In Defense of Buchanan and Rockwell (by John Carney)

(The below entry was authored by John Carney on September 26, 2002, when he had posting privileges at VFR during its first year. Around 2009, during some VFR housecleaning, I removed the Mr. Carney’s long unused status as a VFR author and to my distress this also had the effect of removing his 2002 article. However, today, November 18, 2011, I accidentally discovered that the editing page of the Carney article still exists at VFR. So I’ve copied the text and reposted it, keeping its original date, and am linking to this new entry from my own September 2002 entry in which I replied to Mr. Carney.)

I’ve been biting my tongue when it comes to Lawrence Auster’s war against the Buchananites and denizens of Lew Rockwell’s website. A good street fight now and again is a good thing, and Mr. Auster is well within his rights to challenge those whose political ideas he finds stupid, silly, obnoxious or evil. What’s more, Buchanan, Rockwell and their respective fellow-travelers are perfectly capable of defending themselves.

There is a certain point, however, where a political position starts to resemble a party platform. I’m afraid Mr. Auster’s interest in the Buchananites and Rockwell’s denizens has started to take on the appearance of a VFR platform. Because I didn’t sign onto View From the Right in order to wage a campaign against Buchanan or Rockwell, I find myself reluctantly needing to make clear where I think Mr. Auster has gone wrong.

Mr. Auster’s latest post refers readers to a website sporting an entry he refers to as “Lew Rockwell and the Annoying Paleocons.” This caught my attention because I wrote one of the few articles that Mr. Rockwell felt necessary identify as making a particularly paleoconservative argument (presumably to distinguish it from the more standard paleolibertarian articles that run on the site). In point of fact the Punch the Bag entry’s title does not refer to “paleocons”—it refers to “paleos” in general, that is both paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians.

This distinction may have gotten lost by innocent error. Regular readers of VFR will know that I’ve been known to misspell names and even common words, transpose references, and bungle links. But I suspect that it was something more. Although he acknowledges that Buchananites are not “hate mongers” (he reserves that attack for the Rockwell denizens), in his writing he blends the two together as perpetrators of an “intellectually debasing technique.”

Punch the Bag is an ugly website that traffics in mind-numbing and uneducated smears. Take this line: “These romanticists of the Old South will say silly things like ‘an estimated 65,000 African Americans assisted the Confederacy cause.’ Oh really? So 65,000 slaves “assisted” the southern rebels. Uh, ok.” Almost every clause of this statement is a lie. I couldn’t locate anything on Lew Rockwell’s website that claims that 65,000 slaves assisted the Confederacy. In fact, the one reference I did locate was an article approvingly quoting a professor who claimed “that there was no documentation about specific numbers of blacks fighting for the Confederacy.” What’s worse, Punch the Bag dismisses out of hand the claim that any African Americans assisted the Confederacy. It is, however, well documented that African Americans did assist the Confederate armies, and there are substantial reasons to believe that some even bore arms for the Confederacy. Mr. Auster’s resort to Punch the Bag while criticizing the “intellectually debasing technique” of his opponents is ironic, to say the least.

Beyond the details of this dispute, I simply do not see why we need to excommunicate anyone for their position on the issues involved in the Civil War. To begin with, the idea that Lincoln worked mischief on our Republic has a long and prestigious heritage on the American right. Are we to condemn posthumously Willmoore Kendall, Mel Bradford and Russell Kirk for challenging the predominate views of Lincoln, the role of equality in our founding or the Civil War? And it seems particularly unfair to blend complaints against those who “hate Lincoln” with complaints against Buchanan, who has often written approvingly about Lincoln.

And then we have Mr. Auster’s repeated insistence that there is something loathsome in Pat Buchanan’s reference to the “War Party.” Mr. Auster insists that Buchanan engages in “demagogic characterizations designed to create dislike and resentment of the named enemy” and that this “incantatory repetition” serves as an “all-purpose substitute for critical thought.” Unfortunately, Mr. Auster never bothers to confront the proposition that there is indeed active in our country’s politics a War Party, a more or less allied faction whose members can be counted on to support (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) almost any war under serious consideration. The phrase “War Party” is simply a short-hand for this faction, and is no more a “demagogic characterization” than the various other political labels which we commonly utilize in talk about politics. I find it difficult to understand why Mr. Auster is outraged by references to the War Party.

Now nearly six months after the event, I still cannot make sense of the cause of Mr. Auster’s break with the Buchananites over Buchanan referring to Sharon as “the raging bull of Ramallah.” It’s perfectly understandable to disagree with Buchanan over the proper U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, or over where the scales of justice balance out in the conflict between the two, but Mr. Auster goes further. He accuses Buchanan of portraying Sharon as an “animalistic aggressor” and a “freelance killer.” I realize that in our era of heightened sensitivity it is always risky to engage in even commonplace animal analogies. But isn’t Buchanan’s phrase merely a colorful play on the concept of a “bull in a china shop” rather than an attempt to dehumanize Sharon? And don’t we often use heads of state as synecdoches for their people? Mr. Auster has misread Buchanan. This is not ad hominem argument, it is engaging writing.

There is a lot about the world that Mr. Auster sees more clearly than almost anyone writing today. His writing is courageous and reading The Path to National Suicide is vital to understanding our current dilemma. But his powers of perception have gone astray when it comes to the Buchananites and the denizens of If he is marching against Buchanan and Rockwell, he goes a marching without me.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 26, 2002 06:01 PM | Send

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