Ilana Mercer, March 26, 2003

 David Frum hasn’t got a ‘De Profundis” (Oscar Wilde’s really profound essay) in him ~ilana

William Rusher of the Claremont Institute is right. There is an ideological war between Bush’s social democrats, known as neoconservatives, and those of us who stand on the Old Right, namely paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians.


Rusher, however, is not about to tell his readers what it is about the set of policies neoconservatives support that makes them global social democrats or rank leftists. It’s probably more accurate to speak both of modern-day liberals and neoconservatives as proponents of a highly centralized—and hence dictatorial—managerial form of government, except that the neoconservatives are proving to be far more dangerous to life, liberty, and livelihoods.


Nor is Rusher writing to sound the alarm, as paleos are, about an administration that is using war and manufacturing crisis to grow government to unprecedented levels, unseen since Lyndon Johnson. The neoconservatives’ aggrandizing zeal to make the world safe for democracy is making, to paraphrase Felix Morley in Freedom and Federalism, a constitutional government unsafe in the U.S.


Not a sound from Rusher about these paleo observations, nor a reminder that neoconservatives are more the sons and daughters of and FDR than of Ronald Reagan.


What Rusher does inform his readers of is that his buddy, neoconservative David Frum, has written an essay entitled “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” and that the thing constitutes a profound condemnation of paleoconservatives. So profound is Frum’s indictment that Rusher can’t quite bring himself to summarize it.


I’ll do the honors.


Having read it, I can say that Frum hasn’t got a “De Profundis” (Oscar Wilde’s really profound essay) in him. He’s way too shallow.


In the praised essay, Frum remains faithful to the gossipy style of his tittle-tattle tome, and produces a series of vignettes designed to “prove” that paleoconservatives, whom he slothfully lumps with paleolibertarians, developed an ideology in order to compensate for alleged career failure.


Contrary to Frum and Rusher’s ad libs, Murray N. Rothbard traced the American Old Right’s inception to a reaction against the New Deal and its crushing of 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 traditional American foreign policy. Anyone remember George Washington’s wisdom about aiming at extensive commercial but no political foreign entanglements?


Rusher and Frum share the same debating habits. They both bog down in gossip and name dropping to build a political pedigree, mentioning the many retreaded communists that make up their neoconservative movement. It’s thus hard to see how Frum warrants such superlatives if he never deals with the substance of paleo ideas.


Once he gets past Frum’s tall tales about allegedly belligerent paleo personalities and their putative professional failures, the reader might just have wanted to know that paleolibertarians care first about the effects of the state on civil society.


Everything flows from the passion for “the Old Republic of property rights, freedom of association, and radical political decentralization,” as Lew Rockwell writes. The main point of contention between paleos and neocons is thus the role arrogated to the state. Yet the main “profundity” Rusher and Frum are able to parrot is to charge paleos with racism.


The paleolibertarian beef, of course, is with the coercive distribution by the state of wealth from those who create it to those who consume it. Even Frum must be cognizant of discernible trends in wealth creation and wealth consumption. Ditto where crime is concerned: Certain populations are more likely to be perpetrators, others more likely to be victims. To the extent that it is a relevant variable in crime and welfare, paleos comment honestly about demographics. This may not be politically correct, but it’s hardly racist. If so “profound,” why does Frum’s silly screed not factor in the state, considering it’s such a crucial construct here?


Clearly, it isn’t flattering to have to admit that the force of the Frum faction comes from its endorsement of the state, while the tenacity of the paleolibertarian team comes from its enduring commitment to natural rights, to justice, and to society, not to the state. Frum and Rusher’s attempt to cast these paleo ideas as new and discontinuous is clearly ignorant of the history of the ideas.

Don’t wait, then, for neocons to tell you that, had they been catapulted by a time machine into the U.S. of the 21st century, the Founding Fathers would be called libertarians and would be firmly ensconced on the Old Right, in the paleo camp.


The founders, moreover, would be leading an armed revolution against this dictatorial anti-republican centralization of power promoted by both parties, but especially escalated under Bush’s neoconservatives.


March 26, 2003

CATEGORIES: Anti-War, Bush, Classical liberalism, Iraq, Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism, Paleolibertarianism, Racial issues, War