Conservativism, Inc. and the Ideological Follies of My Youth

One of the first essays I ever published was in the left-leaning Canadian Forum, to which I contributed a dissenting article, from the right, in 1968. Those were the days when the Left was far more tolerant than it is at the present time, and also far more tolerant than are the Stalinists and Trotskyites who run Conservatism, Inc. Unfortunately I can’t say much for the essay that I wrote as a young assistant professor at Case Western Reserve, which was full of sound and fury but signifying about as much as the latest NR editorial In fact there wasn’t much difference between what I said in 1968 and what a minicon today, looking back at the 1960s, would likely be saying. I berated the hippies and the “Counter-culture” for being unwilling to recognize the mortal struggle we were engaged in against the bad guys. Combatting the communist beast, I thought, was all-important, and the malodorous hippies who were high on a psychedelic life style, were AWOL in our war for civilization. What I didn’t mention was that I was then a fervent Republican and had just made a donation to the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. My views in 1968 were reducible to the facile formula: “Hippies are bad; Republicans are good.”

Boy, was I deluded as well as insufferably pompous back then! The hippies were epiphenomenal in terms of what the Left has since become, while the Republican Party seems an insurmountable barrier to any attempt to stop the further progress of the Cultural Marxist epidemic that has grabbed hold of the Western world. The most critical political development of the 1960s, as I argue in After Liberalism, was the explosion of the managerial state in the Western “liberal democracies,” together with the state’s increasing involvement in “social policy.” The flower children had nothing to do with this tendency, although those who later promoted the new politics, like Hillary Clinton, are delighted to pull out old pics of themselves looking like flower-power kids. There were intelligent thinkers in 1968 who did point out the big picture. But since, like my later friends Christopher Lasch and Murray Rothbard, these critics were deemed as weak in fighting the Soviet challenge, they were not regarded in official movement circles as “conservative.” Back then I imagined that arch-conservative political thinker George F. Kennan, who was blistering in his attacks on Western decadence, was a raving leftist. After all, William F. Buckley said so and to prove the case, Kennan was in favor of making agreements with communist countries.

Mind you, I’m not saying the Soviets were not an international danger or that the Right was not justified in calling for resistance against aggressive communist dictatorships. Not everything the Right argued for or against during the 1960s, particularly on the domestic front, was wrong, and in retrospect, I would prefer the Right we had in 1960 to the grotesque caricature of the one we’re stuck with now.

But the onetime preoccupation of the American Right with what its critics described as “apocalyptic anti-Communism” has had unhappy consequences. Among them are saber-rattling and a fixation on foreign enemies that have to be invaded before they overrun the “homeland.” These obsessions have found lasting form in what is now imagined to be conservatism. In most meaningful respects the conservative movement has moved far, far from where it used to be. Today it shamelessly fronts for the GOP and the Israeli Right (sometimes so abjectly that it may embarrass Israeli politicians); at the national level it goes along with increased immigration from the Third World and various plans to “normalize” (read amnesty) illegal residents, and most conservative publicists whom I encounter either acquiesce in or jubilantly affirm the sanctity of gay marriage. But for our self-described patriots and vicarious front-line warriors, these developments are not worth our mental energy. We should be standing up for “American exceptionalism” and against all those who would resist our expanding conception of “human rights.”

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