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samedi, 02 décembre 2017

The Alt Right Among Other Rights

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The Alt Right Among Other Rights

This is the text of a lecture I gave to the H.L. Mencken Club on November 4, 2017.

By Keith Preston

Ex: https://www.attackthesystem.com

Speaking about the intricacies of different ideological tendencies can often be a bit tedious, and certainly a topic like the Alt-Right can get very complicated because there are so many currents that feed into the Alt-Right. I know that when I spoke here last year I was speaking on the right-wing anarchist tradition, which is a highly esoteric tradition, and one that is often very obscure with many undercurrents. The Alt-Right is similar in the sense of having many sub-tendencies that are fairly obscure in their own way, although some of these have become more familiar now that the Alt-Right has grown in fame, or infamy, in the eyes of its opponents. Some of the speakers we have heard at this conference so far have helped to clarify some of the potential definitions of what the Alt-Right actually is, but given the subject of my presentation I thought I might break it down a bit further, and clarify a few major distinctions.

What is the Alt-Right?

The Alt-Right can be broadly defined as a highly varied and loose collection of ideologies, movements, and tendencies that in some way dissent from the so-called “mainstream” conservative movement, or are in actual opposition to mainstream conservatism. Of course, this leaves us with the task of actually defining mainstream conservatism as well. I would define the conservative movement’s principal characteristics as being led by the neoconservatives, oriented towards the Republican Party, and as a movement for whom media outlets like Fox News, talk radio, and publications like National Review and the Weekly Standard are its leading voices. Outside of the framework of what some here appropriately call “Conservatism, Inc.,” we could say that there is an Alt-Right that can be broadly defined, and an Alt-Right that can be more narrowly defined.

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The Alt-Right broadly defined would be anything on the Right that is in opposition to the neocon-led Republican alliance. This could include everything from many Donald Trump voters in the mainstream, to various tendencies that have been given such labels as the “alt-lite,” the new right, the radical right, the populist right, the dark enlightenment, the identitarians, the neo-reactionaries, the manosphere (or “men’s right advocates”), civic nationalists, economic nationalists, Southern nationalists, white nationalists, paleoconservatives, right-wing anarchists, right-leaning libertarians (or “paleolibertarians”), right-wing socialists, neo-monarchists, tendencies among Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditionalists, neo-pagans, Satanists, adherents of the European New Right, Duginists, Eurasianists, National-Bolsheviks, conspiracy theorists, and, of course, actually self-identified Fascists and National Socialists. I have encountered all of these perspectives and others in Alt-Right circles.

Under this broad definition of the Alt-Right, anyone from Steve Bannon or Milo Yiannopolis all the way over to The Daily Sturmer or the Traditionalist Workers Party could be considered Alt-Right. In fact, ideological tendencies as diverse as these have actually embraced the Alt-Right label to describe themselves. For example, Steve Bannon said at one point during the Trump campaign in 2016 that he wanted to make Breitbart into the voice of the Alt-Right, but then I have also encountered people who are actual neo-Nazis using the Alt-Right label to describe themselves as well.

A narrower definition of the Alt-Right might be to characterize what is most distinctive about the Alt-Right. In this sense, the Alt-Right could be characterized as a collection of tendencies that is specifically oriented towards some of kind identification with European history and tradition, and regard Europe and, by extension, North America as part of a distinct Western civilization that was developed by European and, predominantly, Christian peoples. Consequently, the Alt-Right tends to be much more oriented towards criticizing ideas or policies like multiculturalism, mass immigration, and what is commonly called “political correctness,” than what is found among mainstream conservatism. This is in contrast to the Left’s views, which are increasingly the views of mainstream liberalism as well, and which regards the legacy of Western history and culture as nothing but an infinite string of oppressions such racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, patriarchy, hierarchy, nativism, cisgenderism, speciesism, and the usual laundry list of isms, archies, and phobias that the Left sees as permeating every aspect of Western civilization. Presumably, other civilizations have never featured any of these characteristics.

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In this way, the Alt-Right is obviously in contrast to mainstream conservatism given that the so-called “conservative movement” is normally oriented towards what amounts to three basic ideas. One idea is that of the foreign policy “hawks,” or advocates of military interventionism for the ostensible purpose of spreading the Western model of liberal democracy throughout the world, whose greatest fear is isolationism in foreign policy, and which is a perspective that I would argue is also very convenient for the armaments manufacturers and the Pentagon budget. A second idea is a fixation on economic policy, such as a persistent advocacy of “tax cuts and deregulation,” which in reality amounts to merely advancing the business interests of the corporate class. And the third idea is a type of social conservatism that is primarily religion-driven, and has opposition to abortion or gay marriage as central issues of concern, but typically gives no thought to cultural or civilizational issues in any broader or historical sense. For example, it is now common in much of the evangelical Protestant milieu, as well as the Catholic milieu, to welcome mass immigration, as a source of potential converts, or as replacement members for churches that are losing their congregations due to the ongoing secularization of the wider society. In fact, the practice of adopting Third World children has become increasingly common within the evangelical Protestant subculture in the same way it has among celebrities and entertainers like Madonna or Angelina Jolie.

Predictably, there has been a great deal of conflict that has emerged between the Alt-Right and the mainstream conservative movement, with many movement conservatives and their fellow travelers going out of their way to attack or denounce the Alt-Right. In this sense, the attacks on the Alt-Right that have originated from mainstream conservatism essentially mirror those of the Left, or of the liberal class. For example, the Associated Press issued a description of the Alt-Right that was intended for writers’ guideline policy purposes, and which reads as follows:

The ‘alt-right’ or ‘alternative right’ is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order. The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism … criticizes “multiculturalism” and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race (John Daniszewski, Associated Press, November 26, 2016)

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While the above quotation is from the Associated Press, I do not know that there is anything in it that could not have come from the pages of not only The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, but also from the pages of the National Review, Weekly Standard, the Federalist, or a Prager University video.

As for some specific examples, writing in The Federalist, conservative political scientist Nathanael Blake stated that “Christianity and Greco-Roman philosophy, rather than race, are the foundations upon which Western Civilization was built,” and suggested that the Alt-Right is actually attacking the legacy of Western Civilization rather than defending the Western cultural heritage. These questions have become a major point of contention between cultural conservatives and the racialist right-wing. Writing in National Review, David French (Bill Kristol’s one-time proposed presidential candidate), called Alt-Right adherents “wanna-be fascists” and denounced “their entry into the national political conversation.” I suppose the difference between the views of David French and the views of the Left would be that the Left would say that the Alt-Right are actual fascists, and not merely “wanna-be” fascists. Presumably, this is what separates the mainstream Right from the Left nowadays.

Writing for The Weekly Standard, Benjamin Welton has characterized the Alt-Right as a “highly heterogeneous force” that “turns the left’s moralism on its head and makes it a badge of honor to be called ‘racist,’ ‘homophobic,’ and ‘sexist'”. Based on my own experiences with the Alt-Right, I would say this assessment by Welton is largely true. In the National Review issue of April, 2016, Ian Tuttle wrote:

The Alt-Right has evangelized over the last several months primarily via a racist and anti-Semitic online presence. But for Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, the Alt-Right consists of fun-loving provocateurs, valiant defenders of Western civilization, daring intellectuals—and a handful of neo-Nazis keen on a Final Solution 2.0, but there are only a few of them, and nobody likes them anyways.

Jeffrey Tucker, a libertarian writer affiliated with the Foundation for Economic Education, describes the Alt-Right as follows:

The Alt-Right “inherits a long and dreary tradition of thought from Friedrich Hegel to Thomas Carlyle to Oswald Spengler to Madison Grant to Othmar Spann to Giovanni Gentile to Trump’s speeches.” Tucker further asserts that Alt-Right adherents “look back to what they imagine to be a golden age when elites ruled and peons obeyed” and consider that “identity is everything and the loss of identity is the greatest crime against self anyone can imagine.”

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Whatever one thinks of the Trump presidency, it is highly doubtful that Trump actually draws inspiration from Hegel.

Writing in The Federalist, a libertarian feminist named Cathy Young criticized a Radix Journal article on abortion that criticized the pro-life position as “‘dysgenic,” because it supposedly “encourages breeding by ‘the least intelligent and responsible’ women.” So apparently, it is not enough to simply favor abortion rights. Instead, one has to be “pro-choice” for what are apparently the “right reasons,” such as a “woman’s right to choose,” as opposed to “bad reasons,” such as eugenic practice. This line of thought is in keeping with the fairly standard leftist viewpoint which insists that motives and intentions rather than ideas and consequences are what matters, and the standard by which people ought to be morally judged.

Another interesting aspect of these criticisms is that the mainstream conservatives have attacked the Alt-Right by using leftist terminology, such as labeling the Alt-Right as racist, sexist, fascist, xenophobic, etc. But a parallel tactic that has been used by mainstream conservatism has been to denounce the Alt-Right as leftist. For example, at this year’s gathering of CPAC, or the Conservative Political Action committee, Dan Schneider, who is currently the executive director of the American Conservative Union, an organization that hosts the annual CPAC conference, criticized the Alt-Right as “a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” insisting that, quote, “We must not be duped. We must not be deceived,” and said of the Alt-Right:

“They are nothing but garden-variety left-wing fascists..They are anti-Semites; they are racists; they are sexists. They hate the Constitution. They hate free markets. They hate pluralism. They despise everything we believe in.”

This sounds very similar to the rhetoric that often comes from the far left where dire warnings are issued concerning the supposed threat of fascist entryism into leftist organizations. For example, there is term called the “the fascist creep” that is used by some very far Left antifa and Maoist tendencies to describe what are supposedly ongoing nefarious plots by “fascists” to infiltrate and co-opt leftist movements, and steer these towards fascism. Ironically, this conspiracy theory is very similar to traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about how Jews supposedly infiltrate and take over everything, and manipulate institutions in order to advance all sorts of supposed nefarious plots. It would appear that the far Left, and apparently increasingly mainstream conservatism, has developed its own rhetoric about the “fascist conspiracy” as a counterpart to far Right fantasies about the “Jewish conspiracy.” Perhaps we could characterize the former as the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Thule.”

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Jeff Goldstein, writing in The Federalist on September 6, 2016, suggests that, quote, “the Alt-Right is the mirror image of the New Left,” and describes the Alt-Right “an identity movement on par with Black Lives Matter, La Raza, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and other products of cultural Marxism.” Goldstein further says of the Alt-Right:

The Alt-Right is a European-style right-wing movement that is at odds with the classical liberalism upon which our country was built, and which the Left has redefined as “Right.” That is to say, the European “Right” is mapped onto a political spectrum different than our own. Our “right” — conservatism or classical liberalism —is dead-center on our spectrum, no matter how persistently the Left tries to claim otherwise. It is constitutionalism, which incorporates federalism, republicanism, legal equity, and a separation of powers.

These comments are fairly representative of the rhetoric used by mainstream conservatives who attempt to either portray the Alt-Right as leftists, or label the Alt-Right as fascists and then claim fascism is really on the Left. The general argument that is made by mainstream conservatives in response to the Alt-Right is that “true” conservatism or the “true” Right is actually veneration for the Enlightenment-influenced ideas found in the Declaration of Independence, veneration of the Founding Fathers, and reverence for the Constitution as a kind of secular Bible. Parallel to these claims is the idea of America as a “propositional nation” that has no roots in any kind of history, culture, or tradition other than just a very vaguely defined “Judeo-Christianity.” This idea of what “conservatism” supposedly is basically amounts to being for so-called “limited government,” so-called “free enterprise,” “individualism,” and various other vaguely defined abstractions, plus policy preferences like a so-called “strong national defense” (which is often just a euphemism for the neoconservatives’ foreign policy agenda), and various center-right policy prescriptions like tax cuts, opposing Obamacare, opposing affirmative action, opposing gun control, opposing abortion, opposing gay marriage, supporting school vouchers, and other ideas we are all familiar with.

These policy preferences will often be accompanied by silly platitudes like “Democrats are the real racists,” or dubious and often flagrantly false claims like “Martin Luther King was a conservative,” or that foreign policy hawks are the real friends of feminists and gays because of their opposition to so-called “Islamo-fascism.” At times, Democrats will be labeled as fascists and anti-Semites because of their supposed pro-Islamic views, or because some on the far Left are pro-Palestinian. Taken to extremes, there are characters like Dinesh D’Souza who would probably claim that the Democrats crucified Jesus.

The representatives of “Conservatism, Inc.” will also give lip service to opposition to attacks on free speech and academic freedom in the name of political correctness, but they are very selective about this. For example, their defense of the politically incorrect does not extend to anti-Zionists like Norman Finkelstein. On the immigration issue, while there are some mainstream conservatives that are immigration restrictionists, it is just as common that the proposed method of reducing illegal immigration advanced by mainstream conservatives is to make legal immigration easier, on the assumption that the only problem with illegal immigration is its illegality. A defining characteristic of mainstream conservatism when contrasted with the Alt-Right is the total lack of seriousness, or any kind of solid philosophical or intellectual foundation that is displayed by mainstream conservatism.

The Alt-Right is more of a meta-political movement than a political one, and the specific policy proposals that are found among Alt-Rightists vary enormously. I do not know that it would even be possible to draft a platform for an Alt-Right political party because the Alt-Right contains so much diversity of ideas. However, the Alt-Right is far more serious about ideas than mainstream conservatism in the sense of having an understanding of the reality of demographic conflict, recognizing the difficulties that are associated with rapid demographic change, understanding the reality of class conflict as well as cultural and civilizational conflicts, understanding that Western liberal democracy is particular to the cultural foundations and historical circumstances of the West, and not something that can be easily transplanted elsewhere, and concerns that mainstream conservatives normally have no perception of, or do not take seriously.

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I will end my presentation by pointing to an observation by Professor George Hawley of the University of Alabama, who suggested that the Alt-Right may pose a greater threat to progressivism than the mainstream conservative movement. I would agree that this is true, but only in the sense that the mainstream conservative movement poses no threat to progressivism at all. I would argue that far from being a threat to the Democratic Party, mainstream media, the corporate class and the cultural elite, the mainstream conservative movement is actually partners in crime with the progressives. The Alt-Right at least proposes ideas that are an ideological threat to progressivism even if this small size prevents the Alt-Right from being a political threat, at least at the present time.

vendredi, 30 mai 2014

Memory Holes in the American Right

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Memory Holes in the American Right

By

GaryNorth.com

Ex: http://www.lewrockwell.com

We all know about the memory hole. That was the unofficial name of a department of government in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was devoted to re-writing history. It destroyed historical documents to make this re-writing easier. This was its motto: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Orwell used the Soviet Union as his model. The USSR was famous for using photo editing techniques to remove past leaders from old photos. These people became non-persons. Photoshop is simply a low-cost tool for modern media organizations to do similar sorts of things. They do it to sell more products. The USSR did it to maintain power.

These techniques are still being used inside what Mrs. Clinton calls the vast Right-wing conspiracy. Today’s leaders want to erase all traces of the earlier leaders.

Why? Because the time-servers who collect their salaries are nonentities. They do not want to be compared to the founders. They do not want the evidence of decline available for all to see. Max Weber had a phrase for this almost a century ago: the routinization of charisma. The bureaucrats inherit the earth.

PRESERVING THE PAST

One of the saddest aspects in the history of the post-World War II conservative movement is the fact that it is almost impossible to trace its history at the grass roots level.

Part of this problem is this: the little organizations used mimeograph machines to publish their message. This was a shoestring movement until at least the mid-1950′s. These materials were tossed out by survivors after the blue-haired ladies died. These women collected newspaper clippings, scoured the Congressional Record, published their newsletters, and had meetings. They left few traces.

The newsletters have disappeared. Think of the Dan Smoot Report. Think of the early years of Human Events. Think of Hilaire DuBarrier’s HduB Report. Think of Don Bell Report. They are gone with the wind.

I have a complete set of the HduB Report on a CD-ROM. I do not think it is possible to trace the history of the European Union without reading these reports. But they are not online. I do not know who owns the copyrights. Neither does the man who created the CD-ROM.

To construct the history of the conservative movement, the various organizations that published newsletters, magazines, and books should go into their files, send them to a specialist in producing searchable PDF’s, and then post all of that information online free of charge. This is the minimal commitment necessary to keep old ideas alive.

If an organization has spent decades asking for donations from its supporters in order to get out the message, and then it suppresses or ignores that message through the 80% of the history of the organization, then something is fundamentally wrong with the thinking of the present directors. Any organization that raises money for years to publish the true word, and then decides to deep-six the true word, has abandoned the true word.

All of that money was raised, all of that enthusiasm was generated, all of that information was published, yet the organization’s present salaried directors decide that it’s not worth preserving online free of charge.

Something is deeply wrong with any idea-based organization that does not post its entire body of published materials online.

I cannot imagine any ideological organization’s senior staff this shortsighted, yet I know it’s the case. I have seen it over and over. There is simply no strong commitment to preserving the legacy of the organization. The present directors implicitly dismiss all of the work of the previous directors, as if all that money, all those ideas, all that effort in publishing the material was not really worth it. It is as if all of this material is worthless today. The senior directors of the organization have self-consciously made a decision not to preserve this information for the present members of the organization.

I’m thinking of a particular organization. Let’s see if you can figure this out. It has been around for over 50 years. It published a great deal of material. It published a magazine every month. It published newsletters from the organization’s senior director. It raised money for years to try to get this information out to the public. It was one of the fundamental organizations in the history of the conservative movement. But its present directors have refused for over 15 years to put this information online.

I know a man who has put all of the material into PDF’s, and he even put it up on a website. But he doesn’t have the copyright to the publications, so he is not allowed by the organization to post this material publicly. I have seen it. I have used it. But you can’t find by searching for it online, because the individual has not posted it where the general public can get at it. The reason for this is simple: he does not own the copyright.

Could this be an organization that you have committed money to? Have you even asked this about the organizations that you do commit money to. Have you made sure that you are not donating a dime to any organization that has a body of material like this, but which has not put all of this material online, free of charge?

If the organization is self-consciously suppressing this, then you should not donate to it. If the organization is run by men who are so shortsighted that they want to ignore 50 years of publication, then why should you continue to send money to it? The publication can be scanned in and converted to PDFs for about 35 cents a page. “We just can’t afford this!” Some minimum-wage intern could run copies through a standard copy machine, which will convert pages to searchable PDF’s if it has Adobe Acrobat installed. But the senior decision-makers in the organization have no vision of the future, because they have no vision of the past. If they think the past is irrelevant, then they think the future is irrelevant. All they care about is this month’s “scare ‘em and skin ‘em” fundraising effort.

One organization that does things right is the Mises Institute. All of the old materials in the Austrian school movement are available free of charge here: https://mises.org/Literature

Years ago, I put up the money for the Mises Institute to post all of the issues of American Affairs online. It had been edited by Garet Garrett. It was long forgotten. No organization owned them. This was not a matter of dropping materials down the organization’s memory hole. There was no succession. The Mises Institute believes in preserving legacies like this. The Mises Institute understands the importance of the past in building the future.

My recommendation: do not donate a dime to any ideological outfit that has not posted all of its past publications online for free. Simple. “No searchable PDF’s online for free — no donation.” This should be an unbreakable rule.

I did this over 15 years ago with the publications of my Institute for Christian Economics. I shut it down in December 2001, because I realized that I no longer needed to raise money to publish books. I can publish a book in 90 seconds in PDF form. I keep these materials, 1975-2001, online for free here:http://www.garynorth.com/public/department78.cfm.

DOES ANYONE CARE?

I understand the problem. Most people are not interested in history. Most people are not interested in the stories of how the movement or an organization got started. Most people care about the present mainly, and they barely care about the future. They surely do not care about the past.

The conservative movement is grounded philosophically on a vision of history that asserts the legitimacy of historical process. Conservatives believe that the past is important. They believe that preserving the memory of the past is important. They understand that the world today is the product of the past, and that he who does not understand the past is not going to have a coherent plan for shaping the future. But the leaders of the conservative movement have tended not to believe this. They have not been committed to preserving the past. They had been political activists, and the political activist has a vision not much longer than the next congressional election. This has been a deep-seated problem within the conservative movement ever since it began after World War II. It began mainly as anti-Communism, and interest in the past was limited to studies of how the communist infiltrated this or that organization. It was not in any way committed to pass conservative ideas, which had lost their power to persuade people by 1946.

So, the modern conservative movement began as an “anti-” movement. Such movements are inherently reactionary. They react to present crazies and present crises. They react to whatever the Establishment is doing, or plans to do, or might possibly do, in the near future. The conservative movement has always been 80% committed to putting out fires. You cannot build a movement, let alone a society, based on continual fire drills. But this is what the conservative movement has attempted to do.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s much different today. Conservatives may be worried about whether Hillary Clinton is going to run, or whether she can win, but they are not at all concerned about what the world will be like after one term of whoever is elected president in 2016. I call this a lack of 2020 vision.

People whose time perspective does not extend beyond the next presidential election are not concerned with building up a body of materials that can serve as a foundation for restoring liberty. They are unfamiliar with how the American Republic became the American Empire, and they are basically committed to extending the American Empire through military means. Then they want to make things better by a few reforms, none of which stands a political chance. They want clean up the mess in government. They want to sweep the bad guys out.

We know where this leads.

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation (Matthew 12:43-45).

CONCLUSION

If your favorite conservative organization does not have all of its previous magazines, newsletters, special reports, and so forth online, do not send it any more money.

Drop a note to the head of the organization. Explain your desire to get the organization’s old materials posted where Google can find them. Say that you are willing to make a donation to fund such a publication project.

If you get an explanation that “at the present time, we do not have the funds,” send your money elsewhere.

The Mises Institute is a good choice.

jeudi, 14 février 2013

The Right’s False Prophet

The Right’s False Prophet

Review of: Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America, Paul Gottfried, Cambridge University Press, 182 pages

 

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When writing about the work of an academic historian or philosopher—as opposed to a polemicist, a politician, or a popularizer—there is an obvious threshold question with which to begin: is the writer’s work intrinsically interesting or compelling in some way? If this question is answered in the negative, then there is usually no reason to carry on.

The strange case of Leo Strauss, however, proves that there are definite exceptions to this rule. Strauss’s work is almost universally dismissed by philosophers and historians, yet he has attracted a following amongst political theorists (hybrid creatures most often associated with political science departments) and neoconservative political activists. So, while the verdict on the intellectual importance of Strauss’s historico-philosophical work has been that, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there is no there there, the practical influence of Strauss, its manifestation as Straussianism, and Straussianism’s connection with neoconservatism still present themselves as intriguing problems in contemporary American intellectual history.

In Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America Paul Gottfried, the Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, offers an explanation of the Straussian phenomenon that is concise and compelling. While treating Strauss’s work with considerable respect, Gottfried concludes that the historians’ and philosophers’ rejection of Strauss is, for the most part, justified. However, unlike critics on the left who suggest that Strauss is illiberal and anti-modern, Gottfried argues that Strauss’s appeal consists largely in his creation of a mythical account of the rise of liberal democracy and its culmination in a creedal conception of the American polity.

According to Gottfried, Strauss and his followers have always been more concerned with practical questions about contemporary politics than with intellectual history or complex philosophical questions. Their primary purpose, which allies the neoconservatives with them, is to develop an abstract legend of American politics that supports a moderate welfare state domestically and a quasi-messianic internationalism in foreign policy.

Gottfried comes to these conclusions from several directions. First, he offers an engaging contextual account of Strauss’s intellectual formation. Gottfried argues that three biographical facts are central to understanding Strauss’s work: “he was born a Jew, in Germany, at the end of the nineteenth century.” Strauss’s most important early intellectual encounter was with the neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen, who attempted to make Kant safe for Judaism and vice versa. Strauss was also influenced by Cohen’s sharply critical reading of Spinoza as a proto-liberal intent on conceiving of political life in a secular way that would allow for the successful assimilation of the Jewish people. According to Gottfried, “a profound preoccupation with his Jewishness runs through Strauss’s life” and plays a major role in Strauss’s development into an apologist for an ideological and universalist version of liberal democracy.

Strauss was also influenced by the intellectual battles being waged in Germany at the turn of the century. The Methodenstreit that was taking place amongst economists was also occurring amongst historians and philosophers, and it resulted in a series of conceptual dichotomies that would appear throughout Strauss’s later writings. His trio of bêtes noires (positivism, relativism, and historicism) was at the heart of the conflicts about methodology in Germany, and the outcome of these debates set the terms of critique for Strauss’s youth and beyond.

Finally, there was the political situation in Germany, especially after the disastrous end of World War I. The attractions of fascism to someone like Strauss, whose early inclinations were in a more social-democratic direction, would have been obvious, given the instability of Weimar. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Strauss’s admiration for Mussolini outlasted the mid-1930s. Instead, the lesson that Strauss took from the fall of the Weimar government and the rise of Hitler and National Socialism was that liberalism was not capable of withstanding the onslaught of historicism, positivism, and moral relativism without solid quasi-religious and quasi-mythical foundations—and that he would be the one to provide those. Gottfried is certainly correct in arguing that for Strauss and his acolytes it is always September 1938 and we are always in Munich.

The second direction from which Gottfried approaches Strauss leads through an examination of the Straussian method and its products. Gottfried provides a critical account of the method and also notes the ahistorical, quasi-legendary, and often hagiographic character of the interpretations that the method produces. The Straussian method consists of two distinct doctrines, neither of which is particularly clear or convincing. First, Strauss asserts that understanding the work of a philosopher involves the reproduction of the author’s intention. Unfortunately, and as Gottfried argues, Strauss never explains what he means by “intention,” nor does he explain how one might reproduce an author’s intention. The second doctrine, however, renders the first irrelevant. Strauss argues that authentic philosophers hide their teaching from the casual reader and only initiates into the true philosophic art can decode the esoteric meaning of such texts. For Strauss and the Straussians, this is not an historical claim but a theoretical one, and it yields an interpretative strategy both naïve and paranoid.

The results of the Straussian method read like they were written by the intellectual offspring of Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Bergen. It may seem difficult to distinguish between the oracular pronouncements and the intellectual ventriloquism, but that’s because there is no real distinction to be made. As Gottfried notes, there is uncanny similarity between the Straussian reading of texts and the postmodern deconstruction of language. The esoteric claims provide cover for Straussian interpretive preferences and shield against criticism from anyone outside the clique. Cleanth Brooks once imagined what postmodern literary critics could have made of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and it makes just as much sense to ask what the Straussians could do with the nursery rhyme.

The two primary conclusions associated with Strauss’s esoteric reading of past texts are that all philosophers from the time of Plato onward were atheistic hyper-rationalists and that the United States emerged fully formed from the forehead of John Locke. Both of these conclusions are historically false, but it is inaccurate to call Strauss or his epigones bad historians because they are not historians at all.

Gottfried suggests correctly that Strauss and his followers are, in fact, engaged not in historical scholarship but in offering an extended civics lesson. He writes that the “celebration of the American present, as opposed to any march into the past, is a defining characteristic of the Straussians’ hermeneutics.” The Straussian professor understands himself as a prophet, a preacher, and a proselytizer, and at least in this consideration there is a significant element of commonality with the academic left. The Straussian past is composed of a collection of heroes and villains, and the story describes a teleological development of political life culminating in a highly abstract and ideologized version of the United States. This legend of American politics has proven to be the most influential of Strauss’s various tales of the mighty dead.

In his third approach to Strauss, Gottfried offers an appraisal of the influence of Straussianism on American politics generally and on American conservatism specifically. It is here that Gottfried makes what will likely be considered his most controversial arguments. He suggests that Strauss and the Straussians are best understood not as conservatives but as Cold War liberals and that their natural allies are the so-called neoconservatives. There are two Strausses and Straussianisms here. There are the West Coast Straussians (Harry Jaffa, Charles Kesler, and the Claremont crew), who read the master as a true-believing liberal democrat, and there are the East Coasters (Harvey Mansfield, Allan Bloom, Thomas Pangle, et al.) who view him as liberal democrat faute de mieux. However, as Gottfried points out, the similar practical conclusions reached by the two schools make the differences between them unimportant.

Indeed, one of the implicit claims that Gottfried makes is that there is not that great of an ideological difference between the American political parties, and there is no difference between neoconservatives and Cold War liberals. Thus the influence of the Straussians derives in part because, despite their sometimes bombastic rhetoric, their politics are center or center-left and not much different from the politics of both of the mainstream warfare/welfare-state parties in America.

Gottfried notes that both the Straussians and the neoconservatives “assume a certain right-wing style without expressing a right-wing worldview.” Neoconservatives serve to popularize the Straussians’ mythical account of American politics by “drawing their rhetoric and heroic models from Straussian discourse.” Staussians, on the other hand, profit from neoconservative largesse. Gottfried writes that the Straussians “have benefited from the neoconservative ascendency by gaining access to neoconservative-controlled government resources and foundation money and by obtaining positions as government advisors.”

For Gottfried, the primary effect that both neoconservatives and Straussians have had on the American conservative movement is to suck all the air out of it and ensure that there is no one to the right of them, while their primary effect on American politics generally has been to reinforce the ideologically charged notion that America is some sort of propositional nation constituted like a vast pseudo-religion by a set of tenets needing constant promulgation. It is a story of America as armed doctrine, and Gottfried is assuredly right in arguing that there is nothing conservative about it.

Strauss was at best a mediocre scholar whose thought expressed a confused bipolarity between a very German and ahistorical Grecophilia on the one hand and a scattered, dogmatic, and unsophisticated apology for an American version of liberal universalism on the other. Amongst prominent European philosophers, Strauss was taken seriously only by Hans-Georg Gadamer, until Gadamer concluded that Strauss was a crank, and by Alexandre Kojève, whose work reads today as if it were a parody of trendy French Marxism. In Britain, neither Strauss nor the Straussians have ever been taken seriously.

Strauss’s argument about esotericism is both historically and philosophically incoherent and useless in any methodological sense. It calls to mind something that Umberto Eco called cogito interruptus:

cogito interruptus is typical of those who see the world inhabited by symbols or symptoms. Like someone who, for example, points to the little box of matches, stares hard into your eyes, and says, ‘You see, there are seven…,’ then gives you a meaningful look, waiting for you to perceive the meaning concealed in that unmistakable sign.

 

Finally, regarding the phenomenon of Straussianism, the cult took hold here for the same reasons that cults generally succeed in the U.S.: ignorance, inexperience, and a desire to have a simple answer to complex problems.

Kenneth B. McIntyre is assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal and is the author of Herbert Butterfield: History, Providence, and Skeptical Politics.

jeudi, 14 octobre 2010

Dead Right : The Infantilization of American Conservatism

Dead Right

The Infantilization of American Conservatism

 
 
 
Dead Right
 

Commentaries published on this website, most notably by Richard Spencer and Elizabeth Wright, have underlined the problems with the Tea Party movement and its most prominent representatives. These pointed observations about Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, and Christine O’ Donnell have all been true; and if I have more or less defended some of these figures in the past, I’ve done so, while conceding most of the argument made against them. I agree in particular with Elizabeth Wright’s brief against Rand Paul’s stuttering attempt to object to the public accommodations clause in the Civil Rights Act and her withering attack on Glenn Beck’s recent “carnival of repentance” in Washington.

Elizabeth concludes that such soi-disant critics of the Left cannot bring themselves to find fault with any excess in the Civil Rights movement -- and especially not with its far leftist icon Martin Luther King. “Conservatives” are so terrified of being called “racists” or for that matter, sexists or homophobes, that they devote themselves tirelessly to showing they are just as sensitive as the next PC robot. Indeed, they often go well beyond anyone on the left in genuflecting before leftist icons. This was the purpose of the Martin Luther King-adoration rally held by Beck in Washington.

And even more outrageously, such faux conservatives accuse long-dead Democratic presidents, who were well to the right of the current conservative movement, of being more radical than they actually were. It would be no exaggeration to say that Wilson and FDR were far more reactionary than any celebrity in the Tea Party movement. One could only imagine what such antediluvian Democrats would have said if they had heard last year’s “Conservative of the Year,” chosen by Human Events, Dick Cheney, weeping all over the floor about not allowing gays to marry each other. And what would that stern Presbyterian and Southern segregationist Wilson have thought about the cult of King or the attempts by Tea Party leaders Palin and McDonnell to impose feminist codes of behavior on business and educational establishments. Wilson had to be dragged even into supporting the extension of the franchise to women.

The Tea Party sounds so often like the Left because it is for the most part a product of the Left. Its people were educated in public schools, watch mass entertainment, and have absorbed most of the leftist values of the elite class, to whose rule they object only quite selectively. From the demonstrators’ perspective, that elite isn’t patriotic enough in backing America’s crusades for human rights and in looking after the marvelous welfare state we’ve already built. The Tea Party types are understandably upset that their entitlements may be imperiled, if the current administration continues to run up deficits. This is the essence of their anti-government rant. And above all they don’t want more illegals coming into the country who may benefit from the social net and who may be receiving tax-subsidized medical care.

But this, we are assured, has nothing to do with race or culture. In fact the Tea Party claims to be acting on behalf of blacks and legally resident Latinos, in the name of Martin Luther King and all the civil rights saints of the past. It just so happens that almost all these activists are white Christians. Nonetheless, they are also people, as Elizabeth perceptively notices, who would like us to think they’re acting in the name of other ethnic groups, even if those groups don’t much like them. As four “young conservatives” explained to the viewers of the Today show last week, the Right wishes to lower taxes, specifically “to make jobs available to black Americans.” Unfortunately black Americans loathe those reaching out to them, presumably as a gesture of repentance as well as in pursuit of votes.

Those “conservatives” who want a moderate but not excessive welfare state and who act in the name of blacks, Latinos and dead leftist heroes, are fully tuned in to the conservative establishment. According to polls, these folks love FOX-news and avidly read movement conservative publications. Palin, Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, all FOX contributors, are among their favored speakers; and the Tea Party’s likely candidate for president, Sarah Palin, is now surrounded by such predictable neocon advisors as Randy Scheuermann and Bill Kristol. Even with her insipid, ungrammatical phrases about reducing the size of government, Palin already looks like an updated, feminine and feminized version of what the GOP has been running for president for decades, with neocon approval.

Actually one shouldn’t expect anything else from the Tea Party. In the 1980s the conservative movement witnessed a monumental sea change, when the neoconservatives assumed full power and proceeded to kick out dissenters. This development shaped the future of the Right, and its effects are still with us. The neoconservatives not only neutralized any real Right but also managed to infantilize what they took over. An entire generation of serious conservative thinkers were bounced out and replaced by either lackeys or by those who were essentially recycled liberal Democrats. The latter had recoiled from the anti-Zionist stands of the leftwing of the Democratic Party and then were given as a consolation prize carte blanche to swallow up the conservative movement.

Afterwards the establishment Right began to move in the direction of the Left, and it did so while limiting the range of disagreement with its opponents to a few acceptable talking points. The emphasis was on Middle Eastern intervention, disciplining anti-Semitic nations, and spreading “democratic values.” Internally the neocon Herrenklasse had no real interest, except for being able to do favors for corporations that financed them and for the Religious Right, which is fervently Zionist. The notion the neocons bestowed depth on the conservative movement may be the most blatant lie ever told. What they brought was agitprop, of the kind practiced by Soviet bureaucrats, and armies of culturally illiterate adolescents to turn out their party propaganda.

In all fairness, it must be said that the master class tolerated other points of view, for example from Catholic Thomists or Evangelicals, as long as these religiously inspired positions didn’t interfere with what counted for the neocons. Those who called the shots would also occasionally demand from their dependents certain favors, in return for subsidies and publicity, e.g., stressing the compatibility of Christian theology with neocon policies. Freeloading intellectuals could only be tolerated for so long.

This hegemony had two noticeable effects on the current Right, aside from the unchanged role of the neocons as the main power-players. The rightwing activists shown on TV and those they support in elections include badly educated duds, and these are individuals who often don’t sound like anything an historian might recognize as conservative. Their yapping about human rights (supposedly there is now a human right to own a gun) and their outpouring of the politics of guilt, as noted by Elizabeth Wright, are just two of their weird characteristics. About ten years ago I gaped with astonishment when I read a commentary by Jonah Goldberg explaining that the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre was really a far leftist. It seems that Maistre questioned the idea of universal human rights und dared to note that human beings were marked by different national and ethnic features. These quirks, according to Goldberg, belong exclusively to the left, like “liberal fascism.” When the intellectual Right can come up with such nonsense and then parley it into a fortune, it is hard to imagine any lower depths of cultural illiteracy to which it could sink.

The “conservative wars” of the 1980s, which involved mostly a mopping up operation, also led to a hard Right that is unrelated to any other American intellectual Right. Those associated with this Right wish to have nothing to do with the failed or decimated Old Right that was smashed decades ago. It has found its home among the thirty-some generation and even more, among younger conservatives who are not part of the DC neocon network. One finds among these militants an almost primitive counterrevolutionary mentality. It is one that has taken form as an impassioned reaction to the Left’s masquerading as the Right, which began with the neoconservatives’ ascendancy to total domination. Although I have my reservations about what I’m describing, it must be seen as a spirited response to a fraud as well as to something that is intellectually and aesthetically vulgar.

Clearly this youthful Right is in no way influenced by Russell Kirk or by other “cultural conservatives” of an earlier generation. Its advocates reject a Right that was co-opted by the neocons and by those who are thought to have failed to resist that fateful takeover. Nor would most of those in the “culturally conservative” camp (Jim Kalb may be the exception here) feel comfortable with the exuberant reactionaries of the rising generation. Many of them sound like neo-pagans because they are convinced that the Western religious tradition has given rise to what they condemn as “the pathology of egalitarianism.” The French New Right, Nietzsche, and Carl Schmitt have all shaped this still inchoate youthful American Right. In their case Europe has cast its shadow on the US, unlike the multicultural Left, which, as I have argued in several books, is our poisonous gift to the Europeans.

The emergence of this anti-egalitarian Right and the infantilization of movement conservatism indicate what can not be undone. The American Right has changed irreversibly because of what occurred during the Reagan years and in the ensuing decade. We shall continue to live with the consequences.