Neoconservatives by any other name: It’s european socialism of the 20th century
Ten years ago this week, the most celebrated political change of the last 50 years, the Republican takeover of Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, dominated the political discourse of the country. It’s trumpeted the new members of Congress were supposedly the sons and daughters of the earlier Reagan Revolution of 1980 and they touted their 100-day agenda and Contract with America that would change the Congress and hopefully the country. The Republicans and their speaker Newt Gingrich seemed so powerful, the even the President was relegated to the political sidelines.
What fueled that power was a belief that government in the aftermath of the Cold War needed not just to trim it sails, but bring down the mast completely to reflect the new realities of the country and the world. It was a “fusionist,” dream come true, libertarian anti-stateism combined with a touch conservative traditionalism in the support they received for their agenda from religious conservatives and the rhetoric they in turn paid to their issues.
Ten years later what has happened? The Republicans are still in charge right? Technically yes. But Von Mises Institute director Lew Rockwell, in a recent article on his website Lew Rockwell.com, summed up what’s really happening perfectly:
“The most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unrewarded, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism. Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing. … What this implies for libertarians is a crying need to draw a clear separation between what we believe and what conservatives believe. It also requires that we face the reality of the current threat forthrightly by extending more rhetorical tolerance leftward and less rightward.”
The threat from the right? Yes indeed, as Justin Raimondo asserted in his column on Ether Zone.
“In any case, by this time the evidence for the malevolent transformation of the American Right is all around us – in the ravings of Fox News “commentators,” in the sheer existence of Ann Coulter, in the usurpation of a formerly respectable political tendency by the greasy evasions of the “neo”-conservatives. This change is most starkly dramatized in three disturbing trends: (1) Widespread support on the Right for internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, touting Michelle Malkin’s shoddy-to-nonexistent scholarship, with the implication that we should be contemplating the same treatment for Americans of Arab descent, (2) the justification of torture when utilized by the American military in the name of the “war on terrorism” by “conservative”legal theorists, and (3) advocacy of a ruthlessly aggressive foreign policy of military expansionism, supposedly in order to spread “democracy”around the world. “
So it has come to this, “conservatism,” or the “fusionism” that united and defined the conservative movement is truly and utterly dead and the 2004 election confirms that. What replaces it is a new kind of “conservatism” that is rooted in more European socialist extremes than anything remotely American.
But how could all this have happened and in especially 10 years time, a short period when it comes to philosophical changes and trends. Was it just 9-11 and that’s all? No, this trend had been happening much earlier than that, going all the way back to the late 1960s. 9-11 simply meant its ascendancy. To find out what happened, we have to go back to the early ’90s and back to a book that defined the conservatism of that era by a man who is part of the “new” or neoconservatism of this new century.
Back in 1993 a Canadian editor for the Wall Street Journal named David Frum wrote a book called Dead Right. The book was written in the aftermath of the defeat of President Bush I and described the conservative movement as exhausted, out of ideas and divided into three factions: optimists, moralists and nationalists (palecons and paleolibertarians who Frum saved his special brand of venom and smear tactics even way back then as he was stealing their discussion and debate ideas for his book). Frum lamented the fact that conservatism had gave up it’s basic calling card, i.e. standing against a runaway bureaucracy and growth of the leviathan state, because it had proven too difficult a task during the Reagan-Bush I administrations. Near the end of the book, Frum even extolled the virtues of one Phil Gramm, the Texas senator planning a run for President in 1996.
“Gramm remains the most articulate and impassioned pro-market voice in the Senate. No senator of comparable intellectual power has a strong a voting record for less government, not even Jesse Helms.”
So what ultimately happened? The Republican Revolutionaries lost their Yorktown, the 1995 budget showdown with the White House that led to the shutdown of the government. Ronald Reagan used to talk about the government going away and disappearing and how everyone wouldn’t notice it was gone. Well, such a very thing happened, and people did notice. They didn’t like the fact they couldn’t visit the monuments in Washington D.C. or go camping in the national parks. They let the Republicans know it and as a result they lost their nerve. Bob Dole, always the statist, ended the shutdown and won his party’s presidential nomination as result. His senate colleague Gramm on the other hand, despite his conservative credentials, couldn’t beat Pat Buchanan in a Louisiana caucus rigged so he would win it and saw his campaign shut down completely. It was the beginning of the end of fusionism.
So what replaced it? Certainly not Buchanan’s nationalism nor the moralists who were beaten down in the Clinton impeachment trials. The optimists won and Frum, like any good neoconservative, adjusted opportunistically to the situation. Reducing government was out. In came “compassionate conservatism.” No more mean old Phil Gramm’s for Frum. Now he was singing the praises of the Texan son of George Bush I who did not reject out of hand government activism, who believed in immigration and multiculturalism, and mouthed all the supply side shibboleths that Frum rightly pointed out were failures in Dead Right. In other words, it was Kempism without Kemp, meaning the Bushes, like Frum, plagiarized much of the ideas of the optimists’ leader, Jack Kemp (without the gold standard), and incorporated them with the Republican establishment bequeathed to him from his father and combined with religious conservatives sold to Bush II through his born-again experience.
This is what was going on at the intellectual level. On the cultural level something else was happening that forced the GOP and conservatism away from fusionism towards fascism. The Republican Party was incorporating a good chunk of the old New Deal coalition. Reagan himself, had critiqued many of the early New Dealers wanting to emulate Mussolini’s “making the trains run on time,” Italy (something Ted Kennedy attacked Reagan on bitterly during his 1980 speech at the Democratic National Convention.) Yet socialism is socialism, many different pieces but all cut from the same cloth. And elements of that New Deal coalition: intellectuals, white ethnic and Southerners, moved from the Democrats to the Republicans in response to the takeover of that party by old progressive Republicans, leftists and members of the New Class. Given that movement, it was only natural that the GOP would drop the anti-statist rhetoric. Yes the Oklahoma City bombing was a part of the reason for this. (The National Review described it as the left’s last throw. Pretty powerful throw I guess.) But it was inevitable it was going to happen given such cultural movements. Republican revolutionaries like from Tennessee like Congressmen Zach Wamp and Van Hillery (celebrated in the book The Freshmen by Linda Killian) were not about to call for the privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority, as Barry Goldwater wanted to do, if they wanted to keep their jobs. Goldwater once wanted to make Social Security voluntary. George Bush II now wants to have the government take control of a good chunk of the stock market and call it “privatization.”
9-11 simply finished the job. We were all becoming “big government conservatives,” as Frum would say, before then, however slowly. This was the final touch. No one would attack the state now that we were at war. The Republican Party of the 21st Century is simply a replay of the Democratic Party of the 1940s and woe to the Charles Lindbergh (aka Michael Moore) that dares to get in its way. War is the health of the state as those who read antiwar.com all know. And in this war, the state is as robust as ever whether it’s the Patriot Act to prescription drug benefits. Balanced Budget Amendment? What Balanced Budget Amendment? Deficits don’t matter. Line item veto? What’s that? Eliminate the Commerce Department? Why, when we’re folding it into the Homeland Security Department.
Is it fascism? Fascism is more of a tactic than it is a coherent ideology as anyone studying Mussolini’s Italy (as author Dennis Mack Smith showed in his 1982 biography of the Italian dictator) would have seen. But the tactics are becoming more and more prevalent. Anyone viewing Free Republic.com can see this in the Bush-worshipping-as-demigod, no toleration for any kind of dissent whatsoever from the government line, the justification of physical violence against so-called “inferiors” and the celebration of expansionist militarism from its members. Paleos tend to throw out a lot of socialist terms when describing neoconservatism (Trotskyiest, Stalinist, Menshevism, Jacobin, Fascist, etc.) which only confuses. Obviously when we deal with neoconservatism, what we are dealing with is a whole new ideology rather than a variation or even an evolution of an old one. Yet it is still part of the same old tar pit of European socialism that is alien to the American way, yet it is still so manipulative of the American populace as its forebears once were and still are.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”