February 06, 2007
Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. This explains why so many of those who leapt on the bandwagon, or led the parade, that marched American soldiers off to war in Iraq are now disclaiming paternity, or screaming for blood tests. (No matter that many of these same folks are priming the pumps for yet another war with Iran, using the same sort of dreary agitprop that lied us into the last one.) One particularly juicy case is that of blogger and author Rod Dreher. In explaining away the fact that when it mattered—before the war started—he was one of its louder, shriller supporters, Dreher has recently pulled out the rhetorical big gun, the most damaging charge which a journalist can sling nowadays. As Dreher wrote on his Crunchy Con blog on January 14: “[T]he anti-Semitism of some on the Right who were critical of the war we were headed into in 2002 enabled many of us to dismiss all of their arguments.”
Apart from being an unsubstantiated smear—note that Dreher does not cite a single instance of a prominent conservative opposing the Iraq War for anti-Semitic reasons, for the simple reason that none of them did—this statement by Dreher serves another purpose. It is, I would suggest, a kind of coded message.
Among the antiwar conservatives he means to attack, we are left to assume, were those whom David Frum designated in National Review as “unpatriotic conservatives,” a group in whose company I have been placed—albeit more as a lunatic than a threat. Never in all of my sixty five years, even while leafing through newspapers put out by hard-line Communists have I encountered such an example of agitprop. Earth to Dreher: although descended from Jewish refugees who fled from the Nazis, I am a bona fide member of the Old Right, and I vehemently opposed from the outset our present venture at reconstructing cultures. The global democratic fluff that has been manufactured to justify the invasion of Iraq makes me sick to my stomach. Another skeptic is my close friend from Israel Leon Hadar, who has published well received books on the Middle East and writes often for the American Conservative. Is Bob Novak, who is a Jewish convert to Catholicism, venting anti-Semitism when he expresses reservations about the neocons’ efforts to spread global democracy, particularly in dealing with a makeshift Arab state invented by the British after World War One? Is my colleague at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Jim Kurth, a distinguished conservative professor of politics at Swarthmore, or the Boston University self-described paleoconservative Andrew Bacevich, or the Catholic University Professor of Politics Claes Ryn all Jew-haters because they are traditionalists who warned against Bush’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq?
Last year a voluminous anthology of antiwar polemics Neoconned was brought out by IHS Press, with a contribution from yours truly. While I do not agree with all of the arguments in all of the articles, particularly those submitted by Jewish peace activists, I would be hard pressed to show that the contributors are “anti-Semitic,” by any traditional use of that term. There are some contributors who are far more critical of the Israeli government than I; and some critics place what seems to me excessive blame on the Israeli people for war plans embraced by some Israeli politicians in consultation with prominent American neoconservatives with ties to the Republican Party. Unlike most of my friends on the antiwar Right, I think, on the basis of knowing them and speaking some Hebrew that most Israelis know absolutely nothing about the neoconservatives or their sinister projects. Moreover, Israeli pols, with the exception of the slippery Benjamin Netanyahu, cooperate with the hyper-Zionist neocons and occasionally mouth their propaganda for only two reasons, because they rightly assume that these American Jews have lots of power and because neocons claim to be helping Israel. The notion of neocons as pawns of the Israeli government has never seemed to me a demonstrable claim. That W is the neocons’ maladroit mouthpiece is a more likely assertion—and it points to a far more dangerous situation.
Dreher is not being in the least convincing, when he complains about the anti-Semitism on what I have called the “non-authorized Right.” By that I mean those traditionalists and libertarians whom the neocons don’t approve of. Note how neoconservatives describe people is a significant action. It may be almost as important as the fact that W sounds like his rhetorical masters, particularly when he proclaims that he is bringing the values of the American civil rights movement or the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to the Middle East. It is also an indisputable fact that Dreher himself owes whatever literary fame and fortune he has achieved to neocon sponsors, neocon magazines, and neocon philanthropies. Absent these benefits, he would be editing copy at some small-town newspaper—and he would undoubtedly be having trouble paying for the crunchy yuppie food that his latest book urges us to consume. Now Rod, if I may be familiar, have you ever discussed politics without resorting to agitprop? Do you believe that my friends and I are anti-Semites? If not, why have you not cited our admonitions about the folly of the war, which have been readily available for four years or more? The American Conservative, to which the director of this site is connected, has also published critical essays about the war, and I know for a fact that the editors of the magazine bend backward to screen relevant writings for anything that might be conceivably associated with prejudice of any kind. At times I am shocked by how PC the magazine manages to seem.
Allow me then to explain what function you and other servants of the neoconservatives play when you call their opponents on the Right “anti-Semites.” The value of this smear (and smears are what we’re talking about) is that it sends a message to your kind to ignore or to treat dismissively those whom the neoconservatives intend to keep out of the political conversation. What your sponsors have done for decades is to marginalize those whom they find, for whatever reason, “too reactionary.” Such eccentrics are not featured in their magazines or given a place at the table in neoconservative media enterprises. Neoconservative dialogues are only with other neoconservatives or with the Left. Needless to say, the Left is delighted with this practice because it limits the range of differences between leftist journalists and the safe opposition. NR editor-in-chief Richard Lowry positively groveled when he went to interview the old Stalinist editor of the Nation Victor Navasky, and Navasky in turn lavished praise on his young visitor in his autobiography. But such courtesy is never extended rightward, and NR not only keeps paleos from publishing on its pages but also periodically replicates the tactics of Julius Streicher’s Stürmer when it decides to vilify them.
A further function that the bogus war against rightwing “anti-Semitism” provides is that it assures the Left that the neocons are on board with the continuing leftist crusade against rightwing extremism and “fascism.” Like those farther on the Left, the neocons find “fascists” and “anti-Semitism” all over creation, and they have even devised the silly anachronistic label, which their earnest pupil in the White House picked up, of calling Islamicists and other particularly unpleasant anti-Zionist Muslims “Islamo-fascists.” Last week I heard while in New York a spirited presentation by neoconservative historian Jeffrey Herf, in which certain continuity was conveniently discovered for “Islamo-fascism” going from (the predictable) German villain Martin Luther down to some latter-day Muslim terrorist.
What a great idea it seems to be to stick those we dislike into a single category of reprobation, and if the liberal establishment relishes that particular category with which one has chosen to demonize one’s enemies, the user is in luck. Unfortunately, neocon smears are usually untrue, and if the target is on the Right, he has no way of guarding himself in our increasingly PC culture. I still recall when the neocon smearbund (the terms was invented by one of its Jewish victim, Murray Rothbard) came after me almost twenty years ago, while I was being considered for a graduate professorship at Catholic University of America. The charge against me was that I was “not someone reliable on Israel” and therefore by implication a Jewish anti-Semite. I’ve still no idea what I had said that was anti-Israeli, and so much so that it would have disqualified me from teaching ancient Greek political and historical texts. But I may have crossed some invisible line by deviating from another neoconservative dogma; deviation from which I have learned (from reading attacks on H.L. Mencken in the Weekly Standard ) is proof positive of “anti-Semitism.” I had only recently published an article arguing that the Germans were not primarily responsible for the outbreak of World War One. The taking of this position apparently opens a hapless scholar to the charge of hating Jews, for having failed an imposed neocon litmus test based on loathing the Germans (except possibly for Marx). Heaven forbid that I had expressed my uncensored views about the Peloponnesian War! My detractors might have really gone after me as a “fascist.”
One final observation may be in order. Over the last five years the neocon smearbund, Republican operatives and their shared hirelings have reconstructed the “conservative movement” around the supposedly towering issue of the “war against terror,” also known as the invasion and intended democratization of Iraq. Other issues, like immigration and affirmative action, have been subordinated to this foreign policy goal; further, Richard Brookhiser, David Brooks, and the editors of the Weekly Standard are now promoting the presidential candidacy of the socially liberal Rudolph Giuliani, preferably with Joe Lieberman as his running mate. The justification here is that we have to downplay other concerns until we can win “the war against terror,” and social liberals who are “tough on terror,” that is, talk up the war in Iraq, are the ideal figures to “unite” the country behind our conservative world mission. The proposed mission, which sounds like an American variant on the theme of Bolshevik World Revolution, is certainly not “conservative” or “classical liberal.” It is rather something that the neoconservatives talked a dull-witted president into pursuing; and the subordination of true traditionalist and constitutionalist concerns to this radical left fantasy is a move that voters on the Right as well as on the Left are likely in the end to reject. Here I am not thinking of the zombie army that forms the professional “conservative movement,” but of the millions of religiously conservative and small-government Republicans who have been deluded into believing that the highest “conservative” and patriotic goal is winning our democratic crusade in Iraq. When they discover how the Republican Party leadership, FOXNEWS and the rest of the disinformation apparatus have snookered them, their good will toward their present handlers may evaporate. They may also notice the thousands of human lives that have been sacrificed for a leftist pipedream, and the absence of neoconservative journalists among those who have bled to bring it about. When this happens, no matter what kind of howling about “anti-Semitism” comes from the usual suspects, some malodorous liquid matter is likely to hit the fan.
Paul Edward Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and a Guggenheim recipient. He is an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute.
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