The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement
Edited by Paul E. Gottfried and Richard B. Spencer
There has been a long gap between the first copy of Radix Journal and the second one, which has recently appeared in print a good three years later. Compared to its predecessor, which clocked in at 300 pages, concentrated on the possibly overambitious theme of the “deconstruction of White European identity,” and even sent Andy Nowicki on an all-expenses-paid trip to report on the “Rainbow Nations” of South Africa, Radix II—The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement has a narrower focus — namely the history of the American Conservative movement — as well as a lower page count (206 pages). This might seem like a case of the journal’s publisher and editor, Richard Spencer, drawing in his horns.
Following Radix’s launch in 2012, Spencer obviously took an extended time-out to reconsider just what shape his journal on “culture, history, politics, spirituality, and society” should take. The plan seems to be to make each journal strongly themed and bring in guest editors so that there is a feeling of reading a distinct book each time, rather than returning to a familiar journal. Accordingly, Radix II bears the mark of co-editor and contributor Paul Gottfried, undoubtedly one of the top experts on American Conservatism.
Although Radix II lacks the excitement — and drama — of its predecessor, it is more effective in its task, namely to offer an analysis and critique of its subject matter. With a narrower front, its firepower is more concentrated and effective, and it certainly helps that it includes some big guns in the likes of John Derbyshire, Keith Preston, James Kalb, and Peter Brimelow.
With the inclusion of several authors who have been directly and unfairly wronged by the American Conservative movement, there is even a delicious sense of grudge and “settling old scores” about the project.
In the past Gottfried has written and spoken of how his academic career was stunted because of his association with the heretical ideas of the alternative right. Then there is Peter Brimelow and John Derbyshire, both purged at different times — but for similar race realist reasons — by the National Review, the flagship publication of the Conservative movement since its foundation by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955.
Buckley, who exerted an enormous influence over American Conservatism until his death in 2008, and who can be credited with many of its present-day characteristics, looms large over this volume; and his picture rightfully adorns its cover, alongside this volume’s title “The Great Purge.”
Buckley is also directly remembered by several of the contributors, most notably Brimelow and Derbyshire, who interestingly remain rather muted in their criticisms of the man. This suggests that Buckley was something of a “smiling assassin,” adept at avoiding the opprobrium of his own actions in ridding the movement of those deemed “politically incorrect.”
Several themes emerge from the various essays and are often repeated in different contexts by different writers. This gives the journal a surprising degree of tonal harmony, or even a sense of intellectual dovetailing. Some of the main themes are:
- the hypocrisy of the American Conservative movement;
- its disconnect from its actual base of supporters;
- its betrayal of their interests;
- its secret agendas;
- its collusion with, and similarities to, the Left;
- its globalist focus.
Although not explicitly stated in the journal, another theme that emerges is the distorting effect exerted on American Conservatism by the geopolitical necessities of the Cold War and the global position of hegemony that the USA now fills, but more on that later.
Radix II is aimed at two specific audiences: those who have already “woken up” from movement Conservatism and — more importantly — those who have not but who are intelligent enough to do so when presented with the arguments and evidence. It could be said that Radix II is designed to be their “red pill.” For that kind of reader, this is a journal that is designed to instil such a degree of cynicism and disillusionment with regard to Conservatism Inc. and its lies that continuing to support it would henceforth be an impossibility.
Underlying this sense of Conservatism’s intellectual dishonesty and the betrayal of its base is a vision of an earlier, simpler, purer America that seems so at odds with the contemporary situation. John Derbyshire invokes this ideal in much of his writing and podcasting, and it is here again in his essay “Unperson,” where it is set against the grim reality of Big Government Conservatism, with the likes of Fox News and the Tea Party serving as distracting jesters to the tyranny at hand:
If the populist Conservatism of Fox News, Dinesh D’Souza, and the Tea Party is a mere “beggars’ democracy” in the fashion of Frederick the Great’s Prussia (“My people say what they please, and I do what I please”), and Conservatism, Inc. is a mere disgruntled subsidiary of gigantist, world-saving managerial bureaucracy, what hope is there of a return to traditional American notions of individual self-support, government restraint, judicial modesty, non-interference in other nations’ squabbles, and realism about human nature? (75)
Conservatism’s supporters crave this idealistic vision, essentially rooted in a past when America was largely a global backwater; and, while the movement’s leadership insincerely genuflect in that general direction, they instead pursue a course of cosmopolitan imperialism that is completely at odds with it, and which benefits others much more than it does Americans.
The question — and it is a serious one that is never directly addressed in Radix II, though often implied — is whether the betrayal of Conservatism is simply the effect, perhaps prolonged too long, of America’s rise to great power status and all the responsibilities and entanglements that this naturally involves?
Buckley’s creation of a New Right in the 1950s was essentially the unification, regimentation (hence the theme of constant purging), and globalization of the American Old Right, which prior to this was a diverse collection of beliefs with marked isolationist tendencies. Gottfried details the slaughter:
These undesirables fell into two camps: Southerners like M.E. Bradford and his followers, who made no apology 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.” [p.13]
Gottfried’s comment on the charge of “anti-Semitism” is a hint Jews were prominently involved in the purge. Sam Francis made similar points in a essay published in 2004, not included in the book under review. Francis focused specifically on the neoconservatives’ lack of attachment to traditional America as a Christian civilization, their agreement with the racial dispossession of White America, and their focus on the politics of the Middle East (1) — clearly claims that Jewish identities and motivations were paramount among those at the forefront of purging the older traditions of American conservatism. For example, when Russell Kirk made a speech at the Heritage Foundation in 1988 noting that “not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of United States,” Francis characterized it as “a wisecrack about the slavishly pro-Israel sympathies among neoconservatives.” Not surprisingly given Paul Gottfried’s comment, Kirk’s statement was labeled “a bloody outrage, a piece of anti-Semitism” by Midge Decter.
Francis’s comments on neoconservatives are well worth quoting in some detail. He described the “catalog of neoconservative efforts not merely to debate, criticize, and refute the ideas of traditional conservatism but to denounce, vilify, and harm the careers of those Old Right figures and institutions they have targeted.”
There are countless stories of how neoconservatives have succeeded in entering conservative institutions, forcing out or demoting traditional conservatives, and changing the positions and philosophy of such institutions in neoconservative directions. … Writers like M. E. Bradford, Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and Russell Kirk, and institutions like Chronicles, the Rockford Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have been among the most respected and distinguished names in American conservatism. The dedication of their neoconservative enemies to driving them out of the movement they have taken over and demonizing them as marginal and dangerous figures has no legitimate basis in reality. It is clear evidence of the ulterior aspirations of those behind neoconservatism to dominate and subvert American conservatism from its original purposes and agenda and turn it to other purposes.…
What neoconservatives really dislike about their “allies” among traditional conservatives is simply the fact that the conservatives are conservatives at all—that they support “this notion of a Christian civilization,” as Midge Decter put it, that they oppose mass immigration, that they criticize Martin Luther King and reject the racial dispossession of white Western culture, that they support or approve of Joe McCarthy, that they entertain doubts or strong disagreement over American foreign policy in the Middle East, that they oppose reckless involvement in foreign wars and foreign entanglements, and that, in company with the Founding Fathers of the United States, they reject the concept of a pure democracy and the belief that the United States is or should evolve toward it.
Lee Congden’s essay, “Wars to End War,” also invokes this tension between a lost “small town” Conservatism and its bloated, modern day incarnation. He shares Derbyshire’s yearning for a smaller Conservatism, but expresses it as a desire to “downsize” American foreign policy commitments and military adventurism to the level where only direct American interests are served. For Congden, this pragmatic approach is embodied in the figures of Henry Kissinger, Pat Buchanan, and especially the diplomat and historian George F. Keenan:
Of human limitation, Keenan was painfully aware, and he rejected any idea of American exceptionalism or messianism, any claim that superior virtue placed upon his countrymen a redemptive burden on a global scale. “Let us not,” he wrote in 1952 to John Foster Dulles, “attempt to constitute ourselves the guardians of everyone else’s virtue; we have enough trouble to guard our own.” [p. 163]
Against such self-effacing pragmatism, embodied in earlier ages by the likes of George Washington, John Quincy Adams — “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” — and Robert A. Taft, Congden sets the messianism first noticed by Tocqueville and other tendencies that have favored the interventionists from Woodrow Wilson to the present day.
The heart of Congden’s thesis is that the overextension of America’s foreign policy derives from the alignment of an international liberal interventionism, driven by essentially naive humanistic principles, and a Neoconservatism that mainly serves the interests of the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, and Israel, as well as the perceived interests of Christian Zionists:
In attempting to explain how he had arrived at his messianic view of U.S. foreign policy, Bush cited The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky, a former Russian dissident and neoconservative favourite. Sharansky, an Israeli citizen and (at one time) official, advocated a Wilsonian interventionism on the part of the U.S., especially in the Middle East and against Israel’s perceived enemies. He did not, of course, state his position so boldly.” [p.151]
Congden’s essay makes interesting reading, but, as with a lot of intellectually erudite work, it focuses on the push factors of ideology (“we believe this, so let’s do that”), and less on the geopolitical pull factors that incline a state towards those ideologies that serve the interests of its power and its ruling elites: an America seeking global hegemony, but with no direct interests overseas to justify its intervention, suddenly feels itself drawn towards “global humanitarianism” or some other messianic vision that allows it to act in the way required. Sharansky thus invokes Wilson in order to ground his ethnic interests squarely within an American foreign policy tradition.
America’s main problem as a global power is that, unique among the great states, it has no compelling reason to seek global hegemony. Secure on its own continental landmass defended by two oceans, it should be indifferent to the endless and internecine struggles of Eurasia. Russia, by contrast, with its geographically ill-defined borders and proximity to other major power centers, has little alternative but to take an interest in the question of hegemony.
The Cold War, of course, provided an exception to this. The threat posed by an ascendant Communist tyranny with global reach, along with its sizable fifth column in America and the sudden drop in strength of the former great Western powers of Britain and France, made isolationism a non-viable option for a time. These circumstances necessitated America assuming the mantle of the burnt-out British Empire as “policeman of the world.”
It is hard to criticize this part of conservative history, even if the direction was one that led away from previous conservative ideals and harmed the fabric of American society. The threat of Communism was very real at the time, and Buckley’s resolute anti-Communism must be counted as one of his virtues.
It is also noteworthy that Buckley’s New Right — the development of an ideology conducive to the effective contesting of the Cold War — almost perfectly coincides with the end of the British Empire as a global power. National Review was founded just one year before Suez!
With the ending of the Cold War in 1991 and the removal of all existential threats, America has had no earthly reason to continue as global hegemon and involve itself in overseas conflicts for which it is by nature ill-suited. This, of course, is why messianism has become increasingly important in US foreign policy. Motivated by a collection of vested interests that benefit from Big Government, global power projection, and the financial manipulative power that this brings, America goes out of its way to pick fights and involves itself in the affairs of distant lands.
Part of this messianism has Jewish roots. As with Congden’s reference to Sharansky, the role of the Jews in undermining traditional Conservatism is occasionally alluded to in Radix II. Indeed, the doctrine of an aggressive American foreign policy in a unipolar world became a touchstone for neoconservatives in the 1990s (here, p. 38). But the main culprit that emerges from the essays collectively is the managerial elite that James Burnham first wrote about in The Managerial Revolution (1941), and its modern versions, both in the public and private sectors.
This is most clearly set out in the late Sam Francis’s 1986 essay “Neoconservatism and Managerial Democracy,” which serves as Radix II’s ideological core, but this thesis also informs several other essays, including Keith Preston’s excellent “Big Love” and Gottfried’s “The Logic of the Conservative Purges.” Both writers emphasize the synergy between the different sides of the establishment. Gottfried:
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. … 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. (27)
Francis’s essay is the most illuminating on the subject, tracing the ways in which American society was distorted by global challenges and the need to weaponize its value systems:
Outside economic and political relations, the social fabric of traditional and bourgeois society — localized, private, centered on self-contained communities and kinship networks — acted as a constraint on the development of the colossal scale of managerial organizations. Hence it was in the interest of the new elite to dissolve the old social fabric, to break up local community and family bonds, and to reorganize the members of such institutions into the massive political and economic structures under its own control. The new ideology of the managerial regime thus involved a cosmopolitan, universalist, and egalitarian myth that challenged the localized and traditionalist loyalties and moral values of bourgeois society and offered a rationalization for the dominance of managerial organizations and their elites. (110–111)
What becomes clear is that the small-c conservatism, extolled by Derbyshire, would have stood little chance against the Fascist and Stalinist behemoths that were contesting global dominion while this process of change in American society was under way.
Where we are now in the globalized West is the result of this most poisonous legacy of the Cold War; and even after its raison d’être has disappeared, this distortion of our organic societies seeks to constantly justify itself with false crusades and the creation of new monsters. This is the compelling narrative that is highlighted by this issue of Radix.
Some might see this as Radix attempting to back away from a critique of Jewish power and interests. But rather than this, it is a genuine attempt to focus on the moving parts of the machine that has created the modern West. After all, Jewish power and interests can be read as a rather predictable constant. Much more interesting is how this factor and others work through institutional elites, social classes, and geopolitical challenges — or their absence — to create the situation we have today.
Francis, S. (2004). The neoconservative subversion. In B. Nelson (ed.), “Neoconservatism.” Occasional Papers of the Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, Issue Number Six, 6–12. St. Louis: Conservative Citizens’ Foundation.