Letter to a Middle-Aged Neocon

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

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.