The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Is the Left Breaking Apart?

Posted on | June 4, 2023 | Comments Off on Is the Left Breaking Apart?

Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution

Before getting into the issue addressed by the headline, would you mind if I tell you a bit of a personal story? Because I was a witness to the birth of the so-called “Alt-Right” circa 2007, and was directly acquainted with many of the personalities involved. When I had first come to Washington, D.C., a decade earlier, I was very much aligned more with the paleoconservatives than with the neocons, owing to the way I’d entered the conservative movement while working as a journalist in north Georgia. I joined the staff of The Washington Times, in the fall of 1997, about two years after the paleocon intellectual Sam Francis had been fired from the paper’s editorial page in what was widely perceived as a purge instigated by the neocons. Whether that perception is accurate is something of a question; Pruden fired Francis for insubordination, not ideological heterodoxy, and Pruden himself was about as “far right” as anyone might wish. Nevertheless, the firing of Francis reminded many observers of prior conflicts in the longstanding paleocon/neocon split, including the Mel Bradford/NEH controversy of 1981.

After his firing from the Times, Sam became an “unperson” as far as the paper was concerned, but I regularly saw him at various events that I covered around D.C., including the biennial American Renaissance (AR) conferences. Once, when some liberal writer sought to “expose” me as a racist, one of the accusations was that I was the only journalist to have covered four consecutive AR conferences (1998-2004), to which my reply might have been, “So? What’s your point?” Plenty of liberals also covered those conferences, and the only difference is that my coverage didn’t use the alarmist “OMG! RAAAAACISTS!” tone that characterized liberal journalists’ coverage. Jared Taylor was demonized for giving people a forum to discuss Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About, and if some of those involved in these discussions held opinions that would frighten most people — well, it comes with the terrority.

My idea generally is that all the really interesting action in politics occurs on the fringe, which is where radical ideas begin before making their way into the mainstream, and this is true on both left and right. If you study Hunter S. Thompson’s career, for example, he never gave a damn about the Tweedleedee-vs.-Tweedledum arguments in D.C. that consume so much of the journalistic oxygen in America. No, Thompson was always poking around the fringes — biker gangs in Oakland, Chicano radicalism in L.A., drug culture and then a no-chance antiwar candidate named George McGovern in the 1972 Democratic presidential primaries.

At any rate, to cut to the chase, by 2007 I had made the acquaintance of Marcus Epstein, who was putting together a panel discussion about the Duke lacrosse team rape hoax, and I was invited to speak about the topic in terms of media bias in the coverage of the controversy. Presenting the campus perspective on the controversy was a Duke graduate student named Richard Spencer, who became the notorious poster boy of the “alt right” about 10 years later. Another “alt right” activist I got to know about the same time was a campus organizer for the Leadership Institute named Kevin DeAnna. Think about what was happening in 2007.

The war in Iraq was becoming a catastrophe (just as many palecons had predicted it would be), and the sentiment on college campuses was very much anti-Bush and antiwar. These young men in their 20s didn’t want to shoulder the obligation of defending Bush’s unpopular policies, with which they disagreed, and were sick and tired of the whole post-9/11 Global War on Terror mindset. Democrats had just taken back Congress in the 2006 midterms, and meanwhile the GOP establishment was lining up behind Sen. John McCain as their chosen standard-bearer for the 2008 presidential election. What would later become the “alt right” was, at that time, organizing to back Sen. Ron Paul’s Republican primary campaign, and I distinctly remember the night in late 2007 when I accompanied an intern to cover a Ron Paul event in Arlington. Looking around the crowd in that packed room, I not only recognized many of my libertarian friends — whom I knew from attending Reason magazine happy hour parties — but also quite a few faces I recognized from covering American Renaissance conferences. There was a strange convergence going on, and you could arguably trace a direct line from that Ron Paul event in late 2007 to the rise of Trump eight years later.

All of this I relate in order to demonstrate my direct familiarity with how coalitions fracture and reconstitute themselves in our two-party system, as preamble to dicussing this headline:

Please Just F–king Tell Me What Term
I Am Allowed to Use for the Sweeping
Social and Political Changes You Demand

That’s the liberal writer Freddie deBoer (hat-tip: Instapundit) complaining that his fellow liberals won’t allow him to name the problem he’s talking about, whether it’s called “woke” or “identity politics” or “political correctness” or “critical race theory.” His comrades insist that any name for this “social justice” obsession must be some kind of racist “dogwhistle,” and Freddie seems to be reaching the end of his rope.

This is the third time I’ve called attention to Freddie’s complaints (see “It’s Almost as If Freddie deBoer Never Read ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’,” March 3, and “Freddie deBoer, ‘Elite Overproduction’ and the Inevitability of Competition,” March 12). Although he is a socialist, more or less, Freddie doesn’t like being told what to think, or told what he’s allowed to say, and he is thus running head-on into a familiar problem, i.e., the totalitarian tendency implicit in socialism.

This is exactly what Hayek was addressing in The Road to Serfdom and, in another way, what Eric Hoffer was talking about in The True Believer. Economic liberty cannot be separated from other types of liberty, including freedom of speech, so that advocates of a government-controlled economy must eventually demand government control of everything (to summarize briefly one of Hayek’s major points). And radical causes, which Hoffer called “mass movements,” always attract certain personality types, who bring with them characteristic problems, including the intellectual bullying and demand for conformity about which deBoer is now complaining. Sic semper hoc.

Is it possible that Freddie’s discontents might lead him to abandon the Left altogether? Well, he wouldn’t be the first to follow such a path. Lots of those who were Communists in the 1930s became anti-Communists in the 1940s, notable among them Whittaker Chambers. The conservative movement has recently benefited from the departure of the #NeverTrump crowd — is anyone on the right saddened by the exit of, e.g., Rick Wilson? — and if Freddie deBoer is sick and tired of being bossed around by intellectual midgets like Adam Serwer, certainly I’d be happy to extend him an invitation to switch his allegiances. A fed-up ex-lefty would be as welcome an addition as the departure of the #NeverTrump crew was a welcome subtraction to the movement.

You can call me “The Paleocon Whisperer.” Back around the time I was consorting with Richard Spencer and Kevin DeAnna, I received an email from a graduate student in political philosophy who applauded my success in defying the SPLC Thought Police. “Say nothing to anyone about this,” I wrote in reply. “Keep your opinions to yourself. Stay under the radar. Don’t wreck your career by being too obvious.”

There are stealth paleocons out there, you see. The young man who enthusiastically emailed me some 15 years ago is now an eminently respectable person, associated with a prestigious organization which of course I won’t name, but trust me when I say that not every “alt right” person is known as such. Screw the SPLC. Deo Vindice.




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