Thomas Fleming, Nowhere Man

Somehow Thomas Fleming—whose paleoconservative magazine, Chronicles, was formative for me in the late 1980s but became intellectually useless and unbearably nasty in the ’90s—still exists and writes things and there are people who read him. He even has a discussion thread for readers at the Chronicles site where he posted the below remark, which a reader sent me. The one theme to be discerned in this and Fleming’s other writings is a poisonous, multi-directional resentment (though maybe it’s not all that multi) held together by a free-floating relativism in which all things are equally bad: anti-Semitism and opposition to anti-Semitism, Hitler and Israel, Islamic terrorists and America are all morally the same and not to be distinguished from each other. Fleming is yet another once talented conservative intellect whose hatreds, especially of contemporary America and of Israel, have led him into the rat-hole of nihilism. Indeed, the nihilism is required by his hatreds, since it is only through the denial of moral distinctions that he can make the hatreds seem ok.

Fleming writes:

Personally, I am tired of the whole pro-Jewish/anti-Jewish thing. It is as tedious as the Holocaust myth and the anti-holocaust myth. Millions of Jews died in German camps. It is hardly defense of the Nazis to say that many or most of them might have died of natural causes. The architects of the killing of Jews, Catholics, and Slavs were evil because what they did was evil. On the other hand, there is so much evil to deplore, I do not see why Nazi evil is more serious than Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist evil, just as I do not see why it is OK for Americans and Israelis to target civilians but not for Muslim terrorists. I think it might be useful to quit taking sides, with or against Hitler or Stalin or Israel, and to stand for something.

I love Fleming’s nihilistic conceit that only after one has given up the supposedly empty idea that there is a moral difference between Israel and Hitler, or between saying the Holocaust happened and saying it did not happen, can one really be for something. For Fleming, true valuation only begins after one has gotten rid of the idea of good and evil, and even of true and false.

* * *

A reader writes:

Yeah, if you are given 300 calories a day to eat and worked 16 hours a day and crowded in with poor sanitation, I guess you could call it death by natural causes, after all you weren’t actually gassed.

Mark P. writes:

I’m convinced that there really are no true nihilists. These are pseudo-nihilists who hold others’ beliefs as empty ideas while treating their own as substantive. This is the same trick that relativists pull. Everyone else’s ideas are relative but not their own.

Tom S. writes:

Of course, almost all of those who died in the Communist atrocities that Fleming so rightly condemns also died of “natural causes”—the GuLag and Laogai victims were worked to death, the victims of the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward starved to death, most of Castro’s victims died at sea fleeing his rule, etc. Does Fleming discount these deaths?

One of the abiding characteristics of the Paleos seems to be an inability to make meaningful (or even sane) moral distinctions. Lincoln used emergency powers in the middle of the worst war in our Nation’s history—so he is a “tyrant.” Sherman burned plantation houses—so he committed “genocide.” Churchill ordered the strategic bombing of German industrial cities—so he is “as bad as Hitler.” Israel accidentally bombs civilians while seeking to bomb terrorists—so it is guilty of “war crimes.”

Of course, as you pointed out a few years ago, Lincoln and Sherman’s real “crime” for the Paleos is that they saved the Union; Churchill’s real fault was in defeating Germany; and Israel’s real “crime” lies in its Jewishness…

LA writes:

What a world of difference there is between people who make arguments based on moral distinctions, and people who make arguments based on the denial of moral distinctions!

Bob Vandervoort writes:

Just finished reading your remarks about Fleming, and think they’re very apt. I especially like your description of his “multi-directional resentments.”

I’ve met Fleming once, and he strikes me as being an intellectual bully. And he’s a very strange intellectual bully. Instead of seeking to understand and be understood, he would rather badger and browbeat. And, as you detect, there never seems to be any consistency to his viewpoint.

As of late, Fleming has apparently become more religious as a Christian, or so he indicates in his writing. Yet the voice that comes through in his writing lacks a certain “joie de vivre” and love, which I tend to associate with being Christian. It’s just one long litany of bitter resentments and caustic remarks.

The other (and more unfortunate) problem with Fleming is that he has taken a once interesting magazine and movement and single-handedly managed to drive it into the ground. While blasting any and all he sees as being on his Left, he becomes fearful and timorous when it comes to any frank discussion of racial realities. I’m amazed he allowed Sam Francis to remain with the publication all those years. He certainly lacks Sam’s fearlessness in that regard. And while Sam had a gruff exterior, there was a great deal of kindness to him and a great deal of heart. You don’t see very much of that coming from Fleming.

Nowadays, especially with Francis gone, the magazine seems to becoming the monthly version of “Modern Age.” It is an occasionally interesting journal dealing with very esoteric topics once relevant to a bygone era of conservatism.

A reader writes:

[words missing] accede to the demands of Hezbollah. Why should Fleming give a damn for Israel? He also happens to be an anti-Islamic crusader, a position I reject, but no one should be such an idiot as to call him a nihilist.I’ve taken the magazine for twenty years and know exactly what he stands for. So do you, you just disagree. The moral difference between Israel and the surrounding Arabs is what is at issue and that is roughly the difference between Jacob and Esau. If you’re interested in the mythic dimensions of the Holocaust you’re sitting at the only place you’ll be able to do any useful investigation of those questions. I’ve not written before but your smears of Buchanan, Sobran and the rest are disgraceful. They believe our attachment to Israel is contrary to our long term interests in the region. You seem to think this belief is wicked and indicates some perversity of character. Fleshing out this incrdible belief you seem to think you’re engaged in rational criticism.

LA replies:

Nihilism is the denial of objective moral distinctions. Fleming and you say that there are no moral distinctions between Muslim terrorists and Israel, between Nazis and America, between those who deny the fact of the Holocaust, and those who don’t. Therefore you are nihilists.

On the question of Israel, there is a profound contradiction on your side that you need to face up to. On one hand you piously insist that all you believe is that our support for Israel is not in our interests. Now that could be a reasonably argued position. I would disagree with it, but I wouldn’t call it nihilistic or anti-Israel. But you guys never stay consistently with that reasonable position. Instead, you always end up demonizing Israel, actively seeking its destruction (like Buchanan calling for the one-state solution), or (like Fleming) saying there’s no moral difference between Israel and terrorists. Instead of you guys consistently arguing that support for Israel is not in our interests, you always flip over into attacking Israel’s right to exist and equating Israel with terrorists and Nazis. So your supposed position—that you’re not anti-Israel, but that you simply think support for Israel is not in our interests—is as fake and phony as a three dollar bill.

The reader writes back:

I won’t speak for Fleming but I didn’t say anything if the kind. I’m sure there are decent Israelis and decent Arabs. I know, too, that there are many disgusting Israelis and lunatic Arabs. The Arabs in Gaza and Lebanon have been treated badly by Israel and I admire the courage of those who will take the fight to the Israelis. I don’t expect Israel to be there 100 years from now but the Arabs, I expect they will. So my sympathies are with the Arabs. But I don’t think it is in American interests to remain involved closely in the conflict. There is, after all, no obvious solution to it. If an Arab or an Israeli had exactly my opinion it might be fair to call him a nihilist. But, you see, I hail from Michigan and would call myself a realist.

LA writes:

Thanks for being honest. Your position has nothing to do with the supposedly reasonable position of “not thinking it is in our interests to support Israel.” Your position is that you support and sympathize with the Arabs against Israel, and in particular you “admire the courage of those who will take the fight to the Israelis,” i.e. , you support terrorists.

Thanks again for coming clean. If more people on your side did the same, instead of feeding us the pious lying bull about, “I’m not against Israel, I just think supporting Israel is not in our interests,” we could all save a lot of energy. You’re anti-Israel, and pro-terrorist. End of story.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 05, 2006 08:19 PM | Send

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