October 28, 2007
Unlike some of my respondents, I am not surprised that Norman Podhoretz in his latest book goes after the isolationist Right. For years Norman has been looking frenetically over his right shoulder, e.g., denouncing Taftites and representatives of the pre-neocon Right, a practice going back to Commentary’s spats with the Buchananites at the end of the Cold War and to its swipes at right-wingers who were perceived as being insufficiently supportive of the Israeli government. But even more interesting than the fact that the older generation of neoconservatives have always believed they were in a dogfight with the hated “paleoconservatives” is the way the liberal establishment and the reconstructed conservative movement have kept us out of the public debate. The reviewers of Podhoretz’s most recent book did not want to mention our guys, even if Podhoretz did; just as the antiwar leftist media continue to treat paleo opponents of the Iraqi War as non-existent or beneath contempt. If it were our partisans against theirs, that is, the neocons and their hacks, we might be able to hold our own.
Unfortunately it is the liberal side that helps to preserve the reputation of the neoconservatives as the only intelligent and relatively humane opposition to the Left. For those who seek more proof, look at the commentary “Saying the Unsayable” by British left-of-center journalist Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman (September 13, 2007). Although this commentary pretends to be about the Walt-Mearsheimer exposé of the American Jewish lobby, it quickly turns into a rant against the “far-right, libertarian congressman” Ron Paul. Supposedly, when Paul noted that the “neoconservatives” played a major role in getting the US to invade Iraq, he was “saying the unsayable,” by “resorting to coded language.” Paul, who is apparently a bigot playing to “far-rightists” was telling his audience that all of our problems in the Mid-East have been “cooked up by the Jews.” Walt and Mearsheimer, who say much more daring things in their book than Paul did in his debate response, are treated respectfully for obvious reasons. They are politically on the left and identified with prestigious leftist academic institutions.
The reason I was struck by all of the errors and oversights in The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism that reviewers did not disclose is the inflated reputation that the media has created for the neoconservatives as the “brainy, cultured” Right. Although there is much I didn’t like about the neoconservative sources that I consulted for my latest monograph on the conservative movement, the quotations from liberals about the high intelligence and learning of neoconservative journalists and fund-raisers are not at all fabricated. I first learned about Podhoretz and his friends from reading the New York Times in the 1970s, and everything I saw there about him and his movement made me adore the neoconservatives. As late as the 1990s, the Times Sunday Magazine featured glossy pictures of Bill Kristol, Mr. and Mrs. David Frum and other second-generation neocon dignitaries, with flattering commentaries typically prepared by neocon scribblers. The Times and Washington Post give massive and usually favorable coverage to books published by such neoconservative authors as Gertrude Himmelfarb, David Brooks, and Dinesh D’Souza, and both of these national newspapers, as well as Time and Newsweek magazines, feature neocon columnists.
And well they might. It is they who helped manufacture this alternative opposition to a more genuine Right. Their exuberant support got others to buy into the kinder, gentler “Right” that the Left bestowed on this country. Opportunistic movement conservatives later ran to join those whom Clyde Wilson in the 1980s recognized as “interlopers.” And certainly Zionist New Dealers and big-government corporate executives have thrown largesse in the direction of these “moderate conservatives.”
But we got the neocons mostly because the Left wanted that kind of bogus opposition. My late friend Sam Francis knew whereof he spoke when he scorned the neocons as the “harmless persuasion.” Sam meant that this group was innocuous to establishment liberals, who laid it on with a trowel when they described their “brilliant” neocon adversaries. But both groups were pure fury when it came to beating up on us.
Another related point is that Sam and I both became interested in studying certain Frankfurt School concepts, although neither of us was a “cultural Marxist,” because they cast light on how the neocons took and exercised power. There is—it seemed to the two of us—a “hegemonic” leftist ideology, which among its defining traits is anti-anti-Semitic, anti-racist, anti-German and generally anti-Southern white. This ideology also favors government social engineering and a welfare state but not necessarily a socialist economy. Most of the adherents of this ideology are not in fact Jews, although Jews may be disproportionately represented among its carriers. Indeed if its success depended on a two-percent Jewish minority in the US, this hegemonic ideology could not have spread as well as it did. Its numerically preponderant supporters have been liberal Christians, who in recent years have been significantly supplemented by such Evangelicals as Michael Gerson, Cal Thomas, and George W. Bush.
There is a second layer to this hegemonic ideology—and here differences may be allowed in the U.S. but not in Western Europe, where the core ideology has progressed farther because of an extremely controlling public administration. The second layer centers on multiculturalism and special group rights for designated victims, such as gays and Muslims. In the face of an evolving core ideology, a mild opposition is allowed to function, as long as it challenges only certain implications of the belief or attitude system. And these “conservative” attacks are encouraged insofar as what is being attacked is only an advanced version of the core ideology but not the underlying sentiments and values. The “moderate conservative” critics of certain excrescences of the core ideology stress the “legacy of the civil rights movement, as embodied by Martin Luther King, and the need to fight anti-Semitism with special zeal, a task that now apparently requires a new world war against “Islamofascism.”
But the criticism here, to use another Frankfurt School term, remains “immanentist.” It proceeds out of the same post-Christian, post-bourgeois hegemonic ideology as the Left that it pretends to resist. Since “democratic politics” requires some kind of organized debate, the neoconservatives and the liberals stage discussions within their own broad consensus—which obviously excludes “fascists” and “extremists,” who challenge their shared understanding of progress and government-promoted equality or the need to exert force internationally in order to end gender disparities, homophobia, etc. Sam and I adopted another Frankfurt School term, “artificial negativity,” to describe what went on when the hegemons blow off steam, mostly for show. Anyone who is looking for an illustration of “artificial negativity” should turn on Hannity and Colmes or listen to the discussions held between the two national parties that clog our TV and radio networks. Such spectacles typically combine utter triviality with the grunting and screaming that one might easily associate with professional wrestling.
A final point about the functioning of this mostly bogus opposition is that it reaches rightward in a way that affects the behavior of the Old Right. Earlier this week, I read on FRONTPAGE, a neoconservative-financed website, a scathing article by the spirited Heather McDonald on the Jena race-hustle, and the scapegoating in the national press of the whites in this Louisiana hamlet, for insisting that severe charges be brought against local blacks who had nearly killed a white high school student. I defy my paleo colleagues to publish anything as critical about American blacks as this lady did on a neocon website. The Old Right is terrified of the subject of race, and it is impossible even while reading its endless hymns to the antebellum South to learn that what is being described is a slave society. Lest it be called racist, the Old Right tries to stay clear of pressing social issues that have to do with race. But neocons do not feel as constrained about the subject, perhaps because they are less likely to get attacked from the Left as racists. Nor are they as frightened of raising the question of significant behavioral differences among the races.
On the other hand, there is no philosophic consistency in how the neocons take on hot moral issues. Although sometimes, when it is useful, they may deplore gay marriage, they are also quite happy to back candidates who favor it. And when it helps their bellicose plans, they will bow and scrape before the gay lobby. For days now, I have been noticing the way neoconservative commentators are trying to enlist the gay movement against the government of Ahmadjinedad. Apparently the failure of the Iranian regime to recognize gay rights now goes against conservative “values.” Since these values, as I argue in my book, are whatever neocons say they are, neocons may be acting consistently on their own Hobbesian principle that power determines meanings as well as justice.
Someone who has dared to go beyond “decent” debate is former DePaul political science assistant professor Norman Finkelstein. This now unemployed figure resigned from his post at De Paul University in September after having been denied tenure last spring. Although a self-described leftist and the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, 53 year old Finkelstein leaned on the third rail once too often. By now, as I note in an article for the German weekly Junge Freiheit, this hapless truth-teller may have no other professional prospects left but to work in a shoe store. After all, he has published entire tomes exposing the pap of PC celebrities. Among Finkelstein’s targets have been Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, a screed that Finkelstein shows was at least partly lifted from Joan Peterson’s even longer botched work on how there were hardly any Palestinians in Palestine when the European Jews arrived, and Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners. With incredible diligence, Norman has dissected neocon-liberal fixations, about German history, the abuses of the Holocaust for propagandistic purposes, and the bullying tactics of AIPAC. Although never entirely in agreement with the solutions of this zealous pro-Palestinian advocate, I was astonished by his research and transparent courage. Two of the flawed books he focused on, by Goldhagen and Dershowitz, were so fetid and malicious, that I thought he may have been actually too kind to their factual errors and gratuitous gracelessness.
I was therefore not at all surprised that Dershowitz pressed the tenure committee and the president at DePaul to get rid of his critic. Nor was I appalled that he boasted of his accomplishment after Finkelstein was turned down for tenure—despite his voluminous accomplishments and advanced age. Nor was I horrified that the former president and current dean of the law school at Harvard took Dershowitz’s side as a maligned scholar who had fallen into the hands of a bully. Note that the same institution had produced a plethora of endorsements for Goldhagen’s sweeping indictment of the Germans as an “eliminationist anti-Semitic nation.” As far as I know, no one at Harvard has bothered to acknowledge the fraudulent history which riddles Goldhagen’s book. In passing I would note that Norman’s fate at a Catholic university paralleled my own at CUA in the late 1980s. Once some professional victimologist brings up the charge of nurturing “anti-Semitism,” the timid administrators of such schools, often associated with easily intimidated Princes of the Church, cave in. Needless to say, it makes no difference if the would-be disseminator of “prejudice” happens to be Jewish. It serves me (and Finklestein) right for challenging “enlightened” opinion in this most tolerant and caring-and-sharing of liberal democracies.