April 15, 2008
My last full-length essay on Taki evoked so many thoughtful comments, including essays by Daniel Larison and Richard Spencer (and a long opinion piece by Gerald Russello on the American Conservative website) that I am producing this detailed clarification. The critical thrust of the comments received was more or less the following: First of all, I have overstated the difference between the paleoconservatives and the younger generation of those who are attacking the neoconservatives from the right. Both groups have said pretty much the same things about the evils of the welfare state, the folly of basing a foreign policy on Wilsonian rhetoric, and the leftist origins and cosmology of the neoconservative rulers of the “conservative movement.” There is no significant distinction to be drawn among right-wingers based on generational differences. Where they differ, according to Russello, is that paleos show a deeper knowledge of philosophy and history than those who are coming after them. That difference indicates a greater intellectual reach on the part of the paleos, who have managed to be more than “journalists and activists.”
While my respondents may not be aware of this fact, in 1986 Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review published a commissioned article from me on prominent second-generation paleoconservatives. Almost all of those qualities I now associate with the post-paleo Right are those that I then ascribed to the paleos, who were then mostly in their forties. But my judgments about how paleoconservatism would develop did not turn out to be accurate; one overriding reason for this miscalculation is that the times did not favor our side. Without eutuxia or Fortuna in one’s camp, and particularly in the face of a grim, powerful enemy, a rightwing political movement is not likely to go anywhere in our age and society.
What separates the two rightist groups I discuss is more than a disparity in age or the whiteness of the hair of the older cohort. The paleos are for the most part rooted in the worldview and mentality of the postwar conservative movement, and except for their temporary alliances with the antiwar, libertarian maverick Murray Rothbard, they typically viewed the conservative movement as something that could be salvaged. The Cold War and the Republican Party had a formative influence on the paleoconservative mind. The predictability with which Pat Buchanan has always found a way of rallying at the eleventh hour to Republican presidential candidates, including W, and the praise that Pat, Paul Craig Roberts, Charley Reese, and other paleos of their generation lavish on Reagan and other Republican presidents reveals their political points of reference. My book on the conservative movement has not elicited any comment from this generation of paleoconservatives but it has received attention from the postpaleos. The reason may be that my attacks are aimed at the entire postwar conservative movement. Unlike my earlier treatments of the subject, my new book is not carefully confined to a few neoconservative targets. The postpaleos have no concern about discussing a work that is critical of a movement and a political party that they consider to be corrupt and archaic.
Postpaleos are also less inhibited about discussing topics which for the paleos have been clearly off the table since the death of Sam Francis, e.g., cognitive disparities among the races, the merit of causing the GOP to lose badly to its more frankly leftist opposition as a precondition for a realignment on the right, and various Nietzschean critiques of Christianity. Although such openness to positions that would have offended the American conservative movement twenty five years ago is not uniformly characteristic of all postpaleos, what is typical is their distance from the mindset of a movement to which they never belonged. In some ways they are also less bourgeois and more identifiably yuppie than the group they are destined to replace. But they are also more obviously aligned to an American Right that existed before the postwar conservative movement came along.
Note I am not providing a description that necessarily fits my tastes. Generationally I feel more aligned with the paleos, who by now may consider me a nuisance, than with those who are taking their place. I also share Gerald Russello’s preference for theorists over activists but here some qualifications may be in order. One, there is no indication that postpaleos do not think about their historical condition or that they have read less extensively than the founding generation of the postwar conservative movement. Nor are the young contributors to this site more militant activists than those who founded National Review in 1955. They are simply more alienated than those who preceded them from the “conservative movement” and its left-liberal support system. Two, what is essential to any political movement is activism. The problem with the kind of activism that those of my generation criticized was its mindless support of the GOP and its kowtowing to neoconservative foundation heads. If our side is to go anywhere, we will need pushy activists of our own. Otherwise we can resign ourselves to meeting in broom closets with shrinking dimensions. The reason Jonah Goldberg now lives on the Glenn Beck show, while its host has not shown any interest in me or the brilliant Mr. Russello is that Mr. Goldberg has successful activists behind him. One can turn up one’s nose at the publicity Goldberg bathes in, but the alternative is not to be widely noticed.
Finally, allow me to touch on the delicate question of religious controversy. While the Protestant Reformation contributed socially and economically to the early waves of European modernization, just as the Catholic world did in physics and cosmology, neither side in the religious schism of the sixteenth century contributed to our present problems in the contemporary West. Moreover, the idea that Catholics have somehow resisted current leftist trends more effectively than Protestants is palpably false. In the English speaking world, Catholics have positioned themselves for the most part on the political and social left; and such traditionally Catholic countries as Spain and Ireland are at least as disintegrated as their Protestant neighbors. The fact that Holland now has a Catholic majority has not resulted in that country moving toward the social or cultural right. Although there are Catholic exceptions to the rule, particularly in Eastern Europe, one finds the same kinds of exceptions in Protestant countries that have been relatively untouched by the acids of late modernity. While the Flemish Vlaams Belang is largely Catholic, the Swiss conservatives led by Christoph Blocher are overwhelmingly Calvinist. Neither group of successful European anti-multiculturalists, however, is behaving like the anti-Catholic ranter James Hagee or like the more zealous anti-Protestants I have encountered on the American right. European rightwing populists of all denominations show solidarity in defending their common civilization. The last thing the Right needs at this point is a return to the confessional strife of the sixteenth century.
I keep thinking in this matter about one particularly puzzling statement that I heard from a recent Catholic convert who told me that US would have been a “great country if only it were Catholic.” My thought when I heard this is that my interlocutor had not been looking at the world for a very long time. Why does his supposed Catholic asset not apply to our Northern neighbor Quebec, a onetime agrarian region that now wallows in state-enforced, anti-Christian PC? Quebec’s Catholic history, overwhelmingly Catholic population, and Bourbon fleur-de-lis flag have done nothing to prevent its descent into multicultural darkness. Indeed Quebec managed to jettison its inherited political and cultural character in less than two generations. It went through the same flip-flop as onetime Calvinist Holland did in the same span of time. It is therefore unlikely that had the US in 1790 been a Catholic country, it would have avoided the cultural depredations that ravaged the second half of the twentieth century”or that its Catholic citizens would have been any less further on the left than many of them are at this time.
As for the neopagan critics of all Christians on the right, I am astounded that such intellectuals think they have any workable solution to what ails our civilization. These critics usually propose a greatly sanitized, highly selective version of what the ancients actually believed; or else they act as if we can get people who have ceased believing in the biblical deity to build their lives around Wotan, Jupiter, or some other pre-Christian god. As Carl Schmitt correctly noted, “historical truths are true only once.” Lapsed Christians are no more likely to embrace Graeco-Roman or Germanic deities than they are to bury deceased relatives in Egyptian pyramids. Although of course there are eccentric or bookish exceptions, often living in their widowed mothers” basements, I am speaking about the rule and not the isolated deviations from it.