The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American ConservatismMax Richardson
Paul Gottfried, editor
The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American Conservatism
DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2020
The Vanishing Tradition is an anthology edited by Paul Gottfried, and owing to its structure, a proper review is not really possible. Rather, I will individually summarize and comment on each contribution to the anthology. For certain contributions, my commentary is brief; for others, it’s extensive. This is an excellent book, and so when I do provide extensive commentary, it’s to build on the argument developed by a particular contributor.
In the first essay, Jack Kerwick, a philosopher, sets out to demonstrate that what he calls “Big Conservatism” isn’t conservative at all. Right-wing dissidents are likely to sarcastically shout hot take! upon reading such an unoriginal idea, but Professor Kerwick’s essay is a useful critique of neoconservatism. Its usefulness is found in its explanation of the differences between the epistemological underpinnings of traditional conservatism and those of neoconservatism. Coupled with what amounts to a literature review of neoconservative thought (from Allan Bloom and Irving Kristol to Glenn Beck and Ben Shapiro), Professor Kerwick’s case is that “the epistemology of the Big Conservative is unambiguously Rationalist” (13). Citing Edmund Burke, David Hume, Russell Kirk, and Michael Oakeshott, he explains that “classical or traditional conservatism,” epistemologically speaking, is anti-Rationalist.
Professor Kerwick’s case is very strong — indeed, it strikes me as undeniably true. The only problem I had with it is that it almost seems as if he is trying not to give credit to certain critics of “Big Conservatism.” Consider: Why did he need to come up with a new name for the like of Dennis Prager, Charles Krauthammer, and Dinesh D’Souza? In order for one to understand the meaning and significance of the cute double entendre “the Big Con” (the shortened version of “Big Conservatism”), he must first understand Professor Kerwick’s esoteric argument. “Conservatism Inc.” is much better — both for referring to the so-called “contemporary conservative movement” and for enabling everyday Republicans to distinguish between Charlie Kirk and Tucker Carlson. I could be wrong — especially considering that the fourth essay in this anthology is literally titled “Who Funds Conservatism, Inc.?” — but it just struck me as somewhat telling that I had to add two neologisms to my vocabulary in order to read a fresh take on Conservatism Inc.
Keith Preston’s essay, “The Significance of the M. E. Bradford Affair,” is an important read for dissidents. The first half is a concise history of the Leftist origins of the neoconservatives, and how they found a home in “the conservative movement. . . originally formed in the 1950s under the leadership of William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review magazine” (21). Although it is commonly understood that neoconservatives “used to be Leftists,” Mr. Preston shows that the neoconservatives never really converted to conservatism. Rather, in typical Leftist fashion, they highjacked the conservative movement by exploiting its “anti-Communism within the context of the Cold War geopolitics” (21). Although there had been conservatives “who dissented from National Review’s hard-line anti-Communism” (22), Mr. Preston explains that there was a series of “purges” that eliminated these dissenters from what would become Conservatism Inc. For example, although James Burnham is often favorably regarded among dissidents today, Mr. Preston points out that the “embrace of former Communists and anti-Soviet Leftists who expressed enthusiasm for the Cold War cause” was “[p]arallel to the purge of the noninterventionists” (22).
Mr. Preston shows that the supposed move to the Right of those who would come to be known as neoconservatives happened “in response to the rise of the New Left, the anti-Vietnam War and Black Power movements, and the counterculture” (22). Although opposition to the Black Power movement and the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s does seem rather conservative, Mr. Preston argues that “[t]he early neoconservatives were left-wing anti-Communists and Cold War liberals who maintained their support for the New Deal and the civil rights movement” (22). It’s clear from Mr. Preston’s account that the most important problem the neoconservatives had with the Left was the Left’s noninterventionism. To be sure, the New Left’s Marxist streak made them the enemy of conservatives, but their noninterventionism, practically speaking, made them more aligned with the like of the John Birch Society. And of course, the neoconservatives’ interventionism was bound up in their Zionism, which the New Left “growingly” opposed.
Mr. Preston argues that early neoconservatives were strategically socially conservative — they (rightly) realized that a party that nominated George McGovern for the presidency was “alienating liberals from the majority of American voters” (23). However, this strategic social conservatism was not to cure them of “their unremitting hostility to what might broadly be called the ‘traditional Right’” (24). Mr. Preston argues that the neoconservatives, having established themselves in positions of power in the conservative movement and the Republican Party, were “zealous to exclude from the mainstream Right those whom they consider[ed] to be insufficiently cosmopolitan and egalitarian, or whom they suspect[ed] of being overly traditional, ethnocentric, parochial, or provincial” (24).
Given this historical backdrop, it should come as no surprise that the neoconservatives “canceled” Melvin E. Bradford (if I may use the term trending today). I will not review Mr. Preston’s coverage of this event (other than to say that it is a riveting read), but I should point out that, “[i]n the view of [Irving] Kristol, [Norman] Podhoretz, and their cohorts, [Professor] Bradford was a ‘Southerner who stressed localism,’ and such a perspective was unforgivable to the neoconservatives” (28). Mr. Preston’s contribution to this anthology causes in the Dissident reader hallucinations (of a pleasurable and mild sort) of what the American Right could have accomplished in the postwar United States had it not been for the neoconservatives.
Professor Grant Havers’ essay is a “discussion of the Canadian Tory philosopher George Grant” in the context of “the post-World War II conservative valorization of capitalist democracy” (32). Professor Havers, a professional philosopher, thoroughly and precisely dissects the differences between “Grant’s Toryism” and “the current understanding of conservatism in America today” (36). This essay is heavily documented and Professor Havers goes to great pains to draw exact distinctions between the philosophy of Grant, who had “the traditional conservative mind” (36), and the philosophies of Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, the neoconservatives Irving Kristol and Michael Novak, and Allan Bloom. In my comments, I will not discuss Professor Havers’ section on Allan Bloom because I would argue that it can be read as an extension of the argument already made by Professor Kerwick in the first essay of this anthology.
Professor Havers cites a Marxist historian who had “argued. . . that the English proletarian and petit-bourgeois belief in a Tory elite that would protect their interests from the rising moneyed classes was very real in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries” (37). Professor Havers uses this historian’s scholarship to demonstrate the paternalism, protectionism, and “lingering sense of noblesse oblige among some English Tories that the state should benevolently care for the laboring classes” (37). The mouthpieces of Conservatism Inc. today would probably describe these Tory traits derisively as “populist” — which is to say, something bad and not in line with the “principles of conservatism.” Professor Havers defends his decision “to quote a Marxist historian in a chapter devoted to an exegesis of the Tory mind” (37) by pointing out that “the Marxist approach to history and politics [could provide] insight into the hegemonic power of the capitalist system” (37).
Having established that conservatives traditionally had a “sense of noblesse oblige” and a healthy skepticism of “the rising moneyed classes,” Professor Havers then launches into his analysis of the differences between Kirk and Grant. It is here that he notes that Grant believed “that American conservatism was just old-fashioned American liberalism” (41). An example of “old-fashioned American liberalism” would be “the Goldwater Republicans in the 1964 election. . . largely supported in the South” (52). Professor Havers, citing Paul Gottfried, suggests that Kirk was not as anti-Rationalist as Jack Kerwick argued he was in the first essay of this anthology. But the disagreement between Havers and Kerwick should not be overstated, if only because Havers is citing Grant’s argument that true, traditional conservatism never really existed at all as a potent intellectual force in American political culture.
Next, Professor Havers covers the “fusionist conservatism” of Frank Meyer: “According to Meyer, there is no fundamental conflict between freedom and tradition as long as the state does not impose a program of ‘virtue’ or morality on its citizens” (44). In other words, citizens should be free “to engage in virtuous activities such as the raising of a family” (44). Professor Havers critiques this view by contemplating Grant’s probable response: “Meyer’s belief that Americans are still interested in preserving traditional Christian morality would have struck Grant as naive” (44). Referring to Meyer’s fusionist conservatism as a “libertarian view of the state” (45), Professor Havers explains that Meyer nevertheless recognized the reality of “the new managerial elite,” i.e., “‘organization men,’ the bureaucratic class that had taken over the management of the corporation” (45).
According to Professor Havers, despite certain differences between Kirk, Meyer, Kristol, and Novak with respect to their views on the relationship between big business and the state, they all shared the basic belief that, although “big business owed its hegemony to the expansion of the state since the New Deal era” (45), big business shouldn’t be considered guilty of having solicited the state for its hegemonic status. This stands in contrast to Grant, who believed “that there is a special relation between business and the state” (49). According to Professor Havers, Grant did not see the business sector as ever truly resisting a close relationship with the state: “In his view, at least since World War II, it has become more difficult to separate the functions of business from the powers of the state, given the increasingly close relation or alliance between these two centers of power” (47).
There is no doubt that postwar American conservatives failed to predict the precipitation of a close relationship between the private and public sectors in a world ruled by what can basically be called anarcho-capitalism. A very apropos example of how this relationship unfolds is the recent behavior of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. As this CNN Business article shows, the elite media have strategically accused Facebook of playing a “role in spreading misinformation and inadequately policing content.” In response to these “accusations,” Zuckerberg has called for Big Government to regulate Facebook. However, it’s very clear that this regulation would serve as protection for Facebook against being broken up by the government, an outcome that Zuckerberg very much does not want. Moreover, it is likely that such regulations on social media as Zuckerberg has in mind are to Facebook what minimum wage laws are to Walmart: Walmart can afford to pay them, but Walmart’s competitors may not be able to — in which case, Walmart’s profit margin is slightly reduced, but its market share increases significantly.
Joseph Cotto wrote the fourth essay of this anthology, mentioned above. However, he is right to refer to his contribution as a “report,” since it is basically a succinct compilation of news articles and publicly available information on some of the financial backers of the think tanks of Conservatism Inc. The Dissident reader will certainly not be surprised by anything Mr. Cotto reports, though I did find it helpful to be reminded of the fact that weapons manufacturers have a real say in our foreign policy — it’s not just the neocons.
Marjorie Jeffrey’s essay “trace[s] the trajectory of foreign policy on the American Right since the end of the Cold War” (69). This essay does not contain much that will surprise a Dissident reader, since most of us understand what happened between what she calls the “Old Right” and the neoconservatives. However, I personally benefited from Professor Jeffrey’s telling of the story, because she puts the events that transpired in their proper context and order. Moreover, in her writing, there is a good balance between readability and density of information. It’s important, in my opinion, to know little things such as the fact that “military-industrial complex” was originally a term of the Right (69), to be advised of George Kennan’s influence on Pat Buchanan (75), and to learn that “[i]n 2000, Kenneth Waltz, the founder of the school of structural realism. . . predicted the disappearance of NATO after the Cold War” (83). Her comparison between Kennan and Waltz is very interesting: “Unlike George Kennan, Waltz originally failed to see that NATO would find a new reason for existing even without a Soviet threat” (83).
As we can see through a joint reading of Mr. Preston, Mr. Cotto, and Professor Jeffrey, policies may be sired by ideological elites, but they develop a life of their own once they are spawned. Perhaps this knowledge should inspire dissidents to study the public policy life cycle (in academia, “theories of the policy process” can shed light on how to make new policies, and how to destroy old ones).
The sixth essay, by Jesse Russell, is on the neoconservative Catholics. I personally enjoyed this piece, but I wonder whether or not a non-Catholic would, for, as Professor Russell puts it at the end of his essay, the Catholic neoconservatives “remained dependent on a larger movement of which they were only a piece” (98). Professor Russell ultimately argues that “their neoconservative sponsors used them for alliance-building purposes” and that “the more powerful non-Catholic neoconservatives. . . viewed the Catholic neoconservatives as expendable” (98).
What fascinated me most about Professor Russell’s contribution is his argument, which he more or less explicitly makes, that the Catholic neoconservatives who emerged as a “reaction to 1960s radicalism” (85) were intellectually sinister, or at least were more ideologically committed to their neoconservatism than they were to their Catholicism. Citing the work of Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Robert George, and James Turner Johnson, Professor Russell argues that the Catholic neoconservatives initially “went from being Leftists to moderate conservatives” (85) who “never abandoned the foundational principle of the civil rights movement: the implicit notion that membership in Western nations is predicated not on ethnicity, religion, or historical claims but rather on commitment to the ideal of equality” (86). Although the Catholic neoconservatives started out as “Leftists,” Professor Russell argues that “[t]he Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1972 precipitated a split among Christian activists of the Left and further solidified Neuhaus’s conviction that the Democrats had become the party of death” (87).
The abortion issue, such as it is in American politics, is usually not one that interests dissidents very much; but Professor Russell demonstrates that the Catholic neoconservatives were at least principled and independent-minded on this issue. Perhaps it was their obsession with abortion that made these Catholics get on board with the policy and ideological agenda of neoconservatism, but Professor Russell suggests that there was more to it than that: Rather than embrace the “Catholic Old Right” — which would seem to be the logical choice for committedly pro-life Catholics who were otherwise unideological — these Catholic neocons sought to “discredit” it (88). As it turned out, “democratic capitalism,” “liberal democracy,” “tolerance,” and “pluralism” were independently important for Catholic neoconservatives such as Michael Novak. These values stand in opposition to “the traditional Catholic position that Catholic teachings should be the supreme moral authority of the state” (89).
In an attempt to coalesce “Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism into a powerful political coalition” (90), the Catholic neoconservatives were clearly departing from their Tradition’s understanding not only of the relationship between Church and state, but of the very epistemological basis for determining what is good and what is bad for society. Professor Russell makes it clear that these Catholic neocons were adept at sidestepping, rationalizing, or simply lying about obvious inconsistencies between what they taught and Catholicism. Moreover, like all neocons of Conservatism Inc., the Catholic variety also engaged in aggressive campaigns of co-optation, such as their attempt to get Pope John Paul II to be — or to be perceived as — supportive of their war efforts.
Professor Russell’s essay ends on a note of defeat: Neoconservative Catholicism is now irrelevant and even some of its main proponents jumped ship (see pp. 96-98). Catholic readers should probably interpret this essay, at least in part, as a reminder that Catholicism is institutionally weak and incapable of standing up to the powers that be, which is why neoconservative Catholics were able to parade as champions of Catholic orthodoxy, admired by conservative American Catholics for years. One wonders, for example, how the “Catholic Old Right” — if it had been the influential Catholic force against Leftism — would have handled the abortion issue; to be sure, Catholics would have still been pro-life, but would they have been so distracted by Roe v. Wade? There is little doubt in my mind that this distraction has effectively neutered Catholicism in American politics.
Professor Nicholas Drummond’s contribution is undoubtedly more useful to the uninitiated than it is to seasoned dissidents who are already aware of the fact that there’s nothing “un-American” about Trump’s 2015-16 platform. Aside from some annoying language that Professor Drummond uses to keep himself from getting fired — e.g., “[c]ultural and racial diversity have enriched the country in many ways” (99) — this essay is a great one to give to your conservative normie friends who are vulnerable to the media’s lies and manipulation. This, however, is not to say that there’s nothing for the rest of us — Professor Drummond distinguishes between “East Coast Straussians” and “West Coast Straussians” (100), and it can be inferred that those whom we dissidents refer to as “civic nationalists” are of the “West Coast” variety. All Straussians, Professor Drummond explains, believe “that America was a creedal nation” (100), but there’s no doubt that the West Coasters are the natural allies of dissidents, and if anything is to be done to make life better for white Americans in the near future, West Coast Straussianism is probably going to have to be the public face of the movement that effects such an outcome.
Professor Richard Marcy’s essay may be frustrating for certain Dissident readers, simply because they may be inclined to quibble with his broad conceptualization of the Alt-Right. However, Professor Marcy explains that “the Alt-Right comprises a number of different groups, each serving its own strategic purpose and distinct audience” (110) and that “a more in-depth analysis of the varying political beliefs of Alt-Right members is beyond the scope of this chapter (the focus here being more on tactical and psychological concerns)” (113, footnote 18), and so it is clear that his intention is not to portray all Dissident Rightists as being exactly the same. But one thing that “Alt-Right members,” i.e., those whom I prefer to call Dissident Rightists or simply dissidents (since there doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a Dissident Leftist), have in common is their constituting what Professor Marcy describes as an “avant-garde political movement.”
In describing the Alt-Right as avant-garde, Professor Marcy does in fact seem justified in lumping the various groups of Dissident Rightists together, for he is arguing that “the Alt-Right has drawn from the theoretical base of past avant-garde political movements in the course of constructing its political program” (111). Explaining that avant-gardes have an “indirect ability to shift political opinion over the long term, as well as create political space for close, but less extreme, actors to capitalize on” (111-12), it follows that a broad category of political and social dissidents need not all “agree” with each other on everything in order to work in concert to undermine the political and social status quo.
Professor Marcy explains that there are three avant-garde “functional role categories” that can be distinguished in the Alt-Right: “front-line activists and other subversive cultural producers (for example, ‘trolls’), intellectuals, and the silent majority (of the Alt-Right)” (113). Citing scholarly literature, he explains that “each of these roles has an integral part to play in . . . a three-step organizational change model of ‘unfreezing norms,’ ‘realignment,’ and ‘refreezing norms’” (113).
“Unfreezing norms” is “sensebreaking” — whereby frontline activists both shock the senses of the public and jolt them into thinking differently (or at least into being more open to thinking differently) about “cultural materials” through “détournement” (see footnote 23 on p. 114).
“Realignment” is “sensegiving” — whereby intellectuals “[bring] a measure of intellectualism and seriousness” (119) to the avant-garde political movement. In the case of the Alt-Right, since it has been blocked from all establishment institutions, it is necessary for Alt-Right intellectuals to “[cite] findings from peer-reviewed academic studies” which “contribut[es] to [their] credibility. . .” (119).
“Refreezing norms” is “sensemaking” — whereby the silent majority of the avant-garde political movement act in often covert and subtle ways that have the effect of changing the nature of public discourse. Two examples provided by Professor Marcy for the Alt-Right are “trolls” and “lurking fellow travelers” (120). Meme-makers, Groypers, and young America First enthusiasts on college campuses seem to be good examples of the Alt-Right silent majority. Although the “silent majority” is a minority of the American white population, Professor Marcy notes that there is evidence “that as little as 25 percent of a group’s membership has to be shifted in order to change group opinion” (120-1).
Finally, Professor Marcy offers some interesting speculation on the future prospects of the Alt-Right, and commentary on behaviors of certain Dissident leaders. Arguing that “the Alt-Right movement has been less centralized and less well-coordinated” than it needs to be and that “[c]onfused roles have . . . allowed a high degree of infighting,” he concludes that, “[i]f the Alt-Right is to be more effective in the future, its leaders will need to coordinate their functional roles more efficiently and with less acrimony” (117).
Dr. Boyd D. Cathey wrote the ninth essay of the anthology, which is another piece on the purge of Southern conservatism from the establishment American Right. In this contribution, Dr. Cathey “pinpoint[s] significant differences between neoconservatives who made the pilgrimage from the [non-Stalinist] Left into the conservative movement, and those more traditional conservatives, whose basic beliefs and philosophy were at odds with those of the newcomers” (123). Although by this point in the anthology such an exposition may seem like overkill, Dr. Cathey’s contribution is unique in that it provides a concise history of the reasons for the emergence of the neoconservatives from the Left: The ideological and actionable differences between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Dr. Cathey explains that “the prominent American Marxist Jay Lovestone (born . . . of Jewish parentage. . .) would play a pivotal role not only in the early history of the Communist Party USA but also in the eventual emergence of what is now known as neoconservatism. Lovestone’s allegiances were with Trotsky. . .” (124).
After tracing the Communist and Jewish history of neoconservatism, Dr. Cathey’s contribution isn’t particularly original, but he does include some details that are worth noting. Dr. Cathey explains that the connection between the doctrine of “American exceptionalism” and neoconservatism stems from the fallen-away Communist belief “that the United States existed independently of the otherwise ironclad Marxist laws of history because of its economic abundance and the lack of rigid class distinctions” and that “America was uniquely open to gradualist approaches for righting social and racial inequalities” (126). In other words, it is inaccurate to say that neoconservatives are former Leftists who moved Right; it would be more accurate to say that neoconservatives are Leftists who pretend to be on the Right.
This leads to something that I particularly appreciated about Dr. Cathey’s history of neoconservatism — at no point does he try to pretend that the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and feminism are anything other than fundamentally Left-wing. He, perhaps more explicitly than the other contributors to this anthology, makes it clear that neoconservative support for same-sex marriage and transgenderism is perfectly predictable considering that neoconservatives are, in their essential characteristics, Leftists. Explaining that “[t]raditional Southerners . . . regarded as the basis for their unity, kinship, and blood an attachment to community and ancestral land” (128), the ideological universalism of neoconservatives made them the natural enemy of the traditional Southern conservatives. Importantly, Dr. Cathey notes: “According to [the] Southern conservative understanding of American history, the Northern victory in 1865 overthrew the original republic and paved the way for the present-day success of what the author Sam Francis called the managerial state — and what we now characterize as the Deep State” (128).
Finally, although Dr. Cathey notes that neoconservatism’s “strong identification with the civil rights revolution came mostly long after the event” (129), he makes it clear that neoconservatives were not initially more supportive of the CRM because, apparently, it was anti-Semitic. It is interesting to note that Dr. Cathey explains on page 124 that the anti-Semitism of the USSR under Stalin was also a reason why the former Trotskyites became anti-Communist. On the connection between Judaism and neoconservatism, Dr. Cathey appears to pull no punches.
Professor George Hawley makes the tenth contribution to this anthology, and his is an empirical examination of rank-and-file Republicans. This study is fundamentally different from the other contributions because it combines political theory with a look at what everyday “conservatives” want from government. In fact, using a 2012 data set commonly employed by political scientists, Professor Hawley finds that Americans who identify as Republicans are uncommonly “true conservatives,” which he defines as citizens “dedicated to constitutional government, limited intervention in the economy, traditional family values, and neoconservative foreign policies” (134). Referring variously to “conservative opinion leaders,” “leading figures of the conservative movement,” “pundits and other strong ideologues in the media,” or “the typical conservative journalist or intellectual,” he essentially argues that their beliefs about everyday people — specifically everyday Republicans — are naïve and based neither on sound sociopolitical theory nor on a critical analysis of opinion data. As it turns out, rank-and-file Republicans are not usually “conservative” on what he calls “economic issues,” “social issues,” or even “foreign policy issues,” nor are their views on these issues “constrained” — i.e., “[their] views on one issue [do not] correlate with [their] views on [the other allegedly related] issues” (138).
The only thing missing from Professor Hawley’s study was an analysis of everyday Republicans’ views on immigration; however, such an inclusion was not necessary for his argument because, as of 2012, being in favor of a continuous deluge of immigrants was the “conservative” position to have. Fortunately, I have downloaded the 2012 data set that Professor Hawley used, and so I can shed light on how Republicans felt about immigration in 2012. Unfortunately, the results don’t look particularly good. Among white Republicans who voted in a 2012 presidential primary election or caucus, when asked to choose between four immigration policies, only 22.13% chose the “send them back” option. For comparison, 15.35% of white primary-voting Democrats chose this option. It should be noted that there was only one “send them back” option, and it was particularly harsh (it also required that the illegals be declared felons on their way out). Thus, one could argue that this survey question was not asked in good faith. I have no doubt that this is true, but what do the other data tell us?
Asked whether or not they supported “a proposal to allow people who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children to become permanent U.S. residents,” only 28.57% of the white primary-voting Republican respondents opposed it (compared to 12.2% of the Democrats). Again, the wording of this survey question made it hard for respondents to oppose the proposal, but I still would have liked to see a majority of white Republican voters express their opposition to it.
When these white primary-voting respondents were asked about “a law [that would] require state and local police to determine the immigration status of a person if they find that there is a reasonable suspicion he or she is an undocumented immigrant,” 78.15% of Republicans said that they favored such a law (compared to 35.43% of Democrats). This is definitely good news, but given their other responses, it could be a result of white Republicans’ tendency to express support for “law and order.”
They were then asked how much “the number of immigrants from foreign countries who are permitted to come to the United States to live should be” increased or decreased. Not many of these respondents wanted the number to be increased (9.24% of Republicans and 22.44% of Democrats), but 40.06% of Republicans and 39.76% of Democrats wanted the number left alone. A slight majority of Republicans (50.7%) and a substantial minority of Democrats (37.79%) wanted the number to be decreased. This is certainly good news, but it’s sad that primary-voting rank-and-file white Republicans didn’t overwhelmingly oppose immigration in 2012.
Professor Hawley’s conclusion is worthy of special attention: “The conservative movement’s power comes exclusively from its hold on the GOP. It never succeeded in persuading many Americans to support conservative policies. . . . [T]he myth of conservative voters kept many Republican politicians in line” (151). The data I have included on white voters’ opinions on immigration in the Romney era demonstrate quite well that Professor Hawley’s conclusion is correct: Rank-and-file white Republicans and Democrats are different from each other, but not so much as the Groypers and the blue hairs. Using the concepts symbolic ideology and operational ideology, Professor Hawley explains: “Among political and intellectual elites, symbolic and operational ideologies are infrequently in conflict. Among the general public, the two are frequently in conflict, which can lead observers to overstate the degree to which Americans are politically conservative” (141). By extension, it could be argued that observers are probably led to overstate the degree to which rank-and-file Democrats are liberal. As Professor Hawley puts it, “Most Republicans do not support their party because they have strong feelings about the estate tax; they are Republicans because the GOP is the ‘correct’ party for people with their other social identities (white, native-born, Christian, etc.)” (149-50).
The lesson dissidents can learn here is that “normies” will basically believe what they are told to believe by the people they recognize as their leaders. There may be some truth to the panicked claim that Donald Trump is a demagogue, in that he is a charismatic leader who can inspire his supporters (the Republican rank-and-file) to become excited about something that they weren’t previously particularly excited about (securing the Southern border). To be sure, whites don’t act like people who are particularly fond of Hispanic immigrants. But if we’re going to definitively reverse demographic trends, rather than merely slow them down or make them more tolerable, we need a dynasty of charismatic Republican leaders to tell the normies that immigration is an existentially important issue, since, as Greg Johnson argues in The White Nationalist Manifesto, a civic nationalist approach “to return[ing] to the ethnic status quo of 1965” (Johnson 2019, 136) would take forty-five years. It’s a simple fact that John Q. Citizen will not become cognizant of the relationship between current demographic trends and the shittiness of his life unless he’s made cognizant of it by a series of Trumpian leaders.
In Paul Gottfried’s contributions to this anthology, he provides a history that dissidents will find useful for understanding the mainstream conservative movement if they are not already familiar with it. Commenting on the many “purges” of Right-wingers by Conservatism Inc., Professor Gottfried explains that “[i]ntellectuals and authors on the right rarely fell from grace for the official reasons, the ones that surfaced in the media” (156). This may be true, but Professor Gottfried then goes on to explain that the “undesirables” who were purged initially were Southern conservatives and “the critics of the aggressive liberal internationalist foreign policy associated with the neoconservatives” (157). In other words, while it may be true that various Right-wing dissidents didn’t get purged for “the [official reasons] that surfaced in the media,” it also seems to be true that the “right” Right-wingers were the ones who got purged. For example, as both Keith Preston and Professor Gottfried indicate, purges might have actually “stemmed from. . . crass material interest” (159) — there is evidence that competition for scarce resources drove the thinning of the conservative herd. However, the culled Rightists were not chosen randomly.
Even though Professor Gottfried has been rightly criticized in the past on Counter-Currents for disavowing white nationalism, he doesn’t shy away from talking about how dissidents such as Peter Brimelow and John Derbyshire have been treated by mainstream conservatism. In fact, I would argue that it was silly for Professor Gottfried to explicitly distance himself from white nationalism (broadly speaking), as his contributions to this anthology make it clear that he basically agrees with white nationalism on a practical level.
I offer my humble congratulation to Paul Gottfried for his assembling of this anthology; it is a useful read for dissidents interested in metapolitics.
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