Samuel Francis is to be congratulated for having written one of the best essays on the American conservative establishment (“Queen of the Damned,” Principalities & Powers, August) that I have seen. Dr. Francis correctly notes that the appointment of Midge Decter as president of the Philadelphia Society, a once stimulating conservative debating club, points to its obsolescence as a forum for genuine discussion among conservatives. The election of this termagant by unidentified kingmakers signals the breakdown of any coherent understanding among the society’s leaders of what it means to be a conservative. Dr. Francis states the useful obvious when he says that there is no way in which Decter can be considered a “conservative,” as opposed to a global democratic activist or Jewish nationalist resident in the United States. And there is no reason to think that she was appointed to her present eminence because of her openness to debate. The Stalinist adherence to party lines that she and other neocon commissars have maintained over the organizations that have fallen under their jackboots should indicate what she intends for the Philadelphia Society. I should say, what she might intend if such discipline were necessary and if the group in question had not already been preparing for years for the latest neocon takeover.
Decter’s baseless attack on one of the society’s founders, Russell Kirk, as an “antisemite” (neocon parlance for “We don’t like you”) should suggest, as Sam properly observes, the narrow limits of what she takes to be open discussion. Like Sam, I, too, was at the offending speech by Dr. Kirk and could find nothing in his amusing remarks to justify the later storm of abuse. Clearly, a speech like Russell’s will be disallowed under the new dispensation.
A few years ago, Dr. Francis and I were told that the neocons no longer felt welcome in the Philadelphia Society and that they had taken themselves and their canned speeches elsewhere. “Until they decide to come back and take everything over,” Dr. Francis retorted at the time. What my friend did not mention (because one could not know it then) is that, when the conquering armies came back, they would no longer call themselves neoconservatives. Decter is no longer a “neoconservative” because she and her buds have decided to call themselves something else, a decision that Sam greeted with the appropriate derision. But what neither of us can doubt is that the slaves she was addressing will respond, like the captives of p.c. who change their vocabulary on order, by ceasing to talk about neoconservatives. Since the term has been judged to be “antisemitic,” it might be necessary to call the hegemons whatever the hell they want to be called, until they change their minds.
Sam Francis always hits his targets hard, and with that I have no objection. But I think he gets the mission of the Philadelphia Society a bit wrong. It was never meant to be a bastion of the Old Right. Since 1964, it has tried to be the uniting arm of the conservative body. It is still the only right-wing organization that will invite paleocons, neocons, liberocons, and sometimes even weirdocons to its meetings for civil discussions. It’s a good group, and Bill Campbell runs it well. I wish Sam hadn’t trained his howitzers on his friends as well as his enemies.
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