Right Has Won?
(A Footnote on Jonah Goldberg)
I’ve followed the spat between National Review Online columnist
Jonah Goldberg and several of my fellow LewRockwell.com columnists,
I’d been a nonparticipant. Nevertheless, Goldberg has been one of
the many writers whose material I would read and print if he was
writing on a topic I found interesting including the article
that bashed LewRockwell.com by way of replying to David
Kantor and Gene
Callahan. Goldberg attempted
to produce a "conservative canon." But let’s face it: the list
was flawed. While most of the books that were on Goldberg’s list
belonged there, not listing Hayek’s major later works or anything
by Mises was a blunder. Goldberg goofed in at least one major respect
no one I know of has noticed: he omitted C.S. Lewis’ The
Abolition of Man, arguably one of the half-dozen most important
books of the 20th century.
confess that in Goldberg’s rejoinder to Dieteman, Cantor, and Callahan
(as well as this
week’s installment) I sense resentment more than anything else
resentment that folks out here in the boonies and hinterlands
(here boonies and hinterlands mean: everywhere in
the country but inside-the-beltway) would take up their word processors
and criticize the work of someone in the "in crowd." This
would help explain the references to "cat-kicking" libertarians
who "spew Diet Coke out of their noses," etc., in response
to what I thought was Dieteman’s sensible and level-headed explanation
of why Hayek is not a conservative. Goldberg is dismissive of the
whole enterprise of LewRockwell.com. We’re unimportant; no one reads
us; no one has heard of us; we’re idiots, he insinuates in his most
recent rejoinder; etc., etc. If this is true, then why did he bother
replying and then reply a second time? Could it be that he
just doesn’t want the competition?
none of this is why I took up my word processor here. The dispute
led me to take another look at Goldberg’s recent columns, upon which
I discovered another oddity that might shed some light on recent
events. In a January
column, Goldberg looked at an article in Lingua-Franca,
a rather curious publication somewhere between The Chronicle
of Higher Education and People (or was a few years ago;
my subscription has since lapsed). Goldberg’s topic was a handful
of folks who had allied themselves with the right, broadly conceived,
and then, for whatever reason, lurched leftward. Examples: John
Gray, David Brock (the latter being the author of The Real Anita
Hill, still the definitive guide to the University of Oklahoma
affirmative-action law professor whose infamous Coke can was instrumental
in leftists’ efforts to sabotage Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court
nomination in 1991).
reading this article, I came across the following statement: "After
decades of war, the Right (broadly defined) has won (even more broadly
defined). Over the course of the battle, and even more so in its
aftermath, hordes of Leftists have migrated across the intellectual
borderlands to the right. Meanwhile, a few dyspeptic and opportunistic
tag-alongs and second lieutenants decide to double-back the other
way, figuring the decimated and demoralized troops on the Left will
eagerly promote them and offer them some hope of victory in the
remark invoked some déjà vu of a different
sort, memories of conversations about the right winning. Years ago
I would listen to philosophy professors and various other intellectual-wannabes
express fears of the coming take-over of what Hillary would later
call the vast right-wing conspiracy. We were several years into
the so-called Reagan Revolution, and according to this crowd, everything
was moving right. I never took any of it seriously. Some of these
rants were punctuated with references to offbeat sci-fi fantasies
Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps the radical feminist’s ultimate
nightmare but about as plausible as Lost in Space. (The latter
at least used humor.)
is telling us that something like this has actually happened? What,
exactly, does it mean to say, the Right ("broadly defined")
has won ("broadly defined"). How broad are our definitions
speak as a writer who has observed and commented on the rise of
political correctness since before it was called that. Some of the
coffeehouse conversations just mentioned took place over 12 years
ago. It was right around then that I began to marvel at how the
beneficiaries of a multitude of political freebies expressed their
gratitude by whining incessantly about how horrible they were treated.
The system still wasn’t doing enough; their "gains" could
all be stripped away in a flash. Then came the years of the disastrous
Bush Sr. Administration that gave us the Civil Rights Act of 1991,
the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Gulf War. The first
two have been gold mines for leftists, lawyers and leftist lawyers.
As for the third even if one makes the (admittedly tall)
assumption that we had any business in the Gulf in the first place,
had this country fought World War II the way that war was fought,
it would have ended with Hitler still in power.
Right has won? Where, precisely? College and university campuses,
during the 12 years since my first observations, became places where
conservative students dare not state their views in class, whether
the topic was affirmative action, abortion, or tax cuts. They justifiably
fear not mere ridicule by their classmates but possible disciplinary
action. They are routinely thrown off student newspapers. Tenured
professors noted for such views have had their careers mangled by
trumped up charges of "sexual harassment." A guilty-if-charged
environment had developed in academia by 1993. Evidence was usually
not much required because, after all, evidence is one of
those logocentric, white male constructs instrumental in discrimination
against and domination of all of Western culture’s victims.
the need by left-liberals to quash the rising criticism of affirmative
action and with law schools and government bureaucracies having
become hotbeds of radical left activism in their own right, political
correctness quickly spread outward to the rest of society. It soon
reached the point where restaurant chains such as Denny’s and large
corporations such as Texaco were made into real victims of legal
racial extortion. It is still going on. Right now, an independent
restaurant owner and barbecue sauce entrepreneur here in South Carolina,
Maurice Bessinger, about whom I have written previously,
is struggling to keep his wholesale business afloat, having had
his products banished from several large grocery chains. Left-liberals
in the media and the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored Politicians allege that certain tracts he sells in his restaurants
are pro-slavery (they are not).
the middle of the last decade, moreover, a militant homosexual-"rights"
movement came of age. AIDS had become the first politically protected
disease in human history. Billions of taxpayer dollars had already
been funneled into efforts to find a cure, while homosexual men
proclaimed their "right" to have unprotected sex with as many partners
as they wanted. Increasingly, they were demanding affirmative-action
favors. In 1994 I penned an article for a Christian scholarly journal,
the Journal of Interdisciplinary
Studies, predicting that if the militant push for "gay rights"
continued, the expanding penumbra of collective grievances was on
collision course with the religious liberties of Christians. As
many recent events have shown, I was right. I don’t take any special
pleasure in this. I would rather have been wrong.
this excursion into recent history? Isn’t all this stuff about political
correctness now yesterday’s news? Of course it is, but it highlights
those things that set the Goldbergs of the world of commentary apart
from those of us out here in the boonies. They may have more readers
than we do though the click-throughs to LewRockwell.com from
his articles indicate otherwise and they certainly have better
funding than we do (I doubt, for example, that Goldberg has to work
at a day job to survive), but the National Review crowd clearly
lives in an insulated and more-or-less closed universe. In this
universe, the "good guys" won the Cold War and we can
all celebrate the triumph of "capitalism." Free markets
have triumphed! The economy is booming, and we’re all getting rich!
In the neocon universe, obedience to political principles is of
marginal importance at best and so libertarian "purism"
simply isn’t needed. "In free societies," Goldberg lectures
us making a truly peculiar reference, "we don’t have much use
for Lenins." Or the freelance intellectuals who write for LewRockwell.com.
out here, outside the in-the-beltway universe, I am often minding
my own business, encounter this or that government intrusion into
my affairs and find myself asking questions like: Do I own my life,
or do I belong to the Almighty State? It is harder each year to
do anything without producing your Social(ist) Security Number,
which has become a de facto National ID number. While others
are reading this I will probably be spending time accounting for
every penny I earned this year to the IRS. Do I own the fruits of
my labors, or do they, too, belong to the Almighty State? It is
true that if I don’t like my job I can quit and find another one.
However, I cannot refuse to fill out the reams of IRS and Immigration
and Naturalization paperwork and still expect to be hired. Who owns
the hiring process the employer or the Almighty State? Should
I attempt to start my own business there is again a ream of government
paperwork to fill out, a license to acquire (and pay for), regulations
to adhere to. Would I own my own business, or would this, too, exist
at the discretion of the Almighty State and its bureaucratic drones?
Suppose I want to marry my girlfriend and the feeling turns out
to be mutual. More licenses, more regulations, changes in how the
two of us answer to the tax man, etc. Driving to pick her up for
a date I pass a billboard reading Buckle Up! It’s the Law!
While I recognize that wearing a seat belt is a smart, safe thing
to do, I’d rather think I was doing it because it was my idea and
choice, not that of the Nanny State, telling me how to conduct myself
in my own car for which, incidentally, I also pay an annual
tax for the privilege of driving.
you see the point of the question: in what sense is this a free
society? Government is literally everywhere, always in our faces,
always in our wallets, and always trying to expand its reach. Neocons
either don’t notice or don’t mind.
believe my main quarrel with the neocons is that they accept the
expanding Almighty State. The neocon universe is, of course, in
very close proximity to the centers of power emanating from the
Washington Empire. They may be former socialists, but there was
one aspect of socialism they never abandoned: comfort with centralization.
Thus they made peace with the welfare-warfare state, as has in-the-beltway
conservatism generally. They might utter "two cheers for capitalism"
but wouldn’t be caught dead criticizing the Federal Reserve system,
for example, or suspecting that the income tax doesn’t have the
legal standing we’re assured by the government it has, or criticizing
the Social Security system or setting out to abolish the U.S. Department
of Education. In the comfortable in-the-beltway setting, it is almost
as if no one notices the increments by which the Almighty State
has increased its reach.
should add that I am not advocating anarchism but limited
government government that stays within the boundaries
assigned it by the Constitution. I can concede that as long as sin
remains a factor in human behavior, some government will be necessary
and also specific limits on government, so that it deals
only with certain sins in specific ways, while community ostracism
and the marketplace itself deal with others. I mention this because
the distinction between anarchism and limited government is literally
lost on a lot of people smart enough to know better.
in sum, Goldberg’s only evidence that "the Right has won"
seems to be that a number of intellectuals over the past 20 years
or so ceased to be communists or socialists and became neocons.
Traffic in this direction in the circles in which he moves has been
somewhat larger than the flow in the other direction.
be sure, this movement has built up some intellectual firepower.
But two points should be noted. (1) On the campuses are hundreds
of fellow-travelers and footsoldiers going in the opposite direction.
(2) With the Republican Party that nominated Bush Jr. sounding nothing
like the Republican Party of 1992 or even 1996, it is unclear what,
if anything, the conservatives Goldberg prefers are actually doing
to advance the cause of liberty in this society? I raise this second
question in light of the end of Goldberg’s latest
rant against LewRockwell.com, where he tells us all: "The tendency
of libertarians generally and the Rockwellites specifically, is
to get so hung up on ideological hair-splitting and irrelevant and
often lunatic sectarian squabbles that they let the world continue
creeping in a direction they don’t like. Then, they have the unmitigated
chutzpah to scream at conservatives and Republicans for not doing
enough to stop the creep. This purist approach to politics is simply
quite juvenile. Nobody cares in what direction you want the wagon
to go if you won’t get out of it and help push."
assure him we didn’t just "let the world continue" in this direction.
Many of us have been sounding warnings for years, as I’ve noted.
It is true that libertarians often quarrel too much amongst themselves
over details, and that sometimes these quarrels assume more importance
than they should. When you take ideas seriously, it happens. It
is also true that many libertarians have a mixed view of conservatives;
as a writer who senses the need for the Transcendent in society
and in life generally, I see this as a sticking point for many libertarians.
Many libertarians consider themselves Christians, not "bull-headed
atheists" as I characterized them perhaps too harshly in a previous
article (I had in mind some of the movements’ academic and intellectual
leaders, not the rank and file).
I see nothing wrong with what Goldberg calls the "purist approach"
as at least a regulative ideal: this approach boils down to the
idea that the federal government ought to recognize and obey its
founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S.
Constitution. Goldberg doesn’t think much of some of the topics
taken up by LewRockwell.com writers, such as secession and Abraham
Lincoln’s faults. Secession, however, backed up by both the willingness
and the means to carry it out, is the ultimate check on the central
power of a government. The Lincoln Administration put an end to
all discussion of the idea until the libertarian intellectuals revived
it and LewRockwell.com writers began discussing it (we are not,
by the way, alone; such discussions are occurring all over the country).
The Lincoln Administration therefore paved the way for the rise
first of progressivism and social-activist government and then of
the welfare-warfare state itself. This, in a nutshell, is why a
number of LewRockwell.com writers took up the "Lincoln question."
Nobody else would do it, and we’ve learned we certainly can’t expect
the in-the-beltway crowd to do it.
in rejoinder to Goldberg, let me add my voice to the chorus. We’re
the competition, we’re willing to take the chances you in-the-beltway
guys wouldn’t dream of taking, and we’re here to stay. This rather
turns the tables: you are the one who is stuck with us. Get used
to it. Truth be known, I’d rather have you as an ally. But you’re
going to have to leave that beltway universe first, come down off
the mountain and join us in the real world.
Yates has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is presently compiling selected essays into a single volume
tentatively entitled View From the Gallery and a work on a second
book, The Paradox of Liberty. He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He lives in Columbia,
© 2001 LewRockwell.com