Thursday, March 16, 2006

Xenophobes, Anti-Semites, and Conspiracy Nuts?

In his recent review of Rod Dreher's new book, "Crunchy Cons," Russ Moore writes that "unlike so much of what passes for 'paleoconservative' these days, Dreher actually sounds like Kirk, Weaver, or Nisbet rather than like a (sic) anti-Semitic, xenophobic, or McGovernite conspiracy theorist."

Moore can't bring himself to define anti-Semitism or "xenophobia," let alone point to even one such example, however, which is troubling. Who are the anti-Semites and xenophobes trolling the dark underbelly of American politics under the paleocon moniker? Is it Pat Buchanan? Maybe Mike Jones, or Paul Craig Roberts? Or is it Justin Raimondo? Perhaps Thomas Fleming? Maybe it’s my friend and fellow recovering neocon, Dave Black? Who knows? Without some further elaboration and definition from Moore, we are left with little more than a nebulous abstraction. I am reminded of Hugh Kenner's observation about anti-Semitism: "'Anti-Semitism'...has no stable meaning; it can run all the way from gas ovens to a mere wish that (former NY Times columnist) Abe Rosenthal would moderate his frenzies. And a term that has no stable meaning is simply not a profitable head for rational discussions."

Likewise, xenophobia remains undefined. But is it unreasonable to conclude, as most paleos argue, that some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence, undergirded by a common set of theological presuppositions, may in fact be a necessary ingredient of cultural survival? As Thomas Sowell says, "The most obvious fact about the history of racial and ethnic groups is how different they have been--and still are." Likewise, Jimmy Cantrell has written, "Contrary to the leftist inspired delusions of the neoconservatives, it is xenophobia, not multi-racial and multi-religious whoring and resultant cultural syncretism, that will save Western Civilization."

Moore implies that paleocons are not the legitimate heirs of Kirk, Weaver, and Nisbet. Really?

It is true that some paleos are critical of American foreign policy in the Middle East, including undiluted support for Israel. If that makes one “anti-Semitic,” than what are we to make of Russell Kirk? At a Heritage Foundation lecture in 1988, Kirk through down the gauntlet to the neoconservatives: "Not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent neo-conservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States -- a position they will have difficulty in maintaining as matters drift." Kirk’s heretical jibe was too much for the wife of Pod, Midge Decter, who called Kirk’s off-hand remark "a bloody piece of anti-Semitism."

It is also fair to argue that many paleos, like our Old Right ancestors, are isolationists—by which we mean that the federal government should have a limited role in foreign affairs. This is not a hatred of foreigners. Rather, paleos have constitutional scruples about sending armies into foreign lands. The purpose of the state is to protect the United States from invasion or against something that affects our national interests in some palpable way. In other words, crusading for democracy isn’t on our agenda.

I would argue that Pat Buchanan is a legitimate heir to the tradition of Weaver and Nisbet while the girly men at National Review, Joe Farah, and Ann Coulter are cut from the same cloth as Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Cal Thomas, Coulter and NR editor Rich Lowry have all called in some form for the use of nuclear weapons. Farah argued that we need to stop worrying about “collateral damage” and get down to the business of administering pain. Washington Times bigwig Tony Blankley, former aide to Newt Gingrich, offered up the suggestion that the time had come to imprison journalists for reporting the truth. How would such ravings from contemporary "conservatives" set with Weaver and Nisbet?

Calling Woodrow Wilson the "patriarch of American foreign policy moralism and interventionism" and commenting on Wilson’s domestic repression during WWI, Nisbet writes: "Not Britain, not France, not the hated Germany had the kind of dictatorial power vested in any one figure or office that the United States did shortly after American participation in the war began." More: "The blunt fact is that when under Woodrow Wilson America was introduced to the War State in 1917, it was introduced also to what would later be known as the total, or totalitarian state."

Nisbet obviously hated America! Heck, if he had been around in 1918, we’d all be speaking German and eating sauerkraut! Just ask Sean Hannity.

Likewise, Richard Weaver was revolted by the notion of total war that is central to so many neocon visions of grandeur. Writing in the aftermath of WWII, Weaver goes after the saintly Churchill and FDR, too:

These obliteration bombings carried on by both sides in the Second World War put an end to all discrimination. Neither status nor location offered any immunity from destruction, and that often of a horrible kind. Mass killing did in fact rob the cradle and the grave. Our nation was treated to the spectacle of young boys fresh out of Kansas and Texas turning nonmilitary Dresden into a holocaust which is said to have taken tens of thousands of lives, pulverizing ancient shrines like Monte Cassino and Nuremberg, and bringing atomic annihilation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are items of the evidence that the war of unlimited objectives has swallowed up all discrimination, comparison, humanity, and, we would have to add, enlightened self-interest. Such things are so inimical to the foundations on which civilization is built that they cast into doubt the very possibility of recovery. It is more than disturbing to think that the restraints which had been formed through religion and humanitarian liberalism proved too weak to stay the tide anywhere. We are compelled to recall Winston Churchill, a descendant of the Duke of Marlborough and in many ways a fit spokesman for Britain's nobility, saying that no extreme of violence would be considered too great for victory. Then there is the equally dismaying spectacle of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the reputedly great liberal and humanitarian, smiling blandly and waving the cigarette holder while his agents showered unimaginable destruction upon European and Japanese civilians.

The expediential argument for total war is usually expressed very simply: "It saves lives." I have seen Sherman's campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas defended on the ground that it brought the war to an end sooner consequently saving lives; the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been excused in the same way. This argument, however, has a fatal internal contradiction. Under the rationale of war, the main object of a nation going to war cannot be the saving of lives. If the saving of lives were the primary consideration, there need never be any war in the first place. A nation threatened by war could surrender to the enemy at once, preventing the loss of even a single life. The enemy would in all probability allow the people of that nation to go on living, even if it demanded "unconditional surrender" and proposed to make the people of that nation slaves. The truth is that any nation going to war tells itself that there are things dearer than life and that it proposes to defend these even at the expense of lives. The people are reminded of this in numberless ways, and every young man is instilled with the thought that he must be willing, if called upon, to make the supreme sacrifice. In war the saving of lives is a consideration secondary to the aims of war.

This is not to say that there is no economy of means in war. It does, however, say that in war the economizing of lives is not the first aim, since in embarking upon war that nation declares that the war aims are the supreme goal for which lives will be spent if necessary. The self-contradiction of total war is that it destroys the very things for which one is supposed to be sacrificing. The "total" belligerent finds at the end that he has the formal triumph, but that he has lost not only the lives necessary to win it but also the objectives for which it was waged. In other words he has lost the thing that the lives were being expended to preserve.


That paleocons are conspiracy theorists is also a particularly humorous allegation given the tenacity with which neocons grasp tightly to the myth of Iraqi WMDs. Trotting into a local Christian bookstore the other day, I moseyed past the "Purpose Driven" mugs and the latest Veggie Tales flix only to be confronted by a huge display of books by former Iraqi general Georges Sada entitled "Saddam's Secrets: How an Iraqi General Defied And Survived Saddam Hussein."

Various neocon and Christian media outlets have hyped the Sada story that Hussein used 747's to jettison WMDs out of Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the Washington Times is hawking this story that audiotapes and boodles of documents show that Hussein was eager to get his dirty mitts on WMDs.

Even George Bush has given up on the fiction that Iraq possessed WMDs. So who are the "conspiracy theorists?"

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