. Her marked advantage is that, as of late, the Granite State has begun aping the rest of New England’s voting habits
And though Republican John Warner never gave much joy to conservatives in Virginia, his impending retirement will do little to prosper their fortunes. Democrat Mark Warner (no relation), widely popular in the Commonwealth, offers his party its first real chance of claiming both Senate seats since 1965.
This political train-wreck Republicans face can largely be traced to Bush’s philosophical metamorphosis from a traditional, non-interventionist conservative to the neoconservatives’ exemplar of a “War President”, and his positioning of the Republicans as the “War Party”. Anyone doubting the veracity of this assessment should review 20th Century history.
In 1920, two years after the close of The Great War, Republicans snatched the presidency from the Democratic Party of Woodrow Wilson and held Congressional majorities. The Party of Lincoln would duplicate this trifecta feat of power in 1924, 1928, and 1952, and then not again until January 20, 2001.
In 1945 and 1946, fatigued by the theatre in Europe and Asia, voters in Great Britain and the United States sacked their respective war parties: the Tories and Democrats. In England, Churchill had to hand over the premiership to Clement Attlee; in America, Republicans retook the House and Senate.
In 1968, LBJ, stymied by the debacle in Vietnam, was hounded from office by his own party. Richard Nixon finally realized his life’s ambition and became president by running as a peace candidate.
In 1992, George Bush (41), fresh from an Operation Desert Storm victory, managed to garner less than 38% of the vote against a small-state governor, one tainted by both personal and financial scandals, and an unhinged Texas businessman.
If a trend is to be observed it is thus: civilized societies are repelled by the trammels of war, even just wars. While our brave young have always proved their mettle, queuing up to wage battle against ravaging hordes—disquieting Germans, twice, Koreans, Vietcong, and insurgent Iraqis—ultimately, the country entrusts its governance to the “peace and prosperity” party.
By casting the Republicans as the War Party in an unnecessary police action in Iraq, Bush has placed the GOP on history’s losing side. For this they shall pay exceedingly, now and in the years to come.
Nicholas Sanchez is a conservative activist and the former Director of Development for the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, D.C. Mr. Sanchez now resides in Manchester, N.H. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Hillary Clinton’s unsatisfactory explanation why she voted for Wolfowitz’s War is worth revisiting. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” must be an embarrassment to her and to all the other establishment politicos who “authorized” the war. As it is, she blames Bush and Cheney for mismanagement. For the Democrats, Bush has become a wonderful punching bag and a gift from the gods. Like John Kerry in 2004, Hillary has complained for years about “the way” the war has been prosecuted, but not about the real issue, which is “What are we doing there in the first place?” She avoids that issue. She does not disavow her October 2002 vote authorizing the White House to go to war, even though no WMD turned up in Iraq afterwards and the U.S was in no conceivable danger. This blunder is ultimately going to cost the American taxpayers in the neighborhood of $2 trillion.
Senator Clinton does not admit that she was fooled by Bush and Cheney and their “neocon” jackals. Hillary has come up with the novel idea to the effect that she was not actually voting for war at all. Rather, she was voting to send the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq and to give Bush the authority to use force as leverage to get Saddam to do the right thing, that is, disarm and come clean. But guess what? Saddam had come clean and Iraq had disarmed. And then Bush went crazy and misused the Senate authorization. Hillary says that if she knew in October 2002 what she knows now, she would have voted differently. That is her story. That is how gullible she regards the vast majority of the American people. She is correct when it comes to gullibility. Her successful career in politics and her husband’s comeback from impeachment prove it beyond a doubt.
It was known that Saddam had disarmed long before 9/11. The entire pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a gigantic, well-orchestrated, international fraud. Therefore, you might think that Hillary was fooled, along with so many others. You might think that she would not want to be fooled twice by the same duplicitous cast of characters in charge at the White House. And perhaps she may have learned from her mistake, even though she does not call it a mistake. But if so, then how does one explain her vote on a Senate resolution last Wednesday, which resolution provides Cheney and Bush with a short-cut to war against Iran? I am referring to the (John) Kyl-(Joe) Lieberman amendment, the original draft of which was prepared by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It passed the Senate last Wednesday by a 76-22 vote, with both Hillary and Senate Leader Harry Reid voting in favor. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, called the AIPAC draft “Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream…” which “could be read as tantamount to a declaration of war.”
Does Hillary know what she is doing? Does Hillary want to bomb Iran? Does she buy the propaganda that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons program, as distinct from a nuclear energy program, just because Cheney and Bush say so? At this point, who could possibly take at face value what they say about anything? If Hillary actually believes their bunkum, then she does indeed want to start a new war. In fact, she has said so, as have most other presidential contenders. “All options on the table” is a code meaning that Bush can go to war against Iran without specific Congressional authorization. If Bush pulls the trigger on Iran, and it turns into another fiasco like Iraq, how is Hillary going to spin her vote on Kyl-Lieberman? Is she going to backpedal a second time? Frankly, I doubt that she cares about future explanations or has considered the adverse consequences of her vote as it relates to bringing more carnage to the Middle East. Why should she, if she can get what she wants in the near term? There is always an election around the corner here in America. Hillary is running for President. Every move she makes centers upon that goal.
Not for a nanosecond do I accept the notion that Hillary Clinton has been fooled, either five years ago or just the other day. She knew in October 2002 that she was voting for Bush to invade Iraq. So did the Democratic Party leadership. They all went to war arm in arm. Hillary gave the impression at the time that she was proud to be part of the process. And she knows perfectly well what her vote for the AIPAC-inspired Kyl-Lieberman amendment means today. She and Senator Harry Reid have voted to allow Cheney and Bush to do whatever they please with respect to “preemptive” military operations against Iran. In October 2002 they voted the same way with respect to Iraq. You are watching a rerun.
Why would the Democrat-controlled Senate vote to go down the same dead end street a second time? Ex-CIA analyst Kathy Christison and her husband Bill, who was a senior official at the Agency, may have the answer. They have studied the controversial book by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whereas I have only read the London Review of Books article, upon which the new book is based. The Christisons point out that M & W nail the Israel Lobby with a prime responsibility for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. “The two authors devote more than 30 pages and a remarkable 175 footnotes to constructing an irrefutable case for an Israeli role in helping plan, and a large lobby role in pressing for, the war…. Israel and the lobby ‘played crucial roles in making that war happen.’ Without the lobby and particularly the core of neocon policy-makers inside government and neocon commentators and think-tank analysts on the sidelines, Mearsheimer and Walt conclude bluntly, ‘the war would almost certainly not have occurred’ and ‘America would probably not be in Iraq today.’”
In short, when it comes to the Middle East, domestic politics rule. Oil and “the spread of democracy” are secondary factors. This is one of the main contentions of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. It is all the explanation you need to understand Hillary’s vote to invade Iraq five years ago as well as her vote last week to enable a war against Iran. She was not fooled by Bush in 2002, any more than she is being fooled by Joe Lieberman today. There is no need for these politicians to fool one another, because they are perfectly aware what is going on and what they are doing. Hillary is a professional, Washington politician. She requires money, good will, and votes. Like her husband, Hillary’s actions are coldly calculated, often triangulated, and always self-serving. Everything is a career move. In their defense, one can only observe that Hillary and Bubba have plenty of company.
Bill Sammon, the author of The Evangelical President: George Bush’s Struggle to Spread a Moral Democracy Throughout the World, cannot be labeled a critic of President Bush. As both the senior White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner and a reporter for the Washington Times, he’s had greater access to the President than any other journalist. And his book has been published by Regnery, which, under the leadership of its founder, Henry Regnery, would have opposed the errors of this presidency; today, however, it’s just another neocon publishing house, toeing the party line.
Sammon’s impeccable pro-Bush Republican credentials make it all the more odd that more isn’t being made of the book’s revelation that President Bush is privately offering advice to top Democratic candidates, including Sen. Hillary Clinton:
“It’s different being a candidate and being the president,” Bush said in an Oval Office interview. “No matter who the president is, no matter what party, when they sit here in the Oval Office and seriously consider the effect of a vacuum being created in the Middle East, particularly one trying to be created by al Qaeda, they will then begin to understand the need to continue to support the young democracy.”
So Bush, “mostly through aides,” has been advising Clinton and other Democrats, as well as “institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president.”
Combine this revelation with President Bush’s recent nomination of Michael Mukasey as attorney general. It would seem that President Bush is less concerned with the Republican Party maintaining control of the White House (so that, for instance, it might do something about abortion) than he is with making sure that the War and Torture Party stays in power. Giuliani and Clinton are both acceptable, so long as they continue his policies in Iraq and the “War on Terror.”
That should give pause to those who argue that pro-lifers have no choice but to support the Republican Party, come hell or high water. It should, but it won’t.
We’re coming up on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), and he is an easy saint to love”provided you are careful not to understand him. His story is full of romance, charm, and warmth. He was tender to wild animals”even wolves”and preached to little birds. He cared about the poor enough to join them, and organized a band of other well-meaning social workers devoted to serving them. Think of a genial, retired professor who has devoted his afternoons to saving wetlands and his weekends to Habitat for Humanity. Except that this “green” activist inspired painters such as Giotto to paint exquisite frescos on the roofs of magnificent Renaissance churches, and countless brilliant writers to recount his life and works. At the height of the 60s counterculture, Francis was portrayed as a proto-hippie in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a flower child who embraced the God we find in every leaf and bumble bee, to the warbling strains of folk hymns by Donovan. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters around the world have worked in Francis” name for centuries, and priests of his order are renowned as easygoing, gentle confessors. One of his spiritual sons, Fr. Mychal Judge, died on Sept. 11″crushed by the rubble of the World Trade Center as he gave last rites to dying firemen. What’s not to like?
But be careful. However appetizing the figure of Francis may seem, like a dish of authentic Mexican food, you have to eat around the peppers. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out in his life of the saint, it was chock-full of disturbingly other-worldly elements unsuited to the modern American palate. When he famously renounced the wealth of his grasping capitalist father, stripping naked in the square before the bishop and clergy, Francis was not, we fear, striking a blow for nudity and naturalism. The truth is more disturbing: He was casting off the world, not as evil in itself but as a distraction. To us, this makes no sense at all”but there it is in the story, and there’s no sense in Photoshopping it out.
Francis subjected himself and his followers to a poverty that appalled their fellow beggars, fasting frequently and sleeping on dirt (when perfectly good piles of filthy straw were available), taking all too literally Christ’s eerie injunction, “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” When it comes to sex, Francis didn”t just give up playing the field and settle down with a life partner; he embraced total celibacy, and scourged his own flesh to remind it of its place. Naming his body “Brother Ass,” he treated it as harshly as Italian peasants did their donkeys”rolling in snow or patches of thorns when tempted by lusty Italian maidens he saw along the road. (We can only imagine what they thought.) Inspired by his youth as a troubadour love poet who searched for an invisible, unattainable “lady love,” Francis fixed his affections on “Lady Poverty,” and tried his best to die of love for her”since she seemed to him the closest companion of Christ. To show his approval of all these undertakings, Jesus conferred the same stigmata (wounds) he bore on the cross to Francis”making him the very first saint documented as enjoying this painful privilege. One of the last things Francis did was to write a will forbidding his friars to accumulate possessions, build themselves elaborate churches, or try to introduce loopholes into his austere way of life. Of course, as soon as he died, that was precisely what they began to do.
But however comparatively corrupt one branch of the Franciscan order became, another would always spring up to reclaim its founder’s original divine madness; even today, a band of men called the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal sleep on pallets on a gymnasium floor in the South Bronx, running a parish and releasing Catholic rap albums with songs like “The Zipper Zone,” preaching innocence and freedom from care to youths whom society has sloughed off like so much dead black skin. You can see the same friars on Saturday mornings, kneeling in silence and praying, eyes downcast, outside abortion clinics around New York. What rational motive could drive young men to throw their lives on such a bonfire? I don”t pretend to know. I admire them, of course. But I wish they”d stand over there, on the other side of the church basement. I’m trying to get to the donut table.
CELEBRATE: Looked at in its historical context, Francis” movement can be seen as a vigorous reaction against the effects of the newfound wealth of the Renaissance. As trade recovered after the Black Plague, new products flooded the market from the East (“globalization” anyone?) and the merchant classes got terrifically rich. They left the poor behind”as wretched as ever, in the midst of sudden prosperity. If you”d like to participate in Francis” spirit in a tiny way”and which of us aspires to much more than that?”why not keep him in mind the next time you go out shopping. As you get to the check-out counter, put just one item back. If every American would do this once a week, it would cut consumer spending, depress the economy, and bring on the sort of poverty that would make St. Francis smile. OR: The next time you go out to eat, don”t supersize that meal. In fact, don”t eat it”take the time and forethought to cook at home. As an extra penance, do something really radical: Gather every family member in the same room around a table to eat at the same time. I know it will hurt. Offer it up.
Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.
Not very long ago I walked into my bedroom and found The Art and Science of Love at the foot of the bed. I dwell in a typical Manhattan apartment, where any book may turn up anywhere without notice. It happens. I didn’t actually recall buying this particular old paperback, but that happens too. Maybe it was a message. If so it had more to do with parapsychology than erotosophy, for a few hours later I was cruising around my neighborhood of cyberspace and found an obituary of bestselling sexologist and self-help guru Dr. Albert Ellis, author of Art and Science among many, many others. My mind went back thirty three years, to the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel, now sadly demolished.
I was at a regional gathering of… well, never mind of whom, and for some reason I was seated at the table nearest the podium. Albert Ellis was about to launch himself into a sarcastic denunciation (his specialty) of New Age guruism. “All humans are crazy,” he said, turning a disapprovingly lustful eye on my lovely date, who was dressed in a sari and sported a bindi in the middle of her forehead, “but Asians are crazier than the rest of us.” I married her anyway. (The author of The Sensuous Dirty Old Man was there as well, but didn’t give the keynote.)
I was shocked by the death of Albert Ellis, shocked to realize that he’d still been alive; this was a very general reaction to his death. He was looking very poorly indeed when I last saw him in the ‘80s, soldiering on in his holy war for enlightenment in spite of pain and weakness, and I heard a decade later that he was barely hanging on.
In January the world lost Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the Illuminatus! trilogy, a work I remember best for it’s sly digs (in-jokes, really) at Eric Voegelin and Ayn Rand. Robert Anton Wilson had recently lost the Governorship of California to Arnold—not that the Guns and Drugs Party had much of a chance, even in California. Not when they called themselves that. Toward the end Bob (I never met him, but everyone called him Bob, or, more formally, RAW) had no money and no insurance and needed 24-hour nursing care. When word of his indigence hit the Internet, the money started pouring in from devotees; his family finally had to ask people to stop sending money—he now had enough to see him into the next world. That tells you two things right away. Wilson inspired enormous gratitude, even in those who only read his books, Prometheus Rising and the autobiographical Cosmic Trigger trilogy in particular, and it would have been unthinkable for anyone to use his last illness as a scam.
Wilson played his own part in the sexual revolution: when Playboy needed a philosophy, he was hired as the philosopher. Unlike Ellis, he was no Ph.D—which was too bad, in a way. Ellis’ credentials led people who should have known better to take him seriously. Wilson’s autodidacticism means that his essays on James Joyce and Ezra Pound will never be seen by those who might most benefit from them. Both Ellis and Wilson seem to have owed a good bit to the enlightened selfishness of Miss Ayn Rand, though Ellis went on to write Is Objectivism a Religion? Actually, Albert and Ayn were pretty much two of a kind. If you disagreed with Ayn—about anything at all, say if you liked to listen to Beethoven —you were irrational and immoral. And if you disagreed with Albert, at least about important things, you were mentally ill. If you would not, under any circumstances, try homosexuality, you were fixated and neurotic. (He got that much from Kinsey and company.) On the other hand, if you were homosexual, you were much, much worse—only a deeply disturbed person would insist on a sexual preference that caused so much trouble. To be sure, Ellis advocated that society should change its attitude to homosexuality; but until it did, homosexuals needed to adjust themselves to it. Easier said than done, for some. Perhaps you can, within certain limits, choose whom you will have sex with; falling in love is not so much a matter of choice.
Now don’t get me wrong—Albert Ellis was himself no totalitarian. Disagree with him and he’d call you crazy, not to lock you up in the loony bin, but to argue you out of your foolishness in that endearing, infuriating Dutch uncle / Jewish mother way of his. And he had a gift for epigram. “Don’t should on yourself” is probably his best. And he could admit he was wrong, even about big things. After a professional lifetime of trashing religious believers as neurotics, notably in The Case Against Religion, Ellis was challenged by a student of his, a Catholic monsignor, to let him do a little research. After looking at the results he had to acknowledge that, although religious beliefs were (in his opinion) entirely unjustified, religious believers are no crazier than the rest of us. I’m sure this finding disappointed many, and it never got the publicity it should have.
The matter of religion came up in an odd and poignant way in the last week of Robert Anton Wilson’s life. Some of those who contributed to his terminal care, and even circulated the appeal for assistance, did so in spite of deep feelings of bafflement, disappointment, hurt, even betrayal over something that had happened years before. You see, Wilson had been a follower of the late Aleister Crowley, or at least he used Crowley’s ideas as working hypotheses in his own practice of ritual magic; many of his warmest admirers are the sort of neo-Pagans who spell Christ, Christian, and Christianity with the letter X as a mark of almost convulsive distaste; and his own writings are an important source for that decidedly rum affair, Chaos Magic and the mock religion of Discordianism. Although a libertine in principle, he was monogamous by inclination, very much a family man. The brutal murder of a beloved daughter caused him unbearable anguish, and that’s when the trouble started. He had a healing experience of what he could only describe as the forgiving love of Christ. It didn’t make a believer of him; he didn’t know what to make of it. But he accepted it with wondering gratitude, and for that, for his refusal to repudiate his own experience, he became a stranger to the community that had grown up around his brilliant, learned, phantasmagoric, sometimes obscene, but always deeply humane body of work.
Albert Ellis and Robert Anton Wilson were but two of the chief apostles of the main Gnostic creed of the late modern period—the others being Werner Erhard, founder of Erhard Seminars Training (est), which is now known as the Landmark Forum, and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), a school of psychotherapy with some aspects of a cult—such as I suppose all schools of psychotherapy have. (Yes, the Church of Scientology fits in here somewhere.)
The creed in question is that of the General Semantics movement founded by Count Alfred Vladislavovich Habdank Skarbek Korzybsky, the scripture of which is called Science and Sanity. The movement is Gnostic because it claims that the person initiated into its esoteric knowledge gains the secret key to the universe and is thereby saved from the meaningless misery of mundane existence. That is pretty much the definition of the Gnostic heresies well known to the fathers of the Church –leaving aside the Eschaton and its threatened immanentization so feared by a certain Bavarian savant.
The secret of General Semantics is, like the rituals of the Freemasons, no secret at all. It is well known to students of late Medieval philosophy as nominalism, the crackpot notion that only individual things are real—while the general characteristics that make them what they are fictions (constructs, the deconstructionists say), fuzzy generalizations, or, as William of Occam famously put it, farts of the voicebox. After six hundred years, celebrities and liberal arts and social science majors pay out big bucks to be indoctrinated with this bilge water. Not anyone with any knowledge of science—the difference between sulfuric acid and water isn’t just verbal flatulence, as Little Willy in the poem found out.
My first brush with General Semantics came through my connection with the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI), which has since changed its name, though not its initials. In, oh, never mind what year, ISI hosted a summer school at Bard College, known as St. Stephen’s when Bernard Iddings Bell was President. It was a bit like a classic horror movie set in a decaying manor house inhabited by a society of elderly, genteel personages with an indefinable aura of mystery and menace. It was a wonderful week, in which I was introduced to Voegelin’s New Science of Politics by Frederick Wilhelmsen, and rode through the campus in a convertible late at night with a bunch of boisterous adolescents chanting “Catholic power!” to the discomfiture of the Randian Objectivists, who had not yet been purged from the movement as “libertarians.”
I was there at St. Stephen’s, I mean Bard, when a certain Father Miceli, the author of a fine study of Gabriel Marcel, who was reputed to have converted National Review’s Frank Meyer to the Catholic Church, drove up from the City to show Wilhelmsen proofs of the first issue of Triumph. The mysterious and menacing haunters? Not tweedy Anglican revenants, but General Semanticists to whom the college had rented dormitory and classroom space apart from ours, who stared at us, mouths agape, as if we were from another planet. And so we were, so we were. We hailed from planet Weaverville.
Such was my first contact with the vanguard of modern thought. For arguably (but I don’t need to argue it here) the unexamined dogma of nominalism is what makes modernity, for lack of a better term, modern. If the nominalism of Occam is the essence of the modern, is the key to the postmodern to be found in some sort of return to the metaphysical realism of Duns Scotus which came before it? Actually, yes. Such was the opinion of America’s greatest philosopher, no mean scientist himself. Indeed John Deely dates the birth of the postmodern precisely — overprecisely, perhaps — to April 14, 1866, when Charles Sanders Peirce announced his “New List of Categories” to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And the mainstream of American philosophy has followed Peirce in his return to realism — I mean the people doing the real work, not the ones most of us have heard of precisely because they did not upset the opinion-mongers’ apple carts, the Jameses, the Deweys, the Rortys. The latter were richly rewarded for telling us what we already knew — or thought we knew.
General Semantics got its big break after World War II, thanks to Mrs. Roosevelt and her G.I. Bill of Rights. A generation of demobilized veterans, who would have been a plague on the labor market, filled classrooms instead, and there was a sudden need for a small army behind the professorial desks. As with any unanticipated rapid mobilization of forces, training officers (e.g., “faculty”) who had not been a part of the regular peacetime army (e.g., “academe) was a big problem, and they themselves did their own improvising. For such as these General Semantics, which could not survive peer review in any established discipline, was a godsend. Demoralized by the battlefield, the barracks, and the back offices, resentfully eager to make up for lost time, members of the Greatest of all Generations (as some were already thinking of themselves) dutifully learned to repeat that “‘is’ is always a lie,” and to write compositions in something called E-prime, a dialect of English in which all forms of the verb “to be” were strictly verboten.
To close the circle, it is the dialect in which My Life After Death, the concluding volume of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger was written, and in that book he explains it wittily and well. The danger of the E-prime directive is clear. Once we refuse on principle to draw distinctions between classes of things, we have nothing left to go on but our gut feelings of who is with us and who is against us, which is made the whole of politics by Carl Schmitt and his Straussian (or pseudo-Straussian) successors of Neocondom. Unless you happen to have Wilson’s intellectual virtuosity and self-deprecating humor, qualities in sadly short supply these days.
Weaverville. The ancestral home of Richard Weaver, author of Ideas Have Consequences, a title Charles Sanders Peirce could have used, but also the virtual reality of all who share his conviction that the General Semantics that was sweeping the college scene as he was driven to write, the nominalism that GS so well expressed and lay behind the last sorry century’s descent into the maelstrom of madness, that this metaphysical presumption was, and is now, and evermore shall be wrong, wrong, wrong.
Weaver of Weaverville … postmodern? The mind boggles, though not as much as when that trendy term was recently and convincing applied to our other father in the faith, Russell Kirk. And of course given the definition of modernity above, the term postmodern is entirely appropriate to both men. On the other hand, no, the same hand, who could be more “pomo” than Marshall McLuhan? Marshall McLuhan, the interdisciplinary gadfly and Catholic, devoutly Catholic philosopher, who happened to be in Chicago as Ideas Have Consequences was in the writing, and who downed more than one beer with Weaver in the process. (The once I heard McLuhan in person, at Teachers College, of all places, he even got in a dig at the Novus Ordo Missae, complaining that rubrics dictated by the technology of mass communication now compelled the priest to turn around to face, not “the people,” which is what everyone expected him to say, but “the microphone.” His point was of course that the priest was no longer chiefly addressing God, but performing for the congregation.)
I don’t always like to admit it, but Ideas Have Consequences and I are of an age, and when I was sufficiently schooled to read it with any sort of understanding, few indeed thought it worth the effort. Now I see the foibles, fads, and fashions of my youth fade into oblivion with those who advanced them, but ideas still have their consequences, and I like to think that, however slowly, the world is coming home to Weaverville.
This account by William R. Hawkins of the debate on the Iraq war held at the recent meeting of the John Randolph Club, in Washington, D.C., is hilarious, albeit unintentionally. That he somehow managed to write a 1000-word-plus article about that event without once mentioning that Peter Brimelow, the editor of Vdare.com, and a staunch conservative of the paleo persuasion, was one of three debaters on the “out now” side, is really quite an achievement.
The reason he did so, I imagine, is to buttress his thesis that labels me a “left-libertarian,” a sinister “anarchist,” who, along with co-debater Kirkpatrick Sale (who really is coming from the left), is “shouting about how patriotism is a dirty word because America is the source of all evil in the world.” Gee, that’s funny, but Frontpage’s last smear-job on me insisted I”m a “fascist,” i.e. an extremist of the far right. These people are so crazed by their venomous hatred of anyone who disagrees with them that they can”t remember from one moment to the next what calumny they”ve hurled “ they just keep slinging slurs in the hope that some of it will stick.
The great problem, for them, is … the internet. They can smear to their heart’s content, and misrepresent the facts about a particular incident, but the new technology makes lying about these kinds of things nearly impossible.
Hawkins can drop out Peter Brimelow from his account of the debate, but we can re-insert him by posting the audio of that exciting performance: Go and listen, and hear for yourself if “the audience was about evenly divided” “ as Hawkins claims—when it came time to vote on the question (which was, by the way, “America should immediately withdraw her armed forces from Iraq”). The yeas had it by several decibel levels.
Hawkins starts out his patently dishonest account by expressing his impatience with the wording of the question, complaining that nobody but nobody in Washington was even considering such a course: he even cites Hillary Clinton to buttress his case. Which, of course, neatly underscores the theme of my talk at the conference: the great yawning divide between the agenda of the Washington-New York elites and popular opinion in the rest of the country. For the ordinary American, outside the Beltway, this widening gap is cause for concern, if not alarm. For Hawkins, and his fellow neocons, popular opinion doesn”t even come into it.
In any case, the real question, as I put it in the debate, is not about “immediate” withdrawal versus gradual redeployment (which was Srdja Trifkovic’s position), but between getting out as soon as possible and colonizing Iraq as the first phase of building an American protectorate “ an empire “ in the Middle East. When I framed the issue in terms of the danger of imminent war with Iran, no one on the other team objected to that prospect “ and, if you listen to the debate, they implicitly endorsed it. That’s when “ and why “ they lost, at least in front of that staunchly antiwar audience.
Hawkins is shocked that the “anti-American” Justin Raimondo is allowed to speak at a conservative gathering, but I have been going to the John Randolph Club meetings since the second gathering: the JRC, after all, was founded largely on account of the libertarian-paleoconservative convergence over the question of Gulf War I. Both were naturally opposed to that war, just as they oppose this latest one.
Yet Hawkins stupidly berates his audience, whose “patriotism” he challenges, as well as questioning the JRC’s conservative credentials. According to him, there is no conservative tradition of peace and noninterventionism: anyone who doesn”t want to colonize Iraq and conquer Iran in the process belongs on “the left, along with Sale and Raimondo.” Brimelow got quite a laugh out of the audience when he prefaced his opening remarks by exclaiming (in his understated British way) “that’s the first time I”ve ever been called a leftist.”
Hawkins had no real arguments to offer, other than smearing Sale, Brimelow, and myself as “wishing for an American defeat,” and accusing us of being agents of Al Qaeda. That didn”t go over very well with the audience, either: the shock was audible in their silence. No one applauded. The only time they got a positive reaction was with demagogic calls to set up a religious test for immigration by banning all Muslim immigration to the US. (And they criticized me for proposing a course that isn”t even “on the table”!)
Hawkins doesn”t know how to argue, and he didn”t make any arguments in his peroration: name-calling doesn”t qualify. Yet that’s the only way he and his fellow neocons can bolster their sagging support, even among their own hardcore followers. As the folly of this war becomes ever more apparent by the day, and the dark prospect of yet another and even bloodier conflict rears its ugly head, the deserters from the ranks of the War Party are beginning to outnumber the remaining stalwarts. Especially in view of the electoral drubbing the GOP faces, the rats will be deserting that sinking sink in droves by the new year.
Finally, I don”t know whether Hawkins is stupid, or just plain nutty, but I don”t know how else to account for the following:
“Writing from Tehran in May, 2006, he argued, “the prospect of Iran acquiring nukes does not mean the end of the world. It means that the natural tendency of nations to achieve a balance of power will, in this case, be fulfilled, and that the Middle East will muddle along, just as the East bloc and the West did for all those years.”
Writing from Tehran? If you follow the link he provides, it takes you to a May 2006 column, “Letter from Tehran,” in which I wrote about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s open letter to George W. Bush.
What is this guy smoking?
Whatever it is, it causes him to similarly misperceive or deliberately mischaracterize my views: thus, in correcting the deliberate mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s statement about Israel, which was wrongly reported as expressing a desire to “wipe Israel off the map,” I am “spinning statements by Iran’s president.” Hawkins also cites my booklet, The Terror Enigma, and descries its thesis “ that Israeli intelligence had wind of the 9/11 terrorist plot and neglected to warn us in time “ without mentioning that much of it was based on a four-part report by one of his very favorite news outlets: Fox News. Was Carl Cameron “ who reported that story—engaged in “the most vile and heinous tactics of the Left” when he stated:
“There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that they Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are “tie-ins.” But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, “evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.””
Hawkins” outrageous smears are directed not only at me, but at Murray Rothbard, and include even that old canard about how Rothbard “physically applauded” Nikita Khrushchev on his visit to the US in the 1960s “ an act that, I can assure you, never occurred. The very idea of Rothbard rushing down the stairs for anything short of a four-alarm fire is laughable to anyone who knew him.
It’s funny that Hawkins describes me and my “ilk” as “cancer cells within the conservative movement,” because that is precisely the role that has always been played by the neocons, historically, a faction that came from the extreme Left. Indeed, there is at least one such ideological immigrant who proudly waves the banner of the “Trotsky-cons.” If this is the tradition of “authentic” conservatism, as Hawkins claims, then we might as well forget about the entire history of the American right before 1955 “ which Hawkins, and his fellow neocons, would certainly like us to do.
The only problem with that is the revival of the Old Right, as exemplified by the candidacy of Ron Paul, the relatively recent founding of the American Conservative magazine, the longtime existence of Chronicles magazine “ and, last but hardly least, the founding and 18-year history of the John Randolph Club, which, at its most recent meeting, roundly rejected the belligerent posturing of Hawkins, and, in a foreshadowing of the coming conservative repudiation of neoconservatism, voted that we ought get out of Iraq immediately.
The neocons are getting mighty nervous: even the right is turning against them. That accounts for the desperate tactics: the name-calling, the appeals to authority, and the hiding behind largely outmoded political labels. They”re losing “ and they know it. A cornered rat is likely to take a final flying leap at its adversary, baring its teeth and hoping for the best. Such desperate tactics, however, are not going to save the neocons from the fate they so richly deserve. Before this is over, they”ll be totally discredited, and run right out of the conservative movement—if not run out of Washington on a rail.
The Waverly Inn on Bank Street, here in the Big Apple, is the hottest ticket in town. Owned by Graydon Carter, the Vanity Fair honcho, it became the chicest place for dinner even before it opened. (Graydon opened it unofficially for friends of his). It is located on a quiet Greenwich Village street which would do justice to an Edward Hopper painting, and the interior resembles the way small inns used to look like before Planet Hollywood and other such atrocities came into being. The clientelle is mostly bold-faced names, artsy fartsy types and lotsa young people. The service is impeccable and the atmosphere friendly and gay, and I’m using the g-word in the old fashioned sense.
On Wednesday evening, September 26, I took my wife and son to dinner there as it was Alexandra’s birthday. In the next booth was a large and noisy party headed by a music lawyer called Grubman, father of Lizzie Grubman, the woman who mowed down 16 people waiting in line outside a Hamptons nightclub with her SUV once she had been refused entrance to the dump. (Grubman got away with a few weeks inside and lots of crocodile tears). There was also Mort Zuckerman, the real estate shark who poses as a writer and pundit and some other people I didn’t recognize.
After a very pleasant dinner despite the noise by Grubman, a cake was served and we were ready to leave. That is when my old friend Edward Jay Epstein came to my table to say hello. Ed is a good writer and a great discoverer of facts people in government don’t like to be discovered, and I have great affection for him. We go back a very long way. “We’re in the back room for a dinner in honor of Paul Wolfowitz,” he told me. I asked him to repeat it. “You are what?” I exclaimed. “You actually are sitting down with that lying pig who has caused so much death and is responsible for tens of thousands being maimed and killed?” Ed saw that I meant what I was saying and walked away.
That is when I decided to go into the back room and spit in that bum’s face. It was, I figured, the least I could do. But my wife beat me to the punch. She got up and announced that it was her birthday and that if I went to the back I would ruin an otherwise good evening. “Please,” she begged me, “do it for me.” Like a coward, I gave in. The interesting part was that some of the nice waiters had witnessed the scene and commiserated with me, saying, “Isn’t it disgusting that we have to serve such a man….” or words to that effect.
Now I know that gentlemen do not go around spitting on people, but neither do unelected officials like the pig Wolfowitz go around lying and manufacturing evidence in order to take a country to war—a country that in the past was looked upon as a beacon of democratic freedoms and fairness. Just imagine that if every time Wolfowitz, Feith, Kristol, Podhoretz, Perle, Frum, Abrams—Bush and Cheney are immune because of their elected position—showed their faces, they were spat upon by outraged citizens. Imagine they could be made to feel responsible for their past propaganda and the actions that flowed from their words. What would result? America would be a far, far better place in which to live.
We should not take these liars lying down. These scumbags have caused so much misery and death, so much suffering to so many people, they should not be allowed to walk around with impunity. Forget the think tanks and networks and newspapers which still employ them. The neo-cons know how to survive. The only way to make them realize that they cannot fool all the people all of the time, as they have done until now, is to humiliate them whenever and wherever they appear in public. I had my chance and blew it. Perhaps I will have a second chance while I’m still around.
The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States, by Gerald Horne, New York University Press, 2007: 227 pp.
Few figures in the history of American political movements and ideologies are as mysterious as Lawrence Dennis. Seditionist, “fascist ideologue,” child preacher, ideological and racial changeling, Dennis’s career was not just variegated – it was surreal. He is mentioned, if at all, in histories of the 1930s and 40s as America’s foremost intellectual proponent of fascism, and this characterization has stuck to him like mud right up to the present day. This reputation is based entirely on two incidents in his career: the publication, in 1936, of a volume entitled The Coming American Fascism [.pdf], and his indictment, in 1944, for sedition, along with 30 other defendants, all of whom were accused in engaging in an “intellectual conspiracy” with the leaders of Nazi Germany to cause “insubordination in the armed forces,” as the indictment read.
Hauled into court by assistant United States attorney general O. John Rogge, who acted at FDR’s vehement insistence, the defendants in what has come to be known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944 included Gerald L. K. Smith, the proto-Christian Rightist fundamentalist preacher, William Dudley Pelley, neo-pagan mystic and founder of the American Silver Shirts, and the voluble Elizabeth Dilling, author of The Red Network, plus an odd assortment of minor pamphleteers and miscellaneous cranks. No wonder that Dennis – who conducted his own defense rather brilliantly – made a motion at the beginning of the trial to have three of his co-defendants take sanity tests. One imagines that this was, for Dennis, the ultimate insult: the graduate of Exeter and Harvard, a former diplomat who turned against America’s dollar diplomacy, quit to work for one of the top New York banking firms, published in such respectable outlets as The New Republic and The Nation, put in the dock with a gaggle of harmless cranks.
His acerbic, unsentimental style, his pellucid analysis of the tumultuous era in which he lived—the 1930s and 40s when the capitalist system seemed to have been consumed by an inner flaw, some inherent condition that had finally exploded into financial catastrophe for much of the nation and the world – commanded attention from both the left and the right.
In those days of economic depression and political turmoil, every ideologue with a soapbox shouted from the nation’s street corners, calling for some version of “share the wealth,” some economic nostrum that would cure the nation of the dire affliction that had befallen it, and put us back on the right path: Technocracy, the Townsend Plan, the doctrines of Marx and Lenin, the Khaki Shirts, the Silver Shirts, and several other color-shirted movements besides; the Communists, the Socialists, the Trotskyists, and the European ultra-left “council communists” – all these competing panaceas jockeyed for intellectual and political prominence, and yet all agreed on a very important point: capitalism was doomed.
Each sect and vanguard party, either of the left or of the right, believed that they and they alone were on the side of History – and, more importantly, that History “unfolded” in a certain direction – away from capitalism, and toward some version of collectivism. The great debate, in those days, wasn’t over the virtues of the market versus the necessity of socialism. No one disputed the latter point: the only question was whether American socialism was going to be organic and nationalistic, as Dennis and some others advocated, or internationalist, i.e. centrally-directed from Moscow.
Dennis, like other writers on this subject, such as James Burnham, protested that he was an impartial observer, a recorder of objectively determined events, and that he was simply offering to ameliorate the inevitable tragedy of history as it unfolded. Capitalism was crumbling, the old society of relative freedom and prosperity was giving way to the new, rather threadbare centrally-planned and rationalized society to be administered by a self-conscious and revitalized elite. Industry had to be brought into line if it was to survive at all, the tendency of gigantism in the farm industry had to be arrested by radical measures, and American industry had to be protected by a high tariff wall. Without taking radical measures to stem the rising tide of unemployment, economic pressures would inevitably result in the outbreak of another world war. And this would surely lead to a far more repressive internal regime in the long run: we would fight National Socialism in the trenches, while a quite similar doctrine triumphed on the home front.
If the United States was going to go socialist, if collectivism was the wave of the future, then Dennis wanted to see that it would be less bloody, more localized, and not devoted to futile “crusades of righteousness” to stop the same redistributive processes from occurring abroad as were – inevitably, he thought—occurring in America.
While Dennis believed that force ruled the world, and that it was necessary for elites to assert their power utilizing the instrument of the State, he never endorsed the brutal methods of the European fascists, and never exhibited even a hint of anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that Smith, Pelley, Dilling, and some of the others had openly expressed admiration for Hitler, as well as hatred of Roosevelt and the Brits – although this hardly established the existence of a conspiracy directed by the German government to cause insubordination in the ranks of the army, as government prosecutors argued.
If you read accounts of the trial, however, and specifically A Trial on Trial, by Dennis and his lawyer, Maximilian St. George, which contains large hunks of the prosecutors’ arguments in court, it quickly becomes clear that the government didn’t make any real argument at all: what they did was read large portions of the defendants’ writings and other public statements into the record, and then cite similar quotations from the official German media, as well as statements made by Nazi officials. Noting the supposed similarities, prosecutors averred that this constituted an intellectual conspiracy that was, in effect, directed from Berlin. According to this unique legal theory, it wasn’t even necessary for the defendants to have either known or had any dealings with the others – it was only necessary to establish a certain congruence in a cherry-picked selection of quotations. The defendants were guilty of thoughtcrime.
The entire government case against Dennis rested on a grand total of seven citations of his work in the newspaper of the German American Bund. For this crime, it was claimed by the prosecution that Dennis deserved the title of “the Alfred Rosenberg of the American fifth column.”
The trial was the product of a literary campaign waged by the Communist party and its political and intellectual satellites to frame up the leaders of the isolationist movement as traitors. An entire genre of “The Nazi-fifth column in America” books and pamphlets streamed forth from the left-liberal and fellow-traveling press, “proving” that the America First Committee – the leading anti-interventionist organization, with some 800,000 members—and its allies had built a “transmission belt” for Nazi propaganda in America. The most successful and widely read of these polemics was John Roy Carlson’s Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America – The Amazing Revelation of How Axis Agents and Our Enemies Within Are Now Plotting to Destroy the United States , a first person account of the author’s experiences in infiltrating the isolationist-antiwar movement. (The sequel, The Plotters, appeared in 1946).
Under Cover is the classic case of smearing one’s opponents by creating an amalgam: the author “exposed” the antics of insignificant cranks, such as Pelley and the Bund, while grouping them together with the America First movement, Charles Lindbergh, John T. Flynn [.pdf], and antiwar members of Congress, such as Senator Burton K. Wheeler. On the subject of Dennis, Carlson – whose real name was Avedis Derounian, and whose Communist connections were not at all concealed – prefigured the prosecutors’ case. Under Cover depicted Dennis as the brains behind a burgeoning native fascist movement, whose alleged views – distorted beyond recognition—proved that “no breach exists between those who are dismissed as ‘crackpot’ and the Park Avenue grave-diggers of our Democracy.”
Carlson’s’s rhetoric and that of his fellow members of the “Smear Bund,” as John T Flynn called them, invariably dipped their poison pens in the tincture of class struggle. However, one line of attack, odd for a leftist, but allowable in the hate-filled atmosphere of the pre-war years, was the implication that Dennis, this supposed Goebbels of the American Nazis, was not of the Caucasian race. You could hear the snicker in Carlson’s prose as he described Dennis’s physical appearance:
“Born in Atlanta, “of a long line of American ancestors,’ Dennis’ hair is woolly, dark and kinky. The texture of his skin is unusually dark and the eyes of Hitler’s intellectual keynoter of ‘Aryanism’ are a rich deep brown, his lips fleshy.”
The Commies and other defenders-of-democracy weren’t above a little race-baiting if it served the interests of the War Party and Uncle Joe Stalin.
This question of Dennis’s race is raised anew by the first, and, as far as I know, the only book-length biography of this enigmatic and intensely private man; The Color of Fascism, by Gerald Horne, the subtitle of which states a theme repeated ad inifinitum and ad nauseum in the book: “Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States.”
This slim tome is hardly the biography Dennis deserves: indeed, it is hardly a biography at all, but a polemic that endlessly repeats itself—paragraph after turgid paragraph—to the effect that everything about Dennis – his ideology, his personality, his successful efforts to escape the circumstances of birth and rise to a position of some influence in “white society” – was due to his success in “passing” for Caucasian.
The essential—albeit unspoken—theme of Horne’s jargon-clotted prose is that Dennis was a race-traitor, a light-skinned racial mix who passed for white, and, instead of transcending the boundaries of race and prejudice, paid “obeisance” to the supremacy of “whiteness.” His cultivated accent, his high intellect, his elite connections, his economic position, all added up, in Horne’s book, to “ethnic impersonation.” His intellectuality, the cool assertiveness of his written works, and particularly his acceptance by the higher echelons of white society, all these were evidence of Dennis’s flight from authentic blackness.
Rarely has a biographer hated his subject as intensely as Professor Horne apparently does, although there is occasionally a grudging respect for Dennis’ sheer boldness in pulling off his role as a racially subversive mole in the citadel of pure “whiteness” – i.e., the Old Right movement, which, of course, Horne smears as “isolationist” and racist.
I frankly prefer the prose of Avedis Derounian – himself an ethnic (Armenian) asquerading as the WASPy-sounding “John Roy Carlson”—who, at least, spoke in the vernacular: Horne’s book spends so much time exploring the concept of “whiteness” and “passing,” and the latter’s supposed mystic significance in explaining everything about Dennis, that he neglects or passes over quickly the most interesting details of his subject’s fascinating life. Instead of delving into the manner in which, for one example, the young Dennis finagled his way into Exeter, we are regaled with long disquisitions on the theology of racial identity politics (left-wing version), such as:
“‘Isolationism’ is not an inappropriate characterization of Dennis’s ideology but this term also, ironically, points to his social position. For because of the desire to remain tight-lipped about his ancestry, he kept himself isolated socially ….”
A more nonsensical metaphor would be hard to come up with:
Like Carlson, however, Horne tries to confirm the prognosis of the Roosevelt Justice Department that Dennis was a paid German agent, basing his assertions on dubious sources, and ignoring Dennis’ denials both at the trial and in an interview conducted in 1967. Dennis, scolds Horne, “should have known” that the government would crack down on dissent – and that the warlords of Washington would feel particularly threatened by his racially-tinged taunts that the Axis powers were merely imitating Anglo-Franco-American colonialism. He “should have known” that “his incendiary rhetoric … would lead to his indictment.” Talk about blaming the victim!
Horne quotes from numerous FBI reports on the snooping activities of J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men, who interviewed Dennis’s neighbors, opened his mail, and kept track of his phone calls. Reports flowed in from “volunteer” informants that Dennis had “many mysterious visitors,” and that he made suspicious trips up and down the East coast, his gas tank “filled by Nazi sympathizers.” The FBI was also as obsessed as Horne with Dennis’s racial identity: a full-scale investigation of this question of his ancestry was launched. Apparently, Roosevelt’s political police were afraid that Dennis might make an appeal to African-Americans and other minorities who might have been skeptical of the Allies’ claim to be fighting Nazi racism while enforcing their own rigidly hierarchical view of race relations on the segregated home front. The hypocrisy was on a scale large enough to drive a tank through, and the authorities knew it: they were terrified not only of their vulnerability on this question, but of Dennis’s persuasive powers, which were considerable.
Although he had never advocated insurrection, and kept himself apart from the “nationalist” herd that populated the outer fringes of the antiwar America First movement, he was considered dangerous enough by J. Edgar Hoover that the FBI director – who was “passing” himself, albeit in another sense – recommended that Dennis be held in preventative detention in the event of war. When he went to visit a doctor for carbuncles, the FBI wanted to know if he paid by check or in cash.
As the war hysteria grew more militant – with the far Left in the vanguard of the War Party – the Carlson book brought Dennis to the attention of the general public and the authorities. Carlson, interviewed by Bennett Cerf on radio station WXQR in New York, characterized Dennis as “one of the most sinister men of our wartime unity,” and wondered why he was “still at liberty.” Although Dennis had said nothing incriminating when the professional sneak Carlson – masquerading as an ideological soul-mate – met with him. and had, in fact, denounced both the racialism of the Nazi regime and anti-Semitism in particular, Carlson averred that his one encounter with Dennis had been “my most sensational interview during my four years of investigating.” Appropriately enough, Cerf’s program was called “Books Are Bullets” – and this particular projectile was aimed right between Dennis’s “rich deep brown” eyes.
Dennis was called in by the FBI for an interview, and grilled on every aspect of his beliefs, his political activities, his speeches and publishing activities, and most of all his finances. No evidence of funding by the German consulate was uncovered by Hoover’s boys, although a suspicious arrangement with the Readers Digest, that subversive Iskra of the isolationists, was duly noted.
Having generated 25,000 pages of transcript in eight months, the Great Sedition Trial came to an abrupt halt when the judge, a Roosevelt-appointed political hack, died (perhaps of boredom, as prosecutor John O Rogge droned on endlessly, trying to prove his “intellectual conspiracy” thesis was anything other than a rationalization for a witch-hunt). Long before this rude interruption, however, the trial had effectively ground to a halt, in part due to the thousands of exhibits and dozens of witnesses assembled by the prosecution, as well as the antics of the defense lawyers – with each defendant having his or her own, this amounted to a crowd scene that at times resembled a circus of surrealistic design.
The media had started out as the Justice Department’s enthusiastic cheerleaders, headlining the opening of the proceedings as the start of a domestic offensive against a subversive and dangerous “fifth column,” but soon lost interest as the flimsiness of the government’s case – underscored by Dennis, whose ringing courtroom speeches, comparing prosecutor Rogge to Andrey Vyshinsky, the chief inquisitor in the Moscow purge trials, evoked cheers in the assembled defendants. By the time the judge croaked, the trial had long since become a running – if tiresome – joke, and an embarrassment to those pro-war liberals who piously assured the American people that we were fighting for the righteous cause of liberty and democracy against the Nazi-totalitarian hordes.
Although there were several abortive attempts to revive the trial, there was no breathing life into an already dead cause: as much as our totalitarian liberals wanted to use the occasion of the “Brown scare” to jail their right-wing opponents, by 1944, when the trial ground to a halt, there was little interest in the case: the public wasn’t as enthusiastic about the settling of old scores as Walter Winchell, Max Lerner, and the no-longer-fashionable Communist Party, which was already itself the subject of official and unofficial scrutiny. The Brown Scare, hailed and in large part created by Stalin’s American henchmen, was soon to take on a distinctly reddish hue, as Carlson-ism gave way to McCarthyism.
Financially ruined, and professionally stigmatized by the sedition trial, Dennis retired to his Cape Cod farmhouse, and bitterly lamented the rise of a new international crusade that draped the age-old policy of imperial expansionism in the bright new garb of liberal internationalism. Both liberals and conservatives were enamored of the prospect that we should become the inheritors of the British empire, and take up the white man’s burden. Stalin, formerly known as “Uncle Joe,” would take Hitler’s place in the pantheon of Western villains, and the Communist Party would stand in the same dock where once the alleged “seditionists” of 1944 stood.
During the run-up to Pearl Harbor, Dennis had regularly published The Weekly Foreign Letter, which the authorities had found so provocative as to qualify it as seditious, and he continued his newsletter under the title Appeal to Reason, issuing regular epistles to a small-but-elite readership from his Cape Code haven. Dissenting from the conservative-Truman Democrat cold war consensus, and disdaining the militant anti-communism of his former comrades on the Right, he was to be found declaring in 1946: “I could today write ‘The Coming American Communism’ exactly as I wrote ‘The Coming American Fascism.’” His critique of the cold war was similar to the Old Right’s stance on the war with Germany, Japan, and Italy: in the process of “winning,” we would lose the real fight to retain our American heritage and preserve our old republic.
Dennis was never a fascist, but merely a chronicler of events he viewed with the impartial curiosity of a scientist examining a specimen under a microscope. In the postwar era, however, his understanding of economics improved, and, as Ronald Radosh pointed out in his classic study Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of Globalism,
“Dennis no longer considered himself an exponent of fascism. He had returned to a classical laissez-faire economic theory of a premonopolistic age. He saw himself as an old-fashioned capitalist, a follower of the free market, an exponent of the capitalism of ‘the dissenters, the rebel and the nonconformists whose main motivations were not profit or money-making, but either religious or intellectual self-expression, freedom and independence.”
The sophisticated Dennis, who had actually worked in the world of investment banking, and had a clear power elite analysis of how the world works, had no illusions about the nature, loyalties, and methods of American big businessmen: they been in favor of the New Deal, and, he realized, weren’t heroic figures out of Ayn Rand’s imagination, but “the entering wedge for the socialist or statist bureaucracy.”
America, Dennis declared, had become a modern Sparta: a socialist, militarist state. As the “defense” budget skyrocketed, and the cold war heated up, Dennis saw the US morphing into an Americanized version of national socialism: “The most socialist institution of the State in America today is that of the armed forces: the free market or freedom of contract is out. The members of the armed forces, their dependents and their widows and orphans must be virtual wards of a paternal state.” The military build-up and the militantly interventionist foreign policy that fueled it was “the most obvious and practical way imaginable to convert America to a totalitarian socialist basis.” Dennis wryly observed that conservatives joined liberals in endorsing Winston Churchill’s call for a new crusade to pierce the “iron curtain” – an edifice whose original architects, after all, were Stalin and Roosevelt, acting in concert. Such a grand scale undertaking, he noted, would do more to socialize America than decades of leftist propaganda.
Professor Horne ignores this ideological evolution, and says nothing further about Dennis’s economic views. Instead, he carries on with his amateur psychologizing , and we are treated to endless harping on the “ethnic impersonation” theme, which supposedly dominated Dennis’s personality and determined his politics: the Cold War years “were not good to Lawrence Dennis,” opines Professor Horne, not because he was broke, not because he had been the victim of a vicious smear campaign and had his name dragged through the mud by leftist blabbermouths like Walter Winchell— who pursued him long after the trial had faded from the headlines – but because “his white identity had been too deeply encrusted for him to retreat from it and take advantage of the newly emerging racial enlightenment.” Oddly, Horne attributes this Great Enlightenment to “the competition with the then Soviet Union,” which supposedly “pushed this nation toward a retreat from the more egregious aspects of Jim Crow.” Is this why Hoover’s political police tracked the civil rights movement of the 1960s nearly as closely as Bush’s spies conduct surveillance on today’s antiwar movement?
The alleged seditionist and intellectual provocateur, whose X-ray vision pierced the veil of illusion and self-delusion that obscured the real sources of militarism and a foreign policy based on waging perpetual war, carried on, in spite of everything. He was the most consistent of the old “isolationists,” opposing the Marshall Plan as a corporate subsidy on a gigantic scale, and denouncing NATO as an alliance with the discredited European empires of Western Europe. In Asia, too, the tripwires of another world conflict were being set. Would American soldiers wind up dying to stop the Chinese reds from taking Hong Kong? Unlike Henry Wallace and the supposedly pro-Communist Progressive Party, Dennis opposed the Korean war, which he saw as a civil war in which we had no business meddling. He accurately predicted that it would turn out to be unwinnable, ending in stalemate at best. The best policy would be to unilaterally withdraw all our troops from the Korean peninsula — and this at a time when the editors of the left-liberal New Republic could taunt the Chicago Tribune of the anti-interventionist Col. Robert Rutherford McCormick with the charge of being in bed with Joe Stalin. Dennis was nothing if not brave.
As Dennis argued during his later years, American intervention in what was then called the Third World would merely fuel the fires of nationalism, particularly in Asia. While others on the Right were loudly demanding to know “Who lost China?” Dennis was practically alone in wondering aloud what we thought we were doing messing around with the Kuomintang and meddling in a civil war in favor of what was bound to be the losing side? The followers of Chairman Mao, upon their ascension to power, were bound to be anti-Russian, and his prescience in this matter is just one example of a remarkable ability to stand back from the immediate and see the pattern of long-term trends.
The somewhat tone deaf Professor Horne is seemingly deaf to the clear implications of his own prose, when he writes of Dennis’s opposition to interventionism in the prewar years:
“To New Dealers and their allies, much of this was not just a simple political disagreement. No, as far as they were concerned, Dennis was engaging in mischievous defeatism, bordering on treason and moral bankruptcy. While FDR was seeking to mobilize the nation against the Nazi hordes, Dennis – as they saw it – was playing into Berlin’s hands: Was this an accident? Asking the age-old question of ‘who benefits,’ New Dealers concluded easily that only the Axis would profit if Dennis’s ideas gained in popularity. Did not this dangerous man belong behind bars?”
While the good Professor is no doubt aware of the ominous parallels with our own time, he does not see fit to mention it, so fixated is he on other, far less interesting aspects of a fascinating, complex man.
Horne can’t forgive Dennis the alleged sin of “ethnic impersonation.” One wonders if the learned Professor thinks Barack Obama is black enough—or is he, too, a “closet case,” as Horne indelicately described Dennis and his condition of acquired “whiteness”?
Hounded by the government, mercilessly smeared by the War Party, and now trivialized into an ethnic changeling in flight from his “true” racial identity, one has to ask: is Lawrence Dennis to be spared nothing?
Dennis deserves better, and certainly he merits a much better book-length biography than he has so far received. Horne’s ignorance of the Old Right, within which Dennis was a respected and highly idiosyncratic figure, is the second most annoying aspect of his book. Blithely asserting that the America First Committee was “putatively pro-fascist” because, after all, it opposed US entry into the war, does not inspire much confidence in the author’s knowledge—either of America First, or the history of the era. Horne neither knows nor cares about the history of the Old Right, and fills in the gaps with leftist canards that seem to have originated in the feverish imagination of the propagandist Carlson, and his fellow conspiracy theorists, who agitated for the sedition trial – and would have indicted America First, if they’d had their way.
(By the way, the first prosecutor on the sedition case, William Power Maloney, was taken off the case when he prepared indictments that targeted America First, Lindbergh, and several antiwar members of Congress, as well as a wide range of conservative organizations whose stance was deemed “treasonous” by the New Dealers in the Justice Department.)
Dennis was a prophet without much honor in his own time. His influence was often indirect, and, in any case, was exercised behind the scenes, such as his colloquy with Lindbergh, for whom he reportedly wrote some speeches. The subscriber list of The Weekly Foreign Letter, and, later, the Appeal to Reason, was a veritable who’s who of the American right during the 1940s and 50s. His later evolution into a libertarian whose foreign policy of no entangling alliances, and a foreign policy that puts America first, while disdaining a globalist vision of empire, foreshadowed the development of a significant anti-interventionist movement on the right. This new trend is exemplified today by the rise of Ron Paul as the alternative to the neoconservative zealots who are currently driving our military and our national interests off a Middle Eastern cliff.
As a prophetic voice, Dennis has rarely been listened to, and, when heard, his words have often been misinterpreted and deliberately distorted. Rescuing him from the dark recesses of libraries and the dusty pages of long-unread tracts unearths some hidden treasures that dazzle us with their brilliance and light the way forward.
You may have heard of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But you probably haven’t heard of The Man Who Killed Robert Lowell.
So who did kill Robert Lowell?
Well, I have a horrible suspicion that I did.
Quite accidentally, you understand. It happened like this (members of the jury).
In 1974, the year I turned 13, my parents—having accurately and soberly diagnosed me as a congenital unemployable—needed to confront the question of where to put me in the interval before I could be inflicted on an unsuspecting job market. I was marginally too clever for a sheltered workshop, and the French Foreign Legion wouldn’t accept 13-year-olds.
Then they discovered what seemed like the answer to their prayers. Where are congenital unemployables traditionally placed? In a performing arts school, natch. And downtown Sydney had just such a school.
Now don’t assume that this school contained the all-singing, all-dancing, all-pouting poppets familiar from movies like Fame. This was laid-back Australia, remember. Had we possessed a school anthem (you’ll recall Fame‘s: “I want to live forever / I want to learn how to fly ….”), it would’ve gone something like:
I want to loaf forever
Learning is just so much cant
I’ll never get it together
So give me my new federal grant.
If memory serves, the selection procedure consisted of some bureaucrat pointing to a piano and asking the applicant “Can you tell me if this is (a) a piano, (b) a violin, or (c) a clarinet?” Almost anyone who picked (a) was accepted.
Once you had been accepted, what behavior could be tolerated? Pretty much any. The “self-esteem” gospel had already begun sweeping through the Anglophone world’s education establishments. Classrooms rang with invocations of “dyslexia,” a fashionable 1970s euphemism for “illiteracy,” and a condition marked by its total nonexistence among Jews, Japanese, Chinese, or any other kids who fell below average television-watching levels. “Performing arts,” on which this particular place extorted parental money by priding itself, proved mere hiccups in the core curriculum of surfing parties, beach parties, bong parties, Spin-the-Bottle parties (a phrase surely archaic enough to require translating for Paris Hilton’s coevals), plain old choking-on-your-own-drunken-vomit parties, or combinations of all five. While I shunned them, I did nothing to prevent them.
When these Animal House delights temporarily palled, there was always the joy of destroying the belongings of any student who did his homework. About the only thing not on the agenda was wandering around naked, like the juvenile scholars at the progressive college immortalized by Patrick Dennis’s novel Auntie Mame. Our school achieved what many a feral American cheerleader vainly craves: the entire abolition of arbitrary borderlines between hazing and non-hazing.
Besides, “selective” performing arts school though it might be, it belonged to the state system as completely as does any modern socialistic crack-den in Detroit. During the 1970s, New South Wales’s teacher union bosses ran an openly Marxist closed shop. (Yes, Virginia, in those days Marxist meant Marxist. It did not mean “Derrida-worshiping professor of media studies” or “Let’s have some street theater on our way to Mommy’s merchant bank.”) Occasionally, and despite the union’s struggles, a dedicated teacher would emerge. Usually she left the following year, preferring somewhere comparatively civilized, like Lesotho.
In such an environment, you either acquire a hobby or go insane. I acquired a hobby: musical composition. Not that I was good at it, but others were worse. Eventually plodding, repetitive effort gave me musical techniques I inherently lacked. After much slaving, I learned how to harmonize a hymn tune according to music theory’s lexical rules. That was simply what I happened to do. Some kids collected stamps or coins. My school friend studied the missionary travels of St. Paul at an age where I still needed to consult the dictionary for half the words in MAD Magazine.
And then, in a moment’s epiphany, I fell in love—not with a girl, but with a project: setting Robert Lowell to music.
If few or no subjects are being taught, autodidacts unexpectedly pop up. Hence the decision of one kid in class, not blatantly bookish, to recite a poem by Lowell. I knew nothing of Lowell. I knew nothing of poetry, other than the sub rosa collection of obscene limericks then doing the classroom rounds, thanks largely to myself. I knew nothing of Jonathan Edwards, the poem’s putative subject. I listened to the first lines of “Mr. Edwards and the Spider.” At first I felt little interest. Then, gradually, it was as if a neutron bomb had gone off inside my head.
I saw the spiders marching through the air,
Swimming from tree to tree that mildewed day
In latter August, when the hay
Came creaking to the barn. But where
The wind is westerly,
Where gnarled November makes the spiders fly
Into the apparitions of the sky …
WHAM! Where had this stuff been all my life? How dare anyone use the English language that wonderfully? Set it to music? Man, it already was music: mysterious, exalted music at that. All I could do as aspiring composer would be to filter the poem’s background noise, as it were, through staff notation.
Of course the pride inseparable from teenaged artistic output soon took over. My youthful notion of composing was to write down one idea, then another idea, then another, then another. This created the general effect of someone flipping through TV channels with his remote control. (Subsequent generations would call my approach Attention Deficit Disorder, thereby opening entire vistas of profitable identity politics and subsidized Ritalian addiction, which I, characteristically, never imagined.) I remained unaware that Wagner once called composing “the art of transition.” So much the worse for Wagner, I would have said, if told of this epigram. The whole setting took me only about a week. Nowadays I take longer over writing laundry-lists.
Having surveyed my creation and decided that it was indeed the masterwork I had always suspected, I nevertheless dimly registered the need to get copyright clearance, Lowell being still alive. This could well present difficulties. Great poets’ estates have varied a great deal in their willingness to provide such clearances. A. E. Housman’s estate was so proverbially laissez-faire that half England’s musicians spent decades churning out Housman settings. But T. S. Eliot’s executors were widely believed to greet would-be composers with sawed-off shotguns. (This was before Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber got hold of Eliot’s cats.) With luck, Lowell might have more in common with Housman than with Eliot.
One method alone could determine the truth. I sent my manuscript (yes, manuscript: no score-notating software back then) to Lowell’s publisher, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Since it abounded in rubbings-out and crossings-out (no Wite-Out back then either), I am now amazed to think that HBJ did not simply consign it to the garbage. Particularly when I couched my covering letter in phraseology that had all the politeness and tact of an Internal Revenue demand.
In an astonishingly short time I heard from HBJ. It was extremely interested in my setting. So interested, indeed, that it would forward the score to Lowell himself, for him to decide whether he would countenance it or not.
A few more weeks passed, and nothing more happened.
Then—we are talking of one morning in September 1977—a headline jumped out at me from the Sydney Morning Herald issue which I was reading at a suburban rail station. “Robert Lowell, U.S. poet, dies at 60.”
It felt like a blow in the stomach. It felt like ten blows in the stomach, combined with having my kneecaps broken. If only some other, any other, American poet had died … why did it have to be Lowell?
And almost immediately, following this train of thought, another, more panic-inducing still. The news report indicated that Lowell had suffered a fatal heart attack. What if my own temerity had killed Lowell? My mind raced towards the nightmarish scenario which could have unfolded. Which must have unfolded. Lowell had received my letter. Lowell had opened my letter. Lowell had glanced at the amateurish musical setting. Lowell had been so outraged by the audacity involved, that his weak heart could no longer cope with his wrath, and he died then and there.
On later reading Ian Hamilton’s Lowell biography, I discovered enough about Lowell’s final years to conclude that maybe he hadn’t expired from rage at my manuscript after all. A walking coronary waiting to happen, he had consumed booze and pills in such amounts as to uphold the proposition that Dylan Thomas was a piker. If the booze and pills weren’t enough to undermine his physique, there was his marital career, retrospectively recognizable as a mixture of Desperate Housewives, Million Dollar Baby, and World Championship Wrestling.
Perhaps, therefore, I can be acquitted of hastening Lowell’s death. Then again, perhaps not.
Poetic justice ensured that some years afterwards I mislaid my manuscript and never succeeded in finding it. Poetic injustice ensured that nine-tenths of it is still engraved on my memory. That’s what a guilty conscience does to you.
I had, at least, learnt my lesson. When I next dreamed of setting verses to music, I always made sure the versifier in question had already gone to his reward. Never again would I run even the smallest risk of manslaughter.
Others may dare to supply musical reworkings for sentiments by bards still in our midst. Me, I long ago decided to stick with the Dead Poets’ Society.
R. J. Stove lives in Melbourne. His book A Student’s Guide to Music History is scheduled for publication by ISI Books in January 2008.
President Bush’s nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general is making waves because of who he is (the first Orthodox Jew to be nominated for the position) as well as for what is not (a known quantity on issues that matter to social conservatives, such as abortion and the relationship between Church and state). A former federal judge, nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987, Mukasey has presided over only one abortion-related case, in which he ruled that a Chinese man could not be granted political asylum in the United States because he feared political reprisal for having attempted to prevent the Chinese government from aborting his child under its “one child per family” policy. That’s thin ground on which to base any judgment of how he would pursue a case concerning a constitutional issue involving abortion, and some are speculating that this lack of a track record may have something to do with President Bush’s decision to nominate Mukasey. Of course, the fact that pro-abortion Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is Mukasey’s biggest backer is at least strong circumstantial evidence that Mukasey is unlikely to be a strong or consistent advocate for life.
The Jewish Week, however, speculates that the appointment has nothing to do with abortion or other social issues:
“He’s not a social conservative, as far as I can tell, and that’s important to our community,” said Marc Stern, legal director for the American Jewish Congress and a longtime leader in church-state jurisprudence. “We have no idea what he thinks about civil rights, no idea about his positions on church-state issues. And we don”t know much about what he thinks about abortion.” . . .
“That the president was willing to nominate a man whose views on some of these social issues are not known shows how focused the administration is on one issue,” Stern said.
I’ll give you one guess what that issue might be.
What’s taking you so long? Really? You give up?
“And that issue is terrorism.”
Now, that’s interesting, is it not? Having failed to accomplish much for the pro-life cause while he had control of both houses of Congress, President Bush could have at least pushed things in the right direction in the final 15 months of his term through an attorney general who chose the right federal cases to pursue. That, however, doesn’t seem to be a major concern for him.
There’s no doubt that Mukasey is a fine choice, if the President’s primary concern is the prosecution of the “War on Terror” (he presided over the cases of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Jose Padilla) and the further erosion of our remaining constitutional liberties:
“He has not been a rubber stamp for the administration’s policies on terrorism but he is a very deep skeptic about the law’s ability to cope with terrorism,” said Stern. “He doesn”t take the reflective response of civil libertarians that the only way to fight terrorism is through the ordinary legal system. The only question is whether he goes too far the other way.”
There are other interesting details about Mukasey’s background—and his current political activities. Mukasey served as an assistant U.S. attorney under Rudy Giuliani. He’s worked with Bracewell & Giuliani, the Houston-based firm to which Rudy Giuliani has lent his name, and for which Mukasey’s son, Marc, heads up the white-collar criminal defense division. He swore in—who else?—Rudy Giuliani as mayor of New York in 1994 and 1998. And both Michael and Marc Mukasey serve as advisors to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
What’s that? Oh, sorry—my mistake. They serve as advisors for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign.
It’s become something of a tradition for outgoing presidents to refrain from naming a successor, but they sometimes manage to send certain signals anyway. Is President Bush sending such a signal with Mukasey’s nomination? Or is he simply telling the Republican base that, in the words of the estimable James Hitchcock, “the life issues are no longer paramount, if they ever were”?