Ordo ab Chao: Paleoconservatives

Paleoconservatives are most distinctive in their emphatic opposition to open immigration by non-Europeans, and their general disapproval of U.S. intervention overseas. The prefix “paleo” derives from the Greek root “palaeo” meaning “ancient” or “old,” and refers to the paleoconservatives’ claim to represent a revival of the Old Right, in contradistinction to neoconservatism. The term “paleoconservative” was coined in 1986 by Jewish academic Paul Gottfried, who served as an adviser to Buchanan’s campaign. With Buchanan being a Knight of Malta, Gottfried once noted an “occasional paleo association with over-the-top Catholicism.” In fact, counter-revolutionary, Roman Catholic European precursors to the Catholic paleoconservatives include Joseph de Maistre and Charles Maurras of Action française. Some modern European right-wing intellectuals, such as Alain de Benoist of the Nouvelle Droite, are also esteemed by many paleoconservatives.

A professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Gottfried is the author of numerous books and articles detailing the influences which various German thinkers, such as Hegel and Schelling, have exerted on American conservative political theory, and was a friend of many political and intellectual figures, such as Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Samuel T. Francis and Murray Rothbard. Gottfried attended Yeshiva University in New York as an undergraduate and then attended Yale, where he studied under Herbert Marcuse. Gottfried devoted a chapter of his memoir to Marcuse, under whom he was a “rapt, indulgent disciple.” In later years, one reviewer called Gottfried a “right-wing proponent of the Frankfurt school.”

Gottfried became involved with the New Left journal Telos, established in 1968. Telos began introducing the ideas of Western Marxism and of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. However, with the disintegration of the New Left, Telos flip-flopped to the other end of the ideological spectrum. Largely under Gottfried’s influence, Telos began focusing on the ideas of Carl Schmitt and Alain de Benoist. Telos’ editor-in-chief is Russell Berman, an American professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Founded in 1919 by Republican Herbert Hoover, the institution has been a place of scholarship for individuals who previously held high-profile positions in government, such as George Shultz, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Boskin, Edward Lazear, John B. Taylor, Edwin Meese, and Amy Zegart.

Gottfried complained regularly in his writing about “ill-mannered, touchy Jews and their groveling or adulatory Christian assistants”—his phrase for neocons who he claimed had hijacked the Republican Party and American policy. He opposes both the Civil Rights Act and white nationalism. “If someone were to ask me what distinguishes the right from the left,” Gottfried wrote in 2008, “the difference that comes to mind most readily centers on equality. The left favors that principle, while the right regards it as an unhealthy obsession.” According to Gottfried in The Conservative Movement: “[The paleoconservatives] raise issues that the neoconservatives and the left would both seek to keep closed… about the desirability of political and social equality, the functionality of human-rights thinking, and the genetic basis of intelligence… like Nietzsche, they go after democratic idols, driven by disdain for what they believe dehumanizes.”

Gottfried worked closely with Samuel T. Francis, a non-Catholic paleoconservative and friend of Pat Buchanan. In 1986, Francis joined the editorial staff of The Washington Times as an editorial writer, and was editor of the Citizens Informer quarterly newsletter, as well as an editor of The Occidental Quarterly, a white nationalist and self-described “pro-Western” publication sponsored by William Regnery II. According to Gottfried, Francis had an encyclopedic knowledge of the literature of H.P. Lovecraft.

Francis and Gottfried were both influenced by James Burnham’s seminal work, The Managerial Revolution, in which he suggested that a new form of society was emerging to replace capitalism, composed of a ruling class of “managers.” Michael Shelden, author of Orwell: The Authorized Biography, saw Burnham’s work as having an influence on Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. For Francis and Gottfried, the managerial state is an ongoing regime that remains in power, regardless of what political party holds a majority. According to Gottfried, when the managerial regime cannot get democratic support for its policies, it resorts to sanctimony and social engineering, including mass welfarism, positive rights, laws punishing racism, sexism and homophobia, and centralized control of public education.

In part based on Burnham’s idea of the “managerial revolution,” Francis developed a theory for a new populist movement based on the idea of “Middle American Radicals” who could provide a social base for resistance. According to Francis, “If we could somehow take out the ideology, change the minds of those who control the state, and convert them into paleo-conservatives, the state apparatus itself would be neutral.” In Francis’ opinion, the Republicans have failed to tap into the sentiments of “Middle Americans” because of their focus on free-enterprise economics and support for globalist policies. He believed that while Buchanan may not have won the presidential campaigns in either 1992 or 1995, his relative success marked a victory in mobilizing forces that would only continue to build over time:

‘The importance of the Buchanan campaign lies not in its capacity to win the nomination or the national election but in its organization of those forces into a coherent political coalition. That coalition includes the remnants of the “Old Right,” as well as various single-issue constituencies (pro-lifers, anti-immigration activists, protectionists) to which Buchanan is one of the few voices to speak.”

For the most part, Francis explained, conventional conservative causes such as small government, low taxes, strong national defense and economic growth are “bourgeois” issues that belong to a different era. However, according to Francis, former Klansman David Duke’s defeat in the Louisiana gubernatorial election of 1991 marked a “turning point” in American history. After leaving the Klan, Duke formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), which he claimed was a civil rights organization designed to protect the identity and interests of Caucasian Americans. A former one-term Republican Louisiana State Representative, he was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1988 and the Republican presidential primaries in 1992. Duke’s chief accomplishment was to rebrand white supremacism and present a more polished image. “In Duke’s hands, racism takes on a people-loving, positive spin,” observed Village Voice correspondent Leslie Savan. “There’s nothing wrong with black people being proud of their heritage and their race,” Duke insisted, “There’s nothing wrong with white people being proud of theirs.”

In Francis’ opinion, Duke managed to “redefine the ideological pivots around which American politics revolve” by demonstrating the real issues were racial. But Duke’s surprising popularity was due to his rebranding of racist ideas in a less objectionable form, by opposing quotas for affirmative action, multiculturalism, civil rights legislation and unrestricted immigration. The underlying message that resonated with voters, according to Francis, is that “the historic racial and cultural core of American civilization is under attack.” Francis therefore defined “authentic” conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.”

From the book, Ordo ab Chao, Volume Six, Culture Wars

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