WASHINGTON, May 21, 2015 — Memorial Day is a national holiday, a day to remember the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans, both living and dead. Some World War II veterans are still alive. They will soon be gone. Many of us remember when there were men living who fought in the First World War. Indeed, when I was a small boy, the last veteran of the War Between the States passed away.
Memorial Day is a time set aside for reflection and for commemoration; more than that, it should be a time to think about those men and women who served this country, about what exactly they fought for, and and about what they believed they were defending.
Much has changed since 1945. Some historians call the 1950s a time of national “consensus,” when most Americans supposedly agreed on basic national propositions. Democrats, Republicans, Catholics, Protestants — Americans then, we are told, generally accepted common principles of statecraft, morality, even religion. Then came the 1960s, Vietnam, JFK and his assassination, “The Great Society,” Watergate, and the “civil rights revolution.”
What the ’60s revealed, we see now, was that much of the vaunted harmony and unity of the previous decade, much of the single-minded patriotism and resolve of the world war period, was illusory.
The history of that period is fascinating and instructive. My interest has been centered on the development of the opposition to what became a dominant leftward movement in our culture and politics. Even in high school I was aware of my regional Southern and Tar Heel traditions. I was fortunate in my small school to have had some excellent, dedicated teachers who inspired me to study history and become a competent writer and speaker. I was fortunate to have educated parents who valued family and familial inheritance. Many young men in my generation in North Carolina had the same inherited legacy and received a similar upbringing. At that time, what we received — what Edmund Burke called “the unbought grace of life” — was not uncommon, as it sadly is today.
In my sophomore year in high school, I subscribed to the “old” National Review, then the premiere conservative journal in America. In college I encountered a superb history professor who had known the towering intellectual founder of post-war traditional Conservatism, Dr. Russell Kirk. Later, after completing an MA in history at the University of Virginia, and before heading off to Spain to complete my doctorate, I had the unique opportunity to spend a year as Kirk’s assistant. That experience changed my life.
Coming back to the States in 1980, I threw myself into politics. Those were the Reagan years, the years when Senators Jesse Helms and John East and others mounted an offensive against the advancing — and now largely victorious — leftist ideology and corruption of our political culture. I believed that if we could just defeat our enemies politically, we would probably win the looming “culture war” as well. But by 1991, I concluded that my hope was terribly flawed.
By 1991, not only had the former Republican establishment re-asserted its control over what we once thought would be the vehicle of national recovery — they had never gone away, just appropriated the title “conservative,” so that now every Republican is a “conservative”! — but the older conservative movement of the early 1960s had been hijacked by men who called themselves “neo-conservatives.”
Refugees from the Democratic Party, many of whom who had supported Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, or Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the neo-cons were intelligent, largely — not exclusively — Jewish, facile and prolific writers, and well-connected financially. They brought with them a quasi-religious belief in human progress — Russell Kirk would call it their “belief in human perfectibility” — universal democracy, and what proponent Allan Bloom called the need to “impose” equality across the face of the globe.
The older, “America First,” states’ rights, anti-egalitarian conservatism of Russell Kirk and the pre-1987 National Review was quickly side-lined. Brilliant Southern conservatives like Mel Bradford (called a “racist” and attacking Lincoln), former National Review editor Joe Sobran (called anti-semitic for criticizing Israel), and non-conforming intellectual historians like Paul Gottfried (brilliant critic of neo-conservatism) were banned, kicked off boards, denied positions in major universities.
That was just the tip of the onrushing iceberg. It has continued until this day, with any conservative deviating from the neo-conservative benchmarks being, silenced, ejected from “accepted” conservative circles, and removed from positions of authority in conservative institutes and publications.
Whether on Fox, in the pages of The Weekly Standard or National Review, at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, or through Republicans like Karl Rove, the Bushes, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “conservatives” are told what they should think and how they should say it.
“Old conservatives” like Patrick Buchanan are barely tolerated. A Peter Brimelow, a Jared Taylor, and a Paul Gottfried are treated as non-persons, their intellectual work ignored or caricatured as “racist,” “bigoted,” and “hate mongering.” The kind of conservative censorship that now exists in the United States is analogous to the intellectual suppression that flourishes in many European countries. Its genesis owes more to the Trotskyite roots of neo-conservatism than to principles of Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk.
The triumph of neo-conservatism on the American “right” and its incestuous alliance with the GOP have had dire affects on the formation of meaningful opposition to the neo-Marxist, multiculturalist assault on an older America. As Buchanan said, “The conservative retreat has become a conservative rout”; those who have assumed the leadership of the party that claims to defend our views, our traditions, and our heritage seems to be working in tandem with those who seek to destroy what is left of those traditions and heritage.
Much of what occurs today in the ranks of “movement conservatism” is a debate on arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems like we are attempting to hold back a tsunami, which brings with it immorality (and amorality), a vicious secularism, the destruction of our historic rights, and the triumph of a culture that is inimical to all we love and believe.
On “our side,” the neo-con and national GOP leadership would rather attack Rand Paul, Mike Lee and the Tea Party, not just over strategy, but over whether it is even important to oppose openly what our enemies push forward. Many of those who claim to be opposed to what is happening have implicitly accepted the template, the ground rules, and the philosophical postulates that have been put forward over the past half century by the neo-Marxist Left, by the news media, and by our entertainment industry.
Consider our language, the means of expressing our very thoughts and beliefs. There has been a marked decline in verbal and written precision. Most writers, online and in print, can no longer express or even convey clear ideas to their intended audiences. This dumbing-down seems intentional on the part of our governing and educational classes; it has a powerful role in homogenizing thought and blurring needed clarity.
Conservative leadership has bought into this immense, neo-Marxist cultural project of re-defining words and phrases to shade meaning, shaping them to mean something undreamed of by our ancestors. Consider terms like “civil rights,” “racist,” “equality,” “gay,” “freedom,” etc. It is not just a question of verbal or written fluidity or the normal evolution of language. It is more profound, and can be traced back to the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and his ideas on “cultural hegemony.” We can follow it from him to the members of the Frankfort School theorists, who left Germany in the early 1930s and moved to Columbia, then on to other U.S. universities.
Beginning in the 1940s and the “war against Fascism” — which became a “devil” term to denote any “rightist” grouping that the Left didn’t like — a total transformation of language has taken place in the U.S. and in Europe. This “re-valuation” did not occur all of a sudden; it took 60 or 70 years to reach the situation in which we find ourselves today. But its supporters and advocates have never deviated from their goal: Change the language, change the thought processes.
An old Catholic statement summarizes the importance of the liturgy: “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” “As you pray, so shall you believe.” It works just as well in secular life through language: Change the language, change the thought processes, and change finally what is actually accepted as foundational. You eventually come to think that those revolutionary postulates are conservative.
Just look at today’s neo-conservative writers and talking heads, and many leaders of the national Republican Party: They harp continually on “spreading [imposing] democracy around the world,” “bringing equality to the rest of humanity,” “celebrating the civil rights message of Martin Luther King Jr.,” and “championing the rights of women and minorities.” They promise a somewhat different perspective than the extremes on the neo-Marxist Left.
But as the surrender of large portions of the Republican establishment on gay rights and same sex marriage clearly illustrates, their underlying template differs only in shades of gray from that of their supposed enemies. It’s as if they are saying, “We believe in equality, too, but we can do it smarter and better.” The problem is that once you accept the original template — the underlying framework — you’ve already lost the war, even if you succeed by defensive actions in delaying the result for a few years. Think about the lasting results of the Reagan presidency, or even more disastrously for the defense of what Dr. Kirk called “the permanent things,” the Bush interludes.
Social, cultural and psychological conditioning, especially since the end of World War II, shouts in every sphere of our lives, “pas d’enemi a gauche.” “There is no enemy on the Left.” Psychologically, our culture has bought completely into a belief in the dynamic of ongoing, illimitable and onrushing progress. This dynamic has engendered a “gestalt” or settled template in which progressive, neo-Marxist “thought-clusters” have replaced older and more traditional (and more Christian) attitudes and outlooks on society and culture.
“Equality,” “democracy,” “civil rights,” and other talismanic terms now dominate, and under each of these we find dozens of variations, interpreted by our neo-Marxist elites in government, in entertainment, in media, and especially in education. New limitations, constantly advanced by the left, are repeatedly imposed. Not to accept these rules is to be subject to the destruction of your reputation and livelihood. And the neo-con elites generally follow along, even if they express occasional discomfort at the eventual outcomes.
The “subversive” actions of a Senator Mike Lee, Representatives Walter Jones and Justin Amash, and the populist reaction of many Tea Partiers cannot be tolerated by the establishment, whether neo-conservative or GOP.
The basic issues are two: First, there will be no way to mount a meaningful and profound opposition to what is happening to our society until we reject the dominant template that perverts our language, our thinking, and our action. Second, the current neo-con and GOP establishments are incapable of mounting or directing any kind of real opposition, as they share the fundamental philosophical propositions of the multiculturalist left.
This analysis is sobering, and even discouraging. The triumph of Revolution in the U.S. and in Europe took nearly a century to accomplish. Its epigones understood fully well that they had to prevent counter-revolution, and so their “long march” through our social, educational, and religious institutions was accomplished skillfully and with attention to potential blow back and popular reaction. In this they have been hugely successful.
Increasingly, it seems that only a terrible economic collapse or severe political breakdown could create conditions where even the possibility of recovery exists. Too many Americans have been dumbed-down or made dependent on the national government. Too many of us are so badly educated and so immersed in Hollywood and media defecation, that it probably would take live cattle prods — or the economic equivalent — to force us to react against the decay that surrounds us.
Nevertheless, those of us who remain on the field of combat must continue to show the flag and do what we can, each in his own sphere, using the God-given talents granted to us. The conflict will worsen, the persecution increase, the insanity become at times overwhelming. Many will fall by the wayside or make “peace” with the enemy. That doesn’t lesson our obligations. It took the Left nearly a century to succeed in changing the template. Now, we must begin the difficult task of changing it again. Let our reflections on the sacrifice and devotion of our fathers and grandfathers this Memorial Day give us courage and hope.