May 12, 2000


The growing convergence between the ideological extremes of "right" and "left" has been noted, in this column and elsewhere; little noticed, however, has been a corollary development, the drawing in of the political center to a common position that dispenses with the traditional conception of polarized politics. While Pat Buchanan (on the "far" right) and Ralph Nader (on the "far" and slightly wonkish left) are inveighing against globalism, both wings of the establishment – from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on the liberal side, to the suited internationalists over at the Wall Street Journal – concur that the end of nationhood is at hand, and a good thing too. Conservatives, it seems, are the first to defend the victims of police repression, as at Waco and in Miami, while the left has backed Reno's Raiders to the hilt. On foreign policy issues, conservatives have reverted to the "isolationist" (i.e. pro-peace) policies of their wise predecessors, the Founding Fathers, and the left is beating the war drums to a "humanitarian" beat. Other examples of what libertarian political operative Michael Emerling used to call "political cross-dressing" abound. This blurring of the traditional liberal-conservative dichotomy has recently resulted in some pretty strange phenomena: for example, alleged "conservatives" of the Weekly Standard variety supporting John McCain's White House run – even as Mad John demonizes fellow conservatives Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as the bane of the GOP. Years ago, Emmett Tyrell, editor of the American Spectator, wrote a book called The Conservative Crack-Up, and the title certainly describes what has happened to the American Right in the post-cold war world. Without the overriding purpose of defeating Communism, and baffled by a series of defeats and betrayals, American conservatives seem to be completely and utterly clueless – not only about what to do next, but why they ought to do it.


Anybody can say or do anything, and still claim to be a conservative: it's gotten almost as easy as claiming to be a "libertarian." Bill Buckley once claimed to be a libertarian on the grounds that his magazine, National Review, had defended NR editor William F. Rickenbacker's refusal to cooperate with the Census Bureau. Jessie Ventura lays claim to the mantle of libertarianism on the grounds of his fashionably liberal social views as well as his generally loutish demeanor. In our postmodern Babel of transgendered transnational politics, all bets are off, and anyone can say (or do) anything no matter what their political "orientation." Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of neoconservatism, can metamorphize into a McCainiac, and celebrate the centralized state as a sign of "national greatness" – just as Lenora Fulani, a self-proclaimed Marxist, has jumped on the Buchanan bandwagon, as part of a strategy to break the political monopoly of the regnant elites. As a friend of mine used to say on certain days: "What's the moon in?"


The moon is certainly in a strange place, at least politically, these days: I see no explanation other than an astrological one for the recent National Review Online article by Jonah Goldberg, written at least in part as a response to my critique of his previous column, "A Continent Bleeds." In his original piece, Goldberg advocated a US-led invasion of the African continent. We have to clean up the place and give Africans the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of Western "civilization" – voluntarily, if possible, at gunpoint if necessary. It will all be done for their own good, of course, and so what if certain multinationals make a few billion in the process? After all, it's for the children. Or, as Goldberg puts it:

"I wonder whether some of my correspondents – liberal and conservative – have even the meager intellectual and moral confidence to say that wholesale atrocities, starvation, and murder are wrong. Are they so passively or actively racist as to believe that these Africans want to or deserve to live this way? Conservatives are supposed to be opposed to notions of collective and intergenerational guilt. Why then are they so willing to say, in effect, that millions of starving children deserve their fate?"


Ah yes, "it's for the children"! Now, where have we heard that one before? The Clintonization of the Republican Party, a phenomenon first noted and named by columnist Robert Novak, has found its voice in Jonah Goldberg. If you dissent, you must be a racist – this is a page ripped right out of the Clintonian play-book. The appeal to base emotions, and the complete lack of any logic, gives the argument that we must intervene to prevent "wholesale atrocities, starvation and murder" a distinctly Clintonesque air: you can almost hear Bill saying, portentously, "Because it's the right thing to do."


Goldberg writes that the response to his "let's invade Africa" column was "overwhelming," and claims that it was mostly supportive – especially from "military types." I guess that means Jonah will have plenty of company in the jungles of the Congo, wading through a serpent-infested swamp, holding aloft the beacon-light of Western Civilization. They can call it the Upper West Side Brigade, the post-millennial equivalent of the old "Abraham Lincoln Brigade" and the various other "international brigades" that fought in the Spanish Civil War – that ought to be good for a couple of dozen columns and a book contract. Unfortunately, he does not quote from any of these gung-ho internationalistas, but does give us a taste of what the few disgruntled dissenters had to say, which boiled down to: "So, how do we do it?" This, according to Goldberg, "was the most common question from advocates and dissenters alike. The short, humble answer is, 'How the hell should I know?'"


Is this sophomoric cynicism really fashionable among American conservatives? Or is it something about the air – or perhaps it's in the water – of New York City that encourages such extravagant displays of arrogance. What he is saying, in effect, is: I don't know, please don't bother me with the details, we should "build schools, and churches and markets (with enforceable contracts!)." Whatever. "It might also be necessary to erase a lot of the pernicious boundaries created by the colonialists, borders that were designed to pit tribe against tribe." Naturally, the same Westerners who created those terribly divisive borders will be drawing the new ones, but that's all right, because you see it'll be Jonah and his friends, this time around, who will take up the White Man's Burden with both hands.


But the dissenters' rudeness did not end with questioning Goldberg's means; the ones that really got on his nerves were those who dared question his "humanitarian" ends, and wanted to know "Who are you to say that Americans should die imposing your ideas?" His embarrassing answer:

"Well, I'm me. Take it or leave it. I make a living writing things that I think. If you disagree, so be it. But clearly this doesn't satisfy everyone. Indeed, there is a disturbingly obnoxious attitude among many isolationists which tries to close off all debate by saying "unless you are willing to fight yourself, you have no right to suggest other people should." Sure, sometimes this is a perfectly legitimate, though hardly sufficient, argument. But it is hardly the trump card many isolationists think it is. "


This silly answer satisfies no one – probably not even its author, for all his faux-bravado. What is disturbing and obnoxious is not the propensity of some unnamed "isolationists" to question the motives of our laptop bombardiers, but Goldberg's brazen indifference to the horror of war by one who would not deign to fight it himself. If Goldberg is seriously convinced that the cause of bringing "order" to Africa is worth other peoples' lives, then why isn't it worth his own? This is an entirely fair question, and should be asked of anyone and everyone who make a similarly light-minded proposal. Indeed, this should be the standard by which all of our legislators, and every American citizen, judge American intervention overseas, by asking the question: would you send your own son or daughter to die for – Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Africa, fill in the blank.? Would you die for it? If not, then shut up and sit down.


Goldberg, however, is bothered by this question, and whines because some have had the utter temerity to raise it:

"Leaving aside what I myself am or am not willing to do, I always thought the merits of an idea should be weighed at least somewhat independently of its author. If I were in uniform, would my idea suddenly become great? Perhaps the fact that so many military folks agree with me makes this point moot. In case it doesn't, let me ask: Does this mean that people in wheelchairs must be pure pacifists? After all, they can't fight, so what right do they have to advocate sending off the able-bodied? I do not want to be a police officer; does that mean I shouldn't open my trap about my view that cops should do dangerous things?"


If war were just an "idea," then Goldberg's point that the arguments of its proponents have to "be weighed at least somewhat independently" of the authors would have some validity. But war is not just an idea, it is nothing less than mass murder, and madness on a scale that only a few – notably Paul Fussell, in Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic – have been able to communicate in print. If Goldberg were in uniform, then, yes, his arguments would carry more weight – just as General Colin Powell, if he suddenly went mad and endorsed Goldberg's campaign to invade Africa, would undoubtedly carry considerably more weight than the opinions of our latte-swilling liberationists. And if anyone in a wheelchair had the nerve to "volunteer" their son or daughter for guard duty on the African front, I would personally be tempted to wheel them straight into oncoming traffic.


What really takes the cake, in Goldberg's case, is a supercilious offhand remark that reveals much more than the author intends: "We do have a volunteer army, by the way, and I see nothing wrong with asking for volunteers for this mission. I hope that makes everyone happy." In other words, war is for all those dummies who don't have laptops and haven't found their niche in the "information economy" – we have to come up with something for these dolts to occupy their time, for gosh sakes! Aside from evading the obvious – how long would we have a volunteer military if we took on such Herculean tasks? – this argument raises the question: is there any limit to the arrogance of our self-appointed elites? Is there anything they will not say, or write, just to fill a lull in the conversation or make a deadline?


At the end of his screed, Goldberg acknowledges the real point of his rambling column, and bemoans the fact that there is

"a serious wellspring of bitterness among the belligerent pacifists of the Right. A good example is an attack on me and my article from some guy named Justin Raimondo. Honestly, I had never heard of the guy before (and, after reading his columns, I can see why). Writing for the cranky, often nasty, and thankfully irrelevant anti-everything website, Raimondo simply makes up a lot of stuff about me that isn't true."


As to exactly what "stuff" I made up, this is never specified, and the hapless reader is left to fend for himself since this is a web-column devoid of any links. I therefore invite any and all interested parties to follow this link, and decide for themselves if my brief bio of Goldberg is in accordance with the facts. All I did was observe that the last time I saw him he was on some talk show discussing the legal and sexual intricacies of l'affair Lewinsky. If Goldberg is offended by this reminder of how he earned his journalistic meal-ticket and his place at the conservative table, then I'm sure he has his reasons. Leaving aside the question of who has heard of whom – and why this matters – I would only add that the description of as "anti-everything" rings a positively Clintonian note. Oh, those "cranky" right-wing "extremists," who are "irrelevant" naysayers in any event, they're just against everything! Isn't it just too too terrible? If by "everything," Goldberg means the world Bill and Hillary and Madeleine are building for us, then proudly pleads guilty to the charge – and so does any conservative worth his or her salt.


After averring that no one should take anything on this website seriously, Goldberg then launches into a torrent of words to refute it, all to no avail. He concedes that the Founders would be "horrified" by his proposal, but avers that "not all the great conservative thinkers would be." Oh yeah, like who? Well, "there are certainly some religious conservatives – John Paul II, to name an obvious one – would be very sympathetic." Oh really? Well, there was a time when the Vatican raised its own armies, and could put thousands of fighting men into battle, and if His Holiness looks with favor on Goldberg's proposal then perhaps this tradition could be revived. Indeed, it would have to be, since no American President who wants to stay in office would embark on the conquest of Africa, and no Congress would put up with it. Is this cowardice? Yes, according to Goldberg, who writes

"I doubt that the Founders or any conservative worth his salt would be as cowardly as those people who simply hide behind the skirts of moral relativism or try to dismiss an idea by attacking its author (an old Communist trick, by the way). I have no problem with people who say Africa can't be saved (they may be right). Or with people who say we shouldn't try – if they are saying so because they think it can't be done. But people who say they don't want to do it simply because it offends their sensibilities or because they think Africans aren't worth saving, well, shame on them."


If the Africans could be "saved" from themselves, at the cost of expending most if not all of our own resources – not to mention untold thousands of lives – would it be worth it? This is probably just another "old Communist trick" on my part, but I can't help wondering: who is going to make that decision? Let us hope and pray it is never Jonah Goldberg. I don't presume to know if Africa can or cannot be "saved," but certainly it deserves to be saved from such condescending "saviors" as Goldberg and his fellow interventionists. It is hardly "moral relativism" to observe that not all cultures value human life to the same degree, and that while McDonald's may be well nigh universal, the effort to impose a higher universalism is bound to end in disaster – for the "saviors" as well as the saved. This is the lesson of history, of all the great empires that expanded and fell under the sheer weight of their own hubris: empires corrupt, and worldwide empires corrupt absolutely. But it is futile to lecture the neoconservative know-it-alls, and Goldberg blathers blithely on: "Regardless, conservatism is not supposed to be against change or progress (I can quote you chapter and verse if you like)." Chapter and verse of what, I wonder – Caesar's Commentaries?


To believe that we have all the answers – or even most of them – that we can impose "civilization" on peoples the world over, in spite of their perpetual unwillingness to cooperate, is to live in the same dream-world inhabited by socialists, Clintonians, and other would-be social engineers. But the impracticality of the Goldberg Africa Project is not the principal objection to it. I don't want to "save" Africa not only because it can't and won't be "saved," not merely because it would cost too much and lead to countless unnecessary deaths, but because I oppose the dangerous conception of the US as the world's combination nanny and cop, a global social worker armed with the latest in weapons technology, for its sheer presumptuousness. It reeks of a sinful pride, and since Jonah was the first to bring in religion, and invoke the moral authority of a Pope to buttress his claim to the ethical high ground, I would remind him that excessive pride, according to Catholic doctrine, is also a sin – and that it cometh before a fall.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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 U.S. 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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