In a world where rank bipartisan politics is held up as a paragon of principle, attention to ideology is nothing to sneeze at. But before examining why the “conservative” label has become a liability to some men and women of the Right, a brief mention is in order of a landmark linguistic loss that mars the history of the Right.
The word “liberal” belonged to the Old Right. It stood for “classical liberalism” which blossomed in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the words of David Conway, author of Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal, classical liberalism is a form of polity that grants to its adult members “the liberty to do whatever they want, provided no one but, at most, themselves is harmed by their doing it.” Government is constrained constitutionally and ethically to the defense of life, liberty, and property alone.
Subsequent to the looting of the term by The Left, “liberal” came to denote a social democrat who champions the Welfare State and government omnipotence. It goes without saying that the “liberal” appellation includes most Republicans; establishment politicians are social democrats of one or another variety.
In the wonderfully conciliatory 1992 essay “A Strategy for The Right,” Murray N. Rothbard traced the original American Right to a reaction against the New Deal and the manner in which it obliterated the old republic’s classical-liberal foundations. Members of the original Right wanted to abolish the Welfare State ushered in by the New Deal and return to the foreign policy of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, enunciated in his First Inaugural Address, in March 1801: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Avoiding the metropole status our imposter conservatives or neoconservatives are currently cultivating was crucial to an America First foreign affairs position.
By no means a monolith, the Old Right sported nuanced opinions in matters of philosophy and policy. Sadly, it petered out politically, only to be usurped by the W. F. Buckley, big-government “conservatives.”
So who are these “conservative” social democrats, and what do they stand for?
Behind the current administration there is a cadre of people working to help President Bush unleash his inner Caligula. Smitten with their “National Greatness” agenda, President Bush has prosecuted an aggressive war on Iraq, and may have his eyes on Iran and North Korea. This particular neocon ideological putsch is fueled by William Kristol’s Weekly Standard faction, to which many members of the current administration trace their political family tree. And there are the advocates of what can only be described as the quintessential Trotskyist permanent revolution, like neocon academic Michael Ledeen and Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute.
The National Review has also spawned its share of Beltway Buckleyites, tagged ferociously by historian Paul Gottfried. Particularly pique-making is the claim by a prominent National Review scribe to be writing in defense of the “West.” As Gottfried points out, the denuded and emasculated West neocons typically defend is a “post-Christian and post-conservative phenomenon run by retread communists and supranational social-engineering bureaucracies.” These “crypto-leftists” uphold a “vast managerial state” and support every bit of encroachment on liberty rejected by the Old Right and its authentic modern adherents.
From anti-discrimination legislative attacks on private property and First Amendment rights to the promotion of “large-scale Third World immigration” that displaces “Western core populations by groups that are culturally different and, in some cases, openly antagonistic”—the neocons are in philosophical tandem with The Left.
This may shed some light on why these “illiterate leftists posturing as conservatives,” as Gottfried calls them, have been partial to—even complicit in—the historical elevation of Martin Luther King Jr. above the Founding Fathers. Neocons are always eager to conflate the messages of the two solitudes, even though the founders’ liberty is related to King’s egalitarianism as neoconservatism is related to traditional Republicanism—never the twain shall mix.
It is thus futile to suggest to neocons that the correct foreign affairs position is the isolationism of the traditional Republican, Robert A. Taft. He may be historically less distant than the classical liberal founders, but to neocons, his memory is as unhip. At their core, neocons are simply deeply hostile to proponents of authentic constitutional regimes.
The affinity for Israel is another contentious issue in the neocon worldview.
To the extent that this affinity—not necessarily its policy prescriptions—is based on the coherent recognition that Israel stands in stark contrast to the region’s totalitarian, purely socialistic chieftains, it has clarity. To the extent that neocon cheerleading for Israel is rooted in the idea of Israel as a U.S.-compatible, postmodern social democracy, it is confused.
The de facto state of Israel is nothing of the kind.
Israel is an attempt at an ethnically homogeneous nation-state. In order to survive as well as defend its identity, Israel must practice ethnic—not racial—exclusion. The justification for Israel is rooted in the right of an ethnically homogeneous, voluntary association of people to defend and preserve its distinct identity, even if it entails exclusion based on the preserved characteristics, something our neocon champions of multiculturalism disavow. Like their leftist compatriots, neocons believe that the health of the state is best served by dissolving national distinctiveness with the aid of identity politics and multiculturalism.
Neocon nirvana is thus a U.S.-supervised world where Afghani, Israeli and Iraqi alike are fashioned into global democrats, citizens of
the universe. This caricature of freedom helps explain why neocons are convinced that their Saddam Sojourn will have a happy ending.
That Somalia-type native impulses are missing from their Hollywood-inspired script is because neocons are ignorant of history in general, and Arab history in particular. Economist Ludwig von Mises, for instance, didn’t go so far as to say that the “Mohammedan countries” were barbaric, but he did genteelly point out that there was a reason the East—far and near—had not contributed anything to “the intellectual effort of mankind” for centuries. You cannot force the culture of freedom and individual rights, reasoned Mises, where it never arose, and where the legal framework that would protect private wealth and guard against confiscation by the rulers is missing.
Considering their progenitors, it’s no surprise that neocons easily slip into Marxoid consciousness-raising talk. Iraqis might have expressed a desire to be left to their devices but, as the neocons see it, they don’t really know their minds and must be led to the truth—to American-style democracy—even if delivered with daisy cutters. Those of us who are on the receiving end of the neocons’ Stalinist name-calling will verify that, when it comes to besmirching their opponents, they are faithful to the tactics perfected by their brutish muses.
Any nattering neocons do about American national sovereignty vis-à-vis the United Nations fails to explain why the UN should be condemned for impeding U.S. sovereignty, while American global hegemony must be praised as benign and beneficent. It is patently obvious that the real beef neocons had with the UN, leading up to the assault on Iraq, was that, for a short while, it stood between the administration and its grand designs for the Middle East.
Like good leftists, neocons support the meddlesome expansion of the “Managerial State” at home. When it comes to extending the intrusive crusade abroad, they go beyond The Left’s call of duty: What defines Bush’s neoconservative administration is energetic social engineering both at home and abroad.
Needless to say, the political recrudescence of the Real Right is still a long way away.
©By ILANA MERCER
April 24, 2002