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The Vanishing Tradition:
Perspectives on American Conservatism

5,456 words

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).

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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).

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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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11 Comments

  1. SWW
    Posted December 2, 2020 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Informative review here. I haven’t read the book yet but it caught my eye as an important compilation which includes some “dissenting” voices within mainstream academic treatment of the conservative movement in the postwar period, an era which has received extensive scrutiny as an alleged gradual conservative ascendency, whatever that means. One question I did have as I read your review concerned the placement of Russell Kirk in the neoconservative camp, and also with respect to naivete regarding the threat posed by big business to traditional cultural norms. Clearly he should fall, broadly speaking, within the traditionalist wing of the “three legged stool” of Meyer’s fusionist formulation. He was skeptical, throughout his oeuvre, of economistic libertarian dogma, and questioned also the threats posed to traditional noninterventionist foreign policy by the neoconservatives, even opposing the Vietnam War as I recall. And indeed toward the end of his life was virtually blacklisted from the Heritage Foundation after an oblique reference to excessive Israeli influence over US foreign policy. Do you think the placement of Kirk among the neocons in this book or in certain essays within it is problematic, or did it strike you as such? Or do you think this is an oversight on the authors’ part? Or what exactly? Am I misreading or overstating these references perhaps? Thanks again for the useful essay.

    • Max Richardson
      Posted December 3, 2020 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Hi, SWW, thanks for reading the review! The contributors to this anthology don’t classify him as a neoconservative. Personally, I’m not more qualified than any of these authors to place him in a particular category, so I’ll just report more clearly here what they all have to say about it.

      Jack Kerwick notes that Russell Kirk is “widely recognized [as a representative] of classical or traditional conservatism” (10). Kerwick credits Kirk with defending Edmund Burke’s conservatism, which Kerwick describes as “stand[ing] as the polar opposite of Rationalist, egalitarian politics” (12).

      Keith Preston points out that “[Mel Bradford’s] work was admired by leading conservative intellectuals such as Russell Kirk…” (25). Boyd Cathey notes that “Kirk dedicated an entire issue of [his conservative academic quarterly journal] to the South and its traditions…and explicitly supported its historic defense of the originalist constitutionalism of the Framers” (122).

      Grant Havers has a full section titled “Russell Kirk’s Conflicted Defense of Capitalism.” While it’s not accurate to say that Havers considers Kirk a neoconservative, I think it’s accurate to say that Havers considers Kirk naive and not deserving of all the dignitas he has been afforded in the American conservative movement.

      Perhaps most explicitly, Boyd Cathey points out that Kirk “publicly denounced the neoconservatives in the 1980s” (126). Cathey quotes Kirk as saying, “Not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.” Cathey considers Kirk to be of the “Old Right,” as opposed to neoconservatism.

      • SWW
        Posted December 3, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Thank you for this. It clarified the issue for me considerably. Thanks again for the fine review. I will check out this book.

  2. Leon Haller
    Posted December 3, 2020 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the thorough review of this book, but is the reviewer aware that much of this background about the neocons was already discussed in Gottfried’s The Conservative Movement, 2nd ed, pub. about 1993? The only thing that one really needs to know about neocons was already noted by Russell Kirk decades ago: that all they really care about is Israel. They are Israel Firsters. Grasp that, and there is little need to consider their ideas, which are mere integuments for their real agenda – Zionism {Jewish ethnonationalism}.

    Do any of the contributors ever define “true, traditional conservatism”?

    Re Hawley: I don’t trust him. He is an academic with an agenda. He’s a bit popular around here because he states what a certain type of white nationalist – the National Populist crowd – really wants to hear about whites, esp conservative ones: that they are racially/culturally nationalist, but economically populist (if not actually leftist). If the latter were true, why do conservative/libertarian state ballot props win as often as they lose? IL just rejected raising the state income tax. Who did that – Democrats or Republicans (plus some Democrats)? CA just rejected raising taxes on commercial property. For that to have passed, state Republicans, who are far less numerous than Democrats, must have voted against it overwhelmingly. There are numerous other such examples from just this year.

    “National Populism” on the right is mostly about racial and cultural nationalism. The Right generally favors property rights, less government, lower taxes, pro-business deregulation, strong military, and law enforcement. We are “populist” because we reject the elite consensus on matters of race, social policy and morality, not because we want socialism or huge welfare states..

    • Max Richardson
      Posted December 3, 2020 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Leon Haller, thanks for reading! Indeed, it is true that much ink has been spilled (and ignored) on the neoconservatives. I basically agree with you when you say that the ideas of the neoconservatives are not important to consider in good faith. However, understanding the underpinnings, backgrounds, assumptions, and blueprints of political philosophies (even if they are illicitly spawned) is what metapolitics is all about.

      In response to your question about whether or not the contributors ever define “true, traditional conservatism,” I can only recommend that you read the book. All of these contributors have different perspectives on that question, and it’s really not something I’m comfortable trying to answer for all of them here.

      What is George Hawley’s agenda, in your opinion? Is there something about being an academic that causes one to have a certain specific agenda? Many of the contributors to this anthology are also academics – do they too have the same agenda, and is their agenda the same as the agenda(s) of explicitly Leftist academics?

      Obviously, you disagree with Hawley when he says that rank-and-file “conservatives”/Republicans (who are obviously overwhelmingly white) are not actually economically conservative. It’s fine for you to disagree with this assertion, but if Hawley is drawing conclusions about white normie Republicans in good faith after looking closely at the survey data, how does this make him guilty of having some kind of nefarious “agenda”? Are you saying that he’s secretly a Communist? Are you saying that he’s trying to trick white nationalists into accepting socialism?

      If that, or something like that, is what you’re saying, it seems to me that you are reading motives into Hawley’s work.

      • Leon Haller
        Posted December 4, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Max Richardson,

        Yes, there is something about being an academic that suggests ulterior motives – at least today. There are very few politically honest academics anymore. I had a Marxist professor nearly 40 years ago who knew how rightwing I was, but nevertheless wrote me a glowing recommendation to law school. This was at one of the Ivies. That was then, when even many leftists had intellectual/academic integrity. Today, not only the “personal”, but every aspect of life has to the Left become “political”. Therefore, any contemporary academic dealing with any subject with political ramifications must be approached cautiously.

        I have not read Hawley’s books, but I have read several articles by him, as well as many reviews of his books. I think he has an agenda (though he may also be an intelligent and good scholar), which consists in trying to convince people that classical (American) conservatism, especially its political economy, is not supported by most rank and file Republicans. That is horseshit – falsehood especially dangerous for white nationalists, whose prospects rest upon our being able to show our broad alignment with most Republicans, and that white advocacy is simply a logical extension of, and thus congruent with, other more common elements in the broad conservative agenda. To the extent that white nationalists misread “where the base is at”, it hurts our ability to make converts. I know so many guys who agree with us on racial issues, but you start pushing some anticapitalist crap which destroys their businesses and financial bottom lines, and you will have lost them.

        Let me restate that: free market prosperity, and the liberty of which it is a critical part, are very, very important to a huge majority of conservative Americans, more so than anything else, perhaps apart from gun rights. Vast hordes of conservative whites – who are the group we must win over, if white America is to survive – are animated more by liberty/capitalism (especially low taxes and/or jobs opportunities) than by white survivalism. You may not like that fact, but then whites in general are weak on race, which is why we’re in this racial mess. Anything which causes these types of whites to reject us – such as moving away from “traditional Republican values” like support for low taxes and less social spending so as to appear ‘cooler’ to the socialist hipsters and ghetto welfare bums who hate us anyway – is self-defeating long term folly.

        “Survey data”, like polls, is easy to manipulate. Rhetoric can be highly and deliberately obfuscatory (as every lawyer knows!). It all depends upon how we define “economically conservative”. Marginal rate tax cuts for the wealthy are becoming less popular, especially as more patriots understand how leftist and especially multiculti-wokester so many of the rich have become (trust me, I could tell you stories … despite being affluent and having several filthy rich friends, I’ve come to hate the rich, and the richer they are, the more I hate them, as a class, anyway). It’s also possible that, after more than a half century of medical socialism’s having ruined the US healthcare system, even many Republicans are so sick of insurer/doctor over-billing that a large number might back single-payer healthcare.

        But even this is not enough to be able to say that GOP voters are not actually “economically conservative”, because, as I pointed out, you must look at how they vote on specific issues when those issues are presented to them apart from being generally embodied in particular candidates. Many white working class people vote for Republicans because they are correctly perceived to be less antiwhite than Democrats. They may not care about abortion and queers, or income tax cuts and charter schools, or the defense of Taiwan or Israel, but if you want less antiwhiteness, you get stuck with these other positions. But single-issue state ballot propositions are heavily indicative of where GOP voters really stand. And Hawley is full of shit if he tries to say, based on survey data rather than electoral outcomes analysis, that Republican voters are not economically conservative, insofar as “economically conservative” is understood to mean “supportive of free enterprise and limited government, and opposed to welfare statism and socialism”. One can conclude this from analyzing ballot propositions. “Economically progressive” measures constantly fail (and sometimes succeed; it’s a big, diverse, complicated, and schizophrenic country). Many did so yet again last month. Who, exactly, does Hawley (or you, Max Richardson) think is powering these defeats of such progressive proposals as new state income taxes or existing tax increases; extensions of rent control; blocking of oil and gas pipelines, etc? Liberal Democrats?! Independents?

        The GOP base is deeply economically conservative in the true, classical sense of supporting limited government; the Constitution; free market capitalism; lower taxes; deregulation; private property rights; and opposing most, but not all, welfare state giveaways. What it is not, at least any longer, is supportive of corporate capitalism, especially corporate welfare. It is no longer fooled by tributes to “free trade”. It is now properly skeptical of economic globalization, and outsourcing of factories and jobs. It no longer believes the Wall Street Journal propaganda about how wonderful Third World immigrants are for the economy (as well it shouldn’t).

        So, if Hawley et al define “economically conservative” as “supportive of the Reagan economic agenda” (tax cuts for the rich, free trade outsourcing and globalization, mass immigration, environment-threatening pollution deregulation [though most economy-killing regulation is not environmental at all], “entitlement reform” proposals centered on squeezing Social Security and Medicare benefits) then I agree completely that Republican voters increasingly reject this. But if “economically conservative” means what the plain words in light of history should mean (as a good Constitutional originalist would say in judicial interpretation) – supportive of private property, limited government, and capitalism, and opposed to socialism, Big Government, and most of the liberal welfare state – then the facts of elections do not bear this out, and Hawley is ‘massaging’ the data to advance an agenda, one we would do well to reject.

        • Max Richardson
          Posted December 4, 2020 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          It’s clear that you haven’t read any of Hawley’s books. I don’t know which of his articles you have read, but let me just tell you this: He’s not a socialist, he’s not anti-capitalist, he doesn’t want to destroy the free market. Feel free to prove me wrong, but please actually provide evidence if you try to.

          By the way, I’m not anti-capitalist.

          • Leon Haller
            Posted December 5, 2020 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

            I did state that I haven’t read any of Hawley’s books. It’s not clear that you, however, have actually read my lengthy second comment. I didn’t say Hawley was a socialist, nor do I care if he is or is not one. I was responding to what you wrote here about him, in a single paragraph of your overall book review that, incidentally, seems internally contradictory to me now that I’ve re-read it and divided it into separate paragraphs:

            {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). }

            OK, so Hawley finds in 2012 that Republicans were mostly true conservatives, which includes free marketists. That makes sense to me, and accords with my belief.

            {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).}

            I am unclear as to how #3 paragraph does not contradict #1 paragraph. But that aside, the entire thrust of MY comment was to dissent from the argument in #3; namely, that “rank-and-file Republicans are not usually “conservative” on … “economic issues”…”. I have asserted that this statement is untrue, and I have suggested that electoral outcomes analysis of economic policy-oriented state ballot propositions is a better gauge of whether Republicans are or are not predominantly “economically conservative” than voter survey data, which can be and often are ideologically and semantically manipulated and therefore un- or at least less reliable.

            You have simply ignored my argument, which after all, is what is most salient to the general discussion, not Prof. Hawley’s ideological predilections. And this issue is, in fact, of great importance to the progress or regress of white survivalism and advocacy in America. It is so, if I am correct in my assertions, because there is an emerging intellectual strain within white nationalism which is increasingly hostile not only to market economics (which is ignorant and dumb in itself), but to the idea that capitalist policies and rhetoric positively resonate with GOP base voters. Carried to its logical conclusion, which would involve persuading white advocates to adopt anti-capitalist polices and rhetoric, such a stance would, in my opinion, radically marginalize white advocates from the very people – GOP/Trump base voters – we simply MUST win over to our side if we are to have any chance at future political power and effectiveness.

            White nationalists had better understand – and soon – that there are two groups of white GOP base voters whom we must never antagonize (and frankly, there is no need to do so, except as a function of the personal preferences of certain individual white nationalist intellectuals), or we will never achieve any of our goals. The first is the Christian Right. Their numbers and influence are declining, but they remain a formidable and loyal force within the GOP. While most of them reject hard racism as well as anti-semitism, huge numbers are with us on what to them are (unfortunately) such secondary issues as immigration control/reduction; opposition to race (antiwhite) quotas and affirmative (antiwhite) racism; defense of free speech, especially for dissidents (as more of them are coming to be due to LGBTQ / Deep State extremism); and traditional forms of crime control, including opposition to Defund Police initiatives. These are overwhelmingly white and broadly conservative people – good people, if insufficiently racially enlightened – ripe for hearing our message, so long as that message tones itself down at the margins, and definitely does not bill itself as in any way anti-Christian (or posit in the public mind that there is some necessary opposition between Christianity and white advocacy).

            The second group we must not antagonize are the “liberty/free market/pro-business” crowd. I am sometimes amazed at how little understanding increasing numbers of white nationalists – especially among those under 40 – seem to have about just how large is the “muh liberty” crowd. (Hint: they are astronomically larger that the prowhite crowd.) ‘Liberty’ resonates with white Americans, at least conservative ones. Like the Christian moral values crowd, they are often uncomfortable with race realism, but they love Standing Tall for Freedom. And they have been imbued with the (correct) understanding that free enterprise is a vital element in and foundation of liberty itself. Most of these people likewise are white, and broadly conservative. White nationalists must appeal to them, too, if we are to achieve substantive victories.

            Fortunately, this is a very doable task. White nationalists must focus on race, as the great Jared Taylor does, and eschew any antichristian or anticapitalist rhetoric, even if one opposes Christianity and/or capitalism. Certainly, awakening significant numbers of whites just to their racial plight is a huge enough task. There is no need to complicate it with internecine, secondary battles, such as over religion or economics. A warrior fights with the weapons at hand, on battlefields usually not of his choosing. This is our mental battlefield, here in America.

            • Max Richardson
              Posted December 6, 2020 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

              “I am unclear as to how #3 paragraph does not contradict #1 paragraph.”

              I said in the first thing that you quoted: “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,’…(134).” (emphasis added)

              “[T]he entire thrust of MY comment was to dissent from the argument in #3; namely, that ‘rank-and-file Republicans are not usually ‘conservative’ on … ‘economic issues’…’. I have asserted that this statement is untrue, and I have suggested that electoral outcomes analysis of economic policy-oriented state ballot propositions is a better gauge of whether Republicans are or are not predominantly ‘economically conservative’ than voter survey data, which can be and often are ideologically and semantically manipulated and therefore un- or at least less reliable.”

              Okay!! I heard you. You don’t have to agree. I’m not trying to convince you. I never tried to convince you (at least I never tried to convince you specifically). Take the survey data or leave it. It’s your prerogative.

              “You have simply ignored my argument, which after all, is what is most salient to the general discussion…”

              Do I have an obligation to engage you on this? I’m not interested in doing so. Thank you for reading my review.

  3. SRP
    Posted December 3, 2020 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Those of us who favor the survival of the West and of its founding people, must strike the word ‘conservative’ from our self-descriptions. The mindset of ‘Conservatism’ needs to be purged from our ranks.

    We are ‘conservative’ only in the sense of desiring to CONSERVE the racial and cultural properties of our culture. We are thus ‘conservationists’ in the same way as eco-conservationists.

    If by ‘conservatism’ we mean to freeze in the present, or to re-construct a previous era, we want nothing like that. That would be to re-step the path that has gotten us to this moment.

    For generations, our foolish ‘conservatives’ have been drawing lines in the sand, and the Left have stepped over each of them. And thus here we are today. Thanks to our ‘responsible conservatives’.

    We MUST strike the word ‘conservative’ from our self-identity description, and ALSO take the label of ‘progressive’ away from the Left. Nothing is more REGRESSIVE to humanity than Leftism, and referring to them and their agenda as ‘progressive’ must be challenged everywhere.

    In fact WE are the true radicals of the day. WE are the true ‘progressives’ of our time. Only WE have the strategy to solve the world-problems of unemployment, poverty, conflict, population and eco-destruction and make a better world for all. And we should proclaim ourselves as such!

  4. Bernie
    Posted December 3, 2020 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    “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.”

    Gottfried gave two very good speeches at American Renaissance conferences (2000 and 2008 if memory serves). He is likely more in agreement with white nationalism than he lets on.

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