Frum's Flimflam

by Ilana Mercer

Reading through David Frum’s Unpatriotic Conservatives, a shabby indictment against those he lazily blankets as “paleoconservatives,” I was reminded of a fascinating paper Jörg Guido Hülsmann of the Mises Institute delivered some years back entitled The Production of Signs and the Growth of the State.

“The most important class of signs are the words we use, in particular the words of the written language,” explained Hülsmann. We come to understand “the fundamental facts of moral and political life: religion, liberty, love, hope, faith, property, justice, and all other purely intellectual things” through the configurations we create with letters of the alphabet.

How fragile then are those cherished concepts, and all the more so in the hands of a manipulator such as David Frum. Frum’s style of debate is Kafkaesque.

Take this paragraph:

The antiwar conservatives aren’t satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?

Note how Frum dictates the terms of debate. He starts off by generously welcoming “questions” about the war on Iraq. But with the next breath Frum constricts the scope of discussion, making the acceptance of the “war on terror” a prerequisite.

By the by, the National Review’s blog really showcases the essence of the “girlie-boys,” to use Ann Coulter’s coinage for this lot. Recall, the “boys with the bowties” dropped Coulter’s syndicated column after September 11 when the firebrand columnist suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that we should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. Considering that the neoconservatives at the NR advocate the two of Ann’s moves, I’ve a strong suspicion as to what prompted the firing caprice.


Or more appropriately, Coulter’s contention that converting Muslims to a religion of peace might do the trick. This was beyond the pale for the multicultists at the NR (who also regularly chide the Pope).

It’s hard not to notice how similar the simpering on the NR’s blogistan is to Mrs. Frum’s infamous e-mail. Danielle Crittenden had done a mass mailing to her pals after her hubby had coined the axis of evil phrase, expressing her “hope you’ll indulge my wifely pride.”

Rod Dreher of NR exudes the same fake saccharine humility: “I suppose it might be unseemly to praise one’s own magazine,” he blogs, “but I am proud to be associated with a publication responsible for David Frum’s magnificent essay.” As Golda Meir once said, “Don’t be humble. You’re not that great.”

In response to Jonah’s whine that “paleos have been goading and mocking” him, not least by naming his mag the “Goldberg’s Review,” I suggest substituting the “Goldberg Variations.”

Bach’s monumental score for the keyboard ought to remind Jonah that the West that paleolibertarians and conservatives love and wish to peacefully restore is the civilization epitomized by the faith-inspired beauty of Bach. It’s the West reflected in the poignancy and “deep pain” Pope John Paul II expresses these days with every fiber of his crippled frame. The picture of this righteous man, head clasped in hands, overcome with sorrow at the savagery unfolding, trumps the nasty specter of the American metropole at its most shameful, cheered by the “girlie-boys” at NR.

A testament to his manipulation of language is that the "facts" Frum marshals for each of the raps he draws up against paleos don’t coincide with the accusations:

The antiwar conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism… And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.

Frum’s mode of argument is slightly more sophisticated than Michael Savage's. Savage yelled that he’d demonstrate to his viewers “Why We Fight.” If language means anything, then the reason we fight against Iraq must directly relate to an aggression Iraq has visited on us, at the very least.

Instead, Savage began screening and rescreening the attack on the Twin Towers, amidst hysterical yelps of, “This is Why We Fight.” His frenzy incites the same in the recipient of the distorted message, thus subverting reason. Note how the signs Guido Hülsmann speaks of have been severed from what they signify – the message Savage conveys is that we fight Iraq because Saddam brought down the Twin Towers. On the facts, this is false.

The sophistry of the State’s speechwriter is similar: As evidence that Pat Buchanan “espouses defeatism,” Frum dredges Buchanan’s observation that other than to use their might, Americans do not understand the conflicts and terrain they plunge into. This is an intelligent observation about American insularity and cultural chauvinism.

Frum affects a similar disconnect between the indictment and the evidence he advances against Toronto Sun foreign correspondent Eric Margolis. Margolis recommended non-aggressive ways in which Arabs might prevent war against Iraq. This Frum labels as a “yearning for defeat.” If one respects the words used by the communicator – Margolis – and their meaning, rather than resort to conjecture, then what Margolis was saying was aimed at trying to peacefully thwart American aggression and prevent defeat for all involved.

As is evident from his tittle-tattle tome (and like his wife), Frum is a gossip. His essay is in keeping with this unfortunate character trait. He produces a series of vignettes designed to "prove" that paleos developed an ideology (which, in the case of paleolibertarians, is as old as the natural law), in order to compensate for alleged career failure.

So we discover that the delightful Paul Gottfried doesn’t entertain his students and that paleos are among the more “fractious and quarrelsome folk in the conservative universe.” (Frum fails to allow that non-conformists do tend to be “belligerent,” the word my spouse uses for his wife.) To discredit paleoconservative or paleolibertarian ideas, however, one must tackle the ideas, not the personalities. Claiming that Paul Gottfried, a consistently engaging and interesting intellectual, didn’t win a popularity contest with a bunch of 19-year-olds fails to tackle his ideas. Nor can he be refuted by the fact that he teaches at a small college. In order to be taken seriously, Frum must deal with the substance, not personalities or professional travails vis-à-vis the mainstream.

I can’t speak for paleoconservatives, but paleolibertarians care first about the effects of the state on civil society. In the words of Lew Rockwell:

Paleolibertarianism holds with Lord Acton that liberty is the highest political end of man, and that all forms of government intervention – economic, cultural, social, international – amount to an attack on prosperity, morals, and bourgeois civilization itself, and thus must be opposed at all levels and without compromise.

Everything flows from the passion for “the Old Republic of property rights, freedom of association, and radical political decentralization.” What Frum calls our “obsessive denunciations of Martin Luther King” is borne of the understanding that “civil rights” legislation is inimical to property rights and freedom of association.

Perforce, Frum charges paleos with racism. And he mocks us for allegedly being incapable of reconciling our alleged belief in “the incorrigible inferiority of darker-skinned people,” with our perception that “darker-skinned people are gaining advantage over whites."

What a skilled obscurantist!

While the strength of the paleolibertarian team comes from its enduring commitment to natural rights and justice, the strength of the Frum faction comes from its endorsement of the Almighty State. Yet, the State is conspicuously absent from Frum’s silly screed.

Frum must certainly be aware that the State redistributes wealth from those who create it to those who consume it. Frum must also be aware that libertarians oppose this coercive distribution of wealth by the State. And even Frum must be cognizant of discernible trends in wealth creation and wealth consumption. Ditto where crime is concerned: Certain populations are more likely to be perpetrators, others more likely to be victims.

Are these observations racist? To the extent that it is a relevant variable in crime and welfare, paleos comment honestly about demographics.

Yes, certain segments of society are gaining at the expense of others, but there is nothing inexplicable here if one considers the entity whose bidding Frum does so effectively. The ousting of white males from positions of prominence is courtesy of State directive! Surely even David Frum knows that. The beef paleolibertarians have is with the State for seizing and redistributing private property, for prohibiting the rightful exercise of freedom of contract and freedom of association, and for making all-out self-defense impossible.

Jonah claims, incidentally, that David Frum is “libertarian on the economy.” I don’t know any libertarian who supports the pseudo-science of climate change and the concomitant advocated policies, which Frum apparently does. But if he has a libertarian streak, Frum must have heard of property rights. Why, then, is it a racist notion that productive Americans should not have to subsidize free riders? Frum heaps scorn on Buchanan for having said that “many Americans in the first country are getting weary of subsidizing and explaining away the deepening failure of the second.”

Just as property rights are not a new paleo idea, but rather a little Lockean indulgence taken very seriously by the American founders, so too are paleo ideas on foreign policy and American adventurism, rooted in, to quote Felix Morley, the traditional American attitude of “opposition to what George Washington called u2018overgrown military establishments.'” Frum’s attempt to cast paleo ideas as new and discontinuous is ignorant of the history of the ideas.

Equally revealing about the Frum framework is his aversion to objective truth. He says that “race and ethnicity are huge and unavoidable issues in modern life, and the liberal orthodoxies on the matter tend to be doctrinaire and hypocritical.” Paleo refutation, however, he condemns because it too advances orthodoxies. Does it not occur to this doxy of the State that some “orthodoxies” may be true? Is it not possible that what Buchanan and Harvard economist George Borjas report about immigration is simply correct?

As I’ve written, and with reference to Borjas’ work, it is true that since the 1965 immigration amendments, “the United States has been granting entry visas to persons who have relatives in the United States, with no regard to their skills or economic potential.” “Immigrants today are less skilled than their predecessors, more likely to require public assistance, and far more likely to have children who remain in poor, segregated communities.” An influx of the unskilled is, moreover, responsible for the lowering of wages across the board, something that hurts poor Americans, especially blacks.

Since 1965, mass immigration has constituted the quintessential “swamping by the central state of an existing population for political ends,” to quote paleolibertarian economist, Murray N. Rothbard. Those who laud the changing US, and want more of the same, ignore the fact that this radical transformation, good or bad, has been engineered by the State, to which Frum is in thrall.

Again, the State’s speechwriter pries words from their meaning. This time Chronicles’ Thomas Fleming catches static for asserting that we “would soon be a nation no longer stratified by class, but by race as well. Europeans and Orientals will compete, as groups, for the top positions, while the other groups will nurse their resentments on the weekly welfare checks they receive from the other half.”

Why, pray, is this statement evidence of “racial animus”? Orientals and Europeans, if I am not mistaken, are the highest earners. They shoulder the tax burden. I would think that as a “libertarian on economics,” Frum would be irate that, for being high achievers, certain people are denied equal treatment under the law.

Once again, Frum’s appended slur doesn’t jibe with the utterance of the slurred.

Frum’s impoverished coda is full of journalistic jingoism about the epoch September 11 has unleashed. Paleos, spoilsports that they are, have failed to celebrate one of the most formidable consolidations of State power in recent American history. For this failure, David and the “girlie-boys” are going to turn their backboneless backs on us.

To Frum’s “War is a great clarifier,” we offer Ludwig von Mises’ words: “War only destroys; it cannot create. War, carnage, destruction and devastation we have in common with the predatory beast of the jungle.” A good synonym for neoconservative.

Ilana Mercer [send her mail] is a columnist for For more about her work, please visit

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