(Editor's note: Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson engaged two prominent neoconservative thinkers -- Lt. Col. Ralph Peters [Ret.] and Max Boot -- in a lively debate over the future of American conservatism. Carlson pointed out that neoconservative foreign policy has failed spectacularly and challenged the validity of it. Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo addressed the matter at length. The following piece is a good successor to both of Carlson's debates and Raimondo's article; specifically insofar as understanding the past, present, and future of the American right is concerned.)
By Paul Gottfried
Several friends on the independent Right have been sending me notes stating their frustration with the Trump administration for playing them for fools. These fellow-members of the independent Right (yes, I’ll admit to my own leanings) complain that after all their efforts in campaigning for the president, he’s turning into a tool of the moderates and neocons. I for one am less critical of Trump, because although I wrote and donated on his behalf, I never thought his election would change much in our society or politics. Nor do I believe that if the improbable happened and Marine Le Pen became president of the French Fifth Republic, she would be able to act effectively against the French deep state (which is proportionately more massive than ours), the rabidly adverse media, and the rest of an entrenched cultural Left.
There is no magic bullet by which decades and even generations of leftist penetration of political and cultural institutions can be reversed in one presidential race. Contrary to a recent hysterical column by the perpetually foaming Ralph Peters, France is not in imminent danger of being turned over to a raging anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier. Not only does Marine in no way answer to that description, even if she defeated Peters’ hero, Emanuel Macron, who represents the multicultural Left and globalist interests, Marine would have to battle the same media hostility that confronts Trump. Unless fundamental institutions can be changed, winning the presidential sweepstakes here or in France will not lead to profound alterations in the political climate.
In the case of Trump, however, there is another reason that I’ve been skeptical about his capacity to change things in a way that would please his present critics on the independent Right. Please note that I’m not speaking of those Never-Trump journalists who still abound in the “conservative movement.” These people, particularly the ones who shilled for such implausible figures of the Right as W, Mitt, and John McCain, are getting away with stunning hypocrisy. The less said about them, the less elevated my blood pressure is likely to become. No, I’m referring to those on the Right who break ranks by criticizing a liberal internationalist foreign policy. I also mean those on the Right who believe that political reconstruction should begin at home and should not be a key element in the way we deal with sovereign foreign powers, unless we’re actually threatened by them. Unlike Bill Kristol, this Right views the deep state as a menace to our freedoms. And its devotees have had enough of “multiculturalism” in all its varied forms and would like the government to stop promoting its crusade against communities and individuals who are charged with “discrimination.”
The more determined members of this Right would like to see the government come down hard on the antifascist goons and on the political correctness inquisitors at our misnamed institutions of higher learning. Not only do they want Trump to withdraw all federal funding from a place like Berkeley, they’d also be delighted if he sent in the National Guard to suppress the well-planned riots against “reactionary” speakers at Berkeley and other ideologically similar institutions. And yes, they are disappointed that Trump has not spoken out in favor of his loyalists who have shown up at universities to counter the rioting Left.
Although I fully sympathize with these sentiments and proposals, I see no compelling reason why Trump would lend his ear to those who express them. Nor am I in any way shocked that the loudest Trump-detractors, including the outright Hillary-supporters in the “conservative movement” are swarming all over Fox News and still writing for “conservative” publications. These are well-connected people who enjoy support from corporate funders and are represented in the National Endowment for Democracy and other government agencies. If there is a Right, and a truer one, which would like to have more public exposure, then it will have to follow the neoconservatives’ path to success in the 1970s and 1980s, that is, raise funds and create its own media outlets.
The short cuts that young members of the independent Right have tried promise only very limited success. Starting up a blog with one’s buds or becoming a website troll is a form of self-indulgence. Such activities will never produce the firepower of the National Review or Weekly Standard website. Such vehicles of mainstream opinion have considerably more funds and far better PR than those assets that are available to someone working on a shoestring. The most ridiculous attempt to gain influence from the Right may be sending obscene or cranky messages through “social media.” Those who do this sort of thing are likely to be dismissed as overgrown adolescents. Yes, I know -- the Left gets away with such behavior, but then they’re holding better cards than their altright imitators. If a more authentic Right than the one that is now in power hopes to mobilize, it will have to match the mainstream right-center by coming up with equivalent resources. Such a Right can only succeed by doing what a nineteenth-century French premier Francois Guizot told an impecunious shopkeeper when asked how he could obtain the vote: “Enrichissez-vous (accumulate wealth)” was Guizot’s retort in standing by France’s limited franchise based on the amount of revenue paid by citizens to the state.
It is also ridiculous for an independent Right to believe that those whom they hope to supplant will share their resources with opposition on the Right. I can’t think of any reason they would. What’s in it for those who enjoy a media monopoly on “conservative” opinion to exchange views with troublesome dissenters on the Right? If they do want a “different” point of view, they can obtain one from someone who is generally on the same wavelength; or from leftist debating partners who are invited on Fox News.
Back in the 1980s when the neoconservatives were becoming dominant in the respectable Right, members of the Old Right would complain that their adversaries did nothing but “network.” Whether or not that was the only thing neoconservatives did really doesn’t matter. What’s more significant is that they worked diligently at building profitable connections. This was made clear to readers of my book when I published the revised edition of The Conservative Movement (1993). There I showed how the neoconservatives acquired a vast media and print empire by attracting wealthy donors. Fundraisers like Irving Kristol and Leslie Lenkowsky devoted time and energy to their work and went from one lead to the next in amassing the necessary resources for their movement. Although this movement was a familiar form of Cold War liberalism with a changed label, the neoconservative founding fathers knew how to sell their product as some kind of novelty. They engaged in what many on the Right, including this writer, thought at the time was a tawdry marketing ploy. This may indeed have been what it was, but the strategy and persistent salesmanship worked brilliantly. And I’m not sure there is an alternative course of action for those on the outside who want a cut of the media pie.
This piece was originally published in American Thinker.
Paul E. Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe. He serves as head of the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.