Thursday, April 30, 2009

Were Buckley and Buchanan "allies"?

Give Josh Rosenau a printed set of pejorative labels and get out of the way. There's no telling which one he might slap on you.

I've already said most of what I wanted to say about Josh Rosenau's double standard when it comes to labeling people anti-Semites--a standard by which Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite for occasionally appearing on a far right radio show, but Obama is not, despite the fact that he not only worked with Louis Farakhan on public events, but attended a church almost every Sunday for 20 years the pastor of which (Obama's "spiritual advisor") called Farakhan a man who "truly epitomized greatness."

And I have already pointed out that it is not an exercise in responsible public discourse to call a man a "Holocaust denier" who a) isn't one; b) has publicly condemned the Holocaust; and c) has never made a single statement to the effect that he denies it. But such is the power of "gestalt" that it allows people like Rosenau to make such accusations without actually having to prove them.

Today's lesson in "Adventures in Mislabeling" has to do with Rosenau's characterization of William F. Buckley, Jr. as a paleoconservative: "
Buckley is the paleoconservative's paleoconservative," he declares.

Rosenau makes this claim in the context of arguing that Buchanan and Buckley were "allies," a point he makes to bolster his assertion that Buckley's claim that Buchanan was anti-Semitic was all the more proof that he actually was--an a fortiori argument with a little gestalt thrown in.

While Buckley's ideology early in his career encompassed much of paleoconservatism (Russell Kirk was a regular contributor early on in the life of National Review), he progressed over his career until he was largely in the neoconservative camp. There is room to argue how far in the camp he is, but to say he is a "paleoconservative's paleoconservative" is to employ these terms in a sense completely unrecognizable to anyone who has paid even passing attention to conservatism in recent years.

Rosenau uses the definition of neoconservatism which best suits his case in saying that it is:
a group of disaffected liberals who wanted to see the American military used more widely to impose American views of social good abroad, forming into a cohesive group in the '70s, no less than 15 years after Buckley founded National Review and no less than 20 years after his first book (describing the travails of a conservative in the Ivy League).
This definition of course, limits neoconservatism to its early origins--sort of like saying that the Republican Party can be defined as the American political party made up of opponents to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In general political usage, the term 'neoconservative' means not only the early members of the movement who were, as Irving Kristal once said, "liberals who have been mugged by reality," but contemporary conservatives who take the positions characterized by the early members of the movement, chief of which is an expansionist view of foreign policy. This is why Merriam-Webster has, as an alternative definition of neoconservative: "a conservative who advocates the assertive promotion of democracy and United States national interest in international affairs including through military means."

As Linda Bridges and John Coyne put it in Strictly Right:
As Bush pursued the War on Terrorism, the long-running rift between the so-called paleocons and neocons became a chasm. We say "so-called" because the terms have shifted oddly over the years. "Noe-cons" originally referred to a group of Jewish intellectuals--most prominently, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb--who had been on the left and came over to the right, pushed by the excesses of the 1960s and the early 1970s: the student and black violence, McGovernism, the metastasizing of the Great Society under Nixon, the increasingly militant feminism ... By not to great a stretch, Christians who made that same leap were also labeled neocons: Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, Peter and Brigitte Burger. But then the term started to be used for people who were friends or indeed offspring of the above, but who had themselves been conservative all along: John O'Sullivan, Bill Bennett, Bill Kristol, Elliot Abrams, John Podhoretz. And by 2003, in the left's Internet fever swamps, members of the Christian right were being called neocons--because they supported President Bush's war in Iraq.
It is the issue of the war on which you can see the rift between the two parts of the conservative coalition (if, in fact, it is still coalescing). And where was Buckley, who sometimes asserted that he was not for an expansionist foreign policy, on the eve of the Iraq War?

He supported it. Not only that, but he purged his staff at National Review of Joseph Sobran for the stated reason that Sobran (because of his views in opposition to the war) was pacifist.

He later repudiated it after it started looking like debacle. But on the defining issue between paleocons and neocons, and when it counted, Buckley was on the side of the neocons. Maybe this is one reason why Paul Gottfried said, "Buckley started out as a paleocon. But he became a trophy to the neocons."

You can quibble as to whether Buckley was a full on neo-con, but one thing you can't say is that Buckley was a paleocon. And to say that he was a "paleoconservative's paleoconservative" is simply loopy.

As Bridges and Coyne put it in their description of paleoconservatism:
What has united people of these disparate backgrounds is their view of America's role in the world. They advocate a return to the pre-World War II America First mindset, and the oppose what they see as the uninformed Wilsonian/Theo Rooseveltian adventurism of the Bush foreign policy. Many of them strenuously oppose NAFTA, free trade as it exists today, and the whole concept of globalization.
And, they add:
The paleocons, almost as a matter of definition, opposed the war, and opposed it harshly.
Guess they just didn't take the "paleoconservatives' paleoconservative" into account. What were they thinking?

To a man, paleoconservative leaders opposed war. All except, strangely, the "paleoconservative's paleoconservate."

When David Frum wrote his notorious piece "Unpatriotic Conservatives," an attack on the paleocons for opposing the war, who published it? National Review. Buckley's own magazine.

And this "paleoconservatives' paleoconservative", what do his "allies" in the paleoconservative movement think of him? According to Murray Rothbard, he was a "de facto totalitarian" and a "totalitarian socialist" ; according to Lew Rockwell, a "thoroughly bad ideological influence"; and "the prototypical Big-Government conservative"; to Thomas DiLorenzo he was "either a gullible old fool or a political sychophant"; to Joseph Sobran, he was a "servile appeaser" (although Sobran was quite gracious to him, despite Buckley's treatment of him, in his obituary); to Clyde Wilson he was a "a pompous pseudo-intellectual poseur."

And don't try to find anything flattering about Buckley in the chief paleoconservatives' leading journals of opinion like Chronicles Magazine.

And, let's see, how did Buckley behave toward paleoconservative leaders? Sobran he fired, Buchanan he repudiated, Murray Rothbard he accused of mental illness (in the process of comparing him to David Koresh), Chilton Williamson was let go from his magazine ... you get the picture. One wonders how much of a paleoconservatives' paleoconservative you can be while having kicked most of them off your magazine, driven them volutarily away, or publicly repudiated them.

It's a tough job being a "paleoconservatives' paleoconservative," what with all the rancor you have to put up with those ideologically closest to you, and all the rancor you have to dish out toward them, and all the positions you have to take in opposition to their's.

But, remember, this is Josh's world, where evidence and beliefs don't have to match up.


Lee said...

I posted this link in an earlier thread -- -- which explains Joe Sobran's side of the argument.

I must say, it has changed my perspective of Mr. Buckley.

But Buckley was a product of his time: the Right had zero intellectual respectability in the post-WWII era, and Buckley saw it as his goal to unite its various fractured factions into an intellectually cohesive philosophy. He succeeded largely because he had written some of the fringe groups out of conservatism -- e.g., the Randists. Ultimately, he was an image-builder. Perhaps its a lesson he learned rather too well, as eventually he turned his tactics on his erstwhile allies.

NR's best years were the years when its masthead was a Who's Who of expatriate communists. Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham were writers I would want to hire if I were putting a magazine together.

Cyberhillbilly said...

Excellent rebuttal and informative. I never realized that WFB was remotely close to the neocons but you make a compelling argument that he was, at the very least, in that orbit for a time.

I wonder if Josh will have the nerve to come on here and respond?

BTW, speaking of Whitaker Chambers, as the previous comment did, Witness has to be one of the greatest books I've ever read. That should be required reading for all students.

Keep up the nice work.

Lee said...

> BTW, speaking of Whitaker Chambers, as the previous comment did, Witness has to be one of the greatest books I've ever read.

Unquestionably, the best book of the 20th Century.

Martin Cothran said...

Uh oh. Now don't go too far! I should also point to my obituary of Buckley, which is very appreciative. I do think Buckley--and Neuhaus--really do go overboard in their willingness to level the charge of anti-semitism, but I still greatly admire both of them.

I was not necessarily agreeing with all the paleoconservative criticisms of Buckley. Remember, my argument was not that Buckley was a bad guy, just that he's not a paleoconservative.

In fact, Rosenau's attempt to label him one has got to be a first.

And, yes, Witness is indeed a classic. Chambers was a formidible writer--one of the best conservatives have ever produced. Read is obit on Ayn Rand. It's devastating.

Lee said...

Chambers had a knack for writing the best of any genre he wrote in. The Rand review may be the best book review ever written.

I have many fond memories of reading Buckley. It's just sad when you discover your hero has clay feet, like any other human being. His treatment of Sobran I thought was disturbing at the time it happened, and I didn't know the half of it, apparently.

But, as I said earlier, there is a larger issue involved here, a stage on which Buckley may be correct and Sobran wrong. But you'd have to see politics, as I do, as simply another facet of the war between good and evil, as part of God's plan. The Jews have been the hapless victims of much of history, but they've also been oddly blessed: how many cultures have survived for so long? Do we still have Chaldeans with us? Edomites? There is some sort of connection between God and the Jews, and it explains why godless men hate them so much.