is all rather baffling. For the subtitle of the book is
"The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative."
Now, Norman Podhoretz editor of Commentary
for 35 years has been called many things over the
years, but "cheerful conservative" has not been
one of them. His articles and columns have invariably been
pervaded by a sense of gloom. America never spends enough
on defense. American policymakers are always too pusillanimous
to stand up to tyrants abroad. On issue after issue
gays, feminism, affirmative action the values of
America's liberals invariably trump the values of decent,
commonsense Americans. It is hard to think of a magazine
in America that has published more, or more pessimistic,
analyses of the contemporary scene than Commentary.
Its most famous contributors Gertrude Himmelfarb,
Robert Bork, William Bennett, Hilton Kramer, Richard John
Neuhaus have authored books with titles like The
Death of Outrage, Slouching
Towards Gomorrah, The
De-Moralization of Society, On
Looking into the Abyss, The
Revenge of the Philistines. Indeed, it was the pernicious
influence of just these thinkers that recently sent Lawrence
Kaplan into spasms of rage in the pages of the New Republic.
Such people were a mortal threat to an to the possibility
of a Republican-led interventionist US foreign policy: "In
their preoccupation with America's moral corruption, the
new declinists extend to foreign policy the cultural despair
of Paul Weyrich, Robert Bork, and many other pessimists
on the right... For the new declinists, it is inconceivable
that the same Americans who have been debasing the home
front will continue to reign supreme in the international
arena." So are these the people Podhoretz is taking
to task? His friends, colleagues and magazine contributors?
first glance, it would certainly appear so. Writing in the
Wall Street Journal (7/3/00) the other day, Podhoretz
argued that "Driven by their disgust with certain Supreme
Court decisions relating to abortion and other social questions,
by the degeneracy of so much of our popular culture, and
by their disappointment in the American people for refusing
to demand the removal of Bill Clinton from office after
the Monica Lewinsky scandal, these conservatives took to
sounding like leftist radicals of the 1960s." But can
Bennett, Bork and Neuhaus be described as the inheritors
of traditions that had "originated in America…in the
period after the Civil War," with "reinforcements"
thrown in along the way "from Europe"? It would
seem very strange. Stranger still, it turns out that they
are not such a bad lot after all. In the same article, Podhoretz
argues that, "fortunately nearly all the conservatives
who fell into this state of mind have been beating a quiet
retreat. I believe that most of them will, on further reflection,
re-embrace the truth…that the United States of America represents
one of the highest points in the history of human civilization."
But, if these thinkers are already "beating a quiet
retreat," why go to the trouble of writing a book denouncing
is obvious then that Podhoretz is not seriously suggesting
that Bill Bennett and Robert Bork are "America-haters."
Podhoretz's target is someone else entirely. His animus
is reserved for the opponents of US interventionism Pat
Buchanan and the so-called "nativists" of the
Right. But here again the "anti-Americanism" charge
is a little tricky. How does a man whose slogan is "America
First" get to be an "America-hater"? Podhoretz's
intellectual contortions are apparent when he writes about
the sympathetic treatment accorded to Gore Vidal Podhoretz's
bete noire in the pages of Chronicles. He
sneers that "it was mainly the nativism they shared
that made Vidal acceptable to the paleos who, as strident
nationalists of the Right, might otherwise have been expected
to look upon so egregious a hater of America as an enemy."
The name-calling is becoming dizzying here. Are the "paleos"
haters of America or not?
concept "hating America" does not mean anything.
And it is not supposed to mean anything. People the world
over criticize their country without thereby becoming "unpatriotic."
And love of country certainly does not mean love of one's
government. No, the term "America-hater" serves
the same purpose as the label "anti-Semitic" or
"racist." The words are wielded so as to drum
people one disagrees with out of serious debate. It is not
surprising to find that in his book Podhoretz also charges
his opponents with "anti-Semitism" and "racism."
Vidal, he writes, had to "disguise his anti-Semitism
as 'anti-Zionism'. The same inhibition operated at the other
end of the political spectrum in paleos like the commentator
Patrick J. Buchanan….Still, the disguise was so thin that
the distinction between old-fashioned Jew-hatred and the
newfangled anti-Zionism remained mostly invisible to the
naked eye. Vidal and Buchanan might vociferously protest
(borrowing a tactic from the apologists for the anti-Americans
of the Left in the 1960s and adapting it to themselves)
that all they were criticizing was the allegedly oppressive
policies of the state of Israel toward the Palestinians.
But the main takers of this line were people who shared
or were inclined toward their particular bigotries in the
first place." There is no analysis here, just poisonous
insults. Further on, Podhoretz writes, "in their twisted
view, dark-skinned peoples were fine so long as they did
not live in America, and especially when they were fighting
takes over the White House next January, a renewed Cold
War against either Russia or China or both is likely to
start up within the next few years. And we can be pretty
sure that the term "America-hater" will be deployed
with menacing regularity against the critics of military
adventurism. The extraordinary thing is that it will be
American nationalists who will be dubbed "America-haters."
It will be terribly confusing, but it will get the job done.
Pat Buchanan, whose slogan is "America First"
will be an "America-hater." His concern is the
national interests of America, not the interests of Empire.
Therefore, he is an "America-hater." This is not
as paradoxical as it seems. Imperialism and nationalism
are incompatible notions. Podhoretz understands this very
well. In his Wall Street Journal piece he wrote that
"love of country (which is what the word patriotism
signifies) is so common a feeling among peoples in the world
that praising or deploring it is rather like praising or
deploring human nature itself." Exactly. A genuine
patriotism entails respect for the patriotism of others.
It is clearly incompatible with invading other countries,
humiliating other countries or subordinating them to one's
geopolitical needs. An American patriot loves his country,
appreciates its system of government but accepts that it
works very well only here. It is not for export, any more
than Islamic theocracy or the Eastern Orthodox Church is.
This is what differentiates the patriot from the imperialist.
The empire builder is sure that his country has reached
the pinnacle of civilization and therefore is obligated
to impose it on the rest of the world.
Americans love their country and have little interest in
Empire. Not so the corporate, academic and media elites.
To them, Empire is a very appealing notion. It enables them
to hold sway over the rest of the world. The corporations
can invest where they get the highest rate of return on
their capital. Their only interest is cheap labor. Hence,
the appeal of open borders yet another feature of
empires. To the academic elites, empire is appealing because
it enables them to shape the intellectual agenda of other
countries. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, America's
legal and constitutional scholars poured into the former
Communist countries insisting that the US system of government
was the only possible way forward. The institutions of other
countries can be reshaped wholesale by our elites in the
image of our own.