The American Conservative descends into the depths

I’ve seen many shockingly dishonest and vile things in the magazine known as The American Conservative, but the below passage may just about get the top prize. It’s from “1001 Stereotypes: ‘Benevolent’ imperialism sets up Arab strawmen,” by Neil Clark, December 1, 2003:

Arabophobia has been part of Western culture since the Crusades, with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden being bogeymen to scare our children. For centuries the Arab, despite beqeathing us the telescope, the pendulum, the watch, soap, chemistry, and modern arithemetic, has played the role of villain, seducer of our women, hustler, and thief—the barbarian lurking menacingly at the gates of civilization. In the late 20th century, new images emerged: the fanatical terrorist, the stone thrower, the suicide bomber. Now, as the Project for the New American Century suffers it first major setback in the back streets of Baghdad and Basra, Arabophobia, the one form of racism about which Hollywood does not make films, has been given a new lease of life…. Scratch a neocon, and you find an Arabophobe.

What we see here is the standard leftist device of portraying any rational concern on America’s part about enemies or foreigners as a mere projection of our own sick fantasies and prejudices. Thus Osama bin Laden, Moslem suicide bombers, and all the rest are merely “images” manufactured by “neocon Arabophobes” in the U.S. government in order to advance their own power. Beyond its immediate purpose of singling out the evil neocons as the manufacturers of these bogeymen, the main aim of the passage is to create nonjudgmental sympathy for our enemies and bitter hostility toward our own side. It is the kind of thing that a once-distinguished former writer at National Review, in a famous essay, described as alienism. And now this poisonous alienism is coming from a magazine edited by Patrick Buchanan and called, irony of ironies, The American Conservative.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 22, 2003 05:02 PM | Send


I have just read the quote posted by Mr. Auster, and I suspect that even with more time for analysis it would be hard to beat or even supplement his main points about the ability of fanatics to subsume reality to their pretenses about imagemaking. However, it may be worth pointing out some interesting sidelines here. The statement about Hollywood never criticizing “racism” against Arabs (where did I get the idea that Arabs were white?) is an out and out falsehood; e.g the highly touted movie of several years ago, “The Siege.” Moreover, some of the statements made by the writer in American Conservative suggest that he got his ideas from movies — maybe seeing Kevin Costner’s version of Robin Hood. That is the only source I can think of for the idea that medieval Arabs invented the telescope… Some of the other things mentioned, notably the “watch” (I think he meant mechanical clocks) and “Arabic numerals” were actually developed by Europeans or Indians.

Posted by: Alan Levine on December 22, 2003 5:57 PM

Thanks to Mr. Levine. It should be further pointed out that, even as America faces ongoing _imminent_ threats of domestic terrorism which are _solely_ possible because of our country’s non-judgmental openness to Moslems, the magazine known as “The American Conservative” is telling its readers that any concern on our part about Moslems and Arabs is a mere fantasy cooked up by power-seeking scaremongers, particularly “neocon Arabophobes.”

All of which leads to an unavoidable question: In any standoff between American national security and cultural preservation on one side, and Moslem/Arab ambitions and religious-ethnic pride on the other, IS THERE ANY DOUBT ABOUT WHICH SIDE “THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE” WOULD BE ON?

And the answer is no. So long as America remains identified in the Buchananites’ minds with a strong national defense, or with neoconservatives, or with Israel, the Buchananites will automatically side with the Moslems against America. Their record sadly leaves no doubt on this point.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of excuses the friends of TAC will come up with for its publication of this garbage.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 22, 2003 6:18 PM

The article you refer to is not representative of the overall caliber of writing in The American Conservative. As you indicate, this piece is quite leftist in style, and grossly oversimplifies & distorts the motivation of neoconservatives. Having read your early 90s booklet on multiculturalism & immigration, I am baffled at the animus you display towards TAC, and
your snide reference to P. Brimelow (who I believe coined the term “alienism”). Sure TAC has faults, but what other “conservative” publications are there worth reading? I gave up many years ago on NR, Commentary, TAS, and the Wall St. Journal. They all display a strongly Stalinist desire to marginalize & censor any conservative who deviates from the proposition nation myth. Moreover, they all seem to have degenerated into servile cheerleaders for the open borders Bush/Rove wing of the GOP.
Strange, but I expected you to be one of TAC’s bigger proponents. What’s the deal?

Posted by: Chris on December 22, 2003 6:28 PM

If Chris wants to know what motivates my criticism of TAC, which he calls animus, he should simply read my criticism, because it is self-explanatory. The things I am criticizing, and my reasons for criticizing them, could not be more clearly laid out. So I have no idea of why Chris should be baffled. Perhaps, like most modern liberals and many paleoconservatives as well, he assumes that any strong opposition to something must come from personal motives or a personal agenda, rather than from the objective qualities of the thing one is opposing.

Chris can also go to our search page (the link to it is on the main page), and type in “The American Conservative” (with the quotes), to see other things I’ve written about TAC. He should also see my article, “An Open Letter to Patrick Buchanan,”

I do not condemn TAC totally. Each issue will have at least one or two decent, worthwhile articles. And of course there is a need for conservative magazines. So I can understand people not wanting to see this magazine being attacked. Nevertheless, the sad, simple, brutal truth of the matter is that the central strand of TAC, week after week, consists of a politics of lies and resentment worthy of some anti-American leftist publication from the 1960s. If this upsets me, it’s because, as I’ve said over and over, it corrupts conservatism, renders it irrelevant and impotent, and leaves the field to the neocons, who, whatever you may say about them, are at least (most of the time) rational, intellectually competent people. One cannot say the same thing for many of the regular contributors to TAC.

I wonder how much Chris would be willing to swallow from a magazine, so long as it presented itself as a “conservative” magazine? How many articles like the one I discussed here would he be willing to accept in TAC, before he began to think that there was something wrong with this magazine? But as long as TAC’s readers continue to swallow it uncritically, there is no chance of its reforming itself. So its readers are complicit in its descent into the depths.

Finally, the expression “alienism” was coined by Joseph Sobran in an essay in the 30th anniversary issue of NR in 1986. I described Sobran as “once-distinguished” because in recent years he has lost himself in a consuming hatred of the state of Israel.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 22, 2003 7:01 PM

I almost hate to bring up the subject, but I can’t help but wonder about the root cause of such irrational statements coming from the Buchananite camp. There apperas to be an overwhelming obsession with the neocons, with the idea that they are these puppetmasters pulling the strings of the administration. It all begins to take on the odor of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Why aren’t the TAC writers blasting away at the Country Club Republicans, who are if anything even more guilty of betraying the traditonal America than the neocons - and far more powerful?

Posted by: Carl on December 22, 2003 7:25 PM

Is this the same article?,10551,1066825,00.html

Posted by: Thrasymachus on December 22, 2003 9:35 PM

I rather favor the passage. I am a great fan of both Patrick Buchanan and TAC. I am not persuaded by the notion that Arabs are “our enemies”. To my understanding, Arab hostility is directed at “jews and infidels”. I am neither jew nor infidel. Why raise my ire against Arabs?

Posted by: Brad Dunphy on December 22, 2003 10:32 PM

Brad Dunphy writes: “I am neither jew nor infidel”.

On the contrary, Mr. Dunphy; if you’re not a believer in Islam, you’re an “infidel”, and therefore a target. You may not even regard the most fanatical Wahabist as your enemy, but the point is, he sees you as his…until you submit.

Posted by: paul on December 22, 2003 10:37 PM

Thanks to Mr. Auster for enduring the articles in TAC. I don’t have the patience or the disposition to endure that stuff. I still like Pat Buchanan, but I detest and never read his awful magazine.

Pat is unfathomable. My most recent best guess is he is a conservative who is corrupted by the desire for the limelight, not that a career and success are evil. But Pat perhaps epitomizes the nation’s focus on career and rationalization. We work hard and think that other matters will take care of themselves. Pat has two television shows and a magazine. Most people could manage only one on those things. Pat speaks conservatively on the McLauglin Group but endures the garbage illustrated by Mr. Auster.

Pat is, like so many of us, a soldier who needs a leader to focus his power. The strident charges of anti-Semitism emerged mostly after Reagan left office, it seems. This might be due to Pat’s loss of Reagan as an intellectual anchor. Nowhere is there a prominent conservative except here on the Internet.

Posted by: P Murgos on December 22, 2003 11:26 PM

As usual, Mr. Auster, you are correct in your assessment. Something you are perhaps not aware of, however, is that there is an old (and I might add, very distasteful)Jewish bromide, “Scratch a Goy and you find an anti-Semite.” Hence, the “Scratch a neocon…” quote is nothing more than blaming the Jews for our current “problems” with the Moslem world.

Posted by: LSand on December 22, 2003 11:50 PM

Thanks to Lawrence Auster for this eye-opener — and to Thrasymachus for drawing attention to the same article in The Guardian. Now we know at least something which the ‘paleoconservative’ TAC and the left-liberal Guardian have in common: Arabophilia combined with the nudge-nudge insinuation that it’s chiefly the Jews who are to blame for the world’s misfortunes.

Almost enough to drive anyone back into the neoconservative fold.

Posted by: Charles Copeland on December 23, 2003 1:21 AM

It was fear of articles like that of Neil Clark were the reason that I feared TAC. Buchanan et all wish to resurrect the 1930’s anti-war right. They forget that the intellectual hollowness of that movement came crashing down on December 7th 1941. The ratification of the UN would not have occured had the creidbility of the nationalist right not been destroyed by the cowardice of the isolationist right 4 years earlier.

Posted by: Ron on December 23, 2003 1:37 AM

Thanks to Thrasymachus for finding the Guardian article. According to TAC, the Guardian article is an abridged version of the TAC article (even though the Guardian article was published first, which is odd).

Mr. Murgos writes:

“Pat is, like so many of us, a soldier who needs a leader to focus his power. The strident charges of anti-Semitism emerged mostly after Reagan left office, it seems. This might be due to Patís loss of Reagan as an intellectual anchor.”

This is a very insightful comment. As anyone who knows Buchanan knows, Buchanan is NOT a leader, and will sorely disappoint anyone who looks at him as such. He is a maverick who, as Mr. Murgos points out, needs a leader himself and the structure a leader provides, whether the leader is a Nixon or a Reagan or just the sense of a coherent Republican/conservative movement. It was around the time that Buchanan began looking at himself as a presidential candidate (first in 1988, then in 1992) that he began began making the statements about Jews and Israel that got him in trouble, though most of us (including myself) defended him over them, until (in my case) 2002, when he became an all-out enemy of Israel and rationalizer of terrorists.

I’d also like to point out that it appears that Scott McConnell does most of the editing of TAC and Buchanan mostly lends his name to it. That doesn’t relieve Buchanan of the responsibility for everything that is published there.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 23, 2003 7:42 AM

Carl writes about TAC:

“There appears to be an overwhelming obsession with the neocons, with the idea that they are these puppetmasters pulling the strings of the administration. It all begins to take on the odor of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ Why arenít the TAC writers blasting away at the Country Club Republicans, who are if anything even more guilty of betraying the traditonal America than the neocons - and far more powerful?”

I think the answer is very simple: the chief motivating impulse behind TAC is emotional anger and resentment at neoconservatives and Israel. That’s why the magazine lacks any positive vision.* That’s why it’s so weak on the defense of American nationhood. Both McConnell and Buchanan have in the past written strong things in defense of European America. I have not seen such writings at TAC. As far as anyone can tell, the editors of TAC now hate neocons and Israel more than they love America.

* For example, TAC lacks even the paleoconservative idea of constitutional, smaller central government, and revived liberty and particularism at the local level. And how could TAC have such a vision? McConnell and Buchanan have never been paleoconservatives or traditional, constitutional conservatives. McConnell was a liberal (and, he has said, a supporter of the Palestinians) who was drawn into the neocon camp when he worked for the NY Post. Buchanan was a Nixon/Reagan Republican and has never been a paleocon per se. Even as a presidential candidate the only lessening of the federal government he called for was to move the programs constituting the Education Department to other departments.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 23, 2003 9:10 AM

I would disagree with just one thing Mr. Murgos said. He wrote:

“Pat speaks conservatively on the McLauglin Group but endures the garbage illustrated by Mr. Auster.”

I would say that Buchanan doesn’t merely endure the garbage. He publishes it.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 23, 2003 2:16 PM

What gripes me is that even supposing the neoconservatives (read Jews) had all the sinister power and influence the TAC crowd ascribes to them, what’s really taking this country down is not military adventurism but massive third-world immigration, for which the fatcat Republican slave-labor lobby and narcissistic white-loathing “intellectual” culture are so much more to blame. So why the heck is TAC so obsessed with Paul Wolfowitz and his ilk except that it’s just so much darned fun to hate Jews? And when one sees (with horror) how utterly unhinged a writer like Joseph Sobran has become, he can only conclude that there is some powerful tidal pull at work here of which he is insensible and perhaps cannot even comprehend.

Posted by: Shrewsbury on December 23, 2003 3:04 PM

Of course, Sobran would reply to Shrewsbury by saying that there is nothing unhinged in what he says about Israel and Jews, that he is merely speaking the truth and is being punished for it. But that, of course, is what all bigots say. If we were to accept at face value what people say about themselves and their motivations, we would have to conclude that all people are equally truthful, logical, and reliable in their judgments. Since that is evidently not the case, it follows that a person’s insistence on his own good-faith devotion to truth cannot determine our evaluation of his good faith; we must look at the actual content of what he says and form our own conclusions.

We have learned in recent years that there really is such a thing as irrational resentment that can take over a person’ mind and direct all his thoughts, even as that person claims to have been martyred for speaking the “forbidden truth” to a lying corrupt establishment.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 23, 2003 3:31 PM

Let us note that the author in question here (Neil Clark) wrote a TAC cover story arguing for a Left-Right antiwar coalition back in March. The magazine describes his article thusly: “A British socialist exhorts his side to drop its hostility to antiwar conservatives.”

So the man really is simply a leftist. TAC’s error (a pitiful one) lies in giving voice to his leftist ravings.

Posted by: Paul Cella on December 23, 2003 4:11 PM

People who know Buchanan well insist that he is not a “genuine” or long-standing anti-Semite; in fact, it is strongly rumored that at one time he was an eager paid flack for the Israelis. Their estimation is that he was finally exasperated by the obdurate liberalism and leftism of so many American Jews. So he is animated by resentment of a sort that, while silly (especially when turned against Israelis defending themselves) cannot be entirely laughed off. My own estimate, taken from his writings, is a bit less favorable. It seems to me that the man is indeed a fossilized pre-1941 isolationist, who, as a loyal son of the Church, and doubtless for other reasons, put that away for the duration of the Cold War. Once that was over, he reverted to type. It is, however, curious that he cannot recognize the similarity between the nihilistic rantings he is printing now and the worst ravings of the anti-Vietnam crowd thirty five years ago.

Posted by: Alan J. Levine on December 23, 2003 4:42 PM

Mr. Levine’s explanation of Buchanan as a pre-1941 isolationist doesn’t explain his nihilism. As I said in my Open Letter to Patrick Buchanan at Front Page magazine in April 2002, there has to be something deeper at work here than a concern about keeping America out of destructive foreign entanglements, since such a concern, while it could explain a desire to remain uninvolved with Israel, could NOT explain Buchanan’s demonization of the Israelis when they’re defending themselves from murderous attacks.

My intuition (not knowledge) as to Buchanan and other anti-Israelites is as follows. At a certain point something “clicks” in their head, and they have a kind of epiphany about the nature of the world. The problem is, it’s a false epiphany. This false epiphany tells them that Israel/the Jews/the neocons are a PROBLEM, are indeed, the source of all our problems, and mean us no good. In the light of this false epiphany, the anti-Israelites cease looking at the world rationally and look at each event as an opportunity to expose and attack the Israeli/Jewish/neocon causation behind it.

Since this breakdown of rationality is so palpable, and since the people affected by it remain so blind to it, it can only be explained by the upswelling of some primal force. That force consists of a primal fear that a certain group (1) has it in for us and (2) has us in its power. Against such an enemy, anything is permitted.

This is not the way that most anti-Israelites explain it to themselves. What they say to themselves is, “I’m really p’od at the neocons/Israel.” If you probe them, they will admit this.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 23, 2003 5:12 PM

Mr. Auster has a point — I did not, directly explain Buchanan’s nihilism. Arguably, however, it is a result of a frantic attempt to cling to pre-World War II type isolationism. The latter is now so irrational that it requires reinventing the world, along with elaborate conspiracy theories, to maintain. I confess, however, that this does not fully explain why Buchanan so often says things that replicate the worst sort of anti-Vietnam extremism. Perhaps these tropes worked their way into his unconsciousness at some level even while his anti-Communism, temporarily triumphing over his isolationism, forced him to defend the war.

Posted by: Alan Levine on December 23, 2003 6:17 PM
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