Against The Neoconservatives: Paul Gottfried’s WAR AND DEMOCRACY

Longtime fans of Paul Gottfried, the distinguished political theorist who recently retired as Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown College, know that much of his best work is found in the periodical press (including VDARE.com). So it may surprise that Arktos’s new collection of his occasional essays and reviews, War and Democracy: Selected Essays 1975-2012, is the first ever published.

Included are appreciations of significant figures important in Gottfried’s own thinking: Oswald Spengler, Herbert Marcuse, George F. Kennan, Theodor Adorno, Joe Sobran, and Gottfried’s own father, born in the Hapsburg Empire in 1911. There are reflections on ethnic masochism, especially in its postwar German form, as well as the semantic dérapage undergone by terms such as fascism, liberalism, conservatism and democracy.

Of course, there is no lack of abrasive commentary on the fanatical Wilsonian will-to-power, disguised as morality, which now rages under the name of neoconservatism.

A small but telling example of Gottfried’s acumen: his explanation of why mainstream conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg call everyone and everything they don’t like “fascist:”

1)      It allows self-styled conservatives to have some fun by applying to the other side a pejorative term that the Left has had a monopoly on.

2)      Historically, critics such as John T. Flynn had interpreted Roosevelt’s New Deal as the American equivalent of the Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s National Socialism (an analysis Dr. Gottfried considers flawed).

3)      The “fascist” label is a thinly disguised reductio ad Hitlerum.

4)      Most importantly (in Dr. Gottfried’s view) because the neoconservatives who have taken over Conservatism, Inc., are in fact unreconstructed leftists to whom the identification of everything evil with “fascism” comes naturally.

Needless to say, the average Conservatism Inc. columnist would be satisfied with any one of these explanations. Gottfried’s care in distinguishing four is just one small example of why your time is better spent reading him than them.

Thanks to the neoconservatives, Gottfried argues, millions of Americans now believe that the very essence of conservatism lies in “defending wars that our government involves us in.” Such wars, we are assured, are our only guarantee of peace. For America is a democracy, and, as Gottfried summarizes,  only democracies, according to every neoconservative scribbler on the planet, can be peaceful; indeed, non-democratic governments are compulsively mischievous and will, unless brought to see the light, unleash war on the bearers of democratic virtue.

Democracies are thus morally obligated to wage what neocon theorist Max Boot calls “wars of peace” until the entire world is democratic.

But as Gottfried points out, “the notion that all countries must be brought—willingly or kicking and screaming—into the democratic fold is an invitation to belligerence.” Gottfried rightly likens this armed doctrine to the old Communist claim to be pursuing peace through universal communist revolution. (He might also have mentioned the Religion of Peace’s jihad to end conflict by forcibly subjecting the entire world to sharia).

Neoconservative advocates, says Gottfried, “construct a Manichean scheme running throughout human history, at least as far back as the ancient Athenians, in which the democratic and anti-democratic sides are always pitted against each other.”

These authors, notes Gottfried, avoid actually defining democracy, preferring instead to apply the label to whatever countries they like and withhold it from those they don’t like. Only willful bias combined with ignorance of history can explain, e.g., why the Britain which entered the First World War (House of Lords, restricted suffrage) was “democratic” while Germany (universal manhood suffrage since 1870) was not.

The American reader should not pass over lightly the author’s remarks on the PC distortions to which the history of Germany has been subjected—let him bear in mind the Horatian warning mutato nomine de te fabula narratur: change the name and the tale is about you.

As Gottfried recounts, the teaching of German history in America has been dominated since the Nazi era by refugees inclined to reduce all previous German history to a prologue to Hitler. For such writers, he says, “the study of German history has but two overriding purposes: to be an object lesson to foreigners and to serve as a means of contrition for Germans.”

“For example,” Gottfried recalls,

those German history surveys assigned to my generation in college—with their interminable references to national failures, lost turning points, and squandered revolutions—resembled prosy religious allegories of the sinner’s descent into a self-incurred perdition.

Although in the early Nineteenth Century “Southern and Southwestern Germany had more liberal constitutions than did any other part of Europe”, today even in Germany itself “all pre-1945 German states are treated in the same way that our media depict the Confederacy.”

Such distortions and one-sidedness characterize even the history of the Second World War itself. While about 21,000 Britons died in the German bombing of the UK, something like 650,000 German civilians died in the American and (especially) British bombing of Germany. Gottfried writes:

Although the historical sections of German cities and villages had little if any military value, their stone and wood structures were easily destroyed, thereby creating the indiscriminate devastation that the firebombing was supposed to create…. Most of this went on in the final year of the war, when German cities were relatively defenseless and the British side had abandoned the argument that it was destroying weapons and war material in favor of the idea that it was waging a “moral struggle.”

(One wonders how an immoral struggle would have been conducted.)

Today, elderly Germans who relate the story of these wartime horrors come under suspicion (by Christopher Hitchens) of anti-Semitism. [See his The Wartime Toll on Germany, Atlantic Magazie, ] January/February 2003]

Germany’s bad old days are said to have ended in 1945, when the victors carried out “de-Nazification” with the help of Frankfurt school Marxists. Since then, we are assured, German history has been a triumph of liberty—even as, Gottfried notes, “German jails are full of politically insensitive authors,” and ordinary Germans enjoy fewer freedoms than did their great-grandparents in the age of Kaiser Wilhelm.

And, of course, the new Germany is the very model of “democracy”—although politicians there ignore with even greater impunity than here their subjects’ concerns about being replaced by immigrants.

Americans can look forward to our history receiving the same treatment as our old enemy, Germany, after the founding stock ceases to form a majority of the nation.

Most of the Gottfried’s material thus bears on “the National Question” in some way, although his views on immigration are not directly discussed here. Just one of the essays included comes from VDARE.com (12 November 2003): For Zionists, Time to Choose, i.e., between accepting ethno-nationalism in others as normal or else abjuring their own.

Nine years later, they still haven’t chosen.

Hitler must be laughing somewhere.

F. Roger Devlin [Email him] is a contributing editor for The Occidental Quarterly and the author of Alexandre Kojeve and the Outcome of Modern Thought.