Neocons vs. the Old Right

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A young correspondent, Myles Kantor, has recently inquired about whether my friends are fuming because of my recently stated views on the Middle East. For the record, allow me to mention my faux pas. Last month on the Hudson Institute website I expressed open sympathy for the Israelis who, I argued, are dealing with an implacable enemy, determined to drive the Jews out of Israel. Moreover, I agreed, more or less, with the foreign policy goal of removing weapons of mass destruction from the hands of Saddam Hussein, if such weapons can be shown to be under his control.

In both cases, I underlined my differences from the neocon positions, strongly suggesting my opposition to the use of American military and occupational forces intended to impose global democracy in the Middle East. Nor do I view Israel as the spearhead of an American crusade to build "inclusive" societies. The Jewish state was set up as an ethnically specific one that became pluralistic in spite of its original purpose. This by way of observation and not criticism.

What I wished to stress is that the Israelis are caught between a rock and a hard place, having to engage in violence in order to suppress Palestinian terrorism but having no certainty that a signed peace (with whom?) will improve their security. I have also opined that some paleos are passionately anti-Israeli because they are disgusted with Israel’s most visible advocates in the US and Europe. Such advocates, with few exceptions, do not concede to Western Christians the right to have their ethnic nations, and they play on misguided Christian guilt over Nazi anti-Semitism to elicit support for their Middle Eastern interests.

Understandably such Israel-critics on the right react negatively to these anti-Christian, anti-Western, and mendacious defenders of Israel. But it might be a good idea to view the Middle East independently of our feelings about Abe Foxman or Edward Said (actually I find Said marginally less nauseating than I do Foxman) and to ask what we, if we were Israelis, might do to establish a safe peace in our region.

It is not clear to me that by giving in to the present Palestinian leadership one could produce that result. Of course the white settlers in South Africa could not broker such a safe peace, in part because fervently Zionistic journalists and mediacrats supported the black revolutionaries. As a point of information, the Israeli government did not, but maintained cordial relations with the pre-Mandela South African regime.

Having summarized my positions on Lew Rockwell’s website, allow me to note that there were no reprisals following the original statement of my views. In fact, no conservative associate of mine has turned his back on me, although some, but not all, have disagreed. Mr. Kantor remarked that something similar happened to him when he took a stand in opposition to a view expressed by Murray Rothbard.

Although some paleolibertarians debated with Myles, nobody appeared less friendly than he had been before. One should not be surprised by this reaction. Those on our side are running a latter-day Victorian debating club; our leftist opponents, by contrast, are applying the Stalinist principle of democratic centralism.

We also lack the means the neocons have at their disposal to inflict our views upon others. Neither Lew Rockwell nor I could get Bill Buckley to write and publish a book, which would then be widely reviewed, accusing our enemies of unacknowledged anti-Semitism. It is unlikely that Buckley would even deign to come to our homes to discuss such a project. At the same time, we are free to insult others in our camp without suffering denunciation in one of the Murdoch papers, staffed by minicons, and/or on the FOX News channel. Perhaps we cultivate charity, for among other reasons, because there isn’t much we can do to punish heretics.

Finally, neocons will go ballistic in defense of their beliefs. We, by contrast, exchange opinions while professing our dedication to constitutional liberties and limited government. But, unlike us, the other side is animated by a cluster of hates and revolutionary goals, from loathing Germans and white Southerners to wishing to achieve a condominium over a global democratic empire to be managed jointly by the Israeli right and by those Americans whom the neocons can hope to control.

Having forced myself to read their publications for twenty-five years, I can attest to how deeply neocons obsess over their peeves and prejudices. It is not enough for them to condemn Nazi Germany; it is equally necessary that they attribute the same bad Teutonic things to the German Second Empire — and that they hire obsolescent classicists to construct parallels between Athens and Anglo-American-Israeli democracy, and militaristic Sparta and Imperial Germany.

More recently, these crotchets have been overshadowed by anachronistic comparisons between interwar fascism and just about any Arab state. Such nuttiness may distress the outsider, but neocon partylines provide a unifying historical outlook and constant enemies for those who are looking for both.

Those on our side do have hobbyhorses and individual peculiarities. What we have less of than do the neocons are imposed beliefs, derived from collective hang-ups and garbled folk memories — and served up as a pseudo-conservative ideology. Such things unite in a way that we on the Old Right cannot hope to do with our debating exercises. Nor should we try to, unless we are molding fanatics.

December 3, 2002

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, the highly recommended Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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