The Right Coast

July 27, 2004
Interesting review of young conservatives
By Tom Smith

I'm not sure what the American anti-war right has to offer.  The Old Right was certainly right about communism.  To the extent "anti-war" means anti-war in the sense of "the anti-Vietnam war left", I think that view has clearly been discredited.  There is more to be said for the right wing anti-war view, that defending Vietnam was never worth what we should have known it would cost.  Clearly, fighting that war in a way calculated to lose was a huge mistake.  In a way, it led to the revolution in Iran, and jihad in Afghanistan, the consequences of which we have yet to deal with completely. 

Old style Robert Taft isolationism, however, I just don't see as having much of a future.  We have to be able and willing to defend ourselves against threats from abroad, and terrorism and terror-sponsoring states are a reality, whether we like it or not.  I agree with The American Conservative sorts who distrust the Straussians, which the neo-cons are to the extent they are intellectuals.  In addition to Leo Strauss, their hero is Pat Moynihan, who in my book was just another sappy liberal.  Intelligent, sure, but basically a guy who thought only big government, inhabited by Harvard-trained intellectuals or their equivalent, could save American society from itself.  They're just New Deal technocrats who want another shot, promising that this time they'll get the programs right.  They may be better than post-modern left-liberal nihilists, but that's not saying much.  I think some of the neo-cons do entertain grandiose ideas about spreading American democracy around the world.  They are dangerous, and it is troubling that Bush foreign policy seems to be so influenced by them.  However, they seem to be right about Iraq, and would probably be so about Iran and North Korea as well.  But I wouldn't want them to be in charge of the store indefinitely. 

I also think the essay linked above over-estimates the extent to which the right is in the thrall of Bush.  Lots of conservatives, such as me for instance, are willing to admit to being less than thrilled with Bush.  He would be a better President if he had 10 or 20 more IQ points, but he is smart enough.  He lacks strong principles of limited government and spends too much money, a lot for political reasons.  He's too willing to get in bed with corporate interests.  But he's certainly no worse than the democrats would be in this respect, with their protectionism, farm subsidies, and endless programs.

As I've said before, the conservative movement has to be popular and populist.  The neo-cons are elitist in principle, right down to the philosophical/Straussian grounds that if Plato were still around, they would be his special boys.  They're just the Harvard version of the sweating weirdos in some storefront church in Dirtville, Georgia who think that they truly are God's elect.  The Harvard version is in a position to do a lot more harm.  You bet they bear watching, but they happen to be right about Iraq.  If they start talking about the need to democratize Africa with the Marines, however, they need to replaced in a big hurry. 

There is never going to be a popular conservatism in this country that does not include strong national defense and appreciation of the military.  To that extent, the anti-war right is wasting its time.  But empire we don't need.  You can be pro-national defense and anti-imperialist.