March 9, 2001

NATIONAL REVIEW, R.I.P.
Jonah Goldberg need I say more?

In my last column, I celebrated the impending death of Salon.com, the main cyber-repository of liberalism at its most pretentious, and now it is only fair to follow it up with an obituary for National Review – or, at least, the National Review that once was. Once upon a time there was a conservative magazine whose mission it was to "stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!'" Today, as writer Gene Callahan has suggested, a better slogan for National Review would be "standing awthwart history yelling 'We surrender!'" Callahan's remarks come in the midst of one of those mini-controversies that seemingly have no relevance other than to those energetically engaged in prosecuting their feud, but are really about something else altogether more interesting.

HAYEK AND STAR TREK

It started with an off-the-cuff remark by Goldberg in a column devoted to recommended books for "movement" conservatives. After a few characteristically lightweight remarks denigrating libertarians, he switched to his faux-magisterial tone:

"I consider Hayek to be much less of a libertarian than the abstraction-loving semi-anarchists who use the label today. Indeed, Hayek is distrusted by some pure libertarians because he didn't write about Star Trek. No, just kidding. He's distrusted by zealots because he had a go-with-what-works approach. I try to stay very clear of such arguments, but if you want the purist libertarian stuff, go read something by Ludwig Von [sic!] Mises. Honestly, though, I don't know what that would be."

A BADGE OF HONOR?

People (and especially pundits) are usually at pains to hide their lack of knowledge, but Goldberg advertises his ignorance of Mises as if it were a badge of honor. He also, as David Dieteman pointed out, revealed his utter cluelessness when it comes to Hayek, who was hardly a pragmatist. Indeed, Hayek's recent biographer, Alan Abenstein, called the author of The Constitution of Liberty and the three-volume Law, Legislation, and Liberty a "utopian" philosopher, and not without ample justification. A number of writers for LewRockwell.com took up the cudgels on Mises's behalf, and the battle was on: Goldberg replied in a column that displayed his juvenile hooliganism at its worst.

THEIR PHONE BOOTH, AND OURS

"So there's this site called LewRockwell.com," declaimed the loutish Jonah in his lead-in. "Never heard of it? Well, you're not alone." Ah, but it appears that quite a few of his readers have indeed heard of LewRockwell.com, as he admits in the next breath: "Still, quite a few readers of NRO spend time over there so I will be diplomatic. . . ." A more accurate analysis would phrase this thought a bit differently: it appears that quite a few readers of LewRockwell.com spend time over at NRO. In spite of all his pretensions to being at the head of a mass movement, and his little jokes about how libertarians could meet "inside of a phone booth," the real numbers tell a different story. Our spies in the NRO office tell us that when Dieteman and others linked to Jonah's column the site received a veritable flood of visitors: but, according to my sources over at LewRockwell.com, the reverse flow amounted to a grand total of 87 visitors referred by NRO.

NASTY, BRUTISH, AND GOLDBERG

But never mind the numbers. Goldberg, with the impressive title of editor-in-chief of National Review Online – one imagines a tousle-haired polysyllabic cyber-Buckley – speaks with the authority of the Official Conservative Movement behind him. In that case, what has happened to that movement? Grandiose pretensions, an abysmal ignorance, and an altogether nasty tone – these are not only the personal hallmarks of Goldberg as a writer, but are characteristic of Beltway conservatives in general. This has been true for years, of course, but it is especially true now that they imagine themselves to be in power. The constant refrain from these circles can be boiled down to four words: "Get with the program." They mean, of course, the Bush program, and this is the context in which Goldberg's championing of Hayek's soi disant "pragmatism" has to be seen. Never mind that Hayek was a pupil of Mises, and many times credited his old teacher with having given him the fundamental framework of his thought and work; never mind that Goldberg's knowledge of both Hayek and Mises could fit on the head of a pin (with plenty of room left over); never mind that Goldberg's sneering tone makes the whole dispute seem somehow personal. What shines through in Goldberg's response to Rockwell's boys is his not-so-hidden political agenda.

THE LAST ANGRY MEN

Oh, dear, those libertarians over at LewRockwell.com are so "angry," says Jonah – they are "kick-the-cat" libertarians, a definite no-no if you're a "compassionate conservative." You see, now that "we" – meaning the Republicans – have come to power, anger is definitely out. Conservatives are supposed to be happy, so happy we don't have Al Gore that we don't notice what we've gotten ourselves into. We must all walk around with beatific smiles on our faces now that George W. Bush has been sworn in as President – and any public manifestations of anger will be duly noted as grounds for excommunication. For make no mistake about it: this is precisely what Goldberg's assault on LewRockwell.com is intended to accomplish. He answers none of the substantial criticism raised by Lew's writers, but starts off by confessing that "Anyway, I really don't think it's worth anyone's time to do a point-by-point rebuttal because, well, nobody cares." Goldberg is here merely echoing the Beltway Zeitgeist, and what is practically the defining characteristic of Bush II's imperial court: its aggressive anti-intellectuality.

SOCIALIST SECURITY

Who cares about "abstract" ideas? What matters is power, how to get it and keep it, and anyone who doesn't realize that is, well, a kook: the Rockwellians, writes Goldberg, are "furious that William F. Buckley and conservatives generally aren't trying harder to get rid of Social Security – and presumably the interstate highway system, fluoridated water, and other modern outrages." To Goldberg and his fellow "neocons," as they call themselves, to challenge the welfare state in any fundamental sense is to stand in the way of modernity – a curious accusation coming from the editor of an ostensibly conservative magazine. But this minor inconsistency doesn't seem to bother Goldberg, who only wants to smear libertarians and all those who dare to point out the impending bankruptcy of the Social Security "trust fund" as a bunch of noisome cranks.

HATE CRIMES

Goldberg's second screed, "Farewell, Lew Rockwell," seeks to accomplish exactly what its title implies: reading Rockwell and his followers right out of the movement. This time, he goes after his opponents hammer and tongs, borrowing not only the tone but also some of the content of the charges heaped on poor John Ashcroft: not only does LewRockwell.com carry articles that dare to criticize the pontifications of the Weekly Standard, Bill Buckley, "and other icons of what most people consider mainstream conservatism in America," but they also diss Abraham Lincoln. Why, I doubt that is even legal, anymore – isn't it a hate crime? Worse, some articles are about "how the American military is a hotbed of criminal imperialism and murderous warmongering," and here we get to the real bee in Jonah's bonnet: "Do Rockwellites believe fighting WWII was justified? It's not clear."

MAD FOR JOHN

But it is perfectly clear to anyone who does even a modest amount of research, as Goldberg surely knows: here is yet another hate crime that Lew Rockwell stands accused of: That any conservative these days could bring himself to question Roosevelt's war – why that's almost as bad as being a "neo-Confederate"! That virtually all conservatives opposed that war at the time is a fact Goldberg would rather not come into contact with. He notes with disdain that LewRockwell.com's slogan is "the anti-state, anti-war, pro-market news site" – and there is little doubt that it is the antiwar part of the equation that ruffles his feathers. For Goldberg is a hawk of the John McCain variety; indeed, he supported McCain until the bitter end during the GOP primaries.

INVADE AFRICA?

But Goldberg's wild-eyed interventionism goes waaaay beyond anything even the belligerent McCain could come up with: in a column for National Review a couple of months ago he even suggested that the US invade Africa so as to "civilize" it. His piece is full of the millenarian arrogance that conservatives usually identify with Marxism: we must "liberate" Africans from their "oppressors" and spread "Americanism" across the dark continent.. We owe it to them, you see:

"I think it's time we revisited the notion of a new kind of Colonialism – though we shouldn't call it that. I don't mean ripping off poor countries. I don't mean setting tribes against one another and paying off corrupt "leaders" to keep down unrest. I mean going in – guns blazing if necessary – for truth and justice. I am quite serious about this. The United States should mount a serious effort to bring civilization (yes, 'Civilization') to those parts of Africa that are in Hobbesian despair. We should enlist any nation, institution, organization – especially multinational corporations and evangelical churches as well as average African citizens – interested in permanently helping Africa join the 21st century."

NO PUSSYFOOTING

And there will be no pussyfooting about, either: we ought to spend lots of money and lives on it if need be: "We should spend billions upon billions doing it," Goldberg avers: we must "put American troops in harm's way" and "not be surprised that Americans will die doing the right thing. We should not be squeamish, either, about the fact that (mostly white) Americans will kill some black Africans in the process."

A BIG MISUNDERSTANDING

Who can afford to be squeamish when you're a neocon? After all, this little proposal comes in the context of Goldberg's paean to the neocon idea of "national greatness" – a theme celebrated by the gang over at the Weekly Standard, that "icon" of "mainstream conservatism" we aren't supposed to criticize. What's tens of thousands of lives and a few billion dollars in the pursuit of such a lofty goal? Goldberg, like all neocons, doesn't really care about free markets, and certainly dismantling the welfare state is not on his agenda: he would much rather invade Africa, or say, Iraq: during the Clinton era, he cheered on Madeleine Albright for being hawkish on Iraq, while chastising the President for not dropping enough bombs. It is useless to point out to such people that we cannot have a global empire and still retain the limited constitutional government that is our legacy: such a stance is derided by the Goldbergs of this world as hopelessly reactionary, "purist," and (shudder) "isolationist." Besides, Goldberg and his neocon buddies don't want to dismantle Big Government: as a staunch defender not only of the public schools, but also (yech!) public television, he is a conservative by accident, and even then only on account of a misunderstanding.

THE ACCIDENTAL CONSERVATIVE

The accident was the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, an interregnum that lowered standards for everything, everywhere – yes, even among the Clinton-haters. For in the urgency of their immediate task, which was to get the Rapist out of the Oval Office so it could be hosed down, conservatives were willing to accept any allies, any convert who claimed affinity for their cause. This is how the Goldbergs – Jonah and Momma Lucianne – came to prominence on the Right: as two of the most fearsome and unrelenting Clinton-haters, who played a subordinate if key role in the release of the infamous Linda Tripp tapes. As the nation descended into a discussion of the pros and cons of oral sex, the author of People Will Talk (which one reviewer called "hard core porn") and Madame Cleo's Girls (a novelistic ode to prostitution) became a rising star in the conservative firmament – a logical progression, in retrospect. In the end, Lucianne was rewarded for her labors on behalf of the Cause: a fancy editorial niche for her no-talent son, and with it the privilege of hectoring his betters. Given the vehemence [follow the link and scroll down] of his response to my critique of his African adventurism – and I was honestly only trying to elicit from him the beginning of a dialogue on foreign policy with the National Review crowd – I was surprised that he didn't throw in the charge of "anti-Semitism" as casually as he hurled it at me. But of course, that would be the first thing that comes to mind when contemplating why someone might oppose the conquest of Africa: what else could it be other than anti-Semitism?

AL SHANKER'S REVENGE

Unlike most neoconservatives, who tend to disclaim the label, Goldberg revels in it: but ideologically, what does this mean? It isn't always clear: neocons run the gamut from right-wing Social Democrats (such as the late Albert Shanker, or the paradigmatic Sidney Hook) to the Weekly Standard crowd. On domestic politics, neocons are all over the map, but when it comes to foreign policy they all worship at the altar of the war god. In his 1973 movie, Sleeper, Woody Allen wakes up from a Rip-van-Winkle-like sleep to discover that the world has been destroyed: "A man by the name of Albert Shanker," someone explains to him, "got hold of a nuclear warhead." The cold war may be long over, but some things, and some people, never change – and that is the full extent of Goldberg's ostensible "conservatism."

TWO MOVEMENTS

Goldberg's outburst underscores an important point: that there are two conservative movements, the Official movement and the Unofficials. The former are warmongering opportunists, Big Government conservatives with even bigger dreams of a Napoleonic "national greatness," who are now besieging the Bushies with their resumes and their multifarious renditions of "compassionate conservatism": the latter are the so-called "Rockwellilans," actually right-wing populists who want Uncle Sam out of foreign wars as much as they want him out of their pocketbooks. The whole point of Goldberg's double-broadside was to denigrate the Unofficials as sectarian hairsplitters, garrulous talkers as opposed to men-of-action such as himself, and he reiterates this point at the end of his first diatribe:

"The tendency of libertarians generally and the Rockwellites specifically, is to get so hung up on ideological hairsplitting and irrelevant and often lunatic sectarian squabbles that they let the world continue creeping in a direction they don't like. Then, they have the unmitigated chutzpah to scream at conservatives and Republicans for not doing enough to stop the creep. This purist approach to politics is quite simply juvenile. Nobody cares in what direction you want the wagon to go if you won't get out of it and help push."

AN UNCIVIL WAR

What he doesn't seem to realize – although maybe it is beginning to sink in by now – is that he and Rockwell belong to different movements. Neoconservatives and the rest of the Right are going in opposite directions. The Official conservatives are pro-immigration, and pro-Washington: the grassroots Unofficial right-wing movement is implacably opposed to both. The Official movement is pro-interventionist and rabidly pro-Israel; the Unofficials are "isolationist" and increasingly unsympathetic to the Israeli cause. The tension between these two camps has been building since the end of the cold war, and Goldberg's unprovoked and vicious attacks on Lew Rockwell are the opening shots of a renewed civil war on the Right. To that I say: Let's get it on!

THOSE NICE FOLKS OVER AT REASON

Sickeningly, Goldberg prefaces his incredibly evasive second response with a disclaimer, averring that he doesn't mean to besmirch all libertarians with the Rockwellian brush. Why, those nice folks over at Reason would never think of harboring such politically incorrect views. Virginia Postrel and the Reason gang are too busy thinking up new rationales for cloning (imagine dozens of "dynamist" Postrels, all droning the same tiresome "futurist" mantra! Oh, the horror!) and defending the "music" of Eminem to pose any real threat to the Welfare-Warfare State. And so, writes Goldberg, it would be "unfair for me to imply that all libertarians fed up with conservatives or the Republican party or a bloated federal government would want to associate themselves with a forum that joyfully dances back and forth across the line separating anti-statism and anti-Americanism."

PSEUDO-"SCIENCE"

"Anti-Americanism" – is this is the best smear Goldberg can come up with? If so, then his campaign to cleanse the conservative movement of troublesome factions is doomed to fail. For it is we paleos who call for a return to the legacy of the Founding Fathers, the restoration of the Constitution at home and the foreign policy of the Founders abroad – a return to Americanism. As for Goldberg's agenda, he makes that clear enough:

"For the record, if I were cracking the whip on the movement there would be a significant bias against many if not most pre-Enlightenment values – and not just racism, but also the rejection of science, capitalism, universal humanity, and Truth, etc."

I OWE IT ALL TO LINDA TRIPP

Footsoldiers of science and Truth, this latter pretentiously capitalized – is this what it means to be a "conservative" today? Yesterday, the Right railed against the idolatry of science, and proclaimed a new humanism: wasn't this the whole point of Russell Kirk's writings? Isn't this what Richard Weaver was trying to tell us, along with Mises, Rothbard, and, yes, Hayek? So now conservative principles are reduced to fighting "racism" and defending the positivism and scientism of the "Enlightenment." With Nietzschean boldness, Goldberg the Philosopher King proclaims the transvaluation of all conservative values – and the world is turned upside down. What power! What daring! What chutzpah! And to think that he owes it all to Linda Tripp, Monica, and the perverse pleasures of a priapic president – who woulda thought?

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

 


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