Left, Right, Vital Center

Email Print

tarring of the real Right by associating them with the far Left
is nothing new. The purveyors of social democracy always like to
have a very narrowly defined debate. During his drive for war, Franklin
Roosevelt claimed that there was a conspiracy between the isolationist
Right and the Communist Party to prevent American intervention in
Europe. More than 50 years ago, Arthur Schlessinger wrote The
Vital Center
, where he claimed the universal acceptance
of the New Deal and Cold War liberalism was under attack by forces
on the far Right led by Robert Taft and on the far Left led by Henry
Wallace. In his economics
, Paul Samuelson complained that the "new radical
right allied with the Chicago school" which is really "a
form of anarchism" and the radical left "join together
in their attack on conventional economics." These two groups
are the same, according to Samuelson, because they both don't like
bureaucrats. Since September 11, the neocons and their left-liberal
buddies have been spewing the same recycled garbage at an ever-increasing

of the prime examples of this is Frank Foer's preemptive
on Pat Buchanan's new magazine, The
America Conservative
, in The New Republic.
Foer had recently accused
Alexander Cockburn of anti-Semitism, and decided now it was time
to turn his guns on the Right. The article had two basic points.
The first was that any relevant ideas that the paleoconservatives
ever possessed had been successfully co-opted and skewered by the
neocons. The second was that Buchanan's magazine would fail because
his attacks on "Wall Street, capitalism, Zionism, American
power" make Buchanan virtually the same as the anti-globalist
Left. In reality it is the neoconservatives who are much closer
to the far Left.

recently saw Dinesh D'Souzsa give a speech about the root of anti-American
hatred abroad, which he has repeated in many columns, TV appearances,
and I presume is on of the main tenets of his latest book, What's
So Great About America
. D'Souza said there were three general
criticisms of America. The first is what he called the "French
critique" which claimed that American economic and cultural
hegemony is ruining local traditions. He answered that criticism
by making fun of the French for their supposed lack of cultural
and intellectual achievements and claimed that if American culture
were so bad, so many French people would not buy our stuff. (Presumably
Tocqueville, Maistre, Bastiat, Renoir, David and Hugo pale in comparison
to Sidney Hook, John Dewey, Andy Warhol, and Brittany Spears.) The
second criticism was what he called the "Asian critique"
which accepted American capitalism and chain stores, but felt that
our culture was morally and socially degenerate, as evidenced by
our rampant rates of crime and illegitimacy.

responded to this critique by saying that those negative aspects
were simply a byproduct of our free society. The final criticism
was the Islamic critique that simply said that the American idea
of liberty was wrong, because their culture, while not free, was
virtuous and based on the rule of God. He answered this by essentially
skewering Frank Meyer's idea of fusionism
to apply to the Muslim world. D'Souza believed that Muslims couldn't
be virtuous unless they have freedom, presumably imposed on them
by the American military or the U.N. To illustrate this point he
explains how there is nothing virtuous about women who are forced
to wear veils over their heads, it's only when they have the freedom
to choose whether or not they will wear them that it could be virtuous.
He said the belief that not all free actions should be celebrated
is what separates his "classical liberal" viewpoint to
the "radical libertarian" views that are seen at Reason.
Incidentally Murray Rothbard used virtually the exact same example
(the only difference is he used kneeling before Mecca) to make the
freedom and virtue argument over 20 years ago, but I digress.

one thing that stood out in my mind about these critiques is that
Richard Weaver, Russel Kirk, Eric Voeglin, Robert Nibset, and even
Albert Jay Nock would probably have agreed with most of them. While
D'Souza did not explicitly condemn any conservatives in his discussion
of anti-Americanism, Frank Foer did not hesitate to do so. In his
New Republic piece, he quotes Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming
as saying that he agrees "with environmentalists on chain stores,
fast food, and the Americanization of Europe" as if that makes
him some sort of leftist. While I do not agree with all of these
positions, only a fool could see these beliefs as left wing and
anti-American, while unquestionable endorsement of American cultural
hegemony as conservative.

fact, the things that D'Souza sees as so great about America are
essentially left wing shibboleths. He claims that what Arabs don't
like about America is our racial diversity and tolerance, our social
egalitarianism, our rights for women and homosexuals, our generous
foreign aid, and our acceptance of mass immigration. He calls these
values classical liberal, and says that to prevent Arab hatred of
America, we need convert them to classical liberalism. In truth,
as Paul Gottfried shows in After
, these ideas are generally inimical to
classical liberalism and are key tenets of twentieth century managerial
liberalism. In a recent article,
he explained how in reality the views of the neocons are much closer
to those on the far Left.

Old Right and the isolationist Left have not become the
same simply because neither has declared for the neocons,
or because both entertain suspicions about the global democratic
crusades advocated by the New Republic and the National
Review. On almost all social issues, starting with Third
World immigration, feminism, and civil rights, neoconservatives
are far closer to the Left than they are to the Old Right.

and the rest of the vital center of course push their attack on
the extremists well past culture, and focus on foreign policy. In
the same article, he goes after Justin Raimondo and Antiwar.com,
and claims they now admit they're leftists.

site posts screeds against American interventionism that
complain about "empire" and "increased military
spending." And by lifting the language of the left,
he has acquired an audience on the left: The Nation's
Alexander Cockburn has published on the site, and Salon
and alternative newsweeklies plug his work. For his part,
Raimondo is unabashed about his ideological transformation.
Last month he wrote on the site, "The only voices of
dissent are heard, today, on the Left. … This is where all
the vitality, the rebelliousness, the willingness to challenge
the rules and strictures of an increasingly narrow and controlled
national discourse has resided."

presumes that it is self evident that all conservatives support
massive defense budgets and the concept of an American Empire. Of
course this is precisely what the Old Right fought against. Just
because the New Left has used some of that rhetoric does not mean
conservatives are now forbidden from using it. Raimondo explained
how absurd the accusation was in his column.

for Antiwar.com or this column appropriating "the language
of the left," precisely the opposite is the
case — and that is what the War Party (historically embodied,
in the world of political magazines, by The New Republic)
finds so … disorienting. We frame our arguments against
this perpetual war for perpetual peace in terms of the damage
it does to the Constitution and the legacy of the founding
fathers, a libertarian heritage anchored in the idea of
strictly limited government. "A republic, not an empire"!
— this is the language of the left?

these people fail to recognize is that those of us on the real Right
have not gone through any sort of ideological transformation. Whatever
alliance exists between the paleo Right and anit-globalist Left
is based on the few ideas that the two sides believe in anyway,
not any ideological program. Just as The New Republic and
National Review put aside whatever their disagreements are
on domestic policy (if they have any) to jointly support Israel
and perpetual war, non-interventionists of all stripes may have
to disregard their many differences to fight the War Party.

on the few issues that the far Left and Old Right share common ground,
they still have many disagreements. Many on the Left see this war
as a racist war, and fervently oppose racial profiling or any attacks
on Islam, while many paleos see Islam as the enemy of Western Civilization
and most would support restricting Muslim immigration and profiling
Arabs. Many on the Left would like to see the United Nations and
the International Crime Court take care of the terrorist problem,
while most of the Right would like America out of the U.N. Many
on the Left, as well as some paleocons, view free trade and capitalism
as fueling the war, while most libertarians see it as the path to
peace. This has nothing to say with all the differences we have
on various economic and cultural issues.

much as the neocons like to pretend that the Communists and Nazis
are going to overthrow the Weimar Republic again, the "extreme"
Left and Right are hardly united behind anything other than mutual
hatred for neoconservatism and this war. The large number
of articles
coming out of the mainstream and conservative and liberal press
complaining about attacks from across the political spectrum on
neoconservative foreign policy shows that the establishment is worried
that they are losing their grip on what constitutes respectable
debate. Hopefully The American Conservative and other new
enterprises will help make their fears come to fruition.

27, 2002

Epstein [send him mail] is
an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg,
VA, where he is president of the college libertarians and editor
of the conservative newspaper, The Remnant. Here
is his blog.

Email Print