“I respect and admire the French, who have been a far greater nation than we shall ever be, that is, if greatness means anything loftier than money and bombs.”
—Thomas Fleming, “Hard Right,” March 13, 2003
From the very beginning of the War on Terror, there has been dissent, and as the war has proceeded to Iraq, the dissent has grown more radical and more vociferous. Perhaps that was to be expected. But here is what never could have been: Some of the leading figures in this antiwar movement call themselves “conservatives.”
These conservatives are relatively few in number, but their ambitions are large. They aspire to reinvent conservative ideology: to junk the 50-year-old conservative commitment to defend American interests and values throughout the world — the commitment that inspired the founding of this magazine — in favor of a fearful policy of ignoring threats and appeasing enemies.
And they are exerting influence. When Richard Perle appeared on Meet the Press on February 23 of this year, Tim Russert asked him, “Can you assure American viewers . . . that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?” Perle rebutted the allegation. But what a grand victory for the antiwar conservatives that Russert felt he had to air it.
You may know the names of these antiwar conservatives. Some are famous: Patrick Buchanan and Robert Novak. Others are not: Llewellyn Rockwell, Samuel Francis, Thomas Fleming, Scott McConnell, Justin Raimondo, Joe Sobran, Charley Reese, Jude Wanniski, Eric Margolis, and Taki Theodoracopulos.
The antiwar conservatives aren’t satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?
But the antiwar conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.
Common cause: The websites of the antiwar conservatives approvingly cite and link to the writings of John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Ted Rall, Gore Vidal, Alexander Cockburn, and other anti-Americans of the far Left.
Terror denial: In his column of December 26, 2002, Robert Novak attacked Condoleezza Rice for citing Hezbollah, instead of al-Qaeda, as the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization: “In truth, Hezbollah is the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization from Israel’s standpoint. While viciously anti-American in rhetoric, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah is focused on the destruction of Israel. ‘Outside this fight [against Israel], we have done nothing,’ Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the organization’s secretary-general, said in a recent New York Times interview.” The sheik did not say, and Novak did not bother to add, that Hezbollah twice bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, murdering more than 60 people, and drove a suicide bomb into a Marine barracks in October 1983, killing 241 servicemen.
Espousing defeatism: Here is Robert Novak again, this time on September 17, 2001, predicting that any campaign in Afghanistan would be a futile slaughter: “The CIA, in its present state, is viewed by its Capitol Hill overseers as incapable of targeting bin Laden. That leads to an irresistible impulse to satisfy Americans by pulverizing Afghanistan.” And here is Patrick Buchanan that same day gloomily asserting that the United States would be as baffled by Osama bin Laden as the British Empire was by George Washington: “We remain unrivaled in material wealth and military dominance, but these are no longer the components of might. . . . Our instinct is the strongman’s impulse: hit back, harder. But like British Lobsterbacks dropped in a colonial wilderness, we don’t know this battle, and the weapons within our reach are blunt.”
Excuse-making: On September 30, 2002, Pat Buchanan offered this explanation of 9/11 during a debate on Chris Matthews’s Hardball: “9/11 was a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted. We were attacked because we were on Saudi sacred soil and we are so-called repressing the Iraqis and we’re supporting Israel and all the rest of it.”
Conspiracy-theorizing: Justin Raimondo, an Internet journalist who delivered Pat Buchanan’s nominating speech at the Reform party convention in 2000, alleged in December 2001 that Israel was implicated in the terror attacks of 9/11: “Whether Israeli intelligence was watching, overseeing, collaborating with or combating the bin Ladenites is an open question. . . . That the Israelis had some significant foreknowledge and involvement in the events preceding 9/11 seems beyond dispute.” Raimondo has also repeatedly dropped broad hints that he believes the October 2001 anthrax attacks were the work of an American Jewish scientist bent on stampeding the U.S. into war.
Yearning for defeat: On January 30, 2002, Eric Margolis, the American-born foreign editor of the Toronto Sun, appealed to the leaders of the Arab world to unite in battle against the U.S. “What could Arabs do to prevent a war of aggression against Iraq that increasingly resembles a medieval crusade? Form a united diplomatic front that demands U.N. inspections continue. Stage an oil boycott of the U.S. if Iraq is attacked. Send 250,000 civilians from across the Arab World to form human shields around Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Boycott Britain, Turkey, Kuwait, and the Gulf states that join or abet the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Withdraw all funds on deposit in U.S. and British banks. Accept payment for oil only in Euros, not dollars. Send Arab League troops to Iraq, so that an attack on Iraq is an attack on the entire League. Cancel billions worth of arms contracts with the U.S. and Britain. At least make a token show of male hormones and national pride.”
Raimondo was more explicit still on March 12, 2003. Speaking of the negative consequences he foresaw of even a successful American campaign in Iraq, he wrote: “It is a high price to pay for ‘victory’ — so high that patriots might almost be forgiven if they pine for defeat.”
The writers I quote call themselves “paleoconservatives,” implying that they are somehow the inheritors of an older, purer conservatism than that upheld by their impostor rivals. But even Robert Taft and Charles Lindbergh ceased accommodating Axis aggression after Pearl Harbor. Since 9/11, by contrast, the paleoconservatives have collapsed into a mood of despairing surrender unparalleled since the Vichy republic went out of business. James Burnham famously defined liberalism as “the ideology of Western suicide.” What are we to make of self-described conservatives who see it as their role to make excuses for suicide bombers?
“While paleos sometimes like to characterize their beliefs as merely the continuation of the conservative thought of the 1950s and ’60s, and while in fact many of them do have their personal and intellectual roots in the conservatism of that era, the truth is that what is now called paleoconservatism is at least as new as the neoconservatism at which many paleos like to sniff as a newcomer.”
— Samuel Francis, in The American Conservative, December 16, 2002
I happen to have been in the room when “paleoconservatism” first declared itself as a self-conscious political movement. It was in the spring of 1986, at a meeting of the Philadelphia Society, and Professor Stephen Tonsor of the University of Michigan read the birth announcement.
The Philadelphia Society is a forum where the various conservative factions met (and meet) to thrash out their differences: libertarians who believed that parks should be sold to private industry, traditionalists who regretted the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, and — most recently — neoconservatives who had cast their first Republican ballot in 1980. At first, the neoconservatives were warmly welcomed by the veteran members. But the warmth did not last long, and at a panel discussion that day, Tonsor startled the room by anathematizing the neocons and their works.
True conservatives, Tonsor said, were Roman Catholic at root, or at a minimum Anglo-Catholic. They studied literature, not the social sciences. And while he was very glad to see that some non-religious social scientists were now arriving at conservative conclusions, they should understand that their role in the conservative movement must be a subordinate one. “We are all delighted,” he said (I am quoting from memory), “to see the town whore come to church — even to sing in the choir — but not to lead the service.”
I wish I could say that Tonsor’s outburst was motivated by a deep disagreement over important principles. Certainly principles had their place. But as the paleos themselves tell the story, the quarrel that erupted into view that day in 1986 began as a squabble over jobs and perks in the Reagan administration — from the perception that, as Francis later put it, neoconservatives had arranged matters so that “their team should get the rewards of office and of patronage and that the other team of the older Right receive virtually nothing.”
A quick reality check here: It is not in fact true that the ambitions of the paleos fell victim to neocon plots. Paleo Grievance Number 1 is the case of Mel Bradford, a gifted professor at the University of Dallas, now dead. Bradford had hoped to be appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1981, but lost out to William Bennett. Unfortunately for him, Bradford came to the government hiring window with certain disadvantages: He had worked on the George Wallace campaign in 1968, and he had published an essay that could plausibly be read to liken Abraham Lincoln to Hitler. In the spring of 1981, Ronald Reagan was trying to persuade a balky Congress simultaneously to enact a giant tax cut and to authorize a huge defense buildup; to slow inflation, end fuel shortages, and halt Soviet aggression, from Afghanistan to Angola. It was not, in other words, a good moment to refight the Civil War.
Bradford could never accept that it was his own writings that had doomed him. As Oscar Wilde observed, “Misfortunes one can endure: They come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults — ah! There is the sting of life.” Easier and less painful to blame others and pity oneself. And so Bradford’s friends and partisans did. When this one was passed over for a promotion at his newspaper or that one failed to be hired at a more prestigious university, they detected the hand of the hated neoconservatives.
Perhaps the most relentlessly solipsistic of the disgruntled paleos is Paul Gottfried, a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who has published an endless series of articles about his professional rebuffs. Gottfried teaches at Elizabethtown because, as he repeatedly complains, “in what is literally a footnote to conservative history . . . I was denied a graduate professorship at Catholic University of America by neo-conservative lobbying.” Nor did the neocons stop there. When a routine outside professional evaluation of the Elizabethtown faculty reported in 2002 that Gottfried often arrived in class “unprepared or with little thought as to what he would say” and that his students found his classes “unfocused, with often rambling discussions,” he responded by posting an article on the LewRockwell.com website complaining that he had been the victim of, yes, a “neocon attack.”
“[Clarence] Thomas calls the segregation of the Old South, where he grew up, ‘totalitarian.’ But that’s liberal nonsense. Whatever its faults, and it certainly had them, that system was far more localized, decent, and humane than the really totalitarian social engineering now wrecking the country.”
— Llewellyn H. Rockwell
Frustrated ambition is not a propitious foundation for an intellectual movement. “Jobs for the lads” may be an effective slogan for a trade union, but the paleos needed to develop a more idealistic explanation for their resentments, if they were to have any hope of influencing the main body of the conservative movement. They needed an ideology of their own.
Developing such an ideology was not going to be an easy task. There was no shortage of disaffected right-wingers; but what did Samuel Francis (who had spent the early 1980s investigating subversives for Senator John East) have in common with the economist Murray Rothbard (who had cheered when the Communists captured Saigon)? What connection could there be between the devoutly Catholic Thomas Molnar and the exuberantly pagan Justin Raimondo? It didn’t help that people attracted to the paleoconservative label tended to be the most fractious and quarrelsome folk in the conservative universe.
Yet the job had to be done — and thanks to a lucky accident, there was a place to do it. In the 1970s, Leopold Tyrmand, an émigré Polish Jew who had survived the death camps, scraped together some money to found a magazine he hoped would serve as a conservative alternative to The New York Review of Books. He called it Chronicles of Culture, and based it (for Tyrmand was not a man to do things in the obvious way) in the rusting industrial city of Rockford, Ill. Tyrmand died suddenly in 1985. His successor, Thomas Fleming, shortened the magazine’s name to Chronicles and redirected its attention from cultural critique to ideological war.
Fleming was in at least one way a poor choice for the role of paleoconservative ideologist-in-chief. He is the very opposite of a systematic, deliberate thinker: a jumpy, wrathful man so prone to abrupt intellectual reversals that even some of his friends and supporters question his equilibrium. But Fleming proved himself a nervy and imaginative editor. He recruited Samuel Francis as a columnist and collaborator, and Francis was a man nobody could accuse of inconsistency.
Francis advocated a politics of uninhibited racial nationalism — a politics devoted to the protection of the interests of what he called the “Euro-American cultural core” of the American nation. He argued that the time had come for conservatives to jettison their old commitment to limited government: A “nationalist ethic,” he wrote in 1991, “may often require government action.”
So, Chronicles advocated protectionism for American industry and restrictions on nonwhite immigration. It defended minimum-wage laws and attacked corporations that moved operations off-shore. And it championed the Southern Confederacy of the 1860s and the anti-civil rights resistance of the 1960s.
The decisive year for both the magazine and paleoconservatism was 1989. Until then, Chronicles had managed to coexist with most of the rest of the conservative community. This coexistence was symbolized by the Rockford Institute, which sponsored not only Chronicles but also the Center for Religion and Society in New York, headed by Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister who had been involved in both the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam protests.
Neuhaus’s experiences as a pastor in the New York slums and his passionate opposition to abortion had led him rightward in the 1980s. But he was disturbed by the racial politics of Chronicles, and also by what he termed its “insensitiv[ity] to the classical language of anti-Semitism.” Neuhaus contemplated severing the connection between his institute and Rockford. Word of his dissatisfaction filtered back to Illinois, and, one day in May, Rockford struck back. An executive from the institute jetted out to New York, fired Neuhaus and his entire staff, ordered them literally out onto the streets, and changed the office locks. The paleos at Rockford exploded in dumbfounded rage when the foundations that had been supporting Neuhaus’s work refused to switch the money over to them instead.
The shuttering of Neuhaus’s offices brought the emerging paleoconservative movement to national attention. The incident was covered by the New York Times and commented upon by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. It was, however, events across the Atlantic that gave the shuttering a larger importance.
At the same time that Fleming was sacking Neuhaus, the people of Leopold Tyrmand’s native Poland were engaged in their country’s first free elections since World War II. Solidarity won all but one open seat in the lower house of parliament and 92 of 100 seats in the Polish senate. Over the next six months, the Communist governments of central Europe would collapse.
The conservative movement had come to life in the 1950s to goad the governments of the West to wage the Cold War more energetically and skillfully. When National Review declared in its founding editorial that it would stand “athwart history, yelling Stop” the history it had in mind was Marx’s “History” — the “History” with a capital H that was supposed to run inevitably toward Communism. By November 1989, that History had indeed stopped — was rapidly running backward — and the great question for conservatives was, “What now?”
“How horrible to realize, ten years after the Cold War, that the real evil empire is not some foreign regime, but the U.S. military state. It bombs buses, bridges, factories, churches, and schools, expresses ‘regret,’ and then continues to do the same. A host of innocents have died from U.S. attacks — a fact which should make every patriot wince. The propaganda should also make us wonder to what extent the old Communist Threat was trumped up to plunder the American taxpayer.”
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, “The End Of Buckleyism,” in Spintech, June 12, 1999
IN August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait. Iraq plus Kuwait and prospectively Saudi Arabia would possess the world’s biggest reservoir of oil. With this vast new oil wealth, Saddam could at last acquire the nuclear weapons he coveted — and thus dominate the entire Middle East. President George H. W. Bush quickly decided that the conquest of Kuwait “will not stand” and assembled a global coalition against Saddam. The paleoconservative repudiation of the Gulf War would be their first major independent ideological adventure.
Three weeks after the invasion, Pat Buchanan declared his opposition to war in one of his regular appearances on The McLaughlin Group: “There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East — the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States.”
It would be hard to come up with a more improbable idea than that of George H. W. Bush of Kennebunkport as warmaking servant of the interests of International Jewry. Yet over the next six months, Buchanan and the Chronicles writers would repeatedly argue that America was being dragged to war in the Gulf by a neoconservative coterie indifferent to true American interests: the “neoconservatives,” as Buchanan said, “the ex-liberals, socialists, and Trotskyists who signed on in the name of anti-Communism and now control our foundations and set the limits of permissible dissent.”
Early in 1990, Buchanan published an article in The National Interest (a journal founded, ironically enough, by Irving Kristol, who sometimes seemed to be the only person in America willing to accept the “neoconservative” label), in which Buchanan called for a new foreign policy of “America First.” And “America First” would be the slogan of Buchanan’s presidential run in 1992: more irony, because by 1992 the paleos were frankly disgusted, not merely with the rest of the conservative movement and the Republican party, but with much of America. “Last month,” Buchanan wrote in 1991, “during a week at CNN in New York, I rode nightly up Eighth Avenue in a cab. It was like passing through a different world. We are two countries; and many Americans in the first country are getting weary of subsidizing and explaining away the deepening failure of the second, and want only to get clear of it.”
Fed up as they were with the Second America, however, the paleos felt sure that they spoke for the First America with an integrity the traditional conservatives, let alone the neos, never had. Francis in particular scolded National Review’s conservatives for their isolation from America’s “grassroots.” He chose an interesting means of illustrating his point: “Of the twenty-five conservative intellectuals whose photographs appeared on the dust jacket of George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, published in 1976, four are Roman Catholic, seven are Jewish, another seven (including three Jews) are foreign-born, two are southern or western in origin, and only five are in any respect representative of the historically dominant Anglo-Saxon (or at least Anglo-Celtic) Protestant strain in American history and culture (three of the five later converted to Roman Catholicism).” No wonder then that these fringe characters were able to achieve nothing more impressive than the election of Ronald Reagan and victory in the Cold War.
Now Francis had the helm of an ideological movement of his own. “[A] new American Right,” he wrote in 1991, “must recognize that its values and goals lie outside and against the establishment and that its natural allies are not in Manhattan, Yale, and Washington but in the increasingly alienated and threatened strata of Middle America. . . . A new Right, positioning itself in opposition to the elite and the elite’s underclass ally, can assert its leadership of Middle Americans and mobilize them in radical opposition to the regime.”
Buchanan, inconveniently, was himself a Roman Catholic. But his skills were manifest, and the writers at Chronicles convinced themselves that his 37 percent showing in the 1992 New Hampshire Republican primary was the long-awaited breakthrough for their Middle American Revolution. It was a false hope. Bill Clinton won the presidential election of 1992. And Newt Gingrich, impeccably Anglo-Celtic though he was, soon proved himself just another neocon: He even helped Clinton enact NAFTA in 1993. With this final betrayal, the Chronicles crowd’s last faint hope for political triumph through Middle America died.
“It is clear that neither laws nor any sense of fair play will stop this rampant U.S. arrogance. The time may soon come when we will have to call for the return of the spirit of the man who terrified the United States like no one else ever has. Come back Stalin — (almost) all is forgiven.”
— George Szamuely, In “Taki’s Top Drawer,” New York Press, July 11, 2001
Human beings yearn to identify with something bigger than themselves. That’s why patriotism sways the heart. When patriotism falters, something else takes its place. For a good many of the paleoconservatives, that something was, for a spell, Serbian nationalism.
The Yugoslav civil wars divided conservatives. Some — William F. Buckley Jr., Richard Perle, John O’Sullivan, and Republican political leaders like Bob Dole — advocated an early and decisive intervention against Slobodan Milosevic. Others — Charles Krauthammer, Henry Kissinger, and (to drop a few rungs down the ladder) I — argued against.
Pat Buchanan, one can say, permitted a dual loyalty to influence him. Although he had denied any vital American interest in either Kuwait’s oilfields or Iraq’s oilfields or its aggression, in l991 he urged that the Sixth Fleet be sent to Dubrovnik to shield the Catholics of Croatia from Serbian attack. “Croatia is not some faraway desert emirate,” he explained. “It is a ‘piece of the continent, a part of the main,’ a Western republic that belonged to the Habsburg empire and was for centuries the first line of defense of Christian Europe. For their ceaseless resistance to the Ottoman Turks, Croatia was proclaimed by Pope Leo X to be the ‘Antemurale Christianitatis,’ the bulwark of Christianity.”
Chronicles, though, along with most of its writers, followed Thomas Fleming into a passionate defense of the Serbian cause. Even if all the war crimes alleged against the Serbs proved true, Fleming argued in 1997, “they are trivial in comparison with anything done not just by the Germans, but by Americans in recent years.” When the U.S. and NATO finally went to war against Serbia, Fleming identified himself with the enemy side: “[W]e have to be as faithful as the Serbs in preserving our heritage,” he said in a June 1999 speech, “as brave as the Serbs in fighting our enemies.”
To an uncharitable eye, Fleming and his magazine appeared to have succumbed to what George Washington might have condemned as a “passionate attachment” to a foreign country. The origins of this attachment are mysterious to me — and they clearly baffled Chronicles readers as well. At the time that Milosevic launched his wars, Chronicles had nearly 20,000 paid subscribers. By the time the Kosovo war ended in 1999, the magazine’s circulation had plunged to about 5,000. One guesses that the readers of Chronicles were not so much affronted by Fleming’s Serb advocacy as they were simply bored by it. Yet for the Chronicles writers, opposing their government in time of war seems to have been a liberating experience. In 1991 Pat Buchanan had accused the neoconservatives of enforcing the “limits of permissible dissent.” The paleocons were now defying those limits with ever-increasing gusto and boldness.
“The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people.”
— Samuel Francis, speech at the American Renaissance Conference, May 1994
OF all the limits against which the paleoconservatives chafed, the single most irksome was the limit placed by civilized opinion upon overtly racialist speech. Francis’s speech at the 1994 conference of the white-supremacist American Renaissance organization, for example, ultimately cost him his job as a staff columnist at the Washington Times. Today he earns his living as editor-in-chief of the Citizens’ Informer, the newspaper of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor group to the White Citizens’ Councils of the segregated South; he moonlights as an editor of The Occidental Quarterly, a pseudo-scholarly “journal of Western thought and opinion.”
Conservatives have had a vexed history with the topic of race. In the 1950s and early 1960s, many conservatives, including the editors of this magazine, questioned and opposed the civil rights movement, sometimes for high-minded constitutional reasons, sometimes not. Race, though, was not in those days central to conservative thinking, if only because, as Francis himself noted, the early conservative movement was so urban and northern. For the paleos, however, race and ethnicity were from the start essential and defining issues — and so they remain to this day.
Now, in one respect, the paleos have a point: Race and ethnicity are huge and unavoidable issues in modern life, and the liberal orthodoxies on the matter tend to be doctrinaire and hypocritical. But the paleoconservatives took a step beyond debunking when they advanced orthodoxies of their own. Buchanan, for example, gave an impressive speech on immigration at the Nixon Library in California in January 2000: “The last twenty years of immigration have brought about a redistribution of wealth in America, from less-skilled workers and toward employers. [Harvard economist George] Borjas estimates that one-half of the relative fall in the wages of high-school graduates since the 1980s can be traced directly to mass immigration. . . . Americans today who do poorly in high school are increasingly condemned to a low-wage existence; and mass immigration is a major reason why.” His words were persuasive, even moving, but they would have been far more convincing if they had not been spoken by the same man who had written nine years earlier that he wished only to “get clear” of those high-school graduates who had been born with dark skins.
For some of the paleos, the difficulties of non-white America provoke amused condescension. For others, this America inspires only horror. The United States, Thomas Fleming predicted in 1989, would soon be “a nation no longer stratified by class, but by race as well. Europeans and Orientals will compete, as groups, for the top positions, while the other groups will nurse their resentments on the weekly welfare checks they receive from the other half.” Some of the paleos’ racial animus is expressed via their obsessive — and even obscene — denunciations of Martin Luther King. “King bedded other men’s wives, other wives’ men, underaged girls, and young boys,” raged a columnist in the newsletter Rockwell ran before he started his website. “[M]y guess is that even holes in the ground had to watch out.”
Racial passions run strong among the paleos. And yet, having read many hundreds of thousands of their words in print and on the screen, I come away with a strong impression that while their anti-black and anti-Hispanic feelings are indeed intense, another antipathy is far more intellectually important to them.
White racialists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have to resolve a puzzling paradox. On one hand, they believe in the incorrigible inferiority of darker-skinned people. On the other hand, they perceive darker-skinned people to be gaining the advantage over whites. How to resolve the contradiction? One solution is to posit the existence of a third force, a group that is cunning and capable but, for reasons of its own, implacably hostile to America’s white majority.
“Jewish intellectuals initiated and advanced a number of important intellectual and political movements during the 20th century. I argue that these movements are attempts to alter Western societies . . . to weaken the power of their [the Jews’] perceived competitors — the European peoples who early in the 20th century had assumed a dominant position not only in their traditional homelands in Europe, but also in the United States, Canada, and Australia.”
The author of those words, Kevin MacDonald of the California State University at Long Beach, does not quite belong to the paleoconservative club, although he does publish in The Occidental Quarterly. Yet MacDonald’s name and ideas do keep turning up in paleo conversation. On March 17, 2003, for example, VDare.com prominently posted on its homepage an anonymous letter celebrating MacDonald’s work and quoting his allegation that the Iraq war “is being fomented by Jewish neo-conservative activists based in the Bush administration, congressional lobbying organizations, and the media.” More generally, MacDonald said — and VDare.com repeated — “the most important Jewish contributions to culture were facilitated not only by high IQ but by closely cooperating, mutually reinforcing groups of Jews who were centered around charismatic leaders and excluded dissenters.”
Erstwhile National Review editor Joseph Sobran also seems to have been greatly influenced by MacDonald’s writings. After the defeat of his friend Buchanan’s second presidential campaign, Sobran wrote: “The full story is impossible to tell as long as it’s taboo to discuss Jewish interests as freely as we discuss those of the Christian Right. Talking about American politics without mentioning the Jews is a little like talking about the NBA without mentioning the Chicago Bulls.” Sobran was following MacDonald’s advice: “It is time to be frank about Jews.”
“The Bush administration should not only ignore the advice of such characters as Mr. Ledeen and Mr. Podhoretz but consider placing them under surveillance as possible agents of a foreign power.”
— Samuel Francis, in Chronicles, December 2002
Who was the first paleo to blame Israel for 9/11? It’s a close call, but Robert Novak seems to have won the race. His column of September 13, 2001, written the very day after the terrorist attack, charged that “the hatred toward the United States today by the terrorists is an extension of [their] hatred of Israel.” Novak lamented that, because of terror, “the United States and Israel are brought ever closer in a way that cannot improve long-term U.S. policy objectives.”
The next day, Scott McConnell quoted Malcolm X on Justin Raimondo’s website: “The chickens have come home to roost.” Raimondo himself soon began work on a book that alleged that 9/11 was in the broadest sense an Israeli plot.
“Whose war is this?” Buchanan demanded to know on September 26, 2001: “Powell’s war — or Perle’s?” “Judging from President Bush’s State of the Union message,” Sobran lamented on January 31, 2002, “what began as the War on Terrorism will now be broadened to become a War to Crush Israel’s Enemies.”
“In private conversation with Hagel and many other members of Congress,” Robert Novak wrote on December 26, 2002, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon “leaves no doubt that the greatest U.S. assistance to Israel would be to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. That view is widely shared inside the Bush administration, and is a major reason U.S. forces today are assembling for war.”
The accusations culminated in a March 2003 article by Buchanan in The American Conservative that fixed responsibility for the entire Iraq war on a “cabal” of neoconservative office-holders and writers: “We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seeks to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people’s right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.”
Who were these war-mongering “neoconservatives”? At a June 2002 conference sponsored by the Institute for Historical Review, the leading Holocaust-denial group, Joe Sobran defined “neoconservatism” as “kosher conservatism.” And in his March cover story, Buchanan seasoned Sobran’s definition with his own flavorful malice. “Cui Bono? For whose benefit these endless wars in a region that holds nothing vital to America save oil, which the Arabs must sell us to survive? Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam? Answer: one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud.”
The echo in that previous paragraph of the Nazi slogan “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” is unlikely to have been unintentional. Yes, it was indeed time to “be frank about Jews.”
Having quickly decided that the War on Terror was a Jewish war, the paleos equally swiftly concluded that they wanted no part of it. It’s odd: 9/11 actually vindicated some of the things that the paleos had been arguing, particularly about immigration and national cohesion. But the paleos were in no mood to press their case. Instead, they plunged into apologetics for the enemy and wishful defeatism.
On September 16, 2001, Samuel Francis suggested that America deserved what it got on 9/11: “Some day it might actually dawn on someone in this country that the grown-up but unwelcome answer is that the terrorists attacked us because they were paying us back for what we had started. Let us hear no more about how the ‘terrorists’ have ‘declared war on America.’ Any nation that allows a criminal chief executive to use its military power to slaughter civilians in unprovoked and legally unauthorized attacks for his own personal political purposes” — Francis is referring here both to Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and to the Kosovo war — “can expect whatever the ‘terrorists’ dish out to it.”
It seems incredible, but there is actually more. “If, as President Bush told us this week, we should make no distinction between those who harbor terrorists and those who commit terrorist acts, neither can any distinction be made between those who tolerate the murderous policies of a criminal in power and the criminal himself.”
The 9/11 attacks sent Patrick Buchanan plunging into handwringing and pessimism. He wrote on September 28, 2001: “We are told the first target of America’s wrath will be the Taliban. But if we rain fire and death on the Afghan nation, a proud, brave people we helped liberate from Soviet bondage, we too will slaughter hundreds of innocents. And as they count their dead, the Afghans too will unite in moral outrage; and, as they cannot fight cruise missiles or Stealth bombers, they will attack our diplomats, businessmen, tourists.”
The week after the fall of Kabul, Raimondo acknowledged that though the Afghan war seemed to have succeeded, disaster lurked around the corner: “The real quagmire awaits us. . . . When the history books are written, Operation Enduring Freedom will be hailed as a great success — provided it doesn’t endure much more than a few weeks longer.” Llewellyn Rockwell would not tolerate a war that lasted even so long as that. By October 2002, he was calling for immediate and unconditional surrender — by the United States. The right approach to the War on Terror, he wrote, “as to all government programs, is to end it immediately. . . . The War on Terror is impossible, not in the sense that it cannot cause immense amounts of bloodshed and destruction and loss of liberty, but in the sense that it cannot finally achieve what it is suppose[d] to achieve.”
“The U.S. government has probably killed more people outside its own borders than any other. Or am I overlooking something?”
— Joseph Sobran, speech to the John Randolph Society, Herndon, VA., January 1992
And now it is time to be very frank about the paleos. During the Clinton years, many conservatives succumbed to a kind of gloom. With Bill Bennett, they mourned the “death of outrage.” America now has non-metaphorical deaths to mourn. There is no shortage of outrage — and the cultural pessimism of the 1990s has been dispelled. The nation responded to the terrorist attacks with a surge of patriotism and pride, along with a much-needed dose of charity. Suddenly, many conservatives found they could look past the rancor of the Clinton years, past the psychobabble of the New Age gurus, past the politically correct professors, to see an America that remained, in every important way, the America of 1941 and 1917 and 1861 and 1776. As Tennyson could have said: “What we were, we are.”
America has social problems; the American family is genuinely troubled. The conservatism of the future must be a social as well as an economic conservatism. But after the heroism and patriotism of 9/11 it must also be an optimistic conservatism.
There is, however, a fringe attached to the conservative world that cannot overcome its despair and alienation. The resentments are too intense, the bitterness too unappeasable. Only the boldest of them as yet explicitly acknowledge their wish to see the United States defeated in the War on Terror. But they are thinking about defeat, and wishing for it, and they will take pleasure in it if it should happen.
They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.
War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen — and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.