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?