Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2002 / 19 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | A potentially important new political magazine -- Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative -- published its first edition this week. Vol. 1, No. 1 arrived in my mailbox yesterday. For those of us "movement conservatives" on the wrong side of 50 (as Buchanan's co-founding editor, Taki Theodoracopulos would say), both the timing and the mission statement of the new magazine strikes an ominous chord of memory. It was almost a half century ago, at the high-point of American liberalism, that William F. Buckley Jr. founded National Review for the purpose of standing astride a liberally driven history and shouting "Halt." And, it is against the current high tide of a history driven largely by the conservative forces Buckley precipitated that Pat Buchanan has formed his magazine to "take our stand."
The American Conservative (AC, hereafter) is every bit as unbridled in its contempt for modern conservatism as National Review at its founding was for then modern liberalism. In their mission statement, the editors of AC accuse "the array of conservative media outlets" of competing "over which can bray loudest for the widest war, the most ambitious expansion of an American imperium." The AC accuses modern conservativism of casting "aside every relevant American foreign policy tradition -- from Robert Taft-style isolationism to prudent Dwight Eisenhower-style internationalism, in favor of go-it-alone militarism, where America threatens and bombs one nation after another, while the world looks on in increasing horror."
The magazine's editors will attack "the global free-trade economy, free the immigration debate from the prison to which it has been consigned ... and reignite the conversation that conservatives ought to have engaged in since the end of the Cold War, but didn't."
The editors conclude their mission statement with this whithering passage: "So much of what passes for contemporary conservatism is wedded to a kind of radicalism -- fantasies of global hegemony, the hubristic notion of America as a universal nation for all the world's peoples, a hyperglobal economy. In combination with an increasingly unveiled contempt for America's long-standing allies, it is more a recipe for disaster. Against it, we take our stand."
As one of those who, in brother Patrick's nagging phrase, "brays" for war, I find much of his characterization of our modern conservatism disturbingly on point. Although I believe Buchanan dangerously underestimates the inevitable and mortal threat of terrorism (and thus he wrongly deprecates the need for a prompt, prolonged and assertive war against it), he is acutely accurate in his characterization of much of modern conservatism's inclinations. Neo-conservativism -- which Buchanan correctly describes as the "dominant, nay, the only American conservatism worth talking about" -- is overweening in its hubris and yearning for an imperial America. Indeed, only a few months ago, Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard featured an argument for a new colonialism.
Moreover, both modern conservatism and modern Clintonian liberalism seem indifferent to the grinding, obliterating effects of globalism on traditional cultures and values not only around the world, but here in America as well. While modern conservatism claims to champion traditional values, it cheers on a global economic process that -- even more than liberal judges -- is a mortal threat to those values. As the AC's mission statement observes: We believe conservatism to be the most natural political tendency, rooted in man's taste for the familiar, for faith in G-d. We believe that true conservatism has a predisposition for the institutions and mores that exist."
Understanding conservatism in those terms, the concept of radical conservatism ought to seem oxymoronic. Only a generation ago, conservatives could credibly argue that conservatism constituted the absence of ideology. Conservatives used to argue that liberalism (even 19th century non-socialist liberalism) was fatally flawed because it exalted contemporary created ideas over the long-evolving institutional wisdom of our civilization. It is a measure of the success of modern, ideological conservatism that the phrase radical conservatism seems to make sense. And it is a substantial part of The American Conservative's mission to try to yank back the conservative designation from a movement that has morphed from Bill Buckley's Catholic, principled conservatism into a collection of radical ambitions and schemes -- some of which may be vitally needed, but arguably are not conservative.
Buchanan has founded his magazine immediately before what he expects to be our military victory against Iraq: "With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach its apogee. But then the tide recedes ... " Brother Patrick expects a furious and successful Islamic terror and guerrilla war aimed at our new imperium to follow. It is then, it would seem, that he expects his broader critique of modern conservatism to bite. It should make for great journalism -- and perhaps a new chapter in our political history.
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09/18/02:There are many forms of peace