To the Editor:
In his thoughtful, if mostly negative, discussion of the book I wrote with Paul Gottfried, The Conservative Movement, Dan Himmelfarb offered a number of useful insights into the differences between the neoconservatives and the Old Right, whom he calls paleoconservatives [“Conservative Splits,” May]. Unfortunately, he also conveyed a misleading impression of the book’s authors and our intentions.
By means of multiple quotations from Stephen J. Tonsor and vague references to medievalism, Catholicism, and the European Right, Mr. Himmelfarb portrays us as Catholic monarchists and our work as a polemical tract in defense of the Old Right. He will be surprised, no doubt, to learn that the book was written by a Protestant Jeffersonian (me) and a Jewish classical liberal who describes himself as a Robert Taft Republican (Paul Gottfried). In my own case, so far from being a defender of Catholic monarchism, I have explicitly rejected the utility of such views in the American context and have argued that the real conservative tradition in the U.S. is represented by Jefferson, Madison, and Tocqueville, all of whom give evidence of the American antipathy to state centralization and affection for local government and voluntary association. Their doctrine, like mine, recognized that political liberty did not rest upon the radical leveling of Robespierre but lay in all those intermediate institutions that protect individuals from the power of the state.
As a political theorist, I have put forward an outline of federalism that is rooted in American history and in the evidence provided by the social and biological sciences. In any number of editorials and articles I have defended the republican federalism of the U.S. against attacks both from European rightists and from liberals who would reduce our political heritage to procedural democracy. As a long-time defender of American liberties and responsible democracy, I fail to see how my position can be fairly characterized as “extra-American.”
Mr. Himmelfarb gives the impression—perhaps unintentionally—that The Conservative Movement is a paleoconservative attack on the neoconservatives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neoconservatism is only one of many topics we pursued, and we were equally critical of the shortcomings of the Old Right and the New Right. Indeed, we paid tribute—one that is well-deserved—to the works of neoconservative writers like Seymour Martin Lipset, James Q. Wilson, and Peter Berger. At the same time we criticized the Old Right for abandoning the intellectual arena and for closing its collective mind to empirical evidence.
We did our best to be fair to all parties, and if we did not always succeed in suppressing our own prejudices, it was not for lack of trying. It is no accident that our little book has gained praise and respect across the political spectrum: from liberals, leftists, paleoconservatives, and, yes, not a few neoconservatives.
The conservative alliance may well be unraveling, as Mr. Himmelfarb suggests. In our book we attempted to outline the conditions for unity, the most important of which is a respect for the diversity of background and opinion that has gone into the coalition.
To the Editor:
Dan Himmelfarb’s attempt to make Thomas Fleming and Paul Gottfried’s The Conservative Movement out to be a diatribe against neoconservatism leads him into errors of omission and fact. The book is a balanced and accurate survey of conservative trends in politics and research since World War II. . . . Neoconservatism is not singled out for special criticism. Indeed, it is praised more and criticized less than the Old Right.
I shall content myself with a sampling of errors.
- . . . . Mr. Himmelfarb quotes and analyzes Stephen J. Tonsor’s statements as though they were those of Fleming and Gottfried. I was present when Tonsor told the Philadelphia Society that conservatism’s “world view is Roman or Anglo-Catholic.” The responses ranged from polite irony to open scorn. Most American conservatives are Protestants. . . .
- Democracy is a sore point between conservatives and neoconservatives. Most conservatives are defenders of the Tenth Amendment. They believe in the people’s right to determine taxes and enact regulatory laws, e.g., the death penalty, censorship, and abortion. Neoconservatives seem to defend a regime that has gerrymandered the House of Representatives so that there is virtually no turnover in that body and it is prevented from reflecting the changing will of the majority of Americans. Neoconservatives support a system in which judges allow the execution of innocent babies without the right of due process while giving mass murderers years to defend themselves. They favor a society run by bureaucrats and judges instead of one determined by the will of the majority. Then they talk about global democracy, which means imposing the same regime on other peoples, what A.E. Houseman (speaking of 19th-century France) called “the divine right of two million radicals to govern thirty million conservatives.”
- Conservatives are distrustful of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson because of their egalitarianism, according to Mr. Himmelfarb. In fact, what bothers conservatives is the presence of Hunter Pitts O’Dell, alias Jack O’Dell, alias J.H. O’Dell, on the staffs of both King and Jackson. His presence on King’s staff also bothered President John F. Kennedy and his brother, the Attorney General. Egalitarianism has nothing to do with it.
- “American conservatism,” Mr. Himmelfarb writes, “. . . readily identifies itself as a medieval tendency.” Naturally, he cites no reference, not even Tonsor, for this absurdity. Conservatives do believe that there are important aspects of the ancient and medieval worlds that are alive today. This would include the tradition of thinking that stretches from Homer through Plato and Aristotle and lives on in such diverse thinkers as Hans Gadamer, Stephen Clarke, and Alasdair MacIntyre. The ancient world saw the birth of representative government and the university. Does Mr. Himmelfarb reject these as medieval anachronisms? Conservatives are also interested in recent discoveries in the social and natural sciences to which The Conservative Movement devoted an entire chapter, a chapter on which Mr. Himmelfarb is mute, because it blows his entire thesis out of the water. . . .
E. Christian Kopff
To the Editor:
Dan Himmelfarb correctly observes that the “elders” of the neoconservative movement—Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Norman Podhoretz, et al.—have spawned a second generation of writers, editors, and scholars. By the same token, . . . the paleoconservatives have some progeny as well. . . .
The Institute for Cultural Conservatism, an offshoot of Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, has become a perch for some of the best and brightest of these young, traditional conservatives. (“Cultural conservative,” it seems, is now a code word for “traditional conservative,” a term that nowadays conjures up unpleasant images of hidebound, mossbacked old reactionaries railing against electricity, running water, and what Russell Kirk once called “the mechanical Jacobin”—i.e., the automobile.)
Mr. Himmelfarb’s charge that the paleoconservatives are vaguely “isolationalist” and insufficiently vigorous in their anti-Communism . . . would be unfair if it were made against these younger cultural conservatives. William Lind, for example, has spent his career trying to help the U.S. military throw off the shackles of McNamara-era systems analysis, bureaucratization, and “managerialism.” Defeating the Soviet army in Europe, he says, requires army officers who think and act like warriors—not technocrats. Such notions hardly sound like isolationism to me.
If Mr. Himmelfarb is interested in ferreting out real examples of isolationist sentiment among conservatives, I suggest he examine the writings of . . . CATO Institute libertarians (assuming for the sake of argument that libertarians are conservatives). Recent CATO publications advocate massive cuts in defense spending, a hands-off policy in Central America, an end to U.S. covert operations—in other words, the most vulgar sort of isolationism and anti-anti-Communism.
I also suggest that Mr Himmelfarb spend some time looking around his own neoconservative camp. For starters, Irving Kristol’s attacks on our European allies, and his call for pulling our troops out of Europe—a move advocated by the Soviets for forty years, by the way—carry the unmistakable odor of neo-isolationism.
John F. Kennedy School of Government
To the Editor:
I began reading Dan Himmelfarb’s “Conservative Splits” in the hope of finally finding a sympathetic, bridge-building article about the two main . . . camps in the conservative movement. While Mr. Himmelfarb cannot be blamed if he was distressed by those in the Old Right who have been less than generous toward neoconservatives, I am disappointed in his response.
He goes to what he sees as the heart of current conservative splits by contrasting Old Right and neoconservative views on the Founding Fathers and on original liberalism. . . . The Old Right in his view is inclined to agree with the Founding Fathers on grounds of their belief in natural law as a guiding principle, whereas neoconservatives agree more with the Founders’ commitment to human freedom. In drawing this distinction, Mr. Himmelfarb depicts the Old Right as more interested in order and social hierarchy than in human rights. He claims that conservatives reject the ideals of liberalism while neoconservatives defend liberalism against McGovern (and, one presumes, Dukakis).
On the first matter, Mr. Himmelfarb just plain misses the point. A belief in human freedom springs directly from natural law. When the Declaration of Independence speaks of self-evident rights—i.e., certain fundamental rights that are completely consistent with the very design of humanity—it is reflecting the doctrine of natural law. Without it, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are just sets of ideas. Mr. Himmelfarb and I may think these ideas are very good, but on what basis are they superior to those of Marx and Lenin? In the final analysis, on the basis of natural law. This will explain why some conservatives opposed the form (though not the content) of civil-rights legislation. They feared that, while doing some good, such legislation could damage the structure on which constitutional guarantees of human rights hinge. That today we have “rights” being enumerated and doled out to bureaucratically defined groups with no legitimacy other than the political pressures of the moment (the very opposite of inherent rights as defined by natural law), indicates that they may have been right.
This leads to the second point. There was something wrong with liberalism. The good intentions but heavy-handed methods of the 1950′s and especially the 1960′s led to the McGovernism of the 1970′s and 1980′s. Affirmative action and the welfare state are obvious examples which I believe most neoconservatives recognize. Neoconservatives are conservatives precisely because they maintain the ideals of liberalism but have recognized the flaws in the liberal program which later led to so much abuse. Old Right conservatives recognized these flaws earlier, perhaps, but are no Jess motivated by a belief in liberty. Certainly, to intimate that those present-day conservatives who draw on the Old Right tradition, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., George Gilder, and Jack Kemp, are somehow less than impassioned advocates of human freedom and equality of opportunity is, on the face of it, absurd.
So what is the difference between Old Right conservatism and neoconservatism? Well, neoconservatives are, essentially, ethnically different from Old Right conservatives in a loose way. The Old Right seems more comfortable with the old school tie and is more likely to come from a long line of Republicans. The neoconservative used to be a Democrat and probably has an immigrant background. As a prep-school teacher who grew up Italian on Long Island, I find myself straddling these two worlds and find that the actual philosophical differences are not very great. I read COMMENTARY and National Review avidly—and do not ask me to choose between them.
That some on the Old Right scorn neoconservatives as “Johnnies-come-lately” strikes me as boorish. That a few neoconservatives feel the need to respond in kind is unfortunate. I am afraid Mr. Himmelfarb’s article made no constructive contribution to the ongoing dialogue among conservatives. It can only give comfort to our real enemies, who today are mainly on the Left and are contemptuous of both natural law and human freedom—as one would expect them to be.
Pawling, New York
To the Editor:
Dan Himmelfarb distinguishes between traditional conservatives and neoconservatives in terms of their respective predilections for political systems: he sees the former (quite properly) as favoring belief, hierarchy, and prescription, while the latter are held to espouse “democracy.” Although this dichotomy is conceptually interesting, the difference between the two groups is obscured in practice by the foreign policy articulated by the neoconservatives in relation to the Third World.
The point is clearest at the present time in the context of Central America. One finds Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz, Mark Falcoff, and other good neoconservatives—without observable dissent—waxing righteously indignant at the real or chimerical shortcomings of the current Nicaraguan government. But while justifying the Reagan administration’s war on that hapless society in the name of “democracy,” these would-be democratizers are, curiously, not on record as having evinced notable moral qualms about that country’s previous regime. How does one explain this? Two alternatives suggest themselves: either the neoconservatives cynically wave the flag of democracy to legitimize the U.S. government’s pretensions to total regional hegemony, or else, more sinisterly, the nature of the Sozoma regime is consistent with their vision of democracy.
Two considerations lend support to the latter thesis. The first is the neoconservatives’ persistent use of the word “restore” to describe the nature of their democratic undertaking: one cannot restore a condition that did not previously exist. The second is their tendency to characterize the political system as a mere administrative process, devoid of broader social, economic, or even political ramifications. . . .
One might add that it was precisely the fear that ordinary citizens might not embrace this interpretation . . . and, seduced by the naive popular conception of democracy as “government by and for the people,” might mobilize politically to demand their share of social rights, that caused Samuel Huntington to forecast “the crisis of democracy.” He stressed that “democracy requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvevement on the part of the masses.” In this light, one can understand the neoconservatives’ longing to reestablish the institution of democracy in Nicaragua as well as their ability to see it prospering now in Guatemala and El Salvador, regimes that only the most hypercritical of traditional conservatives could fault for their pandering to the popular will. . . .
John W. Barchfield
Universidad de Guanajuato
To the Editor:
In his balanced and insightful analysis of the conservative movement, Dan Himmelfarb notes that a high proportion of younger conservatives are likely to classify themselves as neoconservatives rather than traditional conservatives. . . . If we examine more carefully two causes for that contemporary pattern we will better understand why it may unfortunately take a while before we see significant numbers of young intellectuals committed to traditional conservatism.
First, as Mr. Himmelfarb properly observes, traditional conservatism is rather closely tied to formal religion, so that intellectuals sincerely sympathetic to it are implicitly obligated to become publicly observant. They need not be devout, but they must display public commitment to a system of traditional rites—rather like patriots paying their taxes. But many younger intellectuals have been raised in environments of nonbelief . . . so that it is hard for them to accept this key component of traditional conservatism. . . .
Second, there is a notable paucity of traditional conservatives in contemporary academia. . . . Mr. Himmelfarb properly cites Russell Kirk as a spokesman for traditional conservatism, but Kirk, to take him as an example, was never offered a position in any prominent academic institution, despite his enormous productivity and relative intellectual influence. . . . By contrast, many neoconservatives have managed to attain positions in higher education and other appropriate enclaves. This means that serious graduate students pass through academia with only remote contacts with traditional conservatism. It is no surprise that they are unconverted; they have never been preached to. . . .
Mr. Himmelfarb’s article emphasizes the importance of the traditional liberal commitment to equality over the conservative’s acceptance of the inevitability of certain forms of inequality. But speaking from the area of my own research—elementary and secondary education—it seems to me that one of the most profound problems now confronting education is the maintenance of moderate efficiency in the face of persisting and strident demands that the system generate equal results. Thus, even the courageous Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has proposed that American high schools impose his highly academic model curriculum on all students—regardless of their evident capabilities. . . . Bennett, as a true neoconservative, simply cannot admit that some pupils are not as able as others, and never will be. But such urgent demands for reflexive equality make it impossible to conduct productive discussions about school reform. The instinctual liberal sympathy for equality puts all of the burdens of realism on the traditional conservatives.
Finally, I would offer another perspective on Mr. Himmelfarb’s mild suggestion that neoconservatives and traditional conservatives differ partly along Jewish/Christian lines. Recently, in one of my graduate classes, I had the pleasure of instructing the most able student sympathetic to traditional values I have ever met. This student, an Orthodox Jew who wore hasidic dress, had as his most congenial colleague in the class a teacher/ baseball coach from a traditional Catholic boys’ high school. . . .
In sum, the lines of the division are not so much Jewish/Christian as religious/secular (and I use the term “religious” not in any formal sense but rather to mean a recognition of the importance of the sacred in human life, and a willingness to find ways to facilitate its reinvigoration in our society). As Nathan Glazer once suggested, we should be moving toward a new form of concordat. Perhaps both neoconservatives and traditional conservatives can cooperate to help foster such a movement.
Edward A. Wynne
University of Illinois
To the Editor:
. . . As a political rather than an intellectual conservative, I have viewed the Old Right’s attitude of exclusivity with concern. The contemporary rise of conservatism in our nation . . . did not come about through the efforts of the Stephen J. Tonsors and Paul Gottfrieds. It came about through the unceasing struggle of the political Right, not the least element of which was the New York Conservative party. In 1966, we gave the Liberal party its first major setback by pushing it off Row C on the ballot. In 1970, we accomplished the almost impossible by electing a conservative, James Buckley, to the U.S. Senate on the Conservative line. By 1980, we were able to elect a conservative to the presidency. . . .
We accomplished this by reaching out and welcoming all who were interested in conserving our free society, our Constitution, our cherished traditions, our precious religions, and our beloved country. And we welcomed the neoconservatives, for here were people who perhaps knew our enemies better than we did. . . .
The Old Right has performed an invaluable service by keeping the flame burning. It must, however, recognize that the flame is now being fed and nurtured and carried forward by others as well.
New York County Conservative Party
New York City
To the Editor:
Dan Himmelfarb’s interesting polemic on conservative splits could, I believe, be simplified by calling paleoconservatives reactionaries, and anti-anti-Communists and their academic cohorts, radicals. I myself, falling into the neoconservative category, find it more comfortable to be addressed as a Gladstonian liberal.
New York City
Dan Himmelfarb writes:
Thomas Fleming suggests that I portrayed the book he wrote with Paul Gottfried as a “polemical tract.” And E. Christian Kopff thinks I consider The Conservative Movement to be a “diatribe against neoconservatism.” I find this choice of language very curious. For in the third paragraph of my essay I state that “the authors of The Conservative Movement are considerably more evenhanded and less polemical in their treatment of neoconservatism than previous Old Right observers have been,” and add that Messrs. Fleming and Gottfried are “subtly critical” of neoconservatism. I do not think these words are inconsistent with Mr. Fleming’s claim that he and Gottfried were being “fair,” or with Mr. Kopff’s protestation that the book is “balanced.”
Mr. Fleming insists that The Conservative Movement was not meant to be an attack on neoconservatism. What the authors’ intentions were I have no way of knowing. Their words, however, are clear. And the message that the reader gets is that Messrs. Gottfried and Fleming do not much care for neoconservatives.
Others have drawn the same conclusion—and use language stronger than mine. Writing in National Review, Chilton Williamson, Jr. describes The Conservative Movement as a “polite, controlled diatribe against the neoconservatives and the warping effect they have had on American conservatism.” In his Religion and Society Report, Richard John Neuhaus says that “Fleming and Gottfried are decidedly ambivalent (to put it gently) toward the neoconservatives”; the authors, according to Neuhaus, think neoconservatives are “not to be trusted.” And no less an authority on American conservatism than George H. Nash makes a similar observation in Policy Review. The Conservative Movement, writes Nash, represents a lament over the fact that “the intellectual leadership of the conservative cause, and much of its financial base, [has been] captured by neoconservatives.” Gottfried and Fleming’s book, adds Nash, is an “uncompromising, scholarly jeremiad from the perspective of the traditionalist ‘Old Right.’” Each of these reviews, incidentally, is generally favorable.
One of my many “errors,” according to Mr. Kopff, is a misinterpretation of the Old Right’s attitude toward Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson. My argument, essentially, is this: neoconservatives are respectful of King but not of Jackson, because the former was a liberal while the latter is not; paleoconservatives view Jackson and King as proponents of “equality,” and hence are suspicious of both men. Mr. Kopff thinks that what these men actually believe is irrelevant; the presence on their staffs of someone with Communist associations is enough to disqualify them both. If Mr. Kopff is accurately portraying the Old Right’s position—if the company a man keeps is really thought to be more important than the principles he espouses—then neoconservatives and paleoconservatives have far less in common than I originally suggested.
Elsewhere in his letter Mr. Kopff argues as follows: it is patently wrong to associate the Old Right with the Middle Ages; and besides, what’s so bad about the Middle Ages? Thus, he characterizes my assertion that the Old Right is a “medieval tendency” as an “absurdity,” but immediately adds that “there are important aspects of the ancient and medieval worlds that are alive today”—representative government and the university, for example. What Mr. Kopff does not say is that there are also important aspects of the ancient and medieval worlds that are not alive today—at least not in Western democracies. These include a rigid class system, hereditary rule, a feudal economy, religious persecution, and slavery. The decline of these institutions coincides with the rise of liberal democracy—a form of government of which paleoconservatives are less enthusiastic advocates.
William Rosenau questions my contention that the Old Right is isolationist, presenting as counter-evidence Paul Weyrich’s hawkish Institute for Cultural Conservatism. In doing so, Mr. Rosenau confuses the Old Right with the New, within whose camp Weyrich and his foundation fall. I did not suggest in my essay that the New Right is isolationist—in fact, I did not even mention the New Right. Mr. Rosenau’s claim that the New Right is the “progeny” of the Old Right, moreover, is an arguable one. For the New Right and the Old Right have fundamental differences: the New Right is a populist and ultra-democratic tendency, while the Old Right is “elitist” and vaguely anti-democratic; the Old Right is suspicious of mass society, while the New Right glorifies the masses; the Old Right considers the New Right to be rather simple-minded and vulgar, while the New Right regards the Old Right as pretentious and stuffy. (Paul Gottfried, writing in the Intercollegiate Review, describes the New Right as “a lowbrow imitation of what the Old Right represents,” and adds that the New Right has “little of the intellectual sophistication” of the Old Right.) Mr. Rosenau is no doubt correct in portraying the New Right as forthrightly anti-Communist, but his claim does not refute my point about Old Right isolationism.
As for libertarians, I readily concede that many are isolationist. The “anarcho-capitalist” Murray Rothbard, in fact, is not merely isolationist; he has argued that the United States is solely responsible for the cold war. But not all libertarians share his view. The libertarian icon Ayn Rand was a steadfast anti-Communist; she described the Soviet Union and Cuba as “slave pens,” which free countries have the “right to invade.” Libertarians divide into two distinct foreign-policy camps: the interventionists, who recognize that Communism is the enemy of capitalism (and individual liberty); and the isolationists, who think taxation and conscription represent a greater threat than totalitarianism.
The isolationism of the Old Right is of a different kind. Unlike neoconservatives, who think the dividing line in world politics lies between freedom and unfreedom, paleoconservatives see the fundamental political conflict as a battle between religion and irreligion. And with respect to belief in a “transcendent moral order,” liberal democracy and Communism differ only in degree: one is less secular than the other. (In a review of Sidney Hook’s autobiography in Chronicles, Paul Gottfried suggests that “the theoretical battle between Hook and the Communists may be seen as one over instruments and procedures.” In other words, the differences between the Communists, on the one hand, and the man who is perhaps the foremost liberal democrat of the 20th century, on the other, is merely a difference of emphasis.) Paleoconservatives think that checking totalitarianism abroad is less important than restoring religious belief at home. Hence the Old Right’s less than wholehearted anti-Communism.
The isolationism of the Old Right, in fact, is similar to that of the New Left: who are we to tell the world how to behave, when our own house is not in order? Both New Left and Old Right deny that liberal democracy should be held up as a model for other countries—the New Left because liberal democracy is fundamentally exploitative and unjust, the Old Right because it is fundamentally secular and egalitarian.
As for Irving Kristol’s alleged isolationism, I will say only that his differences with Mr. Rosenau appear to be over strategic particulars rather than first principles; I do not think it is necessary to provide an elaborate vindication of a man who has devoted the better part of his life to the intellectual defense of liberal democracy. That neoconservatives as a group are serious about Communist totalitarianism should be obvious to the most casual reader of COMMENTARY.
Kenneth Cecire’s argument that the principles of the Declaration of Independence can serve as common ground for neoconservatives and paleoconservatives has at least one flaw: the Old Right is not particularly fond of the Declaration. Indeed, reading the Declaration out of the American Founding has been a continuing project of the Old Right. The paleoconservative view is that the Declaration was a work of propaganda, written in order to enlist the support of France in general, and the French philosophes in particular, for the cause of the Revolution.
Mr. Cecire reads both COMMENTARY and National Review, and is unwilling to “choose between them”; he finds that “the actual philosophical differences” between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives are “not very great.” This argument, too, resting as it does on the implicit premise that neoconservatism is to paleoconservatism as COMMENTARY is to National Review, has at least one flaw: National Review is no longer a journal of the Old Right.
In the 50′s and 60′s, many of National Review‘s contributors wrote from the perspective of the anti-democratic European Right; today most of its contributors argue in behalf of liberal democracy. Thus National Review has recently published obituaries for the social-democratic civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin and the liberal anti-apartheid writer Alan Paton. Both men were anti-Communist, but it is unlikely that either would have been eulogized by the National Review of old. National Review has even changed its position on Israel (it has gone from moderately anti-to fairly consistently pro-). This shift has not gone unnoticed by the Old Right. Discussing democracy and the state of intellectual discourse in a recent issue of Chronicles, Thomas Fleming (unfavorably) contrasts the current situation, in which the concept of democracy is virtually immune to criticism, with that of twenty-five years ago, when “European rightists and their American disciples subjected democracy to a withering attack from their redoubt at National Review.” And Paul Gottfried offers the following lament in the Intercollegiate Review: “One rarely finds evidence of [the Old Right's] imprint any more in National Review, which has grown into an inferior version of COMMENTARY.”
Mr. Cecire thinks that by giving “comfort to our real enemies, who today are mainly on the Left,” I have done a disservice to conservatism. I do not deny that the enemies are now primarily on the Left—in fact, I make this very point in my article. Nevertheless, I refuse to concede that anybody who is called (or calls himself) a conservative is ipso facto a friend. If I have done harm to the “conservative movement,” I apologize; but making friends with conservatives, in my opinion, is a less worthy objective than defending liberal democracy. And in the battle between liberal democrats and their enemies, the Old Right is less than a dependable ally.
I do not think it is correct, incidentally, to include Jack Kemp among “those present-day conservatives who draw on the Old Right tradition.” Kemp is a protégé of Irving Kristol, and takes much of his foreign-policy advice from Jeane Kirkpatrick.
John W. Barchfield accuses neoconservatives of hypocrisy: on the one hand, they claim to be democrats; on the other hand, they are loath to condemn (non-democratic) authoritarian regimes, even while displaying unmitigated hostility toward Communism. That it is not inconsistent for a liberal democrat to be less critical of authoritarian than of totalitarian regimes has been demonstrated by Jeane Kirkpatrick in her well-known article in these pages (“Dictatorships and Double Standards,” November 1979). Let me recapitulate some of the major points of her argument. First, authoritarian governments are more prone to liberalization and democratization than their totalitarian counterparts. Second, stepping aside and allowing revolutionaries to overturn an authoritarian government virtually guarantees the ascent of a government that is far more inimical to freedom and democracy. Third, insofar as authoritarian regimes tend to be pro-American, and insofar as America is a democratic world power, authoritarian governments are on the side of democracy.
Neoconservatives do not think that authoritarianism equals democracy. But in the real (as opposed to the ideal) world, in which the alternatives in most situations are not good and better but bad and worse, the choice between a non-liberal, non-democratic regime and an anti-liberal, anti-democratic regime is not a difficult one.
Edward A. Wynne suggests that the “lines of division” between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives are “religious/secular,” where “religious” means “a recognition of the importance of the sacred in human life, and a willingness to identify ways to facilitate its reinvigoration in our society.” I am not sure that this is the proper way to think about the differences between the two groups, inasmuch as there are few neoconservatives who would deny the “importance of the sacred,” or would be unwilling to “facilitate its reinvigoration.” The differences between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives is not so much a difference between religion and secularism as a difference in their understanding of the relation between religion and politics.
For the Old Right, religious belief is a political principle; paleoconservatives are most comfortable with those political orders of which religion is a fundamental feature. Neoconservatives, by contrast, defend an essentially secular politics: while they are likely to acknowledge that religious belief is a prerequisite for the maintenance of a free society, they also consider a line of demarcation between religion and politics to be a central component of a liberal polity. There is no necessary connection between one’s religious views and one’s politics: a religiously orthodox person may be a political liberal, and a nonreligious person may be a political traditionalist.
Finally, like Daniel Spice-handler, I prefer to think of myself as a liberal. Unfortunately, that term no longer has the connotations it once had. Thus the far-Left Institute for Policy Studies is called a “liberal think-tank,” and the far-Left Nation is a “liberal weekly.” At the same time, those who defend the principles of liberalism are regularly identified as “conservatives”—or even “right-wingers.” Which is all the more reason for determining what an individual really believes before deciding whether he is friend or foe.