The Respectable Right turned savagely against Michael Levin last spring for holding unacceptable views on the reasons for differing levels of measurable intelligence among the races. Thus Peter Collier, in organizing a Second Thoughts conference for those who had rallied to “democracy” from the 60’s New Left, disinvited, after having invited, the controversial Professor Levin. Shortly thereafter Levin was driven from the executive board of the National Association of Scholars, and criticized in the press. For example, in a May 18 editorial in the New York Post, Eric Breindel decried Levin as a purveyor of “poison.” Though Breindel stopped short, albeit barely, of calling for Levin’s removal from American education, he did accuse him of “group libel” that “inspires racial hatred and intolerance” and leads to “mass murder.” Never mind that Levin’s reasoning about I.Q. disparities recapitulates what research psychologists and geneticists already believe and sometimes say. Or that Breindel never bothers to refute Levin’s arguments. His comparison of Levin to cranks who deny that the holocaust occurred ignores the obvious methodological difference that, unlike apologists for Hitler, Levin builds his case on solid evidence. One is, of course, entitled to disagree with his conclusion, that cognitive disparities between the races are largely due to genetic causes. But it is perfectly outrageous to accuse Levin of fudging facts or of issuing a warrant for mass murder.

About two weeks before Breindel’s exercise in hyperbole, a related attack came from Bruce Fein, in the form of a column against “racist speech.” Fein praised a recently enacted law in Canada that made it a crime to offend ethnic or racial groups. Though especially pleased with the prospect of treating bigots who challenge settled opinions on the holocaust as criminals, Fein was also intent on clarifying “democratic” canons of tolerance: “Prohibiting racially and religiously bigoted speech is praiseworthy” because “it salutes reason as the backbone of freedom and tolerance.” But it is never made clear what exactly Fein means by “bigoted.” Does he mean incitement to racial and religious riots, or would he extend the term to include those whose views on inherited intelligence or on the number of people killed at Auschwitz differ from his own? Would Fein, for example, permit those who disagreed with him to do scholarship on an ethnically sensitive subject, without risking public obloquy and even imprisonment?

Within the “conservative movement,” which may be as anachronistic an expression as “Christendom” or “Jewry,” a growing tendency, can be found to interpret “bigoted” in a Pickwickian sense. It has come to connote being out of sync with neoconservative funding organizations, the Beltway dialogue now being conducted between the Heritage Foundation and David Broder, or the established social circle of Bill Buckley. Not only the neocons but much of the New York-Washington right now epitomize a mocking description once applied to Irving Kristol’s legions, representatives of the “harmless persuasion.”

A key problem with what is mistakenly styled the American right is its uneasiness with academic freedom. In the name of democratic equality and Cold War liberal slogans, the right assaults the academic civility that it hypocritically claims to be defending. It has become the “thought police,” intent on punishing anyone guilty of an inappropriate reflection.

There is a non-opportunistic reason why these developments have occurred. The current debate over values between the left and the establishment conservatives is one over the right to impose a shared democratic faith. The “Western tradition” has come under attack from the intellectual left as essentially anti-egalitarian: impervious to the concerns of blacks, gays, and women. To this the conservative response, as articulated by Lynne Cheney, William Bennett, Chester Finn, and Jack Kemp, is that the Western tradition, properly understood, does in fact lead to democratic equality, but a form of it that black radicals and the New Left disavowed in the 1960’s.

This debate over values is necessarily one among leftists, for it involves ideals framed by political intellectuals who are willing to apply political force on behalf of social change. Under the guidance of these intellectuals, cosmological debates have become merely genealogical ones. Agreement has already been reached on the highest good—universally exportable democratic equality. What remains to be debated is whether the West, and the United States in particular, is suited to lead a global crusade for that good; this in turn hinges on whether and how the West has affected the spread of the same good in the past.

What further divides the respectable left from the respectable right is the choice of means for advancing the ideal of equality. The left seeks to apply that ideal through further transfers of wealth and the extension of equal rights to hitherto “victimized” groups, including animals. The respectable right, by contrast, believes that the democratic revolution is mostly over at home. And though Representatives Kemp and Gingrich praise transfers of income to the underclass and minorities, they are principally concerned with the extension of democratic equality outside the United States. The political right in the Reagan years wished to see the United States further a global democratic revolution, endorsed by the President and most prominent conservative journalists. A major proponent of this policy, Ben Wattenberg of the American Enterprise Institute, proclaims democracy to be “our destiny.” Like Woodrow Wilson, Wattenberg explains, Americans of this generation yearn to “get back to our mission,” “democracy peddling.” Toward this end he advocates increased budgets for the National Endowment for Democracy, Radio Free Europe, and other agencies that can help “[w]age democracy first class.”

It is precisely this “democratic imperialism,” to borrow the phrase Irving

Babbitt applied to the Wilsonian world view of seventy years ago, that today’s conservatives uphold in education and foreign policy. Because of this imperialist impulse they can no longer take the side of liberty or scholarship in the critical confrontation now taking place over academic freedom. The Italian social thinker Marcello Veneziani, in a newly published work, Processo all’ occidente: la società globale e i suoi nemici, presents the view that Marxism has not gone down to defeat, but been incorporated into the “neocapitalist reconstruction” of the West. The exclusive identification of Western civilization with “democratic capitalism” shows the power of Marxist materialism, secularism, and egalitarianism in shaping what claims to be the triumphant anticommunist side. The democratic capitalist West, as seen by Veneziani, represents Marxism without its messianic, derivatively religious, aspect. It may be argued, however, that Marxist pseudo-religiosity also plays a role in the democratic capitalists’ crusade against heretics, inside and outside of universities. How else to explain their savage war against the critics of democratic equality?

It is now a conservative principle to treat as closed those philosophical questions that are incompatible with egalitarian doctrine. Unlike the left, moreover, movement conservatives repackage leftist causes and present them as conservative ones. They purge their own ranks to enforce conformity to leftist dogma, be it the denial of genetic influence on intelligence or the belief in universally exportable human rights. No wonder such people take their marching orders from the graduates of Eastern European Socialism huddled in Midtown Manhattan! The Western European and American traditions of freedom have become alien to the new conservatives. Like their leftist counterparts, from whom they are less and less distinguishable, these ideologues represent Hegel’s World Spirit in retreat, the culture of personalism and ordered liberty yielding to Oriental despotism. With the waning of the Cold War, such robots may be more harmful to a free society than Marxist historians or the performers of textual legerdemain. Heaven help us if they do manage to go anywhere. They will likely beat up on honest scholars and honest conservatives even more than have other leftist bigots.