The Repellent Neoconservatives

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First published
as "Bill & Irving & Ken & Patrick," a review
of A
Dangerous Place
,
by Daniel P. Moynihan, in Inquiry
2, no. 4: pp. 21–23.

Once 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.

By 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 one another.

We 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.” Specifically,
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.

How 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.

When 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.

While 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.

In 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.

The 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.

The spirit
of the encomiums may be gauged from Galbraith’s characteristically
clubby and “wonderfully 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.”

But
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.

Moynihan’s
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 socialists.”

The 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 presidential
campaigns.

On 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."

As 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 his star.

The 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, 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.”

The 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 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.

And 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 Heibroner’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.

Vree
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 Tory Socialists’ on the right side of its aisle who
will go out to embrace them."

Well 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 American state.

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
Institute
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

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