For those who may have noticed, I’ve been absent from this venerable magazine for more than 12 years. Upon returning, I feel obliged to give an account of what I’ve learned in the intervening time. Aside from visiting my family and doing research for several monographs, I’ve been pondering the vicissitudes of the American right.
That last activity leads me to this judgment: We need to bring back the Old Right. Without this rallying point, a credible right will not be part of America’s future. Neither our present conservative establishment nor white nationalism, nor that part of the Alt-Right dominated by white nationalists, will do for this purpose; and I shall try to explain why.
After years of observing the conservative establishment, I can safely state that most of its media stars won’t exert themselves on behalf of unfashionable social issues. They may jolly up the religious right in order to keep that constituency Republican, but they tiptoe around gay marriage, feminism, and other divisive social matters. These “authorized” conservatives are typically reduced to defending onetime leftist positions that they pretend are conservative, such as second-wave feminism, gay marriage—other than protesting the penalties inflicted on Christian bakers who won’t bake for gay weddings—, and the legitimacy of myriad genders—other than allowing transgendered male athletes to compete with biological women. That compromise is still to come. On the immigration question, the conservative media have compromised dramatically, from limiting the legal number of immigrants to holding down the influx of illegals.
Despite my advanced age, I remain astounded by how the conservative “movement” slides from one leftist social position into an even more radical one just shy of whatever extreme standard the established left sets for a particular issue. Accordingly, we are introduced on Fox News and in conservative publications to “proud” conservative gays who are married to other gays and to Republican feminists and Republican feminist lesbians, who are outraged by the more progressive representatives of their anti-traditional lifestyle.
I’ve also noticed the absence of outrage among media conservatives when leftist state administrations began pulling down Confederate memorial statues. The editor-in-chief of National Review, Rich Lowry, urged the expeditious removal of Robert E. Lee’s statues from all over the country. As if this truckling to the left weren’t sufficient, a recent commentary on the same magazine’s website castigates Ronald Reagan for making a racially insensitive comment to Richard Nixon over the phone in 1969. Perhaps a respectable conservative just can’t truckle enough these days, particularly in responding to a leftist friend at The Atlantic.
Such acts of homage toward the left has not kept Conservatism Inc. from speaking for “permanent things” and “values,” although the definitions of these elusive quiddities keep changing depending on the zeitgeist, the availability of sponsors, and—at least equally important—the possibility of triangulating a new compromise in the leftward-shifting “center.” To all appearances, the movement’s younger stars avoid doing anything that might limit their career opportunities. They crave invitations to participate on network programs like Meet the Press and to write for The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic. Successful conservatives who play their hands right have achieved such career goals, for example: Lowry, David French, Kevin Williamson, and Jonah Goldberg. And they have done this while holding on to their largely Republican base. Media conservatives also labor to accommodate their fat-cat donors, whether the Murdoch family, Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, the Koch brothers, or members of the very friendly defense industries. We are also not supposed to comment on the amount of Zionist funding going into the conservative infrastructure. And it’s surely no secret that the Zionists who donate the most heavily to Conservatism Inc., like Murdoch, Singer, and Adelson, are supporters of left-leaning social causes.
Conservative powerbrokers have also worked to marginalize inconvenient or uncooperative voices on the right. Whether anti-interventionists, Southern conservatives, or people like me who have been persistent nuisances, the conservative movement has both exiled and defamed those whom it deems problematic. In a grotesque overgeneralization, Jonah Goldberg, Sam Tanenhaus, and E.J. Dionne have maintained that those who suffered such a battering have been racists and anti-Semites. Such accusations were usually made once the assaults had begun, in order to bring the liberal media on board to deliver the coup de grâce. I provide a cross-section of these victims in the concluding essay of a new anthology, Perspectives on Conservatism: The Vanishing Tradition, to be published by Cornell University Press.
The purges have taken place for varied reasons, one of which was to secure scarce academic resources. For example, the neoconservatives targeted Southern literary scholar M. E. Bradford in the hope of denying him a directorship at the National Endowment for the Humanities, a position that they wanted for themselves. Other times they were driven by the desire to punish those who weren’t on board with the imperial military project, such as when the establishment turned against the John Birch Society in July 1965 because of their opposition to the war in Vietnam. Attacks on the Birchers as racist and anti-Semitic were used by William F. Buckley to justify a decision to support military intervention, which had nothing to do with these charges. The Bircher magazine at the time, American Opinion, had both Jewish and black contributors.
Recent charges leveled against me by the conservative establishment as a white nationalist may be more of the same—that is, a further justification for a process of blacklisting that I’ve endured since the 1980s, when I began protesting the neoconservative takeover of what had been the conservative movement. Already in 1987, neoconservatives and Straussians teamed up to keep me from a graduate professorship at Catholic University of America. The dean of humanities was reputedly informed that I was “not quite reliable on Israel.” That turned out to be a deadly accusation that shattered my chances for teaching Aristotle’s Politics and other putatively anti-Zionist texts like Polybius’s Histories. Back then, I still leaned toward the Israeli right—as if that made any difference to my accusers, who intended the post that I sought for one of their own.
On the other end of the conservative spectrum is another obstacle to a credible, authentic right: white nationalism. Its adherents represent a moribund ideology that offers an imaginary antidote to a misdiagnosed pathology. Throughout the Western world today a cultural war has erupted in which non-radicals are fighting to hold their ground against the left. As a professor for forty years I observed that the vast majority of my leftist colleagues were white. It was white academics who brought radicalized minorities into academia in order to further “diversity.” A struggle for cultural and political dominance, moreover, goes on even in countries where nonwhites are politically insignificant. Indeed, the European left has worked to improve their hand by importing Third World, non- Christian populations. After he left office, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted to doing precisely this. The depiction of our cultural wars as based exclusively or primarily on race misrepresents what’s happening. Our most numerous adversaries in the struggle for Western civilization are white, and often belong to an affluent white elite.
To make matters even worse, white nationalists are no further on the right on social issues than the triangulating media conservatives. For the sake of white solidarity, white nationalists are willing to make massive concessions to the social left. Their reasoning seems to be, “Who cares about social or sexual morality as long as we can stand together with other whites, against everyone else?” Unfortunately for white nationalists, this is not how the cultural battle lines are drawn, and those battle lines will not likely change in the near future.
There are, of course, white nationalists who are not only strategically misguided but also given to violent acts. Indeed, one such white nationalist went berserk in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, when he shot up a shopping mall and killed 22 people while wounding 24 others. But I’m not looking at crazed killers who identify themselves as white nationalists. Rather, I am looking at the so-called thought leaders among the white nationalists, who imagine they have come up with a strategy for fighting the left.
Such militants believe they can break into the established media political conversation by being outrageous. They pride themselves on being “edgy,” as if this quality all by itself would win them acceptance in the national debate. But there’s only one way, as far as I can tell, that a political force can take off. It’s the way neoconservatives moved up, by putting together a king’s fortune, which they used to acquire media power. Unlike our isolated white nationalists, these political players had the advantage of holding conventional, almost left-of-center views, other than their extravagant Zionism and aggressive, missionary foreign policy. They also enjoyed support from the media and in government circles as they advanced themselves and their agenda. White nationalists aren’t going to approximate this accomplishment merely by shocking us.
I would note in their partial defense that white nationalists are doing for whites what Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Cory Booker and other black political figures have been doing for blacks. They are trying to raise group self-esteem by portraying their own race as victimized by adversaries. They are also generally no worse in their expressions of bigotry than anti-white blacks, who are media darlings. In a revealing biography entitled Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise, Carl Horowitz shows that it would be hard to surpass the Reverend Al in crude race baiting and incitement to violence. Yet Sharpton is not only a god figure in the present Democratic Party but, as Horowitz documents, an honored guest on Fox News for almost a decade. Undoubtedly, a double standard operates here, to the disadvantage of white nationalists. But they should blame other whites for allowing this uneven standard to exist. Without the promotion of black nationalists by whites on the left, this situation would not prevail. What has been loosely labeled the Alt- Right (yes, I helped to invent that term as well as “paleoconservative”) is a more heterogeneous grouping than white nationalists, neoconservatives, or the homogenized media conservatives. A wide range of dissenters on the right, from Breitbart, to immigration restrictionists, to race realists, and finally white nationalists have all been lumped together in the media. These Alt-Righters are mostly bloggers or website editors who have positioned themselves to the right of Conservatism Inc. but view paleoconservatives with a touch of scorn.
At their best, these critics sound very much like the paleoconservatives of the 1980s, when they were battling the neoconservatives. I for one have benefited from reading these miscellaneous independent Alt-Rightists on such subjects as the limits of pluralism, genetic influences on social behavior, and the folly of basing a conservative movement on such intrinsically leftist concepts as equality and human rights. It would be a mistake to confound these social and political critics with simple-minded, obsessive white nationalists.
But I would call attention to two problems that have affected my relations to the Alt-Right. First, as George Hawley argues in Making Sense of the Alt-Right, his subjects have not been able to free themselves entirely from white nationalist and even neo-Nazi associations. This is something they’ll definitely have to do if they wish to make themselves acceptable to larger numbers of people on the right.
Second, although, as Hawley notes, my writings, particularly on neoconservatism and the European right, profoundly influenced Alt-Right authors, I continue to hold reservations about their positions. I am especially bothered by the reductionist argument about racial IQ made by some Alt- Righters. Like them, I recognize that high intelligence is useful to a society or civilization; and it’s also possible that in some parts of the world this cognitive advantage may be lacking. But the g factor, or general intelligence, is only one of many preconditions for sustaining human development. Too often, the view of the social good that I extract from Alt-Right authors is that of a society made up exclusively or predominantly of those eligible for MENSA membership. Let me stress once again that high native intelligence is a desirable trait. But in the U.S., my major concern is not a paucity of Americans with above-average IQs. It is rather the social and cultural damage being wrought by the “high achievers,” who seem determined to destroy the moral foundations of Western civilization.
An essay of mine on Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart (which is in my anthology Revisions and Dissents) disputes an opinion argued by historian Niall Ferguson, that those high achievers whom Murray extols represent a “return to the republic’s original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith.” What Murray describes are not present-day embodiments of Puritan culture but Rep. Jerry Nadler’s voting base in Soho and Brooklyn Heights. These successful careerists, not incidentally, include those corporate executives in the high-tech sector who are conspiring to bring down all opposition to the cultural left. That such people score high on IQ tests is true enough. But I’d sooner trust our society to my rural Pennsylvania neighbors than to Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos.
This, by way of explaining why I haven’t strayed far from where I began politically about 50 years ago. It also explains why a onetime follower of mine, Richard Spencer, was correct when he observed on Twitter in March 2018, “Paul Gottfried does not endorse race-conscious conservatism. He never has nor likely will.” True enough! I’ve never stopped believing that the Old Right tradition, or paleoconservatism by any other name, is the only appropriate doctrine for the right, to whatever extent the right is still concerned with social morality, a sane non-interventionist foreign policy, and the taming of the egalitarian madness that is now subverting most Western societies.
In this protracted conflict, which is likely to go on for some time, we should stand for something that is worth standing for; and that something, I would argue, has to be different from virtue-signaling toward the left, heaping undeserved praise on today’s white race, or celebrating the IQ elite.