At the beginning of the year, I outlined three trends we should cheer.
And now, just three months later, one of them is proceeding so rapidly that the bad guys are in an outright panic.
Thus: a recent column in Commentary, a neoconservative publication, warned that “anyone with the Internet can write a blog or tweet or Facebook post or can Skype or record a podcast. The castle no longer has walls. The gatekeepers are mostly useless.”
That’s pretty much what I said, too, except my remarks weren’t a warning. They were a celebration.
Any lover of freedom has to be delighted by our ongoing liberation from artificial constraints on opinion. But Commentary, like neoconservatism in general, is far more at home with the New York Times and the establishment than it is with the dissidents of American society. Hence the alarm. Why, the public might be exposed to ideas we haven’t approved for them in advance!
Just last week Politico ran an article highlighting the angst of the GOP’s so-called intellectuals. “One of the most spectacular fissures of this already dramatic political season,” the article began, “has been the messy, public divorce of the Republican intelligentsia from the party’s suddenly energized populist voter base.”
Translation: no one cares anymore about National Review or Commentary, if they ever did, and people are darn sure not going to censor themselves just because they happen to stray from the opinions these publications have been demanding from them.
Last month I contrasted the legacy of Bill Buckley, founder of National Review, with that of Murray N. Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian. I noted that Buckley took it upon himself to serve as the arbiter of what would be considered allowable conservative opinion. No doubt younger readers, who weren’t around in those days, figured I must be exaggerating.
But now along comes trusty old Commentary magazine to confirm what I wrote – except, of course, that they celebrate what the rest of us deplore.
The article I’m referring to is “The Coming Conservative Dark Age,” by Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon (a political correctness enforcement site like ThinkProgress, except with a neoconservative flavor).
When Buckley died in 2008, Continetti said, we lost not only a bright and witty man but also a man who sought unity and respectability for American conservatism by excommunicating those people and groups the magazine considered unworthy of its support.
“It was Buckley who for decades determined the boundaries of American conservatism,” Continetti noted approvingly.
(A side note: in the sanitized, comic-book version of the history ofNational Review to which Continetti treats us, we as usual hear nothing about Buckley’s states’ rights views during the civil rights movement, or the debates over Abraham Lincoln that took place in the magazine. This would complicate things rather too much for Commentary‘s delicate readers, so they are omitted.)
And get this: Buckley “wanted to be taken seriously by the New York media and cultural elite.” Surely anyone who might object to an aspiration like that merits excommunication.
“National Review is a great example of media gatekeeping theory,” Continetti continues. “By exiling anti-Semites, Birchers, and anti-American reactionaries from its pages, the magazine and its editor determined which conservative arguments were legitimate and which were not. By denying a platform to quacks and haters, they broadened their potential audience.”
So we’re supposed to believe that anyone purged from the conservative movement byNational Review was a wicked and disreputable person who deserved what he got. But even Murray N. Rothbard was purged from National Review. Here was a man whose extraordinary brilliance and scholarly accomplishments were praised by Ludwig von Mises himself, and whose dedication to the twin causes of private property and the free society, which National Review purports to favor, was greater than that of the entire NR staff combined.
The war in Iraq, evil and idiotic from every standpoint, was vastly worse and far more crankish and crazy than all the politically incorrect Old Right commentary the neocons might dredge up to discredit the pre-Buckley right wing. The Iraq war was one of an endless array of domestic and foreign atrocities that the self-appointed gatekeepers of opinion have defended or made excuses for, all while turning up their noses at far more consistent defenders of the free market than they themselves.
And incidentally, the real reason the John Birch Society was purged had more to do with its opposition to the Vietnam War than anything else. As John Seiler recently pointed out, National Review continued to cultivate a relationship with the Birchers well into the 1960s. WhatNational Review truly could not tolerate was simply the Birch Society’s call for withdrawal from Vietnam in 1965.
No one in the NR orbit was allowed to oppose the Vietnam War, even though it was launched in earnest by a left-liberal Democratic president. But its results were entirely disastrous. The economic turmoil of the 1970s was the direct result of the inflationary methods of paying for the war that had commenced in the 1960s. The human toll, of course, was horrific. And when Vietnam fell to communism anyway, hysterical predictions about the resulting spread of communism throughout southeast Asia did not come to pass.
In fact, today Vietnam has a stock market and is a friendly trading partner with the United States.
And by the way, in running through the catalog of disasters the Vietnam War brought in its wake I nearly included the social revolution of the 1960s, which was stimulated by the war. But since the social views that pass for conservatism at National Review these days make ’60s hippies look like Edmund Burke, I’m not sure that criticism would have much effect.
When National Review launched, it memorably claimed to be standing athwart history shouting, “Stop!” Today it declares: “Go on ahead. We’ll catch up with you in ten minutes.”
The result of this decades-long, Stalinist enforcement of a party line – a party line that has grown ever more leftist over the years – is the present condition of what we laughingly call the “conservative movement.” Its major figures and organizations are now devoted to open borders, the idea of America as a “propositional nation,” and ceaseless military interventions in the name of global democracy and human rights. This is pure leftism, but the poor kids who attend the summer seminars of the right-wing think-tank world will be solemnly instructed that civilization itself is at stake in the defense of these principles.
Buckley got his conservatism the establishment respectability he craved, in this sense: it’s to National Review writers and others of that style that the mainstream turns when it wants a predictable and safe right-of-center view. But what great conservative victories can National Review point to in exchange for making itself acceptable to the New York media and cultural elite? The magazine at least pretends to believe in “limited government,” but exactly how much has the state retreated since the great mission of respectability began?
I think we know the answer.
According to Commentary, we are supposed to be concerned about bloggers, podcasters, and independent writers. I’m more concerned about Commentary, National Review, and the rest of the pretend-opponents of the state, who in their distinctly leftist style spend their time excommunicating and demonizing people who aren’t inclined to confine themselves to the three-inch spectrum of the allowable opinion the New York Timesdeigns to grant us.
So the gatekeepers are in a panic. They are losing their grip on public opinion. Because if you can believe it, people these days are impertinent enough to entertain ideas that might not win the approval of the New York media and cultural elite. Worse still, they persist in these ideas despite the finger-wagging of Commentary and the rest of the neoconservative thought police, who when the chips are down can be counted on to join forces with the left in demonizing dissidents.
The thought control and party line of the Buckley years are crumbling before our eyes.
Here’s a good rule to live by: if Commentary and National Review are panicking, you should cheer.