What Is Paleoconservatism: Part II: They make a desert, they call it peace.

From almost the day of Reagan’s election, many self-described conservatives were having serious doubts about the usefulness—and sincerity—of the so-called movement and the institutions and publications that were its most public face. Skepticism developed into cynicism and disgust as a set of leftist opportunists—“so-called neoconservatives”—waged a blitzkrieg campaign to take over the movement.  When conservative writers and activists welcomed the newcomers as sincere and talented, the reaction of sensible people should have been amused incredulity.  

The first defining issue was immigration. After all, everyone had always taken it for granted that borders had to be protected from invasion and that it was the duty of one generation to hand on intact what it had received from its predecessors.  Hitler was a partial exception, since he actively recruited foreign laborers to fill the places of working men drafted into the German army, but no one credits the Führer with a sense of benevolent xenophilia.  

Even Stalin, after all, had called upon Russians to defend their motherland, but I was forgetting that many neoconservatives had been brought up in the tradition of Trotskyist internationalism.  It had been no great difficulty for them to translate their theory of global communist revolution into a theory of global democracy.  It was not enough to send Americans around the globe to promote a political ideology of consumerism and minority rights:  They could not even be permitted to hold onto their own country.

  Immigration was one issue that united rightists with leftists who cared about their country, but it tended to divide them from their potential libertarian allies.  Rothbard was an exception.  He quickly adopted the pragmatic position that while labor should be free to cross borders without hindrance, this objective could not be realized so long as the American welfare state was attracting the wrong sort of immigrants.  Murray characteristically pushed his opposition to the limit, arguing that the real problem was not so much illegal immigrants, who could be some day rounded up and deported, but legal immigrants who had been granted the right to remain.

In the evolution of a paleoconservative point of view that joined conservatives with libertarians, the break-through moment was the publication of our “America First” issue in December 1991.  I have to rely on memory, because I do not have access to most of my correspondence, which is in the hands of strangers of an unsympathetic cast of mind.  The issue, whose cover was the front page of the December 6 1941 Chicago Tribune, produced shock waves.  We had articles by Ruth Searnes, the official historian of the America First Movement, Leonard Liggio, one of Rothbard’s oldest comrades in arms, and Justus Doenecke, a noted historian on American opposition to imperial wars.

My own contribution began with a nod to the Democratic governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, who had recently invoked the language of America First, and a well-deserved rebuke to William Bennet, the conservative movement hack who, as the nation’s “Drug Czar”, had declared victory in the war on drugs, and previously, as Secretary of Education, had told the American people that he had raised America’s SAT scores.  Bennet is a  classic American type, typified by rainmakers, lightening rod salesmen, and the medicine show proprietors who sold cheap hooch as a fountain of youth.  W.C. Fields achieved comedic immortality by portraying t these degraded specimens with more charm than they deserve.

On the strength of Bennet’s proclaimed victories, he had gained, I argued: 

multiple positions on foundations as the Republican Party's guru on American culture. His groups hold meetings on the state of American culture and invite all the usual journalists and report-writers from D.C. and New York. All that's missing are novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, musicians, and film directors—anyone, in short, who has anything practical to do with American culture.

There, in a nutshell, is the Republican Party in the 90's: speeches without substance, policies without results, distinctions without differences. They are allowed to go on in this way for two reasons: first, because the Democrats are too cowardly to oppose the President on any fundamental point; they showed a whole warbonnet full of white feathers during the so-called Gulf War. Secondly, the American people of all classes and levels of income are a lot dumber than H.L. Mencken ever dreamed. Give him a bellyful of instant food, a case of beer (or Chardonnay), and a medicine cabinet full of prescription dope, titillate him with a steady stream of soft porn on his VCR, and the American voter will ignore the evidence of his senses and support the Tweedledums or Tweedledees offered by the two wings of the ruling party.

The Democrats, give them their due, have some faint notion of what is wrong. American voters, they must believe, will grow tired of watching the evening news: Serbs killing Croats, Zulus killing Xhosa, amateur night in the Kremlin, and who knows what bogus international crisis will be used to boost the ratings next week. It is a cozy little conspiracy between the networks desperate for viewers and the administration desperate for votes, although my wife insists that the various Eastern European and Third World thugs hold scheduling conferences to determine who gets to take over the headlines this week. 

Eventually, the Democrats hope, the mob will get tired of their circuses and begin to worry more about their bread, their schools, their highways, and their personal safety. Personally, I doubt it. If an American man can no longer earn an income sufficient to support a family, he can always send his wife out to work, and if she loses her job, there is always the government to turn to. Most of the country—workers almost as much as AFDC mothers — is now made up of dependents, negotiating benefits, planning for retirement, demanding their rights. Who ever heard of zombies making a revolution?

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

8 Responses

  1. Sam Dickson says:

    Fleming takes us on an informative if unhappy trip down Memory Lane.

    I know I’m just being a “dittohead” but one point ought to be emphasized and spotlighted:

    The generations old habit of carefully crafting American “conservatism” to be safe by reason of being irrelevant.

    At least as far back as the founding of National Review and the emergence of its CIA agent (yes, it’s now admitted and bragged that he was!) who said he was dedicated to fighting “the Establishment” and turning history around in its tracks it has been the fixed policy of the “responsible right” in America to avoid talking about matters that matter.

    The strategy was to achieve safety and to avoid caustic System criticism by only dealing with trivial, marginal and irrelevant issues.

    The most striking example of this I know of was Newt Gingrich’s much ballyhooed baloney “Contract With America” which he and people like him used – successfully! – in the midterm elections after Clinton’s election to the Presidency.

    There was nothing of any significance at all in any provision of Gingrich’s “Contract.”

    As Sam Francis of Blessed Memory pointed out over dinner when the subject of odious Newt came up, “If every single promise in the Contract With America” were to be enacted into law at the snap of a finger, absolutely nothing – NOTHING! – would change of any importance.”

    No. Making it as crime to burn the Yankees’ flag by cluttering the Constitution with another Amendment, imposing term limits on the current crop of sociopaths sitting in Congress to make way for a fresh crop, making it illegal for the Congress to increase its relatively trivial legal rate of remuneration (as opposed to the bribes stashed in the secret Swiss bank accounts) and so on would not have impacted my life or yours in the slightest.

    But, oh, how National Review and all its panoply of official emasculated “conservatism” carried on as if the Second Coming was nigh!

    Such “conservatives” never intended from the get-go to conserve anything of any importance. Race, immigration, the make up of the citizenry, the bloated budget of the military industrial coalition (equal to the sum of the military budgets of all other nations on earth), control of our foreign policy by an ethnostate in the Middle East that carried the price tag for us of incurring the hatred of a billion Moslems…no issue like these could ever be touched. In fact, in the polite circles of Conservatism, Inc., just to touch one of these electric rails was radioactive and instant death…as we saw with Joe Sobran and Saint Francis himself.

    Enough! Enough bewailing this sad history.

    Let me brightside you with the observation of how thrilling it is NOT to be involved with such a movement but instead to be an adult dealing as an adult with adult issues.

    People like us may live out our lives among a marginalized mini-community but at least, small as we may be, we are on the cutting edge. When the vast ranks of Conservatism, Inc., make themselves irrelevant, by default that leaves little forums like this and the places where we live the only ones that matter.

    To paraphrase odious Winston Churchill:

    “Never before in human history has it been possible for so few to do so much good!”

    Smile! There is strength in joy!

  2. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Sam, good to see one of your astute and upbeat comments, after what seems like a long time. I couldn’t agree more with your point about silencing the truly interesting (and most important) questions from being raised and discussed. In fact, your typical Fox News Red Stater has been well-conditioned by now to detect when he needs to just keep silent and pretend you said nothing, instead of the comment you just made (usually when you’re out getting lunch), maybe about immigration or demographic replacement. A bright “conservative” friend of mine (he would say he’s moderate on the social issues and leave it at that) told me the other day that Trump will win next year, so long as the economy is good and there’s no recession, and he can close the gap with suburban women. It’s all about the jobs, Jobs, JOBS!!! Good enough for him, the nostrums of Conservative Inc. Like most of these Chamber of Commerce types, he thinks Ben Shapiro is great, really great, the way he sticks it to the liberals, and repeats the Hannity talking points ad nauseam. Israel is our only friend in the world and Putin is no different than Stalin. Besides, he reminds me, the Democratic field comprises little more than a bunch of insane weirdos who know nothing about how the economy works. I say, maybe so, but the Front runner Crazy Uncle Joe is polling way ahead of everyone, including Trump right now, no matter how big an incoherent and dishonorable blowhard he is, and if the Stupid Party doesn’t do something quick, they will soon be awash in a demographic tsunami, that will leave them permanently incapable of winning a national election. My friend wisely doesn’t hear a thing I say and changes the subject. How many more elections until Texas and Georgia are Blue? Well, it doesn’t much matter, does it? Not like Newt Gingrich or Dick Armey or Sonny Perdue ever did much to help the MARS of Sam Francis anyway. If they ever gave them a thought, aside from seeking their votes every couple years.

    I plan on spending a lot less time worrying about a Democrat winning next year, and a lot more time reading about the old verities and the ancient truths of the heart, or however Faulkner put it.

  3. Dot says:

    Regarding “Immigration was one issue that united rightists with leftists who cared about their country”, the same thing may be happening again but not sure. From the July 30, 2019 issue of The Ellsworth American (Maine weekly) was an article entitled “Maine State Housing Authority seeking options for housing asylum seekers”. They were in the position of seeking housing around the state to house a large number of “refugees”, >300, from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who were fleeing their country due to political instability there. These people just didn’t swim across the ocean. An instability was created there to cause the people to flee their country. They must have had the means to get here. Instability also occurred in Maine who had to go through the process of housing the refugees. It therefore created an instability in Maine. See https://www.ellsworthamerican.com/featured/state-seeking-options -for housing-asylum-see…

  4. James D. says:

    At this point, I’m resigned to encouraging the entire third world to move here, then I’ll move to the third world.

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    James D., my wife likes to refer to the fable of the rabbits whose population was thinned every night by a hungry bobcats did not know where to hide, much less where the bobcat was going to be. Then a clever bunny pointed out that they knew where he wouldn’t be at night, his own den. So the rabbits went to bed every night and slept in the bobcat’s lair. Mexico, anyone?

  6. James D. says:

    We had better stockpile the diesel fuel and DDT. If you could promise me a spot out of the oppressive heat, I might be on board. Perhaps we could entice the Mongols, with free iPhones and EBT cards? That climate suits me better.

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    You are forgetting that Mexico has mountains with a very temperate climate. It also has much better food and music than these United States. My father used to talk about moving to Mexico, where, as he said, you just had to make a monthly contribution to the local police in order to insure a trouble-free existence. I’m afraid that may not be the case any longer.

  8. James D. says:

    Ok. As long as you can promise that I won’t run into any of Mitt Romney’s relatives, I’m in. Local corruption is always preferable to transnational corruption.