Michael Lind has written a clever little essay on James Burnham—or rather, using James Burnham as a way to trash contemporary conservatives. Burnham was elegantly “wrong about everything,” while today’s conservatives are “surly, demagogic and wrong about everything.” I’d have to waste my whole day to correct all the absurdities in Lind’s account, so let me hit him on his strongest point—to wit, that the end of the Soviet Union was a vindication for liberal anti-communism and its strategy of containment, not to conservative anti-communism and its strategy (designed by Burnham) of rollback.
1) Liberals had abandoned containment by at least halfway through the Cold War, and the social democrats whom Lind also lauds largely did so earlier. By the 1970s and 1980s, only conservatives could really be counted on to favor resistance to Soviet aggression. 2) The Reagan administration’s policies included a strong rollback element, lest we forget the economic and ideological warfare and Grenada. 3) Although containment didn’t strictly have to entail acceptance of peaceful co-existence, it went along with it a lot easier than rollback did. Reagan never accepted peaceful co-existence. Lind could, of course, argue, as many do, that Reagan’s distinctive policies were incidental to the Soviet collapse. But that argument is counter-intuitive and, in any case, not made here.
Okay, one more point. Lind says that George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Jerry Falwell are more important figures in the history of the American Right than Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, or James Burnham. If that were the case, the Right would be considerably less free-market in orientation than it is today. We know Lind is aware of the Right’s support for free markets, since he’s written hundreds of essays, of varying cleverness, denouncing us for it.