November 13, 2001

Among the Paleos

Spent the weekend in Rockford, Illinois at a meeting of the John Randolph Club, a quirky "Old Right" conservative group centered around the monthly magazine Chronicles.

It was my first airline flight since 9/11, and I returned believing the earliest expressions of war weariness will come from the countryís frequent fliers, and take the form of demands that the Bush administration use some common sense ethnic profiling in its efforts to keep hijackers off the planes. (As I write I learn of the crash of the American Airlines flight from New York to Santa Domingo, cause unknown. If terrorism is involved, the airport situation will only get worse.)

Under current airport security arrangements, a blonde American-born woman with two toddlers in tow is searched as rigorously as a young man from Algeria – so as no one is discriminated against or offended. As a result, everyone flying must spend hours in airport lines. Then there are the random searches. Before checked in, I was pulled out of the line (a consequence of random selection, I was told) so my bags could be opened up and examined by an airport security guard, a young woman whose appearance I took to be Pakistani.

The Wall Street Journal has been full of bellicose nonsense about this war, but a few weeks ago it printed a letter to the editor asserting that so long as native born Americans are being held up and searched as rigorously as foreigners, we are not "at War" but "at Patty Cake." After the spending large parts of two days at airports, that seems about right.

The Chronicles group has been one of the main poles of antiwar sentiment among conservatives during the past decade. Chronicles opposed the Gulf War, opposed American intervention (on the Muslim side) in Bosnia, opposed vigorously the war against Serbia. It has warned repeatedly, in articles large and small, that an American foreign policy seeking global hegemony will generate foreign enemies and spur them to violence.

Their perspective flows in part from the culture of old fashioned isolationism – the America of smaller towns and larger (in the sense of their cultural role) churches, distrust of European entanglements, "Main Street" as opposed to Wall Street.

But this is not quite accurate. In fact most Chronicles' editors are cosmopolitans of a fashion: classicists and Europhiles, committed to upholding the remnants of European civilization in all its regional manifestations. They feel themselves in battle against the myriad forces of cultural homogenization driven by global marketing and high rates of immigration. The magazine thus blends the reflexes of American prairie populism with those of classical European conservatism. Add doses of seasoning from home-schoolers, Southern pride people, anti-abortionists, various kinds of conservative Christians, and conventionally libertarian isolationists, and you have the right wing alternative to the neoconservatives, a group far less influential in Washington but far quirkier and intellectually more challenging.

Despite a weekend in Rockford, I still couldnít say definitively where this group comes down on the war. They have all opposed the foreign policies in Europe and the Middle East that have given rise to so much anti-American sentiment. They have written countless articles predicting that if the United States doesnít pull back and begin minding its own business, it would get into serious trouble. But saying "I told you so" doesnít say enough once the shooting has started.

The antiwar right is not pacifist, nor is it as viscerally and reflexively anti-American as some on the antiwar left. Chronicles' editors may believe that the Civil War marked the beginning of the collapse of the American experiment (one said this over the weekend) but they are in their own ways, very patriotic. Characteristically, two of the conferences major speakers (Chris Check and Roger McGrath) are former U.S. Marines.

Let me distill (with inevitable oversimplification) some of the arguments about the present conflict I encountered, acknowledging that perhaps none of them would be adhered to by a majority of those in attendance.

  • The war "here" is more important than the war "there." Muslim terrorism would not threaten American tranquility without significant Muslim populations in the United States (or the far larger ones in Europe); changing Western immigration policies is far more vital to the security of the West than anything that takes place in Afghanistan.

  • Islam and deracinating multicultural liberalism are both threats to the West, perhaps equal in their weight. Indeed, because Islam is (for the most part) "over there" and multicultural liberalism is here, the latter is the greater longer term danger.

  • We ought to forge a "Northern Alliance" of our own, comprising the United States, Europe, and the Russian federation.

  • Globalist American policies created this problem, and they go way back in time. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor during the Carter administration, acknowledged recently that the United States was giving covert aid to fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan in an effort to destabilize the country before the Soviet invasion of 1980.

  • While the attack of September 11 required a military response against those who inflicted it, there is no support for the neoconservative effort to drum up a wider war against the Arab world, and perhaps Iran as well. By default then, John Randolph Club members are reluctant backers of Colin Powell's limited and coalitional war strategy, opposing Paul Wolfowitz's push for a broader campaign against as many as a half dozen countries in the Middle East.

    There is an irony here. The more establishment-oriented conservative intellectuals (those close to the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal) actually oppose the war President Bush is now fighting, with its parallel emphasis on finding a diplomatic solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem. They want no Mid East peace effort and an expanded American war against Iraq and Syria. If the establishment conservatives succeed in prodding the administration into their war, the Chronicles conservatives will slide into vigorous opposition, but that hasnít happened yet.

  • Most at Rockford nonetheless believe that there is an ongoing "war of civilizations" between Christendom and the Islamic world, and want Christians to recover their martial spirit, not as globalists or fighters for multicultural democracy, but as defenders of their own ancestral traditions. (One young Lutheran lamented the purging from the Lutheran hymnal an old number calling for valor in the battle "against the Turk.")

In short, the John Randolph Club was a group in flux, holding tightly to its reflexes of opposition and dissent, but not actually opposed to what the Bush administration is doing now as much as it is opposed to the steps that led the United States into its current, difficult, circumstances.

Text-only printable version of this article

As a committed cold warrior during the 1980ís, Scott McConnell wrote extensively for Commentary and other neoconservative publications. Throughout much of the 1990ís he worked as a columnist, chief editorial writer, and finally editorial page editor at the New York Post. Most recently, he served as senior policy advisor to Pat Buchananís 2000 campaign , and writes regularly for NY Press/Taki's Top Drawer.

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