September 03, 2007
Unless I”m mistaken, the liberal-neocon establishment will black out my new book, on the conservative movement, with the same dogged malice it brought to bear against my previous five works, including a tome published in a prestigious series by Princeton. It is therefore important that I advertise my book on this website”and not only to help boost my sales. Unless my book receives public attention, the future, publicized histories of the postwar conservative movement may be exclusively those of Heritage, AEI and other neoconservative disseminators of opinion. My book differs from the histories of such foundations and it does so by providing information of a kind that these sources will not likely provide. . But, to repeat my point, my work will not get read unless you buy and discuss it. Macmillan published it as an academic monograph and not as a trade book, and it has allocated very little for getting out the word on my behalf.
There are three disclaimers that may be in order if the usual suspects say about me what they are likely to claim. One, I did not write this book as payback for what neoconservatives did to ruin me professionally at the Catholic University of America in the late 1980s. Their campaign of vilification hurt me as an academic, but at the time I did not generalize about why it had happened. Well into the 1990s I believed (incorrectly) that the attacks on me came from a localized neoconservative faction that did not represent the entire conservative movement. As late as the second edition of my first book on American conservatism, which was published in January 1993, I continued to hope that the “good people” in the movement would throw out the interlopers. Only afterwards did I come to appreciate the total nature of the neocon takeover and the utter docility of those who ran to serve them. The same minions often did something equally servile, by putting themselves at the disposal of the Republican National Committee. Judging by the daily demonstration of this submissiveness on FOX, it is unlikely that it will soon be ended.
Two, I am not writing as a disillusioned movement conservative since my connection to the conservative movement was never particularly strong in the first place. I have been, for want of a better description, an anti-Wilsonian and a Robert Taft Republican, and someone who in times past would have defined himself as a cultural traditionalist. Although for more than forty-years I have been a reader of and contributor to Modern Age, I have never belonged to the inner circle of any movement conservative institution. Nor was I ever more than an occasional contributor to National Review before being thrown off the bus, despite my onetime close relations with several of the founding editors. In 1964 I supported Rockefeller and later, Bill Scranton for president because I thought that the zealous anti-Communist Barry Goldwater would have handled international relations ineptly. (Then as now I was a fan of the conservative realist George F. Kennan.) In the early1970s I briefly had a thing for the neoconservatives but not because of Bill Buckley’s chumming around with them. Rather I believed their liberal friends in the national press, who laid it on with a trowel about their putative wisdom and boldness. The liberal press has generally treated neoconservative celebrities with remarkable indulgence, in comparison to its ranting against the Republican Party—and even more particularly but quite understandably against the traditional Right.
As an admirer of the German historical tradition and of “the German connection” that drove Allan Bloom into a rage in The Closing of the American Mind, I have begun to feel even further alienated from establishment conservatism. It has become hard for me to identify not only with its rote Republican and neoconservative politics but also with the “cultural conservatism” that some “conservative” journals and newspaper columnists have been pushing as their basic philosophy. Already in my book The Search for Historical Meaning (1986) I made a strenuous, critical attempt to deal with the adoration of “abstract universals” as a characteristic of postwar American conservatism. Such a defect no longer seems to me incidental to the movement under consideration but reveals the operation of a “value game.” This is seen particularly in the way that “conservative” think-tanks engage in partisan elections and keep everyone on board by appealing to increasingly empty slogans as “permanent values.”
Three, I have never meant to suggest that whatever has come out of the “conservative movement,” which reaches back into the 1950s, has been uniformly shoddy or disastrous. In its early years, this movement gave rise to interesting journalism and to dissident opinions about a wide range of issues that in today’s PC climate one sorely misses. The early movement also featured personalities who in comparison to those who followed them seem like veritable titans. At least at its fringes, the movement still supports interesting authors, from whom I continue to learn a great deal. In short, not everything in the conservative movement has been dishonest or wicked; and there is nothing in my work that should lead a reader toward believing otherwise. What I do stress is the manipulated and shifting value framework in which the “conservative” movement has developed. Almost from the beginning it manipulated its following, partly by misrepresenting its opposition on the Old Right, and later by shamelessly falsifying its history. Although these tendencies became accelerated from the 1980s on, they should have been apparent well before the neoconservatives got to occupy the media Right. Unfortunately the misrepresentations grew worse over time, as the rank-and-file members gave up their integrity and critical reason to remain “movement conservatives.”
A final point that should give some hope to the residual American Right is something that onetime New Right activist Richard Viguerie recently said to me, while we were sharing a panel at the Robert Taft Club in Washington. Richard corrected the impression that I had given that the “neocons controlled everything” by observing that there were tens of millions of “social-issue traditionalists” who wouldn”t know Bill Kristal from Adam. These were the American activists who had embarrassed the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, and George W. Bush by opposing what they thought was the latest federal attempt to amnesty illegals. These good folk in most cases would not give their votes to the neocon pick in the Republican sweepstakes, and, as far as I can tell, they still listen to such old-fashioned, isolationist voices of the Right as Phyllis Schlafly. The one significant exception that I have noted are the Evangelicals, who have gone nuts for Giuliani while trading in their Christianity for “human rights” and crusades for democracy.
For the Podhoretz-Giuliani crowd, the Americans on the right whom they can”t pull in are Neanderthals, who probably read Father Coughlin for kicks. While this may not be the case, the rightwing populists whom I have in mind certainly do not belong to what the aging Buckley, the Kristols, and the Wall Street Journal have created as their monument for the ages. The social issues populists to whom Richard referred are occasionally visible on neocon Disneyworld, where they are allowed to utter a few sounds and are then pushed off, to make way for Hannity, Kristol or some Republican or Democratic PR ditz. The last group typically sport badly bleached blond hair, which is fully consistent with FOX’s ridiculous imitation conservatism, and they trip nonstop over their college freshman syntax. Where the discontented outcasts from our global democratic system will go from here is anyone’s guess.