The following conversation is the sequel to “The Authentic Right Vs. The Neocons (Part 1),” my no-holds-barred interview with Paul Gottfried, author of Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.
Described as “the most learned, ignored scholar dealing with the history of the European and American Right,” professor Gottfried, once again, helps us understand how the American Right fell into the clutches of “minicon scribblers.”
ILANA: The conservative movement, you’ve observes, “Has never been an independent force but rather a tool of Republican Party operatives.” You also note that “there is an American grassroots Right operated outside of the New York-Washington foundation and media empire that the neoconservatives have put together as the face of the ‘conservative movement.'” Why does Rep. Ron Paul, a Taft Republican, represent a revival of the real, grassroots Right? While you’re at it, tell us why you call yourself a “Taft Republican,” and how that differs from a daft Republican like Dubya the dirigiste.
PROF. GOTTFRIED: The relationship between the “conservative movement” and the GOP has become tiresome as well as incestuous. This connection was already apparent in the 1960s when the National Review crowd, led by Frank Meyers, decided to establish with some Irish Catholic friends the Conservative Party in New York, but then had second thoughts about this project once it was launched. Long before the minicon scribblers came on the scene, more worthwhile publicists, on the Right, expressed the dubious idea that the American regime was meant to have only two national parties, and that the GOP was the only place where the “great conservative mainstream” (this was Meyers’s absurd phrase) truly belonged.
By now the tie between the GOP and the “movement” is so close that even neocons—who would love to have the socially liberal Democrat but firm Zionist Joe Lieberman as a presidential candidate—have to lure Joe onto a Republican ticket in order to make him acceptable to their Christian followers. Poor babies!
Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate who has nothing to do with the bogus conservative movement; nor will that movement treat him as anything other than a lunatic. Like me he is an avowed Taft Republican, who favors far more decentralized and constitutionally restricted government than we have had for about a century. Both of us understand that state governments are for the most part as infected by leftist and multicultural ideologies as the federal behemoth we are hoping to downsize. But given the building of our constitutional order on a system of dual federalism, states are the only constitutionally recognized counterweight to the federal bureaucracy and to steadily expanding presidential power.
Another aspect of the federalist project that both Ron and I embrace, and which I incidentally discuss at length in After Liberalism, is the disempowering of federal administration. This type of public control came about for the most part because of an extraconstitutional revolution that took place during the Progressive era and the New Deal, and it behooves constitutionally serious people to undo as much of it as we can.
ILANA: One of the most important paragraphs in your book—to me at least; I’ve dog-eared the page—is this: “Democratic practice is about like-mindedness among those who accept one another as members of the same polity. … Democracy, properly understood, has been about long-term agreement on basic matters among self-governing citizens.” You distinguish “between democracy as the practice of a historical community—one guided by custom—and democracy as the imposition of consensus by fascists, global democrats, and the enforcers of political correctness” (p. 83).
Similarly, I’ve alluded to the “fellow-feelings induced in neighborhoods where people still greet each other in English… where certain conventions of civility and decorum are observed; and where the same decorations go up every December.”
But unlike you, me and most Americans, the conservative poseurs who control the movement prefer a deracinated America. Or a “propositional nation”: No longer will communities comprise individuals bound by a shared language, literature, culture, faith, history, habits and heroes. Rather, what we’re being fashioned into is a disparate people, forced together by an abstract, highly manipulable, coercive, state-sanctioned ideology.
Why do you think this sort of democracy is doomed?
PROF. GOTTFRIED: I am not opposed equally to all forms of democracy, and depending on the circumstances, I would be in favor of popular government in relatively homogeneous societies with strong family structures. In this sense I follow Rousseau as well as Aristotle, both of whom believed that popular government could only work in very homogeneous cultures. Aristotle in fact believed that only Greek citizens were fit to have and practice a form of government in which those who would rule would also be those would be ruled and vise versa.
The closest forms of real democracy, from this perspective, would be traditional Swiss republicanism or its parallels in other small, culturally homogeneous communities. The farce of democracy that we now have—which is a pluralistic society spinning into a multicultural one, run by meddlesome bureaucrats, inventive judges, and a multitude of social engineers—has nothing to do with serious self-government. It is a social experiment that is spinning out of control.
Needless to say, the continuing arrival on these shores of new recruits to our “propositional nation,” who live disproportionately on social services and who usually vote for an expansion of existing social programs and for anti-discrimination policing, render it impossible to restore the design of America’s original state-builders.
Although I’m not sure this kind of restoration is even possible any longer, the effect of continuing to move in the opposite direction with either of our two gargantuan national parties would be irreversible and socially perilous. I see no reason to believe that the continuing influx of Third Worlders would not have profound effects on our political system and social life, and in a way that not even those who root for “propositional nationhood” would be entirely happy with.
ILANA: Neoconservatives gloated when, in 2005, Muslims ran riot across France. Jonah Goldberg of National Review fingered French racism and snobbery in marginalizing the poor Maghrebis. Famed neoconservative Francis Fukuyama complained that in Europe, presumably in opposition to the American propositional nation, “identity remains rooted in blood, soil and ancient shared memory.” The French, frothed Fukuyama, “retain a strong sense of their national identity, and, to differing degrees, it is one that is not accessible to people coming from Turkey, Morocco or Pakistan.”
Instead of commending France for having no institutionalized multiculturalism, Frederick Kempe of The Wall Street Journal recommended that they implement “tough antidiscrimination laws or affirmative action programs.” (The “silly” French; they believe republican values preclude affirmative action.)
I don’t have to tell you that the tack taken here by these leading neoconservatives is also the one Katie Couric and her colleagues advocate. Comment please with reference to the thesis of your new book.
PROF. GOTTFRIED: What the neocons and their liberal talking partners want for the French, and the even more hated Germans, is the intensive application of the same experimental, engineered society that they’re advocating for us in the United States. The neoconservative appeal to propositional nationhood—not only for this country but for other Western societies (outside of perhaps Israel)—and the creation of “value conservatism” are attempts to hold back the flood that the neoconservative-liberal media have helped to justify if not to unleash.
Once you bring in the increasingly mixed multitude into your by now politically denatured country, with its vast welfare and redistributionist apparatus, the question becomes how to make all of the pieces coexist. This, in turn, requires bureaucratic socialization. And what the administrators, including public school teachers, are supposed to teach is an “all men and women are created equal” creed, together with profuse references to certain neocon heroes such as Martin Luther King. [The neocon-liberal axis wants the French—and the Russians and Germans—to adopt this Managerial-State model.]
Therefore when the French or some other member of the European “democratic community” reacts angrily to the vandalism of rampaging Muslims in their country, the predictable neocon response is that “these damned Europeans should have an open-ended propositional nation like ours.” This of course wouldn’t work among relatively homogeneous peoples, and particularly when the incoming Muslim minorities hate the European Christians whose wealth and rights of citizenship they would like to share.
Equally problematic is whether the propositional nationhood model that the neocons preach and which they have made into the ultimate expression of ‘conservative values’ will work in this country. The jury may still be out on that one.
A final point I should raise is that the neoconservative softness on immigration in all forms (Bill Kristol has publicly talked up the advantage of having illegal immigrants on FOX) may be partly driven by the need for standing armies to wage “crusades for global democracy.” If we do take in more immigrants, we can eventually turn them into soldiers.
Although not all opponents of an aggressive American foreign policy are critics of immigration, most genuine critics of immigration (that is, the ones who did not change their views in preparation for the Republican primaries) are also opponents of the neoconservatives’ foreign policy.
One does find a certain confusion here among registered Republican voters, but most interviews with these voters I’ve seen, suggest a high degree of support for “the president’s foreign policy,” together with some griping about illegals. I take the support for the current Republican foreign policy more seriously than I do the reported sporadic dissatisfaction among Republican voters with “illegal” immigration.
©2007 By Ilana Mercer