Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pseudo-Conservatism Unmasked as Early as 1951

In a marvelous review of William F. Buckley’s 1950 book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom' (New York Times, November 4, 1951), Peter Viereck, a true conservative, early espied Buckley’s central contradictions. Complimenting Buckley’s insistence that “man has a moral nature”, “that freedom depends on the traditional value-code of the West and that unmoral materialism results in a suicidal intolerance debunking all values as equally ‘relative’", nonetheless Viereck found much to criticize:
Yet what is his alternative? Nothing more inspiring than the most sterile Old Guard brand of Republicanism, far to the right of Taft. Is there no ‘selfish materialism’ at all among the National Association of Manufacturers as well as among the ‘New Deal collectivists’ here denounced?
Only a true conservative with the integrity of self-criticism and the desire to advocate a consistent set of principles could ask that question—and William F. Buckley, “this product of narrow economic privilege” as appropriately described by Viereck—certainly did not, and to this day does not, satisfy those criteria. (See my William F. Buckley's Courageous Fight for Principle--NOT.)

Buckley raised concerns about excessive ‘materialism’ but only the alleged materialism of “New Deal collectivists” while conveniently ignoring the primary source of American materialism, the consumerism of those like the National Association of Manufacturers. In other words, Buckley takes arguments often dear to American conservatives (e.g., importance of traditional morality, anti-materialism, individual freedom) but transforms them to suit his own ideological prejudices and utterly ignores the blatant contradictions underlying his own tortured usage of ‘conservative’ positions. Buckley, from the beginning really had no principles, he merely cunningly used what he alleged were positions of principle to advocate for a group of interests to which he personally subscribed. Viereck: “[T]he author irresponsibly treats not only mild social democracy but even most social reform as almost crypto-communism. He damns communism, our main enemy, not half so violently as lesser enemies like the income tax and inheritance tax.” Buckley, like his oil baron father, was avidly pro-capitalist and out to protect in every possible manner the prerogatives and privileges of businesspeople who had benefited from American capitalism—thus the attacks upon the income and inheritance taxes (and today's pseudo-conservative attacks on the 'death tax'). He was ferociously anti-New Deal and wished to tear down its edifices and engaged in typical right-wing Cold War hyperbole identifying not only “mild social democracy but even most social reform as almost crypto-communism.”

Buckley posed as a great champion of individual freedom but when it suited his ideological agenda he quietly switched to authoritarian thought control to ‘banish from the classroom’ those ideas he deemed heretical. Viereck: “Words will really fail you when you reach the book’s final ‘message’: [Yale]trustees and alumni should violate the legally established academic freedom to ‘banish from the classroom’ not merely Communists but all professors deviating far from Adam Smith!”

Viereck: “And why is this veritable Eagle Scout of moral sternness silent on the moral implications of McCarthyism in his own camp?” Buckley was a rabid anti-communist willing to blink at the attacks upon civil liberties of those such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. On the one hand he’s against communism for its attacks upon Western freedoms, on the other he undermines these freedoms in the very battle to save them. As the writers of The Authoritarian Personality wrote: “The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions.., consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Viereck went on to identify more fatal contradictions: “Is it not humorless, or else blasphemous, for this eloquent advocate of Christianity, an unworldly and anti-economic religion, to enshrine jointly as equally sacrosanct: ‘Adam Smith and Ricardo, Jesus and St. Paul?’” This is a contradiction too infrequently noted: Christianity as preached by Christ is not compatible with the secular worship of the pursuit of wealth, though the 'protestant ethic' may have been twisted to fit 'the spirit of capitalism'.

Viereck, an excellent writer, concluded: “Not for economic privilege but for ethical and anti-materialist reasons, some of us have preached a conservative ‘revolt against revolt.’ If the laboring mountain of the new campus conservatism can turn out no humane and imaginative Churchill but merely this product of narrow economic privilege, then we might need a revolt against the revolt against revolt.”

Many of Peter Viereck's books are still available. For an evaluation of Viereck's conservative credentials see George H. Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, (1996, p. 60): "[Conservatism Revisited, Viereck's 1949 book] was the book which, more than any other of the postwar era, created the new conservatism as a self-conscious intellectual force." If that was so, Viereck certainly disagreed with Buckley's 'conservatism', as published only a year later.

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