The Behavior-Modifying Therapeutic State

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

What struck me about Tom’s response to Joe Lockard’s attack on his scholarship was the inappropriately reasonable manner in which Tom defended himself. Lockard has not researched the historical past that he is trying to reconstruct; nor does he show any acquaintance with the relevant scholarship, unless it can be made to corroborate the managerial state partyline. What he wants desperately to make us believe is that the growth of centralized administration in the US and the government’s imposition of behavior modification were salutary things. Had they not happened and had not all the steps leading in that direction succeeded, we would be living in a society full of bigotry and violence. Since for Lockard, gender and racial distinctions of any kind, except for those that favor the designated victims, are verboten, public inquisitors will have to hang around for some time, in order to sniff out and eradicate discrimination. When his critic calls Tom’s scholarship "excruciatingly incompetent," but gives no evidence of being acquainted with contemporary historians on whom Tom has leaned, one can figure out what Lockard’s insult means. He is rejecting what is politically incorrect — and does so in a manner reminiscent of Communist intellectuals who worked for the Soviet empire. Tom should not worry that his professional bona fides is under attack. What he should be concerned about is that the party hacks are sending out word that he is politically unsafe.

While I’m venting steam, let me note something equally annoying, a remark that came from my older son, who is a skilled physician and usually sober legal scholar. In a recent phone conversation, Joey (my son) indicated that most of those journalists I describe insouciantly as "neocons," like George Will and Ramesh Ponnuru, are independent spirits, who represent profoundly conservative positions on a wide range of issues. To the extent they sometimes sound like Midge Decter and Bill Kristol, the overlap is either (well) coincidental or based on the recognition that America has changed for the better. Indeed "the people won’t put up any more with a failure to acknowledge the ideals that Martin Luther King taught" and thus responsible conservatives are trying to accommodate the "people’s" improved moral standards. Frankly my son’s assertions took me aback to such an extent that I fell into sputtering rage. As a belated response to his historical observations, I am raising these questions.

Why should we ascribe the leftward drift that has affected the "people" to their own moral reflections, independently of the role that the media played as architects of the cult of King? Twenty years ago a majority of Americans still entertained negative views about the slain civil rights leader, and it was the media, including neoconservative journalists without exception, who helped to turn public opinion around. If the center-right had continued to hold the line, behind President Reagan and over thirty Senators, who were initially highly critical of both King and his proposed deification, it is doubtful that the "people," outside of some blacks and hardcore liberals, would have cared. One of the first acts of the neoconservatives in establishing their control of the Right was to change its historical narrative, that is, to assimilate the Right’s historical memory to the Cold War liberal grid that these conquerors had brought along with them. Joey may choose to believe the details of this reconstructed narrative: e.g., that Truman was the true anti-Communist hero despite his protection of Alger Hiss, that McCarthy was a rightwing demagogue who discredited anti-Communism, that MLK was a moderate conservative, and that only "extremists" question the wisdom of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the reason that the "conservative movement" insists on those views has nothing to do with "the people" twisting their arms. The reeducated "conservatives," many of whom I have known, are mouthing the views imposed on country club Republicans and conservative movement hacks. The neocons were "ideas" people who took over those who were not. Note this exemplifies Antonio Gramsci’s concept of a hegemonic ideology, in the sense that the "conservative" sector of the Washington policy community (to use their own term) and the RNC took over a mythology that it thought would buttress its interest. Those who had money or raised money for "conservative" projects may have come to the conclusion that they needed a fallback position, since their onetime advocacy of something like Taft Republicanism seemed out of step. They therefore switched fronts and became Truman-Humphrey Democrats, fierce Zionists, and MLK cultists. My friend Sam Francis (whose recovery from an aneurysm we are still praying for) has analyzed those social changes in the conservative movement that drove this paradigm shift. That shift, he observes, had to do with media and business elites more than with grassroots sentiment. Journalists and foundations, including "conservative" ones, have often stood to the left of public opinion. Both the worship of King and immigration expansion illustrate this generalization.

A final point I failed to make during my altercation with my son is that neoconservative journalists form a school of thought as well as a social circle. Although deviations on some key points of the faith are allowed, e.g., second thoughts about amnestying illegals or fighting wars mostly in the name of global democracy, the areas of agreement among the faithful are overwhelmingly more significant. Most neoconservatives on most days, even at the National Review, favor the Civil Rights Revolution and the accompanying government involvement, minus affirmative action, the policies of the Israeli nationalist Right, immigration expansion, except in the cases of some of the editors writing about illegals, and a far-reaching welfare state. On all such issues, and many more, these journalists are far closer to mainstream left liberals than to the Old Right. On foreign policy, a fact that journalists work tirelessly to hide, the Old Right is nearer to the Left than to the neoconservative-transformed conservative movement. The points made in response to my son’s censure relate directly to my other points, about Tom and his accusers. We are living in an age when, to quote John Lukacs, Western societies have become more mendacious than brutal. Although I’m not sure about the diminished brutality, I do know that real conservatives would do well to question reputed authorities, starting with academic historians and the "people." One includes a pack of ideological maniacs while the other may not exist at all, save as a pretext for expanded government.

February 7, 2005

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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