This essay appears in The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement a Radix Journal volume edited by Paul Gottfried and Richard Spencer. In the light of #NRORevolt, it’s worth revisiting.
Rethinking William F. Buckley’s Quest for “Respectability”
In a commentary, “Golden Days,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of National Review, Jonah Goldberg describes how his magazine’s founder dealt with ideological dissent:
Buckley employed intellectual ruthlessness and relentless personal charm to keep that which is good about libertarianism, what we have come to call “social conservatism,” and what was necessary about anti-Communism in the movement. This meant throwing friends and allies off the bus from time to time. The Randians, the Rothbardian anarchists and isolationists, the Birchers, the anti-Semites, the me-too Republicans: all of these groups in various combinations were purged from the movement and masthead, sometimes painfully, sometimes easily, but always with the ideal of keeping the cause honest and pointed north to the ideal in his compass.
A few lines later, we learn the ideal that William F. Buckley assigned to his movement existed “only on paper,” that “conservative dogma remains unsettled, and that conservatism remains cleaved ideologically.” Nonetheless, the movement Buckley built was for Goldberg a breathtaking success—and had been achieved with minimal commotion.
E.J. Dionne, in a similar tribute in the Washington Post, NR’s putative adversary, proclaims that Buckley was not only a man of splendid parts but also one who had “determined to rid the right of the wing nuts. He was, to his everlasting credit, the scourge of anti-Semitism that had once infested significant parts of the right.” Dionne blasted the strange conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society, which he applauds Buckley for unmasking. Unfortunately, little truth can be found in most of his remarks and no more than a sliver in Goldberg’s.
The NR staff devoted a special feature on October 19, 1965, to denouncing the Birch Society, but not for being anti-Semitic (of which there was scant evidence). The complaint was the Birchers did not support the war in Vietnam and had given up the struggle against Communism. It’s worth noting that the best man at Buckley’s wedding, Revilo Oliver, was an outspoken anti-Semite, as well as a formidable classicist and Sanskrit scholar. Oliver continued to write for Buckley’s publication well into the 1960s. Most of those expelled from his magazine and from Buckley’s movement were Jewish libertarians, like Ayn Rand, Frank Chodorov, Murray Rothbard and Ron Hamowy. If the movement before Buckley’s interventions had been dominated by “anti-Semites,” his excommunications hardly amounted to a crusade against them. Goldberg’s mentor was especially hard on Jews who opposed his call for an accelerated struggle to overthrow the Soviet Empire. In Rand’s case, he turned against someone who was stridently atheistic.
Even more astonishing, although not likely to be challenged by the liberal-neoconservative media, is Goldberg’s suggestion that purges occurred in the conservative movement only quite rarely. To the contrary, they were frequent; one could say that they shaped the conservative movement.
English historian A.J.P. Taylor once observed, with regard to the Habsburgs, that “countries were episodes in the history of a dynasty.” In a like way, purges were episodes in the journalistic careers of those who led the conservative movement. And these expulsions took place so frequently that it may be helpful to divide them into different periods in accordance with the changing interests of movement elites. The purges did not all take place for the same reason, and identifying this complicated process with “fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism” is to indulge in fantasy.
“Being thrown off the bus” had implications beyond being kept from writing essays for National Review. As the conservative media empire took form, thanks largely to steady infusions of money each year from Australian benefactor Rupert Murdoch, being banned by one of its organs brought huge consequences. Someone banned from Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, or National Review, for example, would not likely be welcome in an affiliated movement publication or be put on FOX News, which enjoys the same sponsorship and represents the same ideology.
There are exceptions to this rule, as seen by the occasional appearance on FOX of Pat Buchanan, someone who is clearly offensive to NR and The Weekly Standard. But this exception may have been allowed because Buchanan is a widely read journalist. His occasional appearance on FOX may also be conditional on his not stirring the pot unduly on a channel run by neoconservatives and the Republican establishment. During his recent TV appearances, Pat (to my knowledge) has never contradicted his host, which may be why he is allowed to maintain his exceptional status.
There may be another reason for this status, namely that Buchanan had been removed from a Democratic rival channel, MSNBC. For years the directors of this channel had provided a berth for a figure of the Old Right; and it featured him on a regular basis, unlike FOX, which only permits Buchanan to participate in its discussions every now and then. Like other members of the Old Right, Buchanan was sent into limbo in the early 1990s for having ticked off Buckley’s esteemed New York friends. A bad enough sin under the old order, this faux pas has proved even costlier under Buckley’s successors. His epigones may be driven even more than their master by desire for acceptance from mainstream journalists. The Heritage Foundation, The American Enterprise Institute, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and other movement fixtures have had nothing to do with Buchanan for decades. They have carefully maintained their distance, although Buchanan’s books on politics and international relations have soared on the New York Times bestseller list.
For the less successful and less fortunate, however, being kicked off the bus has usually brought catastrophic results. The campaign of vilification that has accompanied marginalization has usually left its object socially and professionally ruined. Typical targets of this process were the Southern conservative M.E. Bradford and the populist journalist and critic of managerial democracy Samuel T. Francis. The elimination of Bradford as frontrunner for the National Endowment for the Humanities Directorship in 1981 and, 10 years later, the removal of Samuel Francis as the star columnist by the already neoconservative-controlled Washington Times followed a now-familiar course. Those condemned as outcasts by movement leaders suffered repeated journalistic attacks and were accused of being bigots rather than “conservatives.” Liberal journalists joined these campaigns and often seemed to be working in tandem with their neoconservative acquaintances, in order to drive “wing nuts” out of respectable conservatism. Printed assaults against the designated extremists were so devastating that their victims never regained standing as respectable writers.
Speaking as a minor target of such attacks, which operated in my case mostly surreptitiously, I noticed that my adversaries were working doggedly to isolate me. Mine, of course, was not a typical purge. Unlike others who were purged more dramatically, I never left a paper trail on such abrasive issues as Jews in the media. The recent decision of Intercollegiate Studies Institute to sever any connection with me as a writer did not arise because I was thought to be a “racist.” This action was taken because, through my leadership of the HL Mencken Club, I have associated myself with people who stress hereditary cognitive differences. But in the 1980s, I fell out of favor for less ridiculous reasons. I was marginalized merely because I insisted too loudly that generic leftists had been permitted to take over the Right.
I had no illusion when neoconservatives slandered me to the administration at Catholic University of America, which resulted in my being denied a graduate professorship that was about to be offered to me, that the attacks would thereafter stop. After this incident, I was never again allowed to write for “movement conservative” publications. The editors of these, also not incidentally, refuse to review my books; and my name has scarcely appeared in a movement magazine after my rejection at CUA. One of the rare times it has was in David Frum’s wholesale denunciation of the non-aligned Right, “Unpatriotic Conservatives.” Here, he claimed that his friends had done nothing to harm me professionally, let alone to occasion my outbursts; indeed I had fabricated my narrative because I was a troubled person.
My case was exceptional because aside from suggestions that I had taken leave of my senses, there was no campaign waged against me as an “anti-Semite” or “racist.” I held on to an academic post until I retired in 2011, although I might have obtained higher professional prizes, if neoconservatives had not weighed in against me, as I subsequently learned, at other institutions beside CUA. But I cannot claim that I was as badly battered as other exiles.
The more abused victims died within a relatively short time of their humiliation, emotionally as well as professionally crushed. Goldberg’s comment about people in his movement being pushed off the bus only from time to time borders on the puerile. the American Communist Party looked like a band of cloistered monks in comparison to the cannibalistic movement that Buckley founded, and which Goldberg continues to slobber over.
For accurate classification, certain distinctions should be made. Not all of those who were thrown off the bus suffered their fate for the same reason, although according to movement leaders and those who prepared the Wikipedia biography of Buckley, purge targets were mostly raging anti-Semites or obnoxious racialists. All the worse for the facts! In the early days, those who were expelled from Buckley’s movement were critics of his Cold War politics and often uncompromising libertarians. Misrepresenting why they were expelled was easy enough because Buckley’s idolaters, like E.J. Dionne, collaborated in writing the authorized accounts. In the 1980s, intellectuals and authors on the right were thrown off the bus because the neoconservatives who took over the conservative movement found them to be (well!) troublesome.
These undesirables fell into two camps: Southerners like M.E. Bradford and his followers, who made no apologies for the Confederacy and expressed misgivings about the civil-rights revolution; and critics of the aggressive liberal internationalist foreign policy that was associated with the neoconservatives. those who fell into the two camps coalesced for a time as a “paleoconservative” insurgency; and they were soon joined by libertarians of a socially traditionalist stripe, like Murray Rothbard and, for a time, Lew Rockwell. the movement smeared all these dissenters, with the all-purpose charge of “anti-Semitism.” It was the late Joe Sobran, a former Senior Editor of National Review and himself the victim of a neoconservative purge, who noticed the shifting meaning of “anti-Semite,” from someone who hates Jews to someone whom certain Jews in high places don’t like.
In the late 1990s, such journalists as John O’Sullivan and Peter Brimelow were pushed out of positions at National Review for having failed to take the obligatory neoconservative line in favor of third World immigration. Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, Policy Review and other neoconservative information sources were then gushingly pro-immigration, and O’Sullivan and Brimelow, who had moved demonstratively in the opposite direction, fell afoul of his patrons.
By then, however, racial illiberalism became even more serious grounds for excommunication, as illustrated by the Francis affair. Pro-immigration advocates Linda Chavez and John Miller went after Francis for his statements, made in response to an apology by the Southern Baptist Convention for their ancestors’ practice of slavery, that the Bible did not condemn this peculiar institution. Chavez and Miller found an ally a few months later in a reliable neoconservative author Dinesh D’Souza, who denounced Francis as an isolated representative of 19th-century White racism. This may have been a conspicuous act of ingratitude, since D’Souza borrowed from Francis and the self-described “race realist” Jared Taylor in writing his not very original and not very accurate tome The End of Racism.
By the end of 1995, a mainstream right-of-center journalist, with a biting wit and distinctive literary style, went from being a nationally syndicated writer to a professionally isolated figure. Since then, other widely publicized purges have taken place. The firings of John Derbyshire by National Review and of Jason Richwine by The Heritage Foundation had related causes. In both cases, highly gifted researchers and writers were thrust out of their employment, once having been stigmatized as “racists” by the leftist press. Conservative employers fired these subordinates out of consideration for or fear of their leftist acquaintances.
It is hard to establish a single ideological pattern for all these events. But there is a definite gestalt that can be easily identified since the 1980s. The most salient purges have been at the expense of those who displeased neoconservative and/or liberal journalists. Although White racism and anti-Semitism have been the usual causes given, one must wonder whether these consistently provide the true explanation for what happened. Those who were purged may have been considered unpleasant types who were resisting a changing party line. A neoconservative favorite Victor Davis Hanson posted statements about blacks in a column for National Review Online in July 2013 that looked strikingly like Derbyshire’s indiscretions. Indeed Derbyshire published a column on Vdare. a few weeks after the posting of Hanson’s column, showing rhetorical parallels between his offending remarks and those of Hanson. But there is a difference: Hanson occupies a higher position in the movement than the ones previously held by Derbyshire and Richwine. For years, Hanson has dutifully upheld most standard neoconservative views on just about everything, and according to the neoconservative press, if not in fact, he is among America’s “premier classical historians.”
Richwine lost his job as a researcher because of the discovery of statistics in a doctoral dissertation, approved at Harvard University, in which there are detailed references to the relatively low IQs of recent immigrant groups. But why did the placing of such material in a Harvard dissertation years before result in the recent dismissal of someone employed by a “conservative” institution? Again, other factors should be taken into account. At the time of his firing and subsequent blackballing by movement foundations and magazines, Richwine had not achieved high distinction within what is euphemistically styled “the conservative policy community.” He therefore seemed easily expendable to the newly named director of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint. A skittish Southern Republican, who has labored to prove he’s not a “racist,” DeMint was not dealing in Richwine’s case with a prominent figure, say, of the stature of Charles Murray, a man who has been an ally of the neoconservative establishment. Murray has put into sharp relief the IQ differences between ethnic and racial groups. Yet nothing approaching Richwine’s fate befell the author of The Bell Curve, who has been celebrated in such neoconservative shrines as the American Enterprise Institute, National Review, and Commentary. Unfortunately for his career, however, the young Richwine was not in the same league as Murray in terms of his value to the movement.
The relation between purge victims and the movement’s leadership may be critical for understanding the events in question. Much can be forgiven and even shoved down a memory hole for those who count. Although Norman Podhoretz as editor of Commentary ranted against gays for decades, as documented by Gary Dorrien in The Neoconservative Mind, this did not prevent Podhoretz’s allies from hypocritically decrying Buchanan as a “homophobe” in 1992. This transpired, let us note, after Buchanan, speaking at the Republican national convention, made a reference to the strange lifestyles that prevailed among members of the opposition party. But this was small beer in comparison to what neoconservatives had said about gays a few years earlier. As late as 1984, a neoconservative heroine, Jeane Kirkpatrick, in an address before the Republican National Convention, sneered at the Democrats for their “San Francisco values.” Her sneers elicited resounding applause from neoconservative journalists. And so homophobia, we may assume, was not the real cause for the animus against Buchanan: Neocons hate him not as a homophobe but as a harsh critic of the Zionist lobby and as someone whom they perceive as an isolationist. As late as the spring of 1992, it was feared that Buchanan might win the presidential nomination against the politically weakened, tongue-tied George Bush, Sr.
Similar double standards were at work in the character assassination of Bradford in 1981, in which neoconservative journalists, particularly George Will and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, played key roles. Bradford’s alleged offense was to have characterized Lincoln as a tyrant and to have likened his invasion of the South to Hitler’s attack on Germany’s neighbors and Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland. The invectives against Bradford, which focused on a footnote in one of his many books, were remarkably virulent, considering the sparse space given to the controversial comparison as against Bradford’s total output as a literary scholar.
The attacks were also profoundly dishonest as one learns from a revealing essay published by Podhoretz in 1963 in Commentary, “My Negro Problem—and Ours.” Unlike Bradford, who never expressed dislike for Black people, Podhoretz explained in agonizing detail how he was managing his “hatred” for Negroes. These effusions, however, did not serve to disqualify this co-father of neoconservatism (along with Irving Kristol) from leadership in the conservative movement. Nor did his stated revulsion for those of different skin color diminish Podhoretz’s considerable clout in the Reagan administration. After all, not all anti-Negroes are created equal. Some are blessed with New York Jewish liberal as well as National Review friends, and then there are the others, who speak with Oklahoma or Texas twangs and who attend Baptist churches. Let’s not get the two confused!
Piling on to Bradford in 1981 were also Buckley and Heritage president Edwin Feulner. Both of these movement dignitaries, whose fortunes by then were intertwined with the neoconservative ascendancy, visited newly elected President Reagan. They asked him to reconsider the nomination of Bradford and presented their Southern friend of many decades as someone who would bring disgrace to the NEH Directorship. While on their visit to the White House, the same conservative luminaries plugged the candidacy of a liberal Democrat, William Bennett, whom the neoconservatives were prepping for the office they intended to close off to Bradford.
The assault on the courtly Texan Bradford was based on, among other things, crass material interest. The neoconservatives hoped to put their own favorite in a position that would yield them pecuniary benefits. If things worked out as they hoped (as, indeed, they did), they would have hundreds of millions of dollars in NEH grant money to distribute to their minions. Their destruction of Bradford’s reputation and, ultimately, life was collateral damage in this money grab. As I documented in the second edition of The Conservative Movement, among the payoffs for the hit on Bradford was a grant of hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to a Stalinist historian, who has since morphed into a figure of the multicultural Left, Eric Foner. This then neoconservative ally published a defamatory commentary against Bradford as a prejudiced Southerner, in what became a widely distributed newspaper column.
These incidents illustrate the difficulty of attributing all purges in the conservative movement to changes in ideological direction. Equally important were the social dynamics and the political and material goals of movement players at the time the purges unfolded. Smearing those who are purged as “right-wing extremists” has often been a tactic for winning the Left’s approval, rather than the major reason for the purge. Although Jason Richwine had done nothing critical to offend the Left at the time of his dismissal, his employer may have decided this young employee wasn’t worth being saved. throwing Richwine to his enemies had greater value to Heritage than trying to defend a relatively unknown research scholar.
A look at John Derbyshire’s fate at National Review in 2012 reveals more complicated circumstances. Although Derbyshire was a popular contributor, who distinguished himself as a writer on mathematics and political subjects, he may have been too hot for the chief editor, Rich Lowry. A different editor may have reacted differently to the attacks on Derbyshire, but Lowry had worked to ingratiate himself with the New York journalistic establishment, and so he lost no time in removing “Derb.” Lowry was as decisive here as he had been in courting the friendship of the far-left editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky. In his autobiography, Navasky comments on Lowry’s eagerness to please, seen in his abstinence from the kind of “right-wing propaganda” that Navasky had spent his “life fighting.” Presumably, Lowry was also preparing at the time of Derbyshire’s dismissal his recently published tribute to Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. The NR-editor was staking out for himself a reputation as a champion of Black civil rights, naturally after the fact. A British mathematician who might hinder this image-building had to be sacked, no matter how brilliantly he was able to put together his sentences.
“Being thrown off the bus” has not in all cases entailed beginning from the same spot but it has meant ending in a marginalized situation. This is the second generalization about being purged: though not all expulsions occurred for the same reasons, every one of them was spun in the same way: as a dismissal of various “right-wing” fanatics. Since those purged were forever tainted with racism and anti-Semitism—and in some cases, Holocaust denial—it would thereafter become impossible for them to regain lost professional ground. Nor would the attacks on them from movement leaders necessarily stop after they had been fired from a conservative magazine, dismissed from a GOP foundation, or removed from the board of a self-described traditionalist or libertarian institute. At best, these targets would be treated as bodies that had dropped off the planet (which has been my fate). In other cases, those thrown off the bus were exposed to further abuse, as happened to Murray Rothbard in an obituary published by Buckley in National Review. In this outburst, one finds a far-fetched comparison being made between Rothbard and cult leader David Koresh. Neither apparently had more than a handful of followers: Rothbard had “as many disciples as David Koresh had in his redoubt in Waco.” “Yes, Rothbard believed in freedom; David Koresh believed in God.” What is glaringly evident here is the animus, if not rage, present in Buckley about his victims. What else could have motivated him to publish these graceless statements?
And the fact is the expulsions have gone forward for more than one reason. Still, this generalization may be hazarded: In the last 30 years, purges have reflected the leftist course of the conservative movement and, more generally, of the Republican Party. Anti-racism, anti-Anti-Semitism, moderate feminism and, certainly in the younger generation of neoconservatives, enthusiasm for gay rights, including gay marriage, have all become characteristic positions of a transformed conservative movement. Conservatism, Inc. has moved exactly in the same direction as the Center Left, albeit more slowly, and it has made critical distinctions between what count as permanent concerns and what may be changed. Clearly, support for the Israeli Right, liberal internationalism as a foreign policy, and improving the tax and trade situation for large corporations are more important to the movement than whether an editor at National Review endorses gay marriage as a human right. Social issues are brought up in such circles as a parenthetical activity, to jolly along the GOP’s Evangelical base and to appease subscribers and donors to certain publications.
The Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch, who keeps the neoconservative-GOP media awash in funds, is a leftist on most social issues but also a fervent Zionist. Murdoch therefore is willing to put up with social positions that offend him because he grasps the depth of support for his cause coming from Evangelical Christians. But his media beneficiaries can distinguish between core issues and less weighty ones. Those decidedly leftist positions they took on social issues did not keep Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman from enjoying the favor of the conservative media when their names were floated for the presidential nomination. In 2008 and earlier, William Bennett—the beneficiary of the war against Bradford, who has wasted his fortunes as a conservative celebrity on his gaming habits—was a vocal proponent of Joe Lieberman for president. Despite the fact that this Connecticut senator took stands on social and most economic issues that coincided with those of Barack Obama, he was a hawk on foreign policy, and that’s what really mattered.
Equally relevant, the effect of the leftist shifts of the conservative movement, which are usually accompanied by widely publicized purges, has helped push permissible political discussion in the same direction. It is naïve to believe, like rank-and-file conservative groupies, that their movement has moved to the left only in response to where “the culture” has drifted. the conservative movement, no less than its center-right counterparts in Canada and Europe, has contributed to how our political culture has developed.
The establishment opposition will habitually move leftward, often taking up ideological positions previously held by its enemies (for instance, MLK idolatry or moderate feminism). this move builds consensus, to a certain degree, but it ultimately encourages the Left to venture on more boldly. the conservative movement has thus not simply been dragged along by the leftward drift of American culture; it has ensured the success of its putative enemies. Conservatism’s younger spokesmen often sound like the opposition because they have been educated in the same institutions, picked up the same ideas, and inhabit the same social world. Because of the pervasiveness of the neoconservative-GOP media outreach and the lack of a fearless alternative on the right, rank-and-file Republicans assume that the anti-Democratic side must be conservative. the Left is as eager as Fox News and National Review to make this identification stick.
Beyond this ideological factor, there is another condition that is contributing to the purges. It is the context in which the conservative movement acts and speaks. It belongs to a larger media empire and plays by its rules and pursues the same interests as its slightly more leftist dialogue-partners. the conservative movement works to be “inclusive,” but not by including those on its right in its televised discussion but by hosting the Left. Conservative groupies never seem to notice this tilt. Instead, they gush with delight over how Jonah Goldberg or Bill O’Reilly has challenged an insufficiently patriotic Black guest or an opponent of bombing Syria. this prescribed debate rarely if ever strays from the values of the political establishment.
All members of this establishment share certain beliefs, however much they may bicker over elections and hot-button issues. they each accept a vast welfare state, opportunistically invoke the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., accuse the other side of “racism,” and celebrate the advance of feminist and gay rights. If there are acceptable political differences, then the authorized participants define what they are. For example: do we want the novelty of Obamacare or the legacy programs of LBJ? Or, are we being loyal to the legacy of Martin Luther King by introducing more anti-discrimination laws or do we have enough of such measures at the present moment, so that the slain civil rights leader would not have wanted any more of them? Though one might note a certain acerbic quality to these examples, they are not exaggerations, and I mention them to underline the narrow range of differences that exists within the media class. Their debates are usually full of sound and fury, signifying very little. Implicit throughout is an agreement to limit discussion to a tight range of subjects.
Those who have been purged were seen as having gotten in the way of business as usual. They raised unwanted questions or were trying to re-introduce ideas that the media class no longer wanted brought up. In this authorized public discussion, the conservative media thrive as “the other team.” Although not as numerous or as influential as the liberal Left, Team B participates in a largely ritualized dialectic. As such, its journalists are given access to the New York Times, Washington Post, and other liberal organs. Unlike the long-vilified “paleoconservatives” or the younger and more obstreperous racialists and “alt” rightists, the Murdoch Empire enjoys the status of a respectable adversary. Integral to keeping this status, as Samuel Francis noticed in the 1980s, is a willingness to purge and humiliate right-wing dissenters.
As of this writing, there are many indications that FOX is moving with deliberateness toward embracing gay marriage. It is relying upon one of the channel’s comely commentators, Megyn Kelly, to talk down or trivialize opponents of this newly discovered human right. This is not so much a volte-face as it is a predictable accommodation of the Left. All social questions from the standpoint of the Murdoch media empire are negotiable, providing the authorized dissenter never challenges liberal internationalism and providing that it stays close enough to the Left as to make debate with the rest of the political establishment possible. One may expect new purges to occur against those who hold out against gay marriage or who divert us inappropriately from those few issues that are featured as necessary for getting Republicans elected.
Aside from the Birchers, who constituted a mass movement that was independent of Buckley, most of the objects of past purges posed little danger to official conservatism. But movement leaders were intent on proving their “moderateness” by warring against right-wing specters. the most recent purges help us better understand those that took place in the first two decades of conservatism’s ascendancy. Looking back on the Birchers in 2008, Buckley claimed to be seeking to isolate a lunatic fringe that could damage the serious Right. But at the time of the purge (October 1965), James Burnham wrote clearly in NR that the contributing editors were reacting against the Birchers’ “unpatriotic”—a term Frum would later latch on to—opposition to America’s latest foreign intervention. The leader of the Society, Robert Welch, had “given up on the Vietnam War,” and he and his members were accused of representing “the isolationist tradition that survives in many parts of the country, though it no longer gets much recognition, even from many of those who still share it.” In other words, virtually every purge since that of the Birchers, whether justified on the basis of “racism,” “anti-Semitism,” or “homophobia,” has been more of the same.
In summation, the conservative movement that came into existence in the 1950s, contemporaneously with the founding of National Review, did not engage in purges only every now and then; nor did it remove people, with the cooperation of liberal journalists, because its targets were “wing nuts:” Its victims became “wing nuts” by virtue of having been purged and slandered. the purges were not a passing or merely ancillary aspect of conservatism; they were a defining characteristic of a movement, whose function was to stake out ground where the Left had been the moment before. “Conservatism” turned by design into a “harmless persuasion” (Samuel Francis’s memorable term) vis-à-vis the progress of liberalism, including Cultural Marxism. through its alliance with corporate interests and ethnic lobbies and through a carefully limited (and thus easily abandoned) opposition to such initiatives from the Left as the Voting Rights Act and the feminist revolution, Conservatism, Inc. has been able to survive and grow as a media power. It has also depicted the therapeutic welfare society in which we live, for better or worse, as a product of “free-market capitalism.”
Not all purges are necessarily disastrous; and one can think of some, like driving quacks out of the medical profession or Communist agents out of government security posts after the Second World War, which some of us would applaud. But the purges discussed have been less constructive. For decades the movement’s power brokers have been blacklisting original and independent minds; and what has been lost from the public debate is a generation of serious critical thinkers on what is now the non-aligned Right.
The calls by the conservative movement for “tolerance” in universities and the media ring hollow, given their tainted source. Conservatism, Inc. has been no more open to intellectual freedom than the forces of the Left it has sanctimoniously attacked. In fact, the Left has contributed to the respectability of this faux Right by helping to hide its cannibalistic habits. Perhaps someday, in a less controlled media culture, these truths may become more widely known. But at the present time, such an airing of inconvenient facts is not likely to occur.
PAUL EDWARD GOTTFRIED has been one of America’s leading intellectual historians and paleoconservative thinkers for over 40 years, and is the author of many books, including Conservatism in America (2007), The Strange Death of Marxism (2005), After Liberalism (1999), Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt (2002), and Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (2012). A critic of the neoconservative movement, he has warned against the growing lack of distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties and the rise of the managerial state. He has been acquainted with many of the leading American political figures of recent decades, including Richard Nixon and Patrick Buchanan. He is Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and a Guggenheim recipient.