As someone who for decades has been kept out of the media-manipulated political conversation and who has had none of his many books reviewed in the mainstream press, despite being published by Cambridge, Princeton and other prestigious presses, I regard my presence in this forum as the equivalent of gate-crashing. Having said that, I see no reason why those who ignore me should want to treat me any better in the future. I have shown my contempt for their orchestrated discussions on whom or what is “conservative.” For thirty years I have argued that the Left enjoys the prerogative of choosing its “conservative” debating partners in the US and in other Western “liberal democracies.” Those it dialogues with are more similar to the gatekeepers, sociologically and ideologically, than they are to those who, like me, have been relegated to the “extreme (read non-cooperative) Right.” At this point I have no objections to creating new categories for “gay conservatives,” “transvestite reactionaries” or any other group the New York Times or National Review decides to reach out to. I consider the terms “conservative” and “liberal” to be empty decoration. They adorn a trivial form of discussion, diverting attention from the most significant political development of our time, namely the replacement of the Marxist by the PC Left.
While the American Right was once geared to fight the “Communist” threat, today’s “conservatives” (yes I am inserting quotation marks for obvious reasons) have capitulated to the post-Communist Left (to which in this country an anachronistic nineteenth-century designation “liberal” has been arbitrarily ascribed). The “conservative movement” happily embraces the heroes and issues of yesterday’s Left, from the cult of Martin Luther King to the defense of “moderate feminism” and Irving Kristol’s confected concept of the “democratic capitalist welfare state” to David Frum’s and Ross Douthat’s praise for gay marriage as a “family value.” When our conservative journalists and talking heads are not engaging in such value-discourses, they do what comes even more naturally, shilling for the GOP. Conservatism and whatever the GOP may be doing at a particular moment to scare up votes have become so intimately associated in the public mind and certainly in the media that there is no longer any recognizable distinction between them.
This party-lining never ceases to amaze me. Earlier this month, I was shocked to learn that a number of Catholic traditionalists, including Robert Bork and Mary Anne Glendon, were lining up to express their enthusiastic support for the establishment Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. None of these newly won enthusiasts, all of whom grossly exaggerate Romney’s “conservatism” as governor of Massachusetts, has to perform his current task to keep a position or to earn money. These eminent GOP advocates are impelled by the desire for conservative respectability, which means first and foremost being a dutiful Republican. This is not surprising since conservatism and the GOP seem to crave respectability equally, which in our time and place can only come with the approval or at least neutrality of the reality-spinners on the other side. It is the post-Marxist Left, which distinguishes that which is sensitive from that which is not, or respectability from extremism.
Even more significantly, the Republican Party has been an utterly corrupting influence on the American Right. The party bosses and spin doctors have pursued an unprincipled form of centrist politics. This revolves around catering to leftward leaning independents, after throwing a few rhetorical bones to the Religious Right during primary season. It is one thing for a person of the Right to prefer a slightly less contemptible party to one that seems even worse; it is another thing to devote oneself heart and soul to a waffling, middling party as the sacred vehicle for achieving one’s high principles.
Were it up to me, I would ban the term “conservative” from our political discourse, the way Germans go after people who sport Nazi-associated symbols. The word in question is misleading and perhaps downright dishonest, particularly when it refers to a social democrat favoring most of what is favored by the Left, but wishing to do leftist projects more slowly while attaching to them such tags as “family values” or “individual initiative.” I am pleased that the GOP opposes Obamacare (so do I). But I doubt it will do much to roll back this costly scheme, the way it did nothing to roll back the Great Society or other additions to the federal welfare state and our oppressive anti-discrimination apparatus since the 1960s. “Conservatism” now means in practice getting back to the year 2008, that is, to the last time the GOP more or less ran our vast administrative state—for their own patronage use.
As a reference point we might recall that “conservatism” once meant the principled opposition to the French Revolution that arose with Edmund Burke and other critics of the democratic and human rights ideology of the radical revolutionaries of the late eighteenth century. It makes no sense to apply this tag to our “conservatives” and GOP presidential candidates who are seeking to impose French revolutionary principles on the world, if necessary by force of arms. Why would I describe as conservative the exact opposite of what the original conservatives were struggling to resist? Sending American armed forces, rigorously adapted to gay and feminist standards, to spread our global democratic values beyond our shores may be classified according to more than one category. Conservative, however, is certainly not one of them.
Allow me however to substitute, in the fashion of my now deceased friend, Sam Francis, the designation “rightwing” for “conservative.” Whereas “conservative” seems to me as an historian to have little or nothing to do with our historical situation, the less time-conditioned description “rightwing” may still be relevant for us. The Right opposes the Left out of conviction, but what the Left opposes will vary from one age to the next. For example, the authoritarian Right that ruled Spain in the 1950s and 1960s arose to fight the Communist and Anarchist Left. In the US today, the Right is taking a libertarian or decentralist character, because the Left it combats has its power vested in public administration, public education and the culture industry. Needless to say, the cultural-social Left that holds sway today and which has evoked a relatively manageable opposition, is no longer focused on revolutionary socialism or the nationalization of productive forces, except in a very marginal way. This post-Marxist Left advances gay and feminist rights and the self-validation of non-white minorities, and it uses government control and a crusade against discrimination to increase its leverage.
Those who oppose this Left are fighting from a steadily weakening position. They have lost the cultural war to the state, our educational system and MTV; and as the predominantly left-leaning Latino population and the lifestyle Left continues to grow, the real Right and the faux right GOP will be driven into a less and less promising minority status. The only way out of this worsening situation for those who don’t like the direction in which the multiculturalists and our two national parties are pushing us is a vast reduction in federal authority, together with the increase of state and local powers. This will not deliver New York City or San Francisco from the Left, but it will limit the power of New York City to control what goes on in Augusta, Georgia or Ames, Iowa.
The Right should properly assess the mediocrity of its circumstances and work to create enclaves that will allow it to survive in what is likely to be a harsh environment. In this respect, it may be like the Christian kingdoms of Northern Spain that survived the Moorish conquest and which later combined to take back the peninsula it had held before 710. The Right however must now work without the hope of “winning back” a central government it never really held. Appeals to the “people” are equally foolish, since the Right can no longer rally to its banners a majority of America’s residents. The notion, propagated by the neoconservative media, that most Americans are “conservative” or right-leaning,” is meaningless or mendacious. On all social issues, the US has been rushing toward the left for decades, and in 2008, a majority of voters, among whom we have to assume were many “right-leaning” types, gave their support to the most leftist president in US history.
It would also not be advisable for what remains of a serious Right, as opposed to dutiful Republicans or neoconservative zombies, to avoid nationalist postures. Contrary to the hopes of well-meaning populists, nationalist rhetoric is now entirely in enemy hands—and it is likely to stay there. Talk about “national” uniqueness no longer evokes historic communal or cultural identities (to whatever extent it ever did in the US) but a radical leftist vision of global troublemaking. Neoconservatives, aided by the Religious Right, have made American nationalism identical with global democratic imperialism and a view of America as a “propositional nation.” The Right, as opposed to these latter-day Jacobins, should think not about expanding a homogeneous, late modern empire, but about what it can salvage after being routed and marginalized. Survival should be the immediate concern of a non-aligned Right. An America without a Right will become like Western Europe, a population controlled by two variations on the post-Marxist, multicultural Left. This may happen in the US no less than in Germany, France or Sweden, unless the Right can identify its interests and work to gain its own biotope. In this demanding task, it should expect no help from Sean Hannity, Bill Kristol, or Mark Lilla. They are, to repeat the cliché, part of the problem.
The Right (I no longer address “conservatives”) should choose wisely, if it intends to back a presidential candidate. I would urge the Right to reject the defective candidacy of our former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum. Despite his reputation as a “social conservative,” by which is meant traditional Catholic, Santorum has proposed no plan for decentralizing our administrative Behemoth. And his value mantras are certainly no substitute for such a plan. In foreign policy, Santorum seems to switch roles, going from playing Savonarola at home to proclaiming an American mission to implant human rights everywhere on the planet. His neoconservative ebullition bodes ill if Santorum ever became president, although that does not seem likely.
The least problematic candidate from a rightist perspective is Ron Paul. An outspoken seventy-seven year old candidate, Paul is the least likely to receive the GOP nomination because of his identification with what the GOP was at an earlier point in its checkered history. He holds tenaciously to constitutionalist principles and is averse to ideologically driven interventionism abroad. What may turn off the traditional Right, however, are his libertarian inclinations, appeal to individualism, and his willingness to give outspoken foreign enemies the benefit of the doubt. In an imperfect world from the perspective of the Right, however, Paul seems head and shoulders above his rivals for the nomination. He may in fact be the only (at least nominal) Republican candidate, whose election would not put the Right in an even worse situation than it is now. In the second best of all worlds (the best being that he’d be elected), Paul would send a telling message as a third-party candidate, by making the GOP-neocon nominee suffer a well-deserved defeat. Only once that occurred, would it be possible to reorganize the GOP or build up a third party around the principles of decentralized government and foreign policy retrenchment.