May 29, 2008
Having looked at the review of Pat’s latest book by John Lukacs and the critical remarks offered by Takimag-contributors and having seen the defense of the American Conservative’s commissioning of John’s review posted by Daniel Larison on Eunomia (May 24), I feel impelled to add my two cents. Let me begin with the fact that I have been a personal friend of Pat and John both since the 1980s and that I serve on American Conservative’s editorial board. Although I lean more strongly toward Pat’s critical interpretation of Churchill than toward John’s words of praise for the same figure, I feel personally closer to John, who reminds me strongly of my Central European father, than I do to Pat. Despite my personal feelings about John, I would not have picked him to review a controversial work by Pat Buchanan for the American Conservative. As Richard Spencer correctly indicates, John despises everything Pat has stood for over the years, and he has emphatically equated Pat’s populism with Nazism. John has made this charge so often about nationalists and populists and, more specifically, about Pat that one would have to be pretty obtuse not to notice.
Daniel Larison’s defense of having John do the review brings up some points that need to be questioned. Dan depicts the American Conservative as a magazine that gives space to conflicting points of view. But, contrary to this interpretation, the magazine is usually predictable, for example, in opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and in supporting the Palestinian cause, sometimes to the point of playing down Palestinian violence. The same magazine is also vehemently against the war in Iraq, indeed so much so that its tirades are often formulaic. Almost every issue has at least one piece on the war, and often by authors who have made similar denunciations in earlier issues. On most other matters, the American Conservative rarely stands to the right of the neoconservative press, and its tendency to feature fairly conventional leftists suggests for me that the editorial staff is trying to build up a following among liberal establishment journalists.
Even more important, the editor-in-chief Scott McConnell is openly solicitous of the good will of certain people whom he admires, and to his credit, he never hides these feelings. Scott deeply and effusively respects Norman Podhoretz, and the leftist German historian Fritz Stern, with whom he studied at Columbia. He also speaks highly about a number of Washington journalists. Moreover, it is not likely that he would allow me or (I suspect) anyone else to review a book by someone he admires if the probable results would not be flattering. That is, Scott obviously refuses to commission reviews from writers who are not likely to say nice things about authors whom he seeks to cultivate. This is surely Scott’s right as an editor, and a right I too would assert if I were in his place. But it is wrong to claim that he gives out reviews hoping to see sparks fly. I”ve never known anyone who is less likely to act in that way.
What Scott did in this particular case was to allow an unmistakable adversary of Pat to rail against him in a magazine that Pat had helped to found”and indeed one with which he continues to be identified. Scott might have commissioned this review to underscore how mainstream his magazine is, by showing he was willing to publish attacks on certain views that the liberal- neocon press would find unacceptable. Whatever his calculation might have been, the result was diplomatically unfortunate. The review did nothing to add to John’s luster, but it probably angered Pat and put the American Conservative in an awkward position in terms of holding its support on the right. I regret this happened but there is no need to pretend that it was not a faux pas, which it clearly was.
Finally, it would be wrong to claim that the American Conservative was being even-handed when it allowed John to inveigh against Pat, after having printed a review of an earlier Lukacs work that its author found insufficiently appreciative. This review, by Lee Congdon, a known devotee of John’s, contained the observation that John’s lifetime revulsion for Germans might have been nurtured by his wartime experience with the Nazis. (John’s maternal grandparents were Jewish and when the Nazis occupied Budapest, he was forced to go into hiding with them.) John’s Teutonophobia is so obvious that a reader would have to be sight-challenged in order not to pick up on it. As might have been expected, Lee’s review was generally positive; and so was an earlier review of another Lukacs book, done by me, for the American Conservative, in which (if truth be known), I too showed uncharacteristic restraint. Like Lee, I understated my differences with John, in this case with his equation of populism with Nazism. Therefore it is not true that John’s attack on Pat in the American Conservative was an attempt to give John his say, after the magazine had taken him to task. Unlike Pat, John has been treated in Pat’s magazine with remarkable courtesy.