That Buchanan Book
So who are these mysterious neocons, anyway? Neoconservatism originated in few periodicals and northeastern universities in the 1960’s. Its early exponents were largely Jewish and Eastern European. Today, neoconservatism claims such "luminaries" as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, and a bevy of syndicated columnists. Buchanan calls them "ex-Trotskyites, socialists, leftists, and liberals who backed FDR, Truman, JDK and LBJ." They are "the boat people of the McGovern revolution that was itself the political vehicle of the moral, social, and cultural revolutions of the 1960’s."
Skilled in the arts of political chicanery and bureaucratic infighting, the neocons migrated into the Republican Party during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Sam Francis explains why the neocons drifted to the right politically:
"The political impetus for neoconservatism was, first the threat to the integrity of universities and American intellectual life presented by the militancy of the New Left and the barbarism of the counterculture of the late 1960’s; secondly, the threat to Jewish academic and professional achievements in America presented by the quotas and affirmative action programs of the Great Society; and thirdly, the development of serious anti-Semitism on the Left and the Soviet alliance with radical anti-Western and anti-Israeli Arab regimes and terrorists.
Another pillar of the neoconservative mind is the conflation of American and Israeli national interests, which is the root of the current mess in Iraq. In an essay in the Wall Street Journal, militant neocon Max Boot, who has called for the U.S. to take up the imperial burden, called support for Israel a "key tenet" of neocon ideology.
Buchanan shows how the neocons used the cover of the billowing smoke of 9/11 to implement long-standing plans to remake the Middle East in Israel’s interest, with the invasion of Iraq at the top of the agenda.
In 1996, a group called The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies published a paper for then Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu. The paper called for Israel to "destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats," and called the removal of Saddam Hussein "an important Israeli strategic objective." The authors of this policy paper included attorney Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Richard Perle –all prominent figures in the Bush administration.
What was Mr. Bush thinking when he handed the keys to these guys? Why would he sacrifice his presidency to the whims of the neocons? The answer is not, as Michael Moore would allege, that Bush is dumb. The problem is that he is intellectually lazy--he doesn’t like to think. As a result, he did not have a working knowledge of foreign policy upon ascending to the presidency. Here is Richard Perle’s description of meeting Bush for the first time:
The first time I met Bush 43, I knew he was different. Two things became clear. One, he didn’t know very much. The other was he had confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much. Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something, a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.
Hence, the neocons tutored Bush, and filled the empty vessel with their globalist, imperialist, democratist pabulum.
On the foreign policy front, the necons are warmongers, pure and simple. But what about domestically? Don’t they believe in limited government? To the extent that they care about such matters at all, the answer is no. Indeed, they are "big government conservatives," as Fred Barnes has said. Irving Kristol, the most prominent first-generation neoconservative, wrote that:
In economic and social policy, it [neoconservatism] feels no lingering hostility to the welfare state, nor does it accept it resignedly, as a necessary evil. Instead it seeks not dismantle the welfare state not in the name of free-market economics but rather to reshape it so as to attach to it the conservative predispositions of the people. This reshaping will presumably take the form of trying to rid the welfare state of its paternalistic orientation, imposed on it by Left-liberalism, and making it over into the kind of "social insurance state" that provides the social and economic security a modern citizenry demands…
In sum, the neocons are devoted to the welfare-warfare state.
Buchanan capably dissects the flaws of the modern conservative movement, and is particularly effective in his demolition of the neocons. However, Pat’s prescriptions for reviving the movement ultimately fail for several reasons.
First, Buchanan is much too optimistic. He truly believes that the neocons have overplayed their hand and that the president is looking for the nearest off ramp out of the Iraqi quagmire. Alas, he is wrong. Indeed, the neocons will agitate for a wider war whether Bush or Kerry occupies the oval office in 2005. They worship at the altar of power. Moreover, neocons advance the interests of the Left by setting the permissible limits of dissent. There is simply no reason for the Establishment Left to drive neoconservatives into intellectual exile. Finally, the neocons have control over the major foundations financing conservative scholarship, and they also control the major think tanks and conservative-leaning media outlets.
Countering neocon hegemony is imperative for any authentic movement of the political and social Right. This leads to Buchanan’s second error. Like so many on the Right, he fails to reckon with the fact that the time has come for a new strategy. There is precious little of the old republic to conserve, and the sooner we come to that realization, the better. The time has come to challenge the elites rather than accommodate them, negotiating for a few scraps from the imperial table. As Sam Francis says:
Abandoning the illusion that it represents an establishment to be "conserved," a new American Right must recognize that its values and goals lie outside and against the establishment and that its natural allies are not in Manhattan, Yale, and Washington but in the increasingly alienated and threatened strata of Middle America. The strategy of the Right should be to enhance the polarization of Middle Americans from the incumbent regime, not to build coalitions with the regime’s defenders and beneficiaries.
Accommodationism ultimately leads to the greatest disappointment of the book. After 250 pages of incisive and polemical writing, informed by Buchanan’s wide-ranging knowledge and keen insights, Pat mysteriously endorses Bush’s re-election. Preeminently, Buchanan seems concerned with the shape of the courts and assumes that Bush will make wiser appointments than John Kerry. Perhaps, but considering that 10 of the last 12 Supreme Court appointments have been made by Republican presidents, this seems at best a spurious argument.
On some level, Buchanan is also making the case that paleos not abandon the field of politics. While it is true that we ought not to abandon politics, conservatives must recognize that political action in a cultural vacuum will ultimately prove fruitless. Thus, the goal of conservatives must be, as Francis says, "the reclamation of cultural power, the patient elaboration of an alternative culture within but against the regime."
To succeed, such a counterculture must begin at the foot of cross, and in the cradles of our children. As fathers, as believers, we must patiently explain God’s expectations as provided in His Word. We must work out the implications of the Gospel in our homes, churches, vocations, and civic lives. Ultimately, we must have the faith and strength to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and bring the salt and light of the Word to all or our endeavors, whether temporal or spiritual.
Though by no means flawless, Where the Right Went Wrong is an example of Buchanan’s considerable polemical skills. He has provided a very concise yet thorough overview of where conservatism has gone wrong. Moreover, he has done us all a favor by drawing up a powerful indictment of current American foreign policy. For that alone, he deserves our thanks.