Skip to comments.An un-American conservative
Posted on 04/14/2003 12:36:11 PM PDT by yonif
For Patrick Buchanan, the real political divide is between the 'New World Order Party' and the 'America First' party
For the past two decades it has become apparent that an implosion has taken place within the ranks of American conservatism - that ideological tendency which emphasizes liberty over equality, national interest over global commitments, and moral principles over pragmatic policies. For once we move from the abstract to the concrete, the weakness of this ideology, as indeed all ideology, begins to show. Real interests trump general guides.
In the case of the rift between "paleo" and "neo" conservatives, common animosities ranging from the existence of the Soviet Union abroad to the pre-eminence of the Democratic Party and its post-Vietnam syndrome at home, served to paper over the differences. But with profound changes in the international and national scene alike, these conditions have changed. The issues become war with Iraq, mass immigration, and the status of the free enterprise system in advanced capitalist conditions.
But going one step further toward the specific it has become apparent that the flash point is the status of Israel and the power of the Jewish community in the United States. Old-line conservatives, who did little but pay lip service to the "Judeo-Christian tradition" to start with, began to emphasize the hyphen rather than the linkage. At the forefront of what might be called the post-Russell Kirk wing of traditional conservatism is Patrick J. Buchanan, who far from taking his electoral beatings for the presidency in sullen silence, decided instead to establish a new publication, The American Conservative.
The very physical design of The American Conservative reminds the reader of The Nation. The paper is of newspaper quality. Layout and format likewise are similar to that critical organ of the Left. Imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery. Beyond that, the contents also invite comparison to The Progressive and The American Prospect. Beyond appearance, these four publications have in common dedicated opposition to American military strikes against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The rhetoric of each publication shades off into the other. In the first three issues of The American Conservative we start with themes that have become staples of the Left in the period of its post-Soviet decline.
Justin Raimundo writing on the American Imperium is quite frank in identifying Buchanan with "the conservative movement of the 1930s on up through the early 1950s [which] was anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist." Eric Margolis in "Iraq Invasion: The Road to Folly" tells us in the litany of the Left that President Bush lacks a strategic plan. He is trapped by the neo-conservatives, and can only move the nation toward a "quagmire." He sees a world dominated by Pentagon hawks, obsession with Iraq, and lust for oil.
The highlight of the first issue harkens back to C. Wright Mills Power Elite. Kevin Phillips tells us why he is no longer a conservative. "The power structure Washington conservatism now represents can be described as Wall Street, Big Energy, multinational corporations, the Military Industrial Complex, the religious Right, the Market Extremist think tanks, and the Bush-Limbaugh Axis." In this fashion Phillips calls forth an America that needs a new leader - and who better exemplifies that push toward salvation than does Patrick Buchanan.
Buchanan himself speaks in his own voice from the outset, properly raising the question not of victory or defeat in Iraq, but the price of managing the victory. But by the third issue, empirical concerns dissolve into editorial shouts. He hammers away at a theme that has become his staple: an attack on the "Israeli Lobby" for which The New Republic has been a conscious echo." He then moves to a defense of Al Gore's presumed "opposition to preemptive war," a stand which already paid dividends for Gore in harnessing the support of Edward Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and "the Hollywood Left, whose cash and concerts will be crucial when campaign reform takes hold." Apparently, the Jewish conspiracy for a war with Iraq ends at the gates of the movie actors, actresses, and moguls solidly aligned against such a war.
With subsequent issues, Buchanan moves into high gear, in a voice of unrelenting hatred for President Bush and the Grand Old Party that nurtured him but now sees fit to live without him. His complaints are manifold: the White House and the Capitol has become "a virtual fortress" due to the anthrax scare. Open borders and free immigration have made the nation vulnerable to terrorists and illegal aliens. Then came wars of intervention from Panama to Haiti to Somalia to Kuwait to Bosnia to Kosovo. Buchanan views the World Trade Center as the "blowback" - by which he obviously means the payback. Americas is left with a single ally: Sharon's Israel. "The occupation of the West Bank" is the capstone. Washington and Jerusalem become the vortex to which Congress has capitulated and thus it shares the blame with President Bush.
THE WORLD of Pat Buchanan is one turned upside down. Cause and effect are reversed. The enemy is within. American efforts to enforce a plethora of resolutions to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East become little more than naked display of American imperialism. Near complete Palestinian intransigence to any sort of peaceful solution that recognizes the sovereignty of a Jewish state becomes an Israeli warrior instinct.
A day will come, we are ominously informed, in which "we will settle accounts with those who sacrificed God's Country on their pagan altar of empire." If Buchanan's is an oversimplified model of the universe, it is nonetheless makes for compelling rhetoric. It identifies an easy enemy: the imperial president, whose view of the world corrupts "God's Country" by trying to tell other people how to live.
For Buchanan, the deeper we move into the first decade of the new century the more evident it becomes that the issue is not terrorism, but the presumption that such terror is brought about by the United States itself, by its voracious appetites to rule the world unilaterally. As a result, old categories like Right and Left, Conservative and Liberal, dissolve under the guise of a choice between a New World Order Party (which for Buchanan implies both the Democrats and Republicans for the most part) and an America First Party.
The latter is an amorphous group comprised of native-born Americans, dedicated to Christian fundamental values, for which the rest of the world is a cross between a cesspool and a diabolical conspiracy trying to engage a virtuous nation in its plots. That he is on to something is evident in his ability to round up a wide ranging group of contributors ranging from Scott McConnell from the traditional right to Nicholas von Hoffman from what used to be gratuitously called the New Left. They all sound the same theme of animus for Ariel Sharon, respect for Saddam Hussein. But the specific villains and heroes of the moment are less important than the ideological alliances that are clearly being formed.
Buchanan's vision, however carefully embroidered, comes upon some severe contradictions not so easily generalized. The pseudo populism of his appeal resurrects a leadership principle in which elites impose order and justice on a nation by curbing excess. These may be anything from an urban impulse in cultural expression to the unrestricted effort to innovate.
The central villain remains an economy that in its nature has become global in its structure and therefore unconfined by the nation state. The world of Buchanan is one in which problems may be universal but solutions are always national and hence controllable. Anything that smacks of reduction of national power through loss of sovereignty, from The Hague to Brussels, from world courts to European Unions, are seen as dangerous and inimical to American interests.
Buchanan and his army see a world of Hobbesian proportions without Hobbes' vision. As with the fascist persuasion, the promise of social justice depends upon the commitment of all to the state system. And as a result, the appeal to the people falls on deaf ears, as it becomes evident that the guarantor of national health is America First and its singular charismatic leader. The traditional conservative assault on totalitarianism is conspicuously, nay ominously, noticeable by its absence.
It would be a dangerous mistake to scoff at the ravings of the political extremes. To start with, we are obligated to do what Buchanan as ideologist cannot do: examine each overseas activity and each domestic policy as well, to determine where right and wrong exist.
The anti-democratic character of the political extremes does not reside in its errors about any particular event, so much as its moral absolutism, and the denial of debate and dialogue before decision. What makes the position of Left Fascism, or if one prefers, Right Communism so compelling is precisely its simple-minded model of the world.
The world conspires to be more complex than all models, especially simplistic ones like Buchanan's that ultimately define good and evil rather than right and wrong. Demagogic appeals to national sentiment carry great weight. But when a nation is undergoing travails of the sort we are experiencing in the economic realm with a market downturn, and in the social realm, with the emergence of state-religious sponsorship of terrorism to weaken American resolve, there is a risk of irrelevance to his emphasis. The intriguing challenge of our times is not only the resurrection of the regnant creed of neo-isolationism, but also the capacity of the American consensus to hold. Buchanan's attack on publications such as The New Republic, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and a host of other publications that in the past held high their respective flags of conservatism and liberalism, is a profound if inadvertent recognition that the old order is crumbling in the culture no less than in the polity.
There is a growing liberal-conservative alliance in general ideological terms, and no less a growing Democratic-Republican continuum in matters of fundamental integrity to system survival and political legitimacy. The rise of Muslim extremism with its reliance upon a worldwide network of terrorism has made such a broad consensus within American life necessary. It is like Camus's coming together of people during the Plague.
The task of the coming period will be to determine the extent to which this systemic consensus can hold, and in so doing move beyond ideological cliches and conventions that dotted the late 20th century landscape. If it can, The American Conservative will remain a useful, but minor irritant in the world of political opinion magazines.
If the broad post-September 11 consensus that has been tenuously stitched together fails to hold, then look for Buchanan or a more credible look-alike to emerge as a potent force in the years to come.
It is a well-worn truism, and in this case, a solid truth, that if and when fascism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped about in an American flag. Still, the high political fall-out from frontal assaults on American institutions and values will probably limit the damage of the resurfaced paleo-conservatives. Perhaps the greater challenge will be the need of this new democratic majority to continue carrying to new levels vigorous debates on our institutions and values. For a consensus that hardens into a bleak set of majoritarian platitudes that simply dries up dissent and disguises basic differences is arguably a greater challenge to the American system in the long run than anything advanced by Buchanan and his frontal assault on our civilization and our culture.
The writer is the Hannah Arendt University Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. His most recent works are Behemoth: The Theoretical and Historical Foundations of Political Sociology, and the fifth edition of Taking Lives: Genocide and State Power. This piece is adapted from a more extensive article in Partisan Review.
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He needs to launch a Putsch against the current President to become the darling of the media.
The author is under a mistaken impression if he thinks that PJB is at the forefront of anything. The number of Pat's followers is well within the statistical margin of error from zero. He is not a leader of any appreciable number of conservatives, neo or paleo.
I'd be interested in seeing some examples to illustrate this assertion.