Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Casting Bulls Before Swine ...

One of the items that Mark appears to be quite furious about is David Frum's "Unpatriotic Conservatives" article that he and other paleocons regard as nothing less than a bull of excommunication to the anti-war right. I didn't read it as such at the time, particularly given this notable caveat:
The antiwar conservatives aren't satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?

But the antiwar conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies.

One can argue, perhaps plausibly, that the individuals mentioned by Frum do not fall into the latter category. However, one thing that Mark might well want to keep in mind is that prior to Frum writing his bull of excommunication the Buchanan Brigade had already issued there own. As Frum himself quotes in the article:
"The Bush administration should not only ignore the advice of such characters as Mr. Ledeen and Mr. Podhoretz but consider placing them under surveillance as possible agents of a foreign power." — SAMUEL FRANCIS, IN CHRONICLES, DECEMBER 2002

... The accusations culminated in a March 2003 article by Buchanan in The American Conservative that fixed responsibility for the entire Iraq war on a "cabal" of neoconservative office-holders and writers: "We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seeks to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity."

So it appears to me that Buchanan's own denunciation of the neocons occurred prior to David Frum writing his article. And while Frum was reading the paleocons out of the conservative movement, Buchanan was charging the neocons with treason. You can decide for yourself who is being the worst offender here, but it's accusations like that which make me less than sanguine about paleocon crocodile tears about how mean the big, bad National Review was to them.


nowickis said...

I don't think that the issue is about NR being "mean," but just that they and other similiar publications seem to have grown very narrow these days regarding what is considered an "acceptable" opinion or point of view. It's almost as though being pro-Iraq war is a litmus test, determining who a "true" conservative is these days, which is idiotic-- and ironic too, considering that the retired elder statesman WF Buckley himself has come out against the war...

Joe Marier said...

I'd actually disagree with that. Ross Douthat is an anti-war conservative, and he publishes everywhere, including the Weekly Standard, which has happily promoted his and Reihan's "Sam's Club Conservatism". Byron York came out in favor of a withdrawal timetable yesterday, with nary a word of protest!

If there's a litmus test, it's not among the publications: it's among the conservative electorate. Ron Paul has not caught fire, nor has Chuck Hagel, nor Jim Webb. That's the thing.

Victor said...

Frum's inclusion of Robert Novak was silly and just invited the wrong sort of paleos' contempt/dismissal. It is hardly anti-Semitism or treason to note that the jihadis' at-least-proximate causus belli is Israel (though understand that we're talking about Israel's very existence, not such piffling details as borders, fences, settlements or policing methods) and that the Washington Israeli lobby is powerful, for a variety of reasons, one being America's Jewish populace.

But I read Frum's article again last week and Novak aside, it is well-nigh-indisputable. The quotes from Francis, Fleming, Szamuely, Rockwell and Raimondo (in particular, the section headliners) are simply damning as, morally at least, treasonous.

frank sales said...

This is a sore point with Mark. He banned me for comparing his credulity with Jane Fonda's as he gobbled up the Iranian propoganda on the British captives while damning the American treatment of its own prisoners. When you have the anti-Bush fever, the line between treason and patriotic criticism becomes a very fine one.

paul zummo said...

Considering that NR publishes, either on-line or in print, Andrew Stuttaford, John Derbyshire, John Podhoretz, Andrew McCarhy, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Jonah Goldberg - six guys who probably represent six different strands of conservatism - (In order being libertarian, cranky quasi-paleo, neocon, traditionalist, social con, some mix of the five)) I'd be reluctant to call them narrow.

It's true that most of those associated with NR supported the war, but the views on the war are now fairly diverse, certainly moreso than you'd see on the pages of, say, The American Conservative.

Also it was Buckley himself who distanced mainstream conservatism from "unacceptable" opinions by banishing the likes of the Birchers.

I haven't read the Frum article since it was originally published, but it seems Victor's take is right on.

Andy Nowicki said...

Victor, calling the paleocons' comments cited in the article "damning" simply begs the question. As for "treasonous"-- well, even the intemperate Frum didn't go that far.

Victor said...


calling the paleocons' comments cited in the article "damning" simply begs the question.

What question do you think it's begging? I said the quotes were damning in proving many paleos were flirting, at least morally, with treason. I agree that treason is tough to prove legally because the standard is and should be high. But that's why I referred to the quotes as treasonous (they are; though a legal case or a personal diagnosis probably requires more than a single quote), and have modified the term with "flirting with" or "morally" (analogy: the statement "George Bush is a murderer" is certainly morally libelous, though it is equally certainly not so legally).

Anonymous said...

Victor, it begs the question of what constitutes a "damning" or "damnable" statement. While I don't agree with all of the things paleocons are quoted as saying in Frum's piece, I don't find any of them damnable.

The quote I find most objectionable is the one from the American Conservative article-- stating that Stalin should come back from the grave and rule Russia again in order to check contemporary American imperial hubris. This sentiment is ridiculous, but obviously hyperbolic.

Andy Nowicki

Victor said...

Ah ... I think I see what you're saying now.

Obviously, nothing quoted in the article is "damning" in the literal sense of "damnation," i.e., worthy of hell and all that.

Victor said...

But "damning" in the sense of "proving" like in "damning evidence of [whatever]" ... yeah.

Frum's charge is that top paleos have become anti-American, unpatriotic, seditious or (morally) treasonous ... yeah, the quotes back that up quite well.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be difficult, but no, I didn't mean literally damning. I meant damning in the sense of exposing them as being totally beyond the pale of reasoned discourse. I do think that calling them damning in that sense does beg the question of what consitutes one's notion of "totally beyond the pale."

I do see how some of the comments can be called unpatriotic or even anti-American. Here's the thing: shouldn't a person be anti-American to the extent that America is bad? (This isn't to claim that the paleocons quoted are correct in their assessments of America, but if they honestly assess America as having a lot of serious problems, wouldn't they be morally remiss not to say so?)

Andy Nowicki

Victor said...

Oh ...

You're not being difficult, Andy ... we're just groping past each other in the dark, trying to figure out what we're saying ... a far better exercise than what we know goes on elsewhere, you Torture Apologist.™

being totally beyond the pale of reasoned discourse.

I wouldn't say that absolutely. But I do think in a time of war, different standards prevail.

You mention the Szamuely quote about bringing back Stalin to contain the US. But there's also the Rockwell quote saying the US is the "real evil empire" and insinuating that the Cold War was trumped up; there's Sobran and Fleming calling the US the bloodthirstiest regime; Francis's insinuation that 9/11 was justified retaliation; Raimondo calling 9/11 an Israeli plot, giving voice to the "Truthers" and "patriots might almost be forgiven if they pine for defeat"; and Fleming saying upfront that he admires the French more than he ever could the US (how is that not "passionate attachment to a foreign power"). At some point, it ceases to be the occasional rhetorical overkill and becomes a coherent worldview.

Some of these ideas ... some ... are rationally discussible, strictly speaking. But they also are so objectively de-moralizing and dis-reputing or reflect an attitude of unpatriotic contempt that they are intolerable in wartime.

Here's the thing: shouldn't a person be anti-American to the extent that America is bad?

Not really.

First of all, I think patriotism, like the love of family that it's an extension of, is not the rational application of pre-existing moral standards. (Buchanan wrote a lot about this in Right from the Beginning.)

Second, to judge one's own country is an intellectual error. It presupposes before all else that the acting subject is a rootless cosmopolitan who stands outside his nation, which I think is empirical nonsense -- the acting subject is a creation of his culture, even in his very subjectivity.

Third, even to the extent one can judge one's country, it can only be judged in relation to the alternatives before it or relative to its enemies -- otherwise one makes the perfect the enemy of the good (because no polity ever will be perfect; and I'm not sure aiming for perfection is even a Good Thing). And I don't think any serious catalog of the West's or America's faults, which are legion and which we all acknowledge (well, all we Catholic neocon hawks do) would let one see jihadism or Islam as preferable. In other words, even if America's sins justifies a certain anti-Americanism, Islam's sins justify a far greater anti-Islamism, which ought to be controlling if we're talking about a rational reaction. I would say this is why Shea's prayer for the mutual destruction of the West and Islam is so despicable. Pope Benedict, for one, realizes that even if Christendom itself be over, Christianity cannot afford to simply write off European and American civilization.

Fourth, again, different standards of discourse prevail during war. Just try reading any of the paleocons' quotes that I alluded to above with the analogous WW2 proper nouns, and their outrageousness becomes obvious. Treason might be a bit strong, but I think Shawn McElhinney has made a good case that sedition applies.

Lastly and I don't expect this point to be persuasive, but like Gilbert & Sullivan's executioner, I do find something simply aesthetically displeasing about per se criticism of one's own country -- "Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone / All centuries but this, and every country but his own." Patriotic criticism should flow from love, and it's hard to see it in these quotes (Fleming and Rockwell in particular says otherwise upfront).