Letter to a Middle-Aged Neocon

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In
her book Slander, Ann
Coulter tries to demonstrate the liberal bias in the publishing
industry by complaining that Dinesh D'Souza received a mere 150,000-dollar
advance on his latest book, Letters to a Young Conservative.
Regardless of whether or not Coulter is right about the bias, she
could not have chosen a worse book to demonstrate her point.

Letters
to a Young Conservative
is
a collection of 31 letters to an imaginary conservative student
named Chris.
D'Souza enlightens Chris on what conservatives should think
about public policy, philosophy, and history. Although he takes
a genuinely conservative stand on some issues, he usually defends
them with clichés like "more guns mean less crime" or
on leftist terms. For example, while he complains about the "self-esteem
hoax," his principle complaint about affirmative action
is that it "increases doubts of black capacity." On
many other issues he simply takes liberal or irrational positions.

One letter implores
Chris to avoid the "libertarian temptation." He
explains that libertarians believe that freedom is the greatest
end, if not the only end, and that for the libertarian philosophy
to work, one must believe that "human nature is so good that
it is virtually flawless." D'Souza claims that a pure libertarian
would have no problem if everyone in America would become a pornographer.
Given that the libertarians seem to be totally amoral and on the
side of the Left in what is the "root" difference between
liberals and conservatives (their view of human nature), one wonders
why a "vast programmatic agreement" would exist between
libertarians and conservatives.

The reason is because
D'Souza greatly misinterprets libertarianism.
As Lord Acton said, liberty is the highest political end,
not the meaning of life. As D'Souza acknowledges, libertarianism
is only a political philosophy, not a way to view the world. Therefore,
there is nothing inherent in libertarian philosophy to suggest
that libertarians should be culturally libertine.

In another letter,
D'Souza accuses Gore Vidal of being anti-American
because he questions the benevolence of American foreign policy.
One of Vidal's latest books is called Perpetual War for Perpetual
Peace
, but in D'Souza's case, it could be called Perpetual
War for the Perpetual Lesser Evil. According to the lesser
evil doctrine, which is our "central principle of foreign
policy," America "is always justified in supporting a
bad regime to overthrow a regime that is even worse," regardless
of whether the worse regime was installed by America in the first
place.

D'Souza tells us we must "give bayonets a chance" and
impose democracy across the world. He celebrates the dropping of
the atomic bomb on Japan and the firebombing of German civilians,
because it gave them democracy. And he has the gall to accuse liberals
of lacking the "practical moral reasoning that foreign policy
requires."

D'Souza isn't much better when it comes to immigration. He makes
a few tired claims that immigrants are good for the economy because
they do the jobs Americans won't. However, he refuses to address
the burden they disproportionately add to the welfare state. He
simply says to get rid of the welfare. Similarly, he rejects the
cultural argument against immigration, by claiming that most of
the problems with assimilation are due to white liberals. This
may be partially true, but given that we are not likely to get
rid of multiculturalism or the welfare state anytime soon, why
would D'Souza want more immigration in the meantime?

Perhaps the worst letter
is the one where Chris asks "Was
Lincoln a Bad Guy?" Chris was shocked to see conservatives
criticize Lincoln. "Wasn't he a Republican?" he naively
asks. D'Souza takes this as an opportunity to address the attacks
made upon Lincoln by those on the Right and Left. D'Souza creates
a straw man who says that the war wasn't over slavery, and so Lincoln
was wrong to stop secession. To prove these people wrong, he simply
gives a few quotes by Alexander Stephens and John C. Calhoun that
defended slavery. This is beside the point. Even if slavery was
the reason why the South seceded (as versus mainly over the tariff),
it clearly was not the reason why the North tried to stop them.
Lincoln said time after time that the war was to
preserve the union and not to end slavery. So the issue is whether
or not the South had a right to secede. D'Souza's only arguments
against secession is that it is impossible for a constitutional
democracy to function if states could secede, and that no party
can unilaterally withdraw out of a contract. If this were true,
a battered wife would not be allowed to leave her abusive husband
unless he gave his consent.

D'Souza
refuses to look at Lincoln with any sort of historic perspective.
His straw man accuses Lincoln of creating the modern welfare state,
something that no prominent Lincoln critic has argued. However,
many have argued the political centralization that took place under
Lincoln's presidency made the New Deal and Great Society possible.
Similarly, rather than admit that Lincoln's politically incorrect
views on race "were a product of his time," he tries
to pretend that clearly racist statements by Lincoln were somehow
anti-racist.

D'Souza
outdoes himself in a number of other ways. He praises Bill Clinton
for his
commitment to NAFTA and the WTO. He tells
the Republicans to play down social issues to appeal to rich white
yuppies, and he celebrates the ouster of Augusto Pinochet.

Perhaps I am being
too harsh on D'Souza. I assumed that as a young
conservative, I was part of the book's target audience, but if
this is what passes for conservatism these days, I am definitely
no conservative.

February
19, 2003

Marcus
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. A
selection of his articles can be seen here
.

For those
in the Williamsburg area, The Remnant in cooperation with
the Rockford Institute is sponsoring a lecture by Paul
Gottfried
on the Civil Rights Movement. It will be held at the
College of William and Mary in Jefferson Hall, room 201 at
7:00 on Thursday, February 20.  Anyone interested in
attending can e-mail me for
directions
.


     

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