essay first appeared as "Bill & Irving & Ken &
Patrick: Review of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A
Dangerous Place," Inquiry,
2, 4 (February 5, 1979), pp. 21–23, and reflects Rothbard's
ongoing study of the statist ideological drift of US politics,
including – but not limited to – the rise of Neo-Conservatism.
upon a time in America, there was a left and a right and a center,
and within these clearly discernible segments of the ideological
spectrum there were distinctly calibrated gradations. Everyone
could find an ideological niche without much trouble, and knew
pretty well where everyone else stood too. Everyone knew who were
the good guys and bad guys, and the varying degrees of rectitude
of the guys in between.
now it is almost a cliché that the old ideological points
of reference are no more; that left, right, and center cannot
be identified even with a scorecard. One way of describing these
changes is to say that left and right have been collapsing toward
the center, that is, toward the locus of power. Interests of state
have increasingly taken over, leading the "responsible"
elements within each ideological group more and more to resemble
have reached the final pages of Orwell's Animal
Farm, in which the pigs, who had previously been the vanguard
of the successful animal revolution against man, now walk erect
and even live in the farmhouse, and "the creatures outside
looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man
again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
it has become almost impossible to distinguish "responsible"
National Review conservatism from right-wing social democracy
or from neoconservatism, and even, in some respects, from left-liberalism
or the democratic socialism of the Robert Heilbroner variety.
much difference is there, after all, among William F. Buckley,
Sidney Hook, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, Norman Podhoretz,
and Irving Kristol – or even between them and Heilbroner
and John Kenneth Galbraith? Admittedly there are differences of
style, of traditional rhetoric, of ethnic roots, and especially,
different persons and institutions each of these thinkers will
salute on days of ritualistic obeisance. But the substance is
all too similar. While Galbraith, for example, may twit and needle
the Pentagon about this overseas adventure or that bloated budget,
he did agree with Moynihan that on Vietnam liberals had to remain
in the loyal opposition.
it comes to Buckley, Moynihan, and Galbraith, even the differences
of style and rhetoric begin to disappear. Each is the alleged
wit, the aging Peck's Bad Boy, of his respective ideological camp.
Each titillates his audience with a seeming audacity and irreverence
that serve only as a cloak for the prejudices both of the establishment
and of the constituencies for whose benefit these gentlemen go
into their respective acts.
Galbraith is the WASP ironist, the tall, distinguished chap whom
Mary McGrory, in her repellently gushing way, has called "the
Rex Harrison" of American politics, Buckley and Moynihan
are two peas in a pod. Each is an Irishman-turned-aristocrat,
the sort of man whom Irish-Americans used to call "castle
Irish." Each uses his wit and learning as a cover for the
verbal mugging of anyone who gets in his way. Each is a supreme
exhibitionist, always center stage, always filled with fustian
and bravado, playing to the peanut gallery as well as to his peers,
and trumpeting his own righteousness and moral heroism. To each
man, the principles he champions pale before the aggrandizement
of self that makes by far the more lasting impression. In short,
two politicians perfectly suited to the age of television.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, however, the folding of the ideological
spectrum into the center of power, the subordination of principle
to self, has reached its apogee. Whoever the President, whatever
the party in power, Moynihan always manages to land on his feet,
and on top. A Dangerous Place is Moynihan trumpeting Moynihan's
exploits at the United Nations, and it is unquestionably the first
shot in his own eventual campaign for the presidency. The reviewer
of this book in Business Week likened Moynihan to Talleyrand,
and Moynihan does seem to have a similar talent for political
survival. Two men, Moynihan and Ralph de Toledano, instructed
Richard Nixon in his early days as President that he was destined
to be the "American Disraeli." De Toledano got short
shrift and is now forgotten; Moynihan became a high aide to Nixon,
ambassador to India under Nixon and Ford, ambassador to the United
Nations under Ford, and now the Democratic senator from New York,
and, indirectly, a considerable power in the Carter administration.
book bolsters our view of the new grand alliance of the center.
It is full of praise for what those stuck in the old categories
might think an unlikely collection: Galbraith, Kristol, Buckley,
Podhoretz and Commentary, Daniel Bell and the Public
Interest, Bayard Rustin of Social Democrats USA and the New
Leader, the social democrats' house organ. And it is not lost
on the reader that all these personages and institutions have
nothing but praise for Moynihan.
spirit of the encomiums may be gauged from Galbraith's characteristically
warm" tribute sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
on the occasion of Moynihan's nomination as ambassador to the
United Nations: "my fellow Ambassador to India; my fellow
faculty member [Harvard, of course]; my next-door neighbor; and
though I have no wish to damage him in the eyes of any of the
Republican members of the Committee,
my fellow Democrat."
through all the treacly, above-the-battle in-groupiness and the
opportunistic tergiversations, certain consistent tenets come
through, not only within Moynihan's career, but also linking Moynihan
and his buddies of left, right, and center. There is, first and
foremost, virtually unconditional support for the American state,
at home and abroad. In military and foreign affairs, this means
a highly militaristic and aggressively jingoistic foreign policy,
a policy well served by Moynihan's anti-Soviet and anti-Third
World bluster at the United Nations.
recent attacks on the "defeatism" of the Carter administration
in its response to Soviet efforts in Africa and strategic arms
negotiations were heralded by conservative columnist George Will,
who concluded, "What is at issue is fundamental It is the
adequacy of the administration's policy affecting the safety of
the state." In his book Moynihan enthusiastically quotes
Buckley's call, in his United Nations Journal, to "concern
ourselves with… the order of moral reality." To which Buckley
– with Moynihan approving – adds: This "is a point
that should not separate American conservatives from American
liberals, or British and French conservatives from their domestic
second tenet that guides all of these worthies, whatever their
rhetoric or alleged ideology, is all-out, down-the-line support
for the state of Israel, regardless of circumstances, and regardless
of the politicians or parties in charge there. Indeed, most of
this book is devoted to Moynihan-as-heroic partisan for Israel,
any opposition to which he automatically equates with anti-Semitism.
To make sure no one misses the point, one of the blurbs on the
cover is by Chaim Herzog, Israel's former ambassador to the United
Nations. It would be no coincidence if Moynihan's center-right
Democratic constituency were in turn to respond to these themes
with an outpouring of political and financial support in his forthcoming
senatorial and presidential campaigns.
the domestic front, the state is to be lean and mean, an efficient
backstop to the foreign policy of war and global intervention.
Moynihan tells the story of how he first made his mark on the
ideological and political scene, and, simultaneously kicked off
our current neoconservative mood. It was in the fall of 1967,
at a meeting of – as luck would have it – the national
board of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). Moynihan,
a member of the board, spoke on "The Politics of Stability."
he tells it: "I proposed first of all that liberals u2018see
more clearly that their essential interest is in the stability
of the social order' and argued that we needed to make effective
alliances with informed conservatives who shared that interest.
We had to learn the limits of the huge hierarchical structures
of central government." His speech was hailed at the time
by the same seemingly motley crew that has collaborated ever since:
John Kenneth Galbraith (then head of the ADA), William F. Buckley,
Bayard Rustin, and the New Leader, which printed the full
text. As Moynihan comments: "Conservatives and social democrats
scarcely knew each other at this time. Yet their concerns were
powerfully symmetric, and they were looking, I think, for persons
of the center who understood them." They didn't have to look
very far. From then on, Daniel Patrick Moynihan continued to follow
creed that indissolubly links Moynihan and all of his cohorts;
left, right, and center, was well summed up in a scroll presented
to Moynihan in June 1975, on his nomination as ambassador to the
United Nations, by the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, the
self-appointed voice of the right and center of the Democratic
party. The scroll hailed Moynihan for his devotion to "a
strong America in national defense, international affairs, human
rights and economic life." In short, for devotion to big
American government, at home and abroad. Symbolism was rife that
day in Washington: The scroll was presented by Bayard Rustin,
and the ceremony was presided over by Senator Henry "Scoop"
Jackson, while the doyen of ADA liberalism, Hubert Humphrey,
"cheered from somewhere across Washington."
collapse of ideological groups toward the center and toward the
American state has even been going on at the farther extremes
of the spectrum. In foreign policy, at least, the Maoists are
now ultrahawks, thirsting for war with the Soviet Union, making
the Reagans and the Buckleys seem like devoted pacifists. Much
of the former New Left, once so scornful of social democracy as
a capitulation to corporate liberalism and the New Deal, has either
gone back frankly and openly to the Democratic party, or has joined
such former enemies as Michael Harrington and Irving Howe in the
Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, designed as a left-wing
ginger group within the Democratic party.
now Dale Vree, in the National Review (Dec. 8, 1978), writes
an astonishingly candid article tracing a possible alliance of
"traditionalist" conservatives with such socialists
as Robert Heilbroner. Why such an alliance? Because Heilbroner,
in a symposium on socialism in Howe's Dissent magazine
let the cat out of the bag and acknowledged that socialist central
planning must include the coercive imposition of a collective
moral conformity. Vree is "fascinated" by Heilbroner's
emphasis on "virtue" and by his point that "socialist
culture must focus on [the individual's]… moral or spiritual
achievement," in contrast to "bourgeois culture"
which "is focused on the material achievement of the
individual." In the future, the ideals of the collective
must override the rights of the individual to pursue his own cultural
achievements and lifestyle.
is intrigued by the "traditionalist ring" to all this,
and he sees in the situation the makings of a new ideological
"fusionism," a fusion of economic and cultural
collectivism, of those socialists and traditionalists who are
authoritarian in both of these areas; a fusion, in short, of all
those, left, right, or center, who wish to exalt the power of
the American state in all aspects of life, personal and economic.
As Vree puts it, "If the writings of such different socialists
as Robert Heilbroner, Christopher Lasch, Morris Janowitz, Midge
Decter, and Daniel Bell are indicative of a tendency, we may see
the rise of a. socialist-traditionalist fusionism." And then
Vree concludes wistfully: "One wonders if America contains
any u2018Tory Socialists' on the right side of its aisle who will
go out to embrace them."
of course it does: the man who once called Richard Nixon the American
Disraeli. Something happened to Richard Nixon on the way to his
canonization. But we still have Daniel Patrick Moynihan –
bully , buffoon, mountebank, Zionist, castle Irishman, left-wing
conservative, right-wing social democrat, and fugleman for the
N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism
and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author
Ethics of Liberty and For
a New Liberty and many
other books and articles. He was also academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian
Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The