The most radical view of the New Deal was that of libertarian essayist
and novelist Garet Garrett, an editor of the Saturday Evening
Post. His brilliant little pamphlet The Revolution Was,
published in 1938, began with these penetrating words words
that would never be fully absorbed by the right:
- There are those who still think they are holding a pass against
a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing
in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went
by in the night of depression, singing songs to freedom.
The revolution was, said Garrett, and therefore nothing less than
a counterrevolution is needed to take the country back. Behold,
then, not a 'conservative,' but a radical right.
In the late 1930s, there was added to this reaction against the
domestic New Deal, a reaction against the foreign policy of the
New Deal: the insistent drive toward war in Europe and Asia. Hence,
the right wing added a reaction against big government abroad to
the attack on big government at home. The one fed on the other.
The right wing called for non-intervention in foreign as well as
domestic affairs, and denounced FDR's adoption of Woodrow Wilson's
Global Crusading which had proved so disastrous in World War I.
To Wilson-Roosevelt globalism, the Old Right countered with a policy
of America First. American foreign policy must neither be based
on the interests of a foreign power such as Great Britain
nor be in the service of such abstract ideals as "making
the world safe for democracy," or waging a "war to end all wars,"
both of which would amount, in the prophetic words of Charles A.
Beard, to waging "perpetual war for perpetual peace."
And so the original right was completed, combating the Leviathan
state in domestic affairs. It said "no!" to the welfare-warfare
state. The result of adding foreign affairs to the list was some
reshuffling of members: former rightists such as Lewis W. Douglas,
who had opposed the domestic New Deal, now rejoined it as internationalists;
while veteran isolationists, such as Senators Borah and Nye, or
intellectuals such as Beard, Harry Elmer Barnes, or John T. Flynn,
gradually but surely became domestic right-wingers in the
course of their determined opposition to the foreign New Deal.
If we know what the Old Right was against, what were they for?
In general terms, they were for a restoration of the liberty of
the Old Republic, of a government strictly limited to the defense
of the rights of private property. In the concrete, as in the case
of any broad coalition, there were differences of opinion within
this overall framework. But we can boil down those differences to
this question: how much of existing government would you repeal?
How far would you roll government back?
The minimum demand which almost all Old Rightists agreed
on, which virtually defined the Old Right, was total aboliton of
the New Deal, the whole kit and kaboodle of the welfare state, the
Wagner Act, the Social Security Act, going off gold in 1933, and
all the rest. Beyond that, there were charming disagreements. Some
would stop at repealing the New Deal. Others would press on, to
abolition of Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, including the Federal
Reserve System and especially that mighty instrument of tyranny,
the income tax and the Internal Revenue Service. Still others, extremists
such as myself, would not stop until we repealed the Federal Judiciary
Act of 1789, and maybe even think the unthinkable and restore the
good old Articles of Confederation.
Here I should stop and say that, contrary to accepted myth, the
original right did not disappear with, and was not discredited by,
our entry into World War II. On the contrary, the congressional
elections of 1942 an election neglected by scholars
was a significant victory not only for conservative Republicans,
but for isolationist Republicans as well. Even though intellectual
rightist opinion, in books and especially in the journals, was virtually
blotted out during World War II, the right was still healthy in
politics and in the press, such as the Hearst press, the New
York Daily News, and especially the Chicago Tribune.
After World War II, there was an intellectual revival of the right,
and the Old Right stayed healthy until the mid-1950s.
Within the overall consensus, then, on the Old Right, there were
many differences within the framework, but differences that remained
remarkably friendly and harmonious. Oddly enough, these are precisely
the friendly differences within the current paleo movement: free
trade or protective tariff, immigration policy, and within the policy
of "isolationism," whether it should be "doctrinaire" isolationism,
such as my own, or whether the United States should regularly intervene
in the Western Hemisphere or in neighboring countries of Latin America.
Or whether this nationalist policy should be flexible among these
Other differences, which also still exist, are more philosophical:
should we be Lockians, Hobbesians, or Burkeans: natural rightsers,
or traditionalists, or utilitarians? On political frameworks, should
we be monarchists, check-and-balance federalists, or radical decentralists?
Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians?
One difference, which agitated the right wing before the Buckleyite
monolith managed to stifle all debate, is particularly relevant
to right-wing strategy. The Marxists, who have spent a great deal
of time thinking about strategy for their movement, always post
the question: who is the agency of social change? Which group may
be expected to bring about the desired change in society? Classical
Marxism found the answer easy: the proletariat. Then things got
a lot more complicated: the peasantry, oppressed womanhood, minorities,
The relevant question for the right wing is the other side of the
coin: who can we expect to be the bad guys? Who are agents
of negative social change? Or: which groups in society pose
the greatest threats to liberty? Basically, there have been two
answers on the right: (1) the unwashed masses; and (2) the power
elites. I will return to this question in a minute.
On the differences of opinion, of the question of diversity in
the Old Right, I was struck by a remark that Tom Fleming of Chronicles
made. Tom noted that he was struck, in reading about that period,
that there was no party line, that there was no person or magazine
excommunicating heretics, that there was admirable diversity and
freedom of discussion on the Old Right. Amen! In other words there
was no National Review.
What was the Old Right position on culture? There was no particular
position, because everyone was imbued with, and loved the old culture.
Culture was not an object of debate, either on the Old Right or,
for that matter, anywhere else. Of course, they would have been
horrified and incredulous at the accredited victimology that has
rapidly taken over our culture. Anyone who would have suggested
to an Old Rightist of 1950, for example, that in forty years, the
federal courts would be redrawing election districts all over the
country so that Hispanics would be elected according to their quota
in the population, would have been considered a fit candidate for
the loony bin. As well he might.
And while I'm on this topic, this is the year 1992, so I am tempted
to say, repeat after me: COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA!
Even though a fan of diversity, the only revisionism I will permit
on this topic is whether Columbus discovered America, or whether
it was Amerigo Vespucci.
Poor Italian-Americans! They have never been able to make it to
accredited victim status. The only thing they ever got was Columbus
Day. And now, they're trying to take it away!
If I may be pardoned a personal note, I joined the Old Right in
1946. I grew up in New York City in the 1930s in the midst of what
can only be called a communist culture. As middle-class Jews in
New York, my relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors faced
only one great moral decision in their lives: should they join the
Communist Party and devote 100 percent of their lives to the cause;
or should they remain fellow travelers and devote only a fraction
of their lives? That was the great range of debate.
I had two sets of aunts and uncles on both sides of the family
who were in the Communist Party. The older uncle was an engineer
who helped build the legendary Moscow subway; the younger one was
an editor for the Communist-dominated Drug Workers Union, headed
by one of the famous Foner brothers. But I hasten to add that I
am not, in the current fashion, like Roseanne Barr Arnold
or William F. Buckley, Jr., claiming that I was a victim of child
abuse. (Buckley's claim is that he was the victim of the high crime
of insouciant anti-Semitism at his father's dinner table.)
On the contrary, my father was an individualist, and was always
strongly anti-communist and anti-socialist, who turned against the
New Deal in 1938 because it had failed to correct the depression
a pretty good start. In my high school and college career,
at Columbia University, I never met a Republican, much less anyone
By the way, even though I am admittedly several years younger than
Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, and the rest, I must say that during
all those years I never heard of Leon Trotsky, much less of Trotskyites,
until I got to graduate school after World War II. I was fairly
politically aware, and in New York in those days, the "left" meant
the Communist Party, period. So I think that Kristol and the rest
are weaving pretty legends about the cosmic importance of the debates
between Trotskyites and Stalinists in alcoves A and B at the City
College cafeteria. As far as I'm concerned, the only Trotskyites
were a handful of academics. By the way, there is a perceptive saying
in left-wing circles in New York: that the Trotskyites all went
into academia, and the Stalinists went into real estate. Perhaps
that's why the Trotskyites are running the world.
At Columbia College, I was only one of two Republicans on the entire
campus, the other being a literature major with whom I had little
in common. Not only that: but, a remarkable thing for a cosmopolitan
place like Columbia, Lawrence Chamberlain, distinguished political
scientist, and dean of Columbia college, admitted one time that
he had never met a Republican either.
By 1946, I had become politically active, and joined the Young
Republicans of New York. Unfortunately, the Republicans in New York
weren't much of an improvement: the Dewey-Rockefeller forces constituted
the extreme right of the party; most of them being either pro-Communist,
like Stanley Isaacs, or social democrats like Jacob Javits. I did,
however, have fun writing a paper for the Young Republicans denouncing
price control and rent control. And after the Republican capture
of Congress in 1946, I was ecstatic. My first publication ever was
a "hallelujah!" letter in the New York World-Telegram exulting
that now, at last, the Republican 80th Congress would repeal the
entire New Deal. So much for my strategic acumen in 1946.
At any rate, I found the Old Right and was happy there for a decade.
For a couple of years, I was delighted to subscribe to the Chicago
Tribune, whose every news item was filled with great Old Right
punch and analysis. It is forgotten now that the only organized
opposition to the Korean War was not on the left, which, except
for the Communist Party and I.F. Stone, fell for the chimera of
Wilsonian-Rooseveltian "collective security," but was on the so-called
extreme right, particularly in the House of Representatives.
One of the leaders was my friend Howard Buffett, Congressman from
Omaha, who was a pure libertarian and was Senator Taft's midwestern
campaign manager at the monstrous Republican convention of 1952,
when the Eisenhower-Wall Street cabal stole the election from Robert
Taft. After that, I left the Republican Party, only to return this
year for the Buchanan campaign. During the 1950s, I joined every
right-wing third party I could find, most of which collapsed after
the first meeting. I supported the last presidential thrust of the
Old Right, the Andrews-Werdel ticket in 1956, but unfortunately,
they never made it up to New York City.
After this excursion on my personal activity in the Old Right,
I return to a key strategic question: who are the major bad guys,
the unwashed masses or the power elite? Very early, I concluded
that the big danger is the elite, and not the masses, and for the
First, even granting for a moment that the masses are the worst
possible, that they are perpetually Hell-bent on lynching anyone
down the block, the mass of people simply don't have the time for
politics or political shenanigans. The average person must spend
most of his time on the daily business of life, being with his family,
seeing his friends, etc. He can only get interested in politics
or engage in it sporadically.
The only people who have time for politics are the professionals:
the bureaucrats, politicians, and special interest groups dependent
on political rule. They make money out of politics, and so they
are intensely interested, and lobby and are active twenty-four hours
a day. Therefore, these special interest groups will tend to win
out over the uninterested masses. This is the basic insight of the
Public Choice school of economics. The only other groups interested
full-time in politics are ideologists like ourselves, again not
a very large segment of the population. So the problem is the ruling
elite, the professionals, and their dependent special interest groups.
A second crucial point: society is divided into a ruling elite,
which is necessarily a minority of the population, which lives off
the second group the rest of the population. Here I point
to one of the most brilliant essays on political philosophy ever
written, John C. Calhoun's Disquisition on Government.
Calhoun pointed out that the very fact of government and of taxation
creates inherent conflict between two great classes: those who pay
taxes, and those who live off them; the net taxpayers vs. the tax-consumers.
The bigger government gets, Calhoun noted, the greater and more
intense the conflict between those two social classes. By the way,
I've never thought of Governor Pete Wilson of California as a distinguished
political theorist, but the other day he said something, presumably
unwittingly, that was remarkably Calhounian. Wilson lamented that
the tax-recipients in California were beginning to outnumber
the tax-payers. Well, it's a start.
If a minority of elites rule over, tax, and exploit the majority
of the public, then this brings up starkly the main problem of political
theory: what I like to call the mystery of civil obedience. Why
does the majority of the public obey these turkeys, anyway? This
problem I believe, was solved by three great political theorists,
mainly but not all libertarian: Etienne de la Boetie, French libertarian
theorist of the mid-sixteenth century; David Hume; and Ludwig von
Mises. They pointed out that, precisely because the ruling class
is a minority, that in the long run, force per se cannot
rule. Even in the most despotic dictatorship, the government can
only persist when it is backed by the majority of the population.
In the long run, ideas, not force, rule, and any government has
to have legitimacy in the minds of the public.
This truth was starkly demonstrated in the collapse of the Soviet
Union last year. Simply put, when the tanks were sent to capture
Yeltsin, they were persuaded to turn their guns around and defend
Yeltsin and the Russian Parliament instead. More broadly, it is
clear that the Soviet government had totally lost legitimacy and
support among the public. To a libertarian, it was a particularly
wonderful thing to see unfolding before our very eyes, the death
of a state, particularly a monstrous one such as the Soviet Union.
Toward the end, Gorby continued to issue decrees as before, but
now, no one paid any attention. The once-mighty Supreme Soviet continued
to meet, but nobody bothered to show up. How glorious!
But we still haven't solved the mystery of civil obedience. If
the ruling elite is taxing, looting, and exploiting the public,
why does the public put up with this for a single moment? Why does
it take them so long to withdraw their consent?
Here we come to the solution: the critical role of the intellectuals,
the opinion-molding class in society. If the masses knew what was
going on, they would withdraw their consent quickly: they would
soon perceive that the emperor has no clothes, that they are being
ripped off. That is where the intellectuals come in.
The ruling elite, whether it be the monarchs of yore or the Communist
parties of today, are in desperate need of intellectual elites to
weave apologias for state power. The state rules by divine
edict; the state insures the common good or the general welfare;
the state protects us from the bad guys over the mountain; the state
guarantees full employment; the state activates the multiplier effect;
the state insures social justice, and on and on. The apologias
differ over the centuries; the effect is always the same. As Karl
Wittfogel shows in his great work, Oriental Despotism, in
Asian empires the intellectuals were able to get away with the theory
that the emperor or pharaoh was himself divine. If the ruler is
God, few will be induced to disobey or question his commands.
We can see what the state rulers get out of their alliance with
the intellectuals; but what do the intellectuals get out of it?
Intellectuals are the sort of people who believe that, in the free
market, they are getting paid far less than their wisdom requires.
Now the state is willing to pay them salaries, both for apologizing
for state power, and in the modern state, for staffing the myriad
jobs in the welfare, regulatory state apparatus.
In past centuries, the churches have constituted the exclusive
opinion-molding classes in the society. Hence the importance to
the state and its rulers of an established church, and the importance
to libertarians of the concept of separating church and state, which
really means not allowing the state to confer upon one group a monopoly
of the opinion-molding function. In the twentieth century, of course,
the church has been replaced in its opinion-molding role, or, in
that lovely phrase, the "engineering of consent," by a swarm of
intellectuals, academics, social scientists, technocrats, policy
scientists, social workers, journalists and the media generally,
and on and on. Often included, for old times' sake, so to speak,
is a sprinkling of social gospel ministers and counselors from the
So, to sum up: the problem is that the bad guys, the ruling classes,
have gathered unto themselves the intellectual and media elites,
who are able to bamboozle the masses into consenting to their rule,
to indoctrinate them, as the Marxists would say, with "false consciousness."
What can we, the right-wing opposition, do about it?
One strategy, endemic to libertarians and classical liberals,
is what we can call the "Hayekian" model, after F.A. Hayek, or what
I have called "educationism." Ideas, the model declares, are crucial,
and ideas filter down a hierarchy, beginning with top philosophers,
then seeping down to lesser philosophers, then academics, and finally
to journalists and politicians, and then to the masses. The thing
to do is to convert the top philosophers to the correct ideas, they
will convert the lesser, and so on, in a kind of "trickle-down effect,"
until, at last, the masses are converted and liberty has been achieved.
First, it should be noted that this trickle-down strategy is a
very gentle and genteel one, relying on quiet mediation and persuasion
in the austere corridors of intellectual cerebration. This strategy
fits, by the way, with Hayek's personality, for Hayek is not exactly
known as an intellectual gut-fighter.
Of course, ideas and persuasion are important, but there are several
fatal flaws in the Hayekian strategy. First, of course, the strategy
at best will take several hundred years, and some of us are a bit
more impatient than that. But time is by no means the only problem.
Many people have noted, for example, mysterious blockages of the
trickle. Thus, most real scientists have a very different view of
such environmental questions as Alar than that of a few left-wing
hysterics, and yet somehow it is always the same few hysterics that
are exclusively quoted by the media. The same applies to the vexed
problem of inheritance and IQ testing. So how come the media invariably
skew the result, and pick and choose the few leftists in the field?
Clearly, because the media, especially the respectable and influential
media, begin, and continue, with a strong left-liberal bias.
More generally, the Hayekian trickle-down model overlooks a crucial
point: that, and I hate to break this to you, intellectuals, academics
and the media are not all motivated by truth alone. As we have seen,
the intellectual classes may be part of the solution, but also they
are a big part of the problem. For, as we have seen, the intellectuals
are part of the ruling class, and their economic interests, as well
as their interests in prestige, power and admiration, are wrapped
up in the present welfare-warfare state system.
Therefore, in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause,
the proper course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily
be a strategy of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement,
a strategy, in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and
exposing the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them,
taxing them, and ripping them off.
Another alternative right-wing strategy is that commonly pursued
by many libertarian or conservative think tanks: that of quiet persuasion,
not in the groves of academe, but in Washington, D.C., in the corridors
of power. This has been called the "Fabian" strategy, with think
tanks issuing reports calling for a two percent cut in a tax here,
or a tiny drop in a regulation there. The supporters of this strategy
often point to the success of the Fabian Society, which, by its
detailed empirical researches, gently pushed the British state into
a gradual accretion of socialist power.
The flaw here, however, is that what works to increase
state power does not work in reverse. For the Fabians were gently
nudging the ruling elite precisely in the direction they wanted
to travel anyway. Nudging the other way would go strongly
against the state's grain, and the result is far more likely to
be the state's co-opting and Fabianizing the think-tankers themselves
rather than the other way around. This sort of strategy may, of
course, be personally very pleasant for the think-tankers, and may
be profitable in cushy jobs and contracts from the government. But
that is precisely the problem.
It is important to realize that the establishment doesn't want
excitement in politics, it wants the masses to continue to be lulled
to sleep. It wants kinder, gentler; it wants the measured, judicious,
mushy tone, and content, of a James Reston, a David Broder, or a
Washington Week in Review. It doesn't want a Pat Buchanan,
not only for the excitement and hard edge of his content, but also
for his similar tone and style.
And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we
can call "right-wing populism": exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational,
rousing, and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often
shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this
era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment
liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another
of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine right, we
need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit
the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly. We
need a leadership that can reach the masses and cut through the
crippling and distorting hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.
But can we call such a strategy "conservative"? I, for one, am
tired of the liberal strategy, on which they have rung the changes
for forty years, of presuming to define "conservatism" as a supposed
aid to the conservative movement. Whenever liberals have encountered
hard-edged abolitionists who, for example, have wanted to repeal
the New Deal or Fair Deal, they say but that's not genuine
conservatism. That's radicalism." The genuine conservative,
these liberals go on to say, doesn't want to repeal or abolish anything.
He is a kind and gentle soul who wants to conserve what left-liberals
The left-liberal vision, then, of good conservatives is
as follows: first, left-liberals, in power, make a Great Leap Forward
toward collectivism; then, when, in the course of the political
cycle, four or eight years later, conservatives come to power, they
of course are horrified at the very idea of repealing anything;
they simply slow down the rate of growth of statism, consolidating
the previous gains of the left, and providing a bit of R&R for the
next liberal Great Leap Forward. And if you think about it, you
will see that this is precisely what every Republican administration
has done since the New Deal. Conservatives have readily played the
desired Santa Claus role in the liberal vision of history.
I would like to ask: how long are we going to keep being suckers?
How long will we keep playing our appointed roles in the scenario
of the left? When are we going to stop playing their game, and start
throwing over the table?
I must admit that, in one sense, the liberals have had a point.
The word "conservative" is unsatisfactory. The original right never
used the term "conservative": we called ourselves individualists,
or "true liberals," or rightists. The word "conservative" only swept
the board after the publication of Russell Kirk's highly influential
Conservative Mind in 1953, in the last years of the original
There are two major problems with the word "conservative." First,
that it indeed connotes conserving the status quo, which is precisely
why the Brezhnevites were called "conservatives" in the Soviet Union.
Perhaps there was a case for calling us "conservatives" in 1910,
but surely not now. Now we want to uproot the status quo, not conserve
it. And secondly, the word conservative harks back to struggles
in nineteenth-century Europe, and in America conditions and institutions
have been so different that the term is seriously misleading. There
is a strong case here, as in other areas, for what has been called
So what should we call ourselves? I haven't got an easy answer,
but perhaps we could call ourselves radical reactionaries, or "radical
rightists," the label that was given to us by our enemies in the
1950s. Or, if there is too much objection to the dread term "radical,"
we can follow the suggestion of some of our group to call ourselves
"the Hard Right." Any of these terms is preferable to "conservative,"
and it also serves the function of separating ourselves out from
the official conservative movement which, as I shall note in a minute,
has been largely taken over by our enemies.
It is instructive to turn now to a prominent case of right-wing
populism headed by a dynamic leader who appeared in the last years
of the original right, and whose advent, indeed, marked a transition
between the original and the newer, Buckleyite right. Quick now:
who was the most hated, the most smeared man in American politics
in this century, more hated and reviled than even David Duke, even
though he was not a Nazi or a Ku Kluxer? He was not a libertarian,
he was not an isolationist, he was not even a conservative,
but in fact was a moderate Republican. And yet, he was so universally
reviled that his very name became a generic dictionary synonym for
I refer, of course, to Joe McCarthy. The key to the McCarthy phenomenon
was the comment made by the entire political culture, from moderate
left to moderate right: "we agree with McCarthy's goals,
we just disagree with his means." Of course, McCarthy's goals
were the usual ones absorbed from the political culture: the alleged
necessity of waging war against an international Communist conspiracy
whose tentacles reached from the Soviet Union and spanned the entire
globe. McCarthy's problem, and ultimately his tragedy, is that he
took this stuff seriously; if communists and their agents and fellow
travelers are everywhere, then shouldn't we, in the midst of the
Cold War, root them out of American political life?
The unique and the glorious thing about McCarthy was not his goals
or his ideology, but precisely his radical, populist means.
For McCarthy was able, for a few years, to short-circuit the intense
opposition of all the elites in American life: from the Eisenhower-Rockefeller
administration to the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex
to liberal and left media and academic elites to overcome
all that opposition and reach and inspire the masses directly. And
he did it through television, and without any real movement behind
him; he had only a guerrilla band of a few advisers, but no organization
and no infrastructure.
Fascinatingly enough, the response of the intellectual elites
to the spectre of McCarthyism was led by liberals such as Daniel
Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset, who are now prominent neoconservatives.
For, in this era, the neocons were in the midst of the long march
which was to take them from Trotskyism to right-wing Trotskyism
to right-wing social democracy, and finally to the leadership of
the conservative movement. At this stage of their hegira the neocons
were Truman-Humphrey-Scoop Jackson liberals.
The major intellectual response to McCarthyism was a book edited
by Daniel Bell, The New American Right (1955) later updated
and expanded to The Radical Right (1963), published at a
time when McCarthyism was long gone and it was necessary to combat
a new menace, the John Birch Society. The basic method was to divert
attention from the content of the radical right message and
direct attention instead to a personal smear of the groups on the
The classical, or hard, Marxist method of smearing opponents
of socialism or communism was to condemn them as agents of monopoly
capital or of the bourgeoisie. While these charges were wrong, at
least they had the virtue of clarity and even a certain charm, compared
to the later tactics of the soft Marxists and liberals of
the 1950s and 60s, who engaged in Marxo-Freudian psychobabble to
infer, in the name of psychological "science," that their opponents
were, well, kind of crazy.
The preferred method of the time was invented by one of the contributors
to the Bell volume, and also one of my least favorite distinguished
American historians, Professor Richard Hofstadter. In Hofstadter's
formulation, any radical dissenters from any status quo,
be they rightists or leftists, engage in a "paranoid" style (and
you know, of course, what paranoids are), and suffer from
Logically, at any time there are three and only three social groups:
those who are declining in status, those who are rising
in status, and those whose status is about even. (You can't fault
that analysis!) The declining groups are the ones whom Hofstadter
focused on for the neurosis of status anxiety, which causes them
to lash out irrationally at their betters in a paranoid style, and
you can fill in the rest. But, of course, the rising groups
can also suffer from the anxiety of trying to keep their
higher status, and the level groups can be anxious about a future
decline. The result of his hocus-pocus is a non-falsifiable, universally
valid theory that can be trotted out to smear and dispose of any
person or group which dissents from the status quo. For who, after
all, wants to be, or to associate with, paranoids and the status
Also permeating the Bell volume is dismissal of these terrible
radicals as suffering from the "politics of resentment." It is interesting,
by the way, how left-liberals deal with political anger. It's a
question of semantics. Anger by the good guys, the accredited victim
groups, is designated as "rage," which is somehow noble: the latest
example was the rage of organized feminism in the Clarence Thomas/Willie
Smith incidents. On the other hand, anger by designated oppressor
groups is not called "rage," but "resentment": which conjures up
evil little figures, envious of their betters, skulking around the
edges of the night.
And indeed the entire Bell volume is permeated by a frank portrayal
of the noble, intelligent ivy-league governing elite, confronted
and harassed by a mass of odious, uneducated, redneck, paranoid,
resentment-filled authoritarian working and middle-class types in
the heartland, trying irrationally to undo the benevolent rule of
wise elites concerned for the public good.
History, however, was not very kind to Hofstadterian liberalism.
For Hofstadter and the others were consistent: they were defending
what they considered a wonderful status quo of elite rule, from
any radicals whatever, be they right or left. And so, Hofstadter
and his followers went back through American history tarring all
radical dissenters from any status quo with the status anxious,
paranoid brush, including such groups as progressives, populists,
and Northern abolitionists before the Civil War.
At the same time, Bell, in 1960, published a once-famous work
proclaiming the End of Ideology: from now on, consensus elitist
liberalism would rule forever, ideology would disappear, and all
political problems would be merely technical ones, such as which
machinery to use to clear the streets. (Foreshadowing thirty years
later, a similar neocon proclamation of the End of History.)
But shortly afterwards, ideology came back with a bang, with the
radical civil rights and then the New Left revolutions, part of
which, I am convinced, was in reaction to these arrogant liberal
doctrines. Smearing radicals, at least left-wing ones, was
no longer in fashion, either in politics or in historiography.
Meanwhile, of course, poor McCarthy was undone, partly because
of the smears, and the lack of a movement infrastructure, and partly
too because his populism, even though dynamic, had no goals and
no program whatsoever, except the very narrow one of rooting out
communists. And partly, too, because McCarthy was not really suited
for the television medium he had ridden to fame: being a "hot" person
in a "cool" medium, with his jowls, his heavy five-o'clock shadow
(which also helped ruin Nixon), and his lack of a sense of humor.
And also, too, since he was neither a libertarian nor really a radical
rightist, McCarthy's heart was broken by the censure of the U.S.
Senate, an institution which he actually loved.
The original right, the radical right, had pretty much disappeared
by the time of the second edition of the Bell volume in 1963, and
in a minute we shall see why. But now, all of a sudden, with the
entry of Pat Buchanan into the presidential race, my God, they're
back! The radical right is back, all over the place, feistier than
ever and getting stronger!
The response to this historic phenomenon, by the entire spectrum
of established and correct thought, by all the elites from left
over to official conservatives and neoconservatives, is very much
like the reaction to the return of Godzilla in the old movies. And
wouldn't you know that they would trot out the old psychobabble,
as well as the old smears of bigotry, anti-Semitism, the specter
of Franco, and all the rest? Every interview with, and article on
Pat, dredges his "authoritarian Catholic" background (ooh!) and
the fact that he fought a lot when he was a kid (gee whiz, like
most of the American male population).
Also: that Pat has been angry a lot. Ooh, anger! And of
course, since Pat is not only a right-winger but hails from a designated
oppressor group (White Male Irish Catholic), his anger can
never be righteous rage, but only a reflection of a paranoid,
status-anxious personality, filled with, you got it, "resentment."
And sure enough, this week, January 13, the august New York Times,
whose every word, unlike the words of the rest of us, is fit
to print, in its lead editorial sets the establishment line,
a line which by definition is fixed in concrete, on Pat Buchanan.
After deploring the hard-edged and therefore politically incorrect
vocabulary (tsk, tsk!) of Pat Buchanan, the New York Times,
I am sure for the first time, solemnly quotes Bill Buckley as if
his words were holy writ (and I'll get to that in a minute),
and therefore decides that Buchanan, if not actually anti-Semitic,
has said anti-Semitic things. And the Times concludes with
this final punchline, so reminiscent of the Bell-Hofstadter line
of yesteryear: "What his words convey, much as his bid for the nomination
conveys, is the politics, the dangerous politics, of resentment."
Resentment! Why should anyone, in his right mind, resent
contemporary America? Why should anyone, for example, going out
into the streets of Washington or New York, resent what is
surely going to happen to him? But, for heaven's sake, what person
in his right mind, doesn't resent it? What person is not
filled with noble rage, or ignoble resentment, or whatever you choose
to call it?
Finally, I want to turn to the question: what happened to the
original right, anyway? And how did the conservative movement get
into its present mess? Why does it need to be sundered, and split
apart, and a new radical right movement created upon its ashes?
The answer to both of these seemingly disparate questions is the
same: what happened to the original right, and the cause of the
present mess, is the advent and domination of the right wing by
Bill Buckley and the National Review. By the mid-1950s, much
of the leadership of the Old Right was dead or in retirement. Senator
Taft and Colonel McCormick had died, and many of the right-wing
congressmen had retired.
The conservative masses, for a long time short on intellectual
leadership, were now lacking in political leadership as well. An
intellectual and power vacuum had developed on the right, and rushing
to fill it, in 1955, were Bill Buckley, fresh from several years
in the CIA, and National Review, an intelligent, well-written
periodical staffed with ex-communists and ex-leftists eager to transform
the right from an isolationist movement into a crusade to crush
the Soviet god that had failed them.
Also, Buckley's writing style, while in those days often witty
and sparkling, was rococo enough to give the reader the impression
of profound thought, an impression redoubled by Bill's habit of
sprinkling his prose with French and Latin terms. Very quickly,
National Review became the dominant, if not the only,
power center on the right-wing.
This power was reinforced by a brilliantly successful strategy
(perhaps guided by National Review editors trained in Marxist
cadre tactics) of creating front groups: ISI for college intellectuals,
Young Americans for Freedom for campus activists. Moreover, lead
by veteran Republican politico and National Review publisher
Bill Rusher, the National Review complex was able to take
over, in swift succession, the College Young Republicans, then the
National Young Republicans, and finally to create a Goldwater movement
in 1960 and beyond.
And so, with almost Blitzkrieg swiftness, by the early 1960s,
the new global crusading conservative movement, transformed and
headed by Bill Buckley, was almost ready to take power in America.
But not quite, because first, all the various heretics of the right,
some left over from the original right, all the groups that were
in any way radical or could deprive the new conservative movement
of its much-desired respectability in the eyes of the liberal
and centrist elite, all these had to be jettisoned. Only such a
denatured, respectable, non-radical conserving right was
worthy of power.
And so the purges began. One after another, Buckley and National
Review purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the non-respectables.
Consider the roll-call: isolationists (such as John T. Flynn), anti-Zionists,
libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those
who continued, like the early National Review, to dare to
oppose Martin Luther King and the civil rights revolution after
Buckley had changed and decided to embrace it. But if, by the middle
and late 1960s, Buckley had purged the conservative movement of
the genuine right, he also hastened to embrace any group that proclaimed
its hard anti-communism, or rather anti-Sovietism or anti-Stalinism.
And of course the first anti-Stalinists were the devotees
of the martyred communist Leon Trotsky. And so the conservative
movement, while purging itself of genuine right-wingers, was happy
to embrace anyone, any variety of Marxist: Trotskyites, Schachtmanites,
Mensheviks, social democrats (such as grouped around the magazine
The New Leader), Lovestonite theoreticians of the American
Federation of Labor, extreme right-wing Marxists like the incredibly
beloved Sidney Hook, anyone who could present not anti-socialist
but suitably anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist credentials.
The way was then paved for the final, fateful influx: that of
the ex-Trotskyite, right-wing social democrat, democrat capitalist,
Truman-Humphrey-Scoop Jackson liberals, displaced from their home
in the Democratic party by the loony left that we know so well:
the feminist, deconstructing, quota-loving, advanced victimological
left. And also, we should point out, at least a semi-isolationist,
semi anti-war left. These displaced people are, of course, the famed
neoconservatives, a tiny but ubiquitous group with Bill Buckley
as their aging figurehead, now dominating the conservative movement.
Of the 35 neoconservatives, 34 seem to be syndicated columnists.
And so the neocons have managed to establish themselves as the
only right-wing alternative to the left. The neocons now constitute
the right-wing end of the ideological spectrum. Of the respectable,
responsible right wing, that is. For the neocons have managed
to establish the notion that anyone who might be to the right of
them is, by definition, a representative of the forces of
darkness, of chaos, old night, racism, and anti-Semitism. At the
So that's how the dice have been loaded in our current political
game. And virtually the only prominent media exception, the only
genuine rightist spokesman who has managed to escape neocon anathema
has been Pat Buchanan.
It was time. It was time to trot out the old master, the prince
of excommunication, the self-anointed pope of the conservative movement,
William F. Buckley, Jr. It was time for Bill to go into his old
act, to save the movement that he had made over into his own image.
It was time for the man hailed by neocon Eric Breindel, in his newspaper
column (New York Post, Jan. 16), as the "authoritative voice
on the American right." It was time for Bill Buckley's papal bull,
his 40,000-word Christmas encyclical to the conservative movement,
"In Search of Anti-Semitism," the screed solemnly invoked in the
anti-Buchanan editorial of the New York Times.
The first thing to say about Buckley's essay is that it is virtually
unreadable. Gone, all gone is the wit and the sparkle. Buckley's
tendency to the rococo has elongated beyond measure. His prose is
serpentine, involuted, and convoluted, twisted and qualified, until
virtually all sense is lost. Reading the whole thing through is
doing penance for one's sins, and one can accomplish the task only
if possessed by a stern sense of duty, as one grits one's teeth
and plows through a pile of turgid and pointless student term papers
which, indeed, Buckley's essay matches in content, in learning,
and in style.
Lest anyone think that my view of Buckleys' and National Review's
role in the past and present right wing merely reflects my own "paranoid
style," we turn to the only revealing art of the Buckley piece,
the introduction by his acolyte John O'Sullivan, who, however, is
at least still capable of writing a coherent sentence.
Here is John's remarkable revelation of National Review's
self image: "Since its foundation, National Review has quietly
played the role of conscience of the right." After listing a few
of Buckley's purges although omitting isolationists, Randians,
libertarians, and anti-civil rightsers O'Sullivan gets to
anti-Semites, and the need for wise judgment on the issue. And then
comes the revelation of Bill's papal role: "Before pronouncing [judgment,
that is], we wanted to be sure," and then he goes on: was there
something substantial in the charges? "Was it a serious sin deserving
ex-communication, an error inviting a paternal reproof, or something
of both?" I'm sure all the defendants in the dock appreciated the
"paternal" reference: Papa Bill, the wise, stern, but merciful father
of us all, dispensing judgment. This statement of O'Sullivan's is
matched in chutzpah only by his other assertion in the introduction
that his employer's treatise is a "great read." For shame, John,
The only other point worth noting on the purges is Buckley's own
passage on exactly why he had found it necessary to excommunicate
the John Birch Society (O'Sullivan said it was because they were
"cranks"). In a footnote, Buckley admits that "the Birch society
was never anti-Semitic," but "it was a dangerous distraction to
right reasoning and had to be exiled. "National Review,"
Bill goes on, "accomplished exactly that."
Well, my, my! Exiled to outer Siberia! And for the high crime
of "distracting" pope William from his habitual contemplation of
pure reason, a distraction that he never seems to suffer while skiing,
yachting, or communing with John Kenneth Galbraith or Abe Rosenthal!
What a wondrous mind at work!
Merely to try to summarize Buckley's essay is to give it far too
much credit for clarity. But, taking that risk, here's the best
I can do:
1. His long-time disciple and NR editor Joe Sobran is (a)
certainly not an anti-Semite, but (b) is "obsessed with" and "cuckoo
about" Israel, and (c) is therefore "contextually anti-Semitic,"
whatever that may mean, and yet, worst of all, (d) he remains "unrepentant";
2. Pat Buchanan is not an anti-Semite, but he has said unacceptably
anti-Semitic things, "probably" from an "iconoclastic temperament,"
yet, curiously, Buchanan too remains unrepentant;
3. Gore Vidal is an anti-Semite, and the Nation, by presuming
to publish Vidal's article (by the way, a hilarious one) critical
of Norman Podhoretz has revealed the left's increasing proclivity
4. Buckley's bully-boy disciples at Dartmouth Review are
not anti-Semitic at all, but wonderful kids put upon by vicious
5. Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol are wonderful, brilliant
people, and it is "unclear" why anyone should ever want to criticize
them, except possibly for reasons of anti-Semitism.
Gore Vidal and the Nation, absurdly treated in Bill's article,
can and do take care of themselves, in the Nation in a blistering
counterattack in its January 6-13 issue. On Buchanan and Sobran,
there is nothing new, whether of fact or insight: it's the same
thin old junk, tiresomely rehashed.
Something, however, should be said about Buckley's vicious treatment
of Sobran, a personal and ideological disciple who has virtually
worshipped his mentor for two decades. Lashing out at a friend and
disciple in public in this fashion, in order to propitiate Podhoretz
and the rest, is odious and repellent: at the very least, we can
say it is extremely tacky.
More importantly: Buckley's latest encyclical may play well in
the New York Times, but it's not going to go down very well
in the conservative movement. The world is different now; it is
no longer 1958. National Review is no longer the monopoly
power center on the right. There are new people, young people, popping
up all over the place, Pat Buchanan for one, all the paleos for
another, who frankly don't give a fig for Buckley's papal pronunciamentos.
The original right, and all its heresies is back!
In fact, Bill Buckley is the Mikhail Gorbachev of the conservative
movement. Like Gorbachev, Bill goes on with his old act, but like
Gorbachev, nobody trembles anymore, nobody bends the knee and goes
into exile. Nobody cares anymore; nobody, except the good
old New York Times. Bill Buckley should have accepted his
banquet and stayed retired. His comeback is going to be as successful
as Mohammed Ali's.
When I was growing up, I found that the main argument against
laissez-faire, and for socialism, was that socialism and
communism were inevitable: "You can't turn back the clock!" they
chanted, "you can't turn back the clock." But the clock of the once-mighty
Soviet Union, the clock of Marxism-Leninism, a creed that once mastered
half the world, is not only turned back, but lies dead and broken
forever. But we must not rest content with this victory. For though
Marxism-Bolshevism is gone forever, there still remains,
plaguing us everywhere, its evil cousin: call it "soft Marxism,"
"Marxism-Humanism," "Marxism-Bernsteinism," "Marxism-Trotskyism,"
"Marxism-Freudianism," well, let's just call it "Menshevism," or
Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our
entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology
and feminism on the left over to neoconservatism on the right. We
are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the
narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands
of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of the resurgent right,
of the paleo movement, to break those bonds, to finish the job,
to finish off Marxism forever.
One of the authors of the Daniel Bell volume says, in horror and
astonishment, that the radical right intends to repeal the twentieth
century. Heaven forfend! Who would want to repeal the twentieth
century, the century of horror, the century of collectivism, the
century of mass destruction and genocide, who would want to repeal
that! Well, we propose to do just that.
With the inspiration of the death of the Soviet Union before us,
we now know that it can be done. We shall break the clock
of social democracy. We shall break the clock of the Great Society.
We shall break the clock of the welfare state. We shall break the
clock of the New Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson's
New Freedom and perpetual war. We shall repeal the twentieth
One of the most inspiring and wonderful sights of our time was
to see the peoples of the Soviet Union rising up, last year, to
tear down in their fury the statues of Lenin, to obliterate the
Leninist legacy. We, too, shall tear down all the statues of Franklin
D. Roosevelt, of Harry Truman, of Woodrow Wilson, melt them down
and beat them into plowshares and pruninghooks, and usher in a twenty-first
century of peace, freedom and prosperity.