A Conservative History of the American Left

One more review to plug today: my take on Daniel Flynn’s A Conservative History of the American Left, which is now up (and going on the main page tomorrow, I think) at the American Spectator‘s website.

A Conservative History of the American Left


Gerson’s Prescription for Tory Socialism

President Bush’s former chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, advises John McCain to take a few lessons from a party that has been out of power for over a decade, Britain’s Conservative Party. Ok, he admits, the Tories have lost three elections in a row, a modern record for them, and their leader, the “impossibly young” David Cameron (he’s 41), “tends to avoid foreign policy issues,” takes positions on moral issues that “most American conservatives would find … troubling,” and holds economic views that are hard to distinguish from those of his Labour opponents. Never mind–Gerson sees all that as to the good: Cameron is “ideologically flexible.” Or, translated from Gersonspeak, he’s totally unprincipled. Gerson likes that, but what he really likes about the utterly limp Cameron is that he sounds like a “compassionate conservative” — gee, maybe he’s in the market for an American speechwriter — and he places a lot of trust in the most neoconservative of British politicians, Iain Duncan Smith, who is himself a failed Tory leader.

Gerson’s whole pointless column, which never does show how McCain could benefit from taking a few hints from Cameron — what is he supposed to do, get Iain Duncan Smith to come over to the United States? — seems to be written just to boost his British neocon friend. Just look:

[Cameron] has been wise enough to turn for ideas to an exceptional politician named Iain Duncan Smith. As a former leader of the conservative opposition, Smith was largely discredited by his close identification with the Iraq war. But since losing his leadership post, he has dedicated himself to the cause of social justice within the conservative fold, gaining broad respect in the process. As chair of a policy think tank called the Center for Social Justice, Smith has gathered a group of bright young policy researchers who have published thick volumes of proposals on issues from prison reform and education to crime and family stability.

The Center for Social Justice isn’t just a think-tank with a pinko name — no, it’s a soup kitchen as well: “It invites members of Parliament to spend a week working in anti-poverty programs — on the condition that they leave their BlackBerrys behind.” Gerson is the maestro of fleecing taxpayers while congratulating himself on his own moralism, but even he ought to be able to see that sending M.P.s to take part in anti-poverty programs isn’t compassionate at all. It’s cruel to the poor, who shouldn’t have to put up with sanctimonious balderdash from politicians just to get a bowl of soup.

TAC Notes

Steve Sailer quotes on his blog my favorite passage from Austin Bramwell’s recent review in TAC of John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. Take a look.

The new issue prints today, with cover stories on the state of the Democratic Party by Sailer and James Pinkerton and related pieces by Bill Kauffman (reviewing Jeff Taylor’s Where Did the Party Go?) and Byron Dorgan (yes, that Byron Dorgan). Actually, Dorgan’s piece isn’t directly related to the others, but as a populist Democrat he has at least an existential tie-in with the theme. Also in the issue: James Bovard on the Right’s reaction to disclosure of Bush’s bank snooping, James Bowman on Paul Johnson’s Creators, and much more. It’ll be in stores and subscribers’ mailboxes in about 10 days or so.

I Hate Cold War Liberalism

Peter Beinart wants to resuscitate cold-war liberalism and would like to claim George Kennan as one of its paragons. Kennan was no movement conservative — and thank God — but he wasn't exactly a cold-war liberal, either. The actual paradigmatic cold-war liberals, in addition to the Americans for Democratic Action that Beinart names, were men like Lyndon Baines Johnson and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson. We don't need anybody to resurrect their foreign policy, it's still with us. It's called neoconservatism. As Michael Lind wrote two years back:

Neoconservatism–the term was Michael Harrington's–originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves "paleoliberals." While there was a pro-Israel wing, the movement's focus was on confrontation with the Soviet bloc abroad and on the defense of New Deal liberalism and color-blind liberal integrationism against rivals on the left at home. With the end of the cold war and the ascendancy of the Democratic Leadership Council, many "paleoliberals" drifted back to the Democratic center. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once spoken of as a possible neoconservative presidential candidate, broke with the movement in the 1980s over its growing contempt for international law and its exaggeration of the Soviet threat. Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition.

Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists. The idea that the United States and similar societies are dominated by a decadent, postbourgeois "new class" was developed by thinkers in the Trotskyist tradition like James Burnham and Max Schachtman, who influenced an older generation of neocons. The concept of the "global democratic revolution" has its origins in the Trotskyist Fourth International's vision of permanent revolution. The economic determinist idea that liberal democracy is an epiphenomenon of capitalism, promoted by neocons like Michael Novak, is simply Marxism with entrepreneurs substituted for proletarians as the heroic subjects of history.

Beinart, of course, supported the Iraq War at the start, though now that supporting the war is no longer quite so easy he has changed his tune. His talk of a new cold-war liberalism is a face-saving measure, a way for him to continue to advance interventionism and militarism — albeit of a multilateral sort — without having to take any blame for the failure of Bush's (and Beinart's) war. I expect we're going to see a parallel phenomenon on the right rather soon, perhaps taking up the absurdist banner of Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism." (Or, come to think of it, whatever the origins of the next grand foreign-policy non-strategy that arises on the right, it'll probably just be called "Reaganism" — it usually is.)