NEOCONS OF THE LEFT

Certain people are touchstones – your reaction to them is a defining moment, a means of identifying who you are and what you believe. My friend Pat Buchanan is one of those polarizing types (we have that in common), and the reaction to his new magazine, The American Conservative, is certainly defining something important about what’s going on politically at this particular moment.

I’ve covered the reaction from the neoconservative Right, which was nothing less than fear and loathing, as was to be expected. After all, those guys, ex-Trotskyists and cold war liberals, are little more than right-wing social democrats, whose embrace of old-style small-government conservatism is highly conditional – but whose genuine love of war was the real factor that propelled them from Left to Right.

Yet one would think – or hope, from my perspective – that the debut of TAC would’ve been greeted by the Left with something more than jeers. For if David Corn’s piece in The Nation is indicative of the leftist response to the rise of the anti-war Paleo-Right, then David Brooks’ much-quoted remark that “we’re all neoconservatives now” applies to The Nation as well as National Review and The Weekly Standard.

Based on an interview with Buchanan, the article opens with a dumb-ass question oddly phrased: “Is Bill Kristol the Antichrist?” An odd title for such a little man, but note, also, the provocative juxtaposition of a Jewish name with the “Anti-Christ” imagery. “He knows why he’s being asked this,” avers Corn, who then segues into his pat little theme: that TAC is a “sectarian” magazine focused exclusively on the subject of neo-conservatism and its attendant evils. But apparently Pat knew exactly what Corn meant to imply, and deflected the intended smear with a blunt declaration of war on neo-imperialism of the Right:

“No, he is not the Antichrist. But there is no doubt the neocons have come to define the conservative movement, which bothers me. They do not represent traditional conservatism. Commentary, National Review and The Weekly Standard are nearly interchangeable in terms of foreign policy and empire. It’s all degenerating into outright imperialism. This is not conservatism. The idea of our magazine is to recapture the flag of the conservative movement.”

Expel the warmongers! Retire Norman Podhoretz, George Will, and the rest of the empire-building, big-spending, chicken-hawkish policy wonks, publicists, and laptop-bombardiering pundits now howling for the slaughter to begin. Can it be that Corn doesn’t think this is a great idea?

Imagine a world in which no one listens to Bill Bennett, and James Taranto, instead of being a web-columnist for the world’s leading financial newspaper, is instead the proprietor and sole writer for hate-arabs.com, a website devoted to proving the racial inferiority and inherent venality of all things Arabic. Imagine a world without Max Boot, and his complaints of too few American casualties in Afghanistan – surely that would be a better world, much better by any standard. The Nation ought to get down on its hands and knees and cry out “glory, glory hallelujah!” at the sight of the Old Right rising out of the mists, coming over the hill to reinforce the antiwar forces at this crucial moment.

Instead of welcoming new allies on the war question with joyful cries of “here comes the cavalry!”, however, Corn clearly disdains TAC, for many of the same reasons as the neocons. Indeed, he even cites one of them, Ronald Radosh, and his facile remark that one “might have been excused for wondering if they had accidentally picked up The Nation.” But of course The Nation has yet to run anything against the war on Iraq with the intellectual heft of Paul W. Schroeder’s 10,000-word piece on the foreign policy implications of “preemption” or half the outraged passion of Eric Margolis.

When it comes to my contribution to TAC’s inaugural issue, Corn also takes the same neoconnish tack as Radosh, describing me as “editorial director of Antiwar.com and a gay conservative activist.” Is it asking too much of the editors of The Nation to understand why being identified by one’s sexual activities is, in the year 2002, utterly irrelevant? I could understand the appellation if, instead of writing this column, and two books dealing with the history of political ideas, I had authored a trilogy of novels detailing the career of a beautiful-but-doomed twenty-something hunk, who winds up getting AIDS and marrying a doctor. But that is not at all the case. I’ve written about David Corn on a few occasions, and have yet to identify him as “that heterosexual pinko hack” or some-such sexually-charged label. I guess we are supposed to be thrilled, shocked, even, at the juxtaposition of a Buchanan-run magazine with a writer who may not fit the stereotype of the rightist as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal out of Theodor Adorno’s worst nightmare. But of course stereotypes are what this whole Left-Right nonsense is all about.

Corn emphasizes the differences between the paleo-conservatives and the left, stating, for one, that Buchanan (and his magazine) agree with the neocons on the alleged need for increased military spending. I don’t know Pat’s position on the military budget. I do know that if the program outlined in his book, A Republic, Not an Empire, were implemented – if we withdrew from Europe, from Asia, forsook the temptations of Empire, and concentrated on defending American soil – a huge cut in the military budget would be not only possible but also inevitable.

The aim of the pro-war crowd – including the left-interventionists, who want the UN, and not George W. Bush, to conquer the world – is to split the antiwar movement in as many different ways as possible. Left must be turned against right; and liberals against Old Left Marxists, all in the service of – what? Or, rather, of whom?

A hundred-thousand antiwar marchers descended on Washington the other day, and different sectors of our bi-partisan War Party reacted with various degrees of venom. Way out in right field, David Horowitz howled “100,000 Communists March on Washington!” Quack quack! On the ostensible “left,” we have Todd Gitlin and Mr. Corn complaining not only about the far-left politics emanating from the speakers platform that day, but also about the principled non-interventionist stand taken by the International Action Center/A.N.S.W.E.R. group. In a piece for the L.A. Weekly, with the sinister title of “Behind the Placards,” Corn details the politically incorrect crimes of IAC spokesman Ramsey Clark. Now I have detailed these, at length, but it’s interesting how Corn picked out different ones. A major crime, in Corn’s book – aside from Clark’s attachment to the most relentlessly boring of all the Marxist-Leninist sects – is Clark’s insufficient enthusiasm for the authority and majesty of the UN’s Balkan Tribunal and the farcical trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Corn recites the long history Clark’s ultra-leftism, but saves what he thinks of as the worst for last:

“There is no reason to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: ‘After 12 years of brutalization with sanctions and bombing they’d like to be a country again. They’d like to have sovereignty again. They’d like to be left alone.’”

Oh, that horrible Commie! How dare he introduce such a radical, obviously Marxist-Leninist concept into the debate over the war?! Leave them alone? Surely you jest.

Corn makes much of the rather obscure fact that the Workers World Party, which controls the International Action Center, defends North Korea against what they call “capitalist encroachment.” Corn labels them “the we-love-North-Korea” set. But the Workers Worlders don’t push their creed of “global class struggle” as developed by Sam Marcy at their events. Not a word about the “wisdom” of Korea’s “Great Leader” was heard from the platform on October 26. I would no more challenge the reverence for Lenin exhibited by the Marxists in the antiwar movement than I would challenge the conception of the Virgin birth or the miracles of the saints to a Catholic. After all, why begrudge someone their religion? Unless, of course, they want to push it on me….

Corn claims that the churches and the labor unions, which he claims to want to recruit into the antiwar movement, won’t go near it as presently constituted, but then the unions were never all that antiwar to begin with – not that the lefties Corn disdains haven’t tried to approach labor. Indeed, at antiwar meetings dominated by the left, on campus and out in the community, that is all we hear from the Commies – how we have to do “labor outreach.” So Corn and the Commies are on the same wavelength.

As for the alleged inability of the IAC to recruit the churches to the antiwar cause: I once attended a rally against the Kosovo war, sponsored by the IAC, addressed by a Serbian Orthodox bishop.

I agree with some of Corn’s specific criticisms of the WWP/IAC, but one has to wonder: if both Ramsey Clark and Pat Buchanan aren’t good enough for the antiwar movement, then who is? Katrina vanden Heuvel? Perhaps The Nation would care to sponsor an antiwar march, and then Corn & Co. could come up with a list of acceptable speakers.

I suggest Christopher Hitchens. Their longtime columnist recently quit when he decided that America had “bombed Afghanistan out of the Stone Age.” Hitchens now looks to Uncle Sam to “liberate” his beloved Kurds. He disdained vanden Heuvel’s entreaties to stay on, but might relish the opportunity to lecture his former comrades on the “progressive” impact American bombs would have on Iraqi society.

Corn avers that TAC “echoes the left” in its arguments against the war, but he doesn’t know the history of the antiwar movement in this country: the biggest in our history was organized by anti-FDR conservatives, not lefties. It was called the America First movement, and, at its height, it mobilized millions. Corn writes:

TAC considers the defining issue of the day to be the supposedly titanic conflict between isolationist conservatives (who put aside their reservations during the cold war to fight the Commies) and messianic, let’s-remake-the-world-and-help-Israel neocons. It’s a self-consciously sectarian magazine spoiling for a fight. The question is, Who, if anyone, is going to show up for Buchanan’s big battle?”

But if the ostensibly antiwar liberals of the Corn-Gitlin “moderate” mold are going to campaign for intrusive inspections and against the idea of a sovereignty that won’t permit either American or “international” intervention, then that leaves only the conservative “isolationists” and the Ramsey Clarks of this world standing alone against the War Party. In that case, who is going to show up for the big battle is not only the Buchanan Brigades, and many conservatives in general, but also all those disappointed readers of The Nation who are sick and tired of being fed a diet of Hitchens and Corn, and hunger for some real red-meat antiwar philippics.

The neoconization of the American left, like that of the right, promises to be a grisly sight, and ought to be resisted. But not if my good friend and fellow paleo Paul Gottfried can help it. In an article posted on LewRockwell.com, our sister site, Gottfried advises us to “Forget the Left, Neocon or Otherwise.” He sees Corn’s piece as sending the paleos an unmistakable warning.” Stay out!

“The Left, which is a multicultural big-government force, is not looking for allies on our side of the aisle. It is happy with the current arrangements, in which Bill Bennett and Dinesh D’Souza get to speak for the ‘Right’ while most of the political class continues to speak for the leftwing social democrats. Although there may be occasional intramural bickering, e.g., among the various Middle East factions or about how far to push the feminist agenda or socialized medicine, leftists are content to disagree among themselves – while consigning our guys to the outer reaches of Hell.”

This is an admirably concise analysis of the way in which the social democratic left gets to “debate” the social democratic “right,” and together they cook up a “consensus” between them, otherwise known as the Welfare-Warfare State. But how should libertarians and paleoconservatives respond to such a maneuver, which is clearly meant to isolate us and consign us to the margins? According to Gottfried, we should … retreat.

But the issue of the war, and how to lead a principled and effective opposition to it, presents the anti-imperialist Right with the opportunity to break through the logjam of American politics. The only thing that can save us from an Orwellian future of perpetual war and the rapid erosion of our civil liberties is an ideological realignment. Wars tend to re-arrange traditional concepts of what constitutes “left” and “right,” and the same is happening this time around: in America, these are not immutable categories, as in Europe, but fluid concepts that tend to be reshaped in wartime.

Prior to World War II, the Right was anti-imperialist in principle and vehemently anti-war in practice: it was the Left that called for the opening of a “second front” to save the Soviet Union, and the right-wing America Firsters who said we ought to let the two dictators destroy each other.

With the coming of the cold war, the antiwar movement switched ideological polarities, with the left generally opposing intervention abroad and the right opting for a policy of “rollback” against the Soviet Union.

When the Kremlin was finally humbled – not by American force of arms, as the Buckleyites dreamed, but by the immutable laws of nature and economics – conservatives of Buchanan’s ilk decided it was time for America to come home. The spirit of America First was remembered, and revived. Post-9/11, the America Firsters have stuck by their guns, challenging the War Party on every front, from the logic of preemption to the terrible hubris that motivates such a recklessly Jacobin foreign policy. And what leftie won’t be delighted by the wonderful cover of the current issue of The American Conservative, which consists of a giant campaign button in red-white-and-blue that reads:

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].