Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A paleo future?

Paul Gottfried is not exactly sanguine about hopes for a paleoconservative revival:
Their lack of resources in the face of a truly grim opposition is so great that I’ve no idea what arrangement of cards would work for them in the foreseeable future. Their aging, embittered leaders have spent so long fighting in the trenches that they’ve taken to turning on each other. The unending tirade against Protestants that some Catholic paleos now engage in is both silly and counterproductive.
I guess I've missed the Catholic-vs.-Protestant feud to which Gottfried refers, although I side with him in his defense of America's Calvinist tradition. At any rate, he continues:
Whatever the problems facing our side, however, it does not seem likely that the neoconservatives and their enablers will control “the American Right” forever. Like the paleos, but in a much more dramatic and successful way, the neocons are products of changing historical conditions, and as Carl Schmitt once wisely observed, “An historical truth is true only once.” There is no reason to assume that those particular circumstances that aided the neoconservatives in their rise to total control over the establishment Right will continue to prevail indefinitely.
This glimmer of paleo hope is too much for the more gloomy Daniel McCarthy:
I think Paul Gottfried is altogether too optimistic. . . . I’m not one to discount “changing historical conditions,” but I wouldn’t count on any changes in the cards in the near future to rid us of the neos. They’re nothing if not adaptable, after all. Gottfried is also more exuberant about “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists” being “a counterforce to neoconservative dominance” than I think is warranted. . . . I’m not sure that a small cadre of journalists, bloggers, and political activists is much of a hook to hang a movement upon. But I don’t know who all Gottfried might have in mind when he writes of “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists.” Maybe I’m overlooking someone in my own, more pessimistic analysis.
Definitions and delineations are, I think, the key to understanding what's going on here. We must ask the questions, "What is a paleocon? What is a neocon?"

Since 9/11, the definition of "neocon" seems to have been reduced to "supporters of the Bush administration's foreign policy" -- a definition that includes Sen. Joe Lieberman and, arguably, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Some paleos, meanwhile, have allied themselves with anyone who opposes the war in Iraq. I've been shocked to see essays at LewRockwell.com praising Noam Chomsky(!), while The American Conservative has published Glenn Greenwald (!!).

If the barometer of paleo success is opposition to the war, then paleos should be encouraged, since polls consistently show that doubts about Iraq are deep and widespread among voters. Even if there is an anti-war majority, however, the paleos still lose because:
  • Most opponents of the war are not conservatives; and
  • Most conservatives support the war.
This problem, however, may soon become moot. If the Democrats win the White House in November, the executive branch will pass into the hands of liberals. Whatever transpires in Iraq after that -- whether a hasty withdrawal or not -- would no longer bear the "conservative" label. At that point, with Republicans cast into electoral darkness and the Bush foreign policy no longer a bone over which to fight, paleos might be better positioned to increase their influence.

Furthermore, I think the gloomy view overlooks much that might encourage paleos, particularly on the immigration issue.

It will be recalled that in the mid-1990s, National Review tried to shut down the immigration debate that had been opened by Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation. But when Sen. John McCain and the open-borders lobby tried to shove through amnesty bills in 2006 and 2007, they were turned back by fierce opposition that included some of the most famous conservative media voices: Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Glen Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Ann Coulter.

All of those voices supported Bush on the war in Iraq; all opposed McCain's amnesty. Given that the open-borders position is implicit in the neoconservative "prospositional nation" ideology, doesn't the anti-amnesty stance of Limbaugh, et al., reflect a fundamental rejection of neoconservatism?

Bush will soon be gone. If McCain wins in November, he will enter office facing the distrust of a long list of prominent conservative critics. If the Democrats win in November, the only war debate that will matter will be the debate among Democrats. Either way, there will be a shift in the political calculus, and I don't see how paleoconservatives will suffer by that shift.

1 comment:

  1. Is it really that surprising to see kind words for Chomsky at LRC? He gets credit from that crowd for being a zealous anti-imperialist and anarchist, even though he is the ur-Leftist and his anarchism is wholly un-Rothbardian.