I was sorely disappointed by the editing of my review of Paul Gottfried’s The Conservative Movement, Revised Edition (“Gloomy Conservatives,” August 1993). My attempt at irony and subtlety might have exceeded my ability to express myself and thus confused your editor; but this only validates the need for a review of the editing by the author, as I was offered but did not receive.
For example, where I attempted irony to mildly chide the book under review for criticizing as faults the early conservative movement’s “defiant” tone, its opposition to George Wallace, its political activism, and its optimism, the heavy-handed editor has me agreeing with the author! The obvious import of my review—as the headline-writer recognized —was to contrast earlier optimism with the author’s gloomy picture of conservatism, and to balance its detached perspective with some sense of political engagement.
Part of this attempt to change tone was to be more understanding of those involved in the political arena. Yet, rather than print my gentle response to a far stronger criticism of the Heritage Foundation by the book’s author, the editor turns it into a gratuitous comment about that fine institution. When I try to make the point that I cannot accept that only neoconservatives move conservatives left—citing that something has moved Irving Kristol right—it is turned into the nonsense statement that I do not believe neoconservatives turn conservatives leftward. Of course they do; the question the book raises is whether it ever goes in the other direction. I think it works both ways, perhaps more in moving neoconservatives right, which is why they are hyphenated conservatives.
Distortions across the difficult divides of conservatism are understandable. Still, my hope is that my favorite editor was on one of his many foreign trips—which he uses to so well educate us all— and that he was not available to exercise his usual diligent oversight of the most thought-provoking journal of opinion in the country today.
Donald Devine’s assertion that “conservatism in the 80’s did roll back (however temporarily) the welfare state” is preposterous. This is not true. No way. Under Reagan and Bush, big government (taxes, the annual deficit, the national debt) got bigger than ever in the history of our country. Why does Devine write such crap?
Donald Devine is to be congratulated for a perceptive and well-written review of my book. His praise is extremely generous, and even his critical remarks are far more pleasant to see than the blackout on my work imposed by Movement Conservative magazines. Don is correct that my two concluding chapters are far less flattering toward Irving Kristol and Midge Decter than is an earlier chapter, left over from the first edition. My editorial choice was either to remove the limited praise conferred on Kristol and Decter, which was merely giving the Devil his due, or to appear unnecessarily mean-spirited, by finding nothing to praise in my later objects of criticism.
Like other sympathetic readers, Don is unclear about the point of my investigative reporting. Why do I give so much attention to the neoconservatives’ takeover of formerly anti-New Deal foundations and to the varied uses of conquered funds? My stress on the largesse neocons shower on each other was intended to discredit any claim that they have suffered for their principles.
One obvious reason neoconservatives favor an expanded federal sector is that they have built their empire on public as well as philanthropic funds. Their backing, in many cases, of Bill Clinton against George Bush in the presidential race was at least partly prompted by the hope of cutting a deal with Democrats for federal patronage. I am certainly not arguing that financial interest provides a sufficient explanation for neoconservative or movement conservative political behavior. Nor would I suggest that paleoconservatives would be allowed into the NYDC political conversation if they raised a few billion dollars for their own journals and think tanks. Neoconservatives are where they are, in part, because they cooperate with the liberal establishment in pushing conservative issues and “values” leftward and in condemning any credible right as fascist or worse. Paleocons represent a threat to the political class and its media allies and will therefore be kept out of polite discussion at any price. But neoconservative money, which has not been squandered, has contributed to its successes. That is all that I intend to prove in my controversial sixth chapter.
I would finally note that Don’s hope of discussing his own Taftian agenda with neoconservatives will go nowhere, if my analysis turns out to be correct. Why should neoconservatives, given their views, power, and proven ruthlessness, listen to him at all? What possible benefit could they derive from turning against their own political class and from calling for the dismantling of our highly centralized welfare state? Why should they embrace Don’s foreign policy, in the teeth of their expressed ideological and ethnic concerns? And what will be the fate of this hoped-for dialogue if they decide that they don’t like Don? At that point they will threaten to cut the funds of movement conservatives who continue to associate with Dr. Devine. And they will instruct their liberal and other friends in the media to accuse him of anti-Semitism, which has now been defined as insensitivity to neoconservatives or to anyone identified with AIPAC. Though I have no quarrel with Don’s agenda, it seems improbable that he and the neoconservatives, or their hired servants, will discuss any agenda as political equals. Note how the Athenian democrats, whom neoconservatives profess to admire, treated their “allies.” They argued with them in courts and in assemblies, as long as it tickled their vanity. But when that activity ceased to be interesting, Pericles and his party had no scruples about using force. If Don would like, I could send him a list of the American victims of neocon global democracy. But I’m sure he himself could supply his own.