Rich Lowry—A Goldberg Variation

With what purports to be historical erudition, National Review editor Richard Lowry (NRO April 9) jerry-builds a "telling historical analogy," between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Spanish Civil War. Although "imperfect," this analogy is nonetheless described as "telling," and Lowry rushes to talk about those who have already made it, namely, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman . Such authorities are to be accorded the same credence as scholars in modern European history: after all, they are people who may be taking Lowry to lunch.

In the current Palestinian-Israeli struggle and in Spain during the 1930s, Lowry says, "both sides are armed by rival powers." And 

"as in the Spanish Civil War, the argument over this [Middle Eastern] conflict mirrors the larger argument to come. Is terrorism and Islamic extremism to be negotiated with and accepted like other political phenomenon or should it be shunned and necessarily fought?"

Lowry does manage to make one observation with which I concur: that the Palestinians, like the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, have been "portrayed as the virtuous David staring down a brutal Goliath." As Lowry says, this judgment in the case of the Spanish situation overlooked the "ruthless political ideology and cynical violence" associated with the eventually Soviet-controlled Republican side.

But inexplicably Lowry insists that this knowledge about the leftist side in Spain "took decades" to surface and has only recently been treated in published form. In fact, of course, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia presented the anti-Stalinist brief while the Spanish Civil War was still raging. Orwell had fought for, and barely escaped with his life from, a unit aligned with extreme but non-Stalinist Left. As early as 1961, a longtime Hoover Institute researcher, Burnett Bolloten, published an exhaustively-documented tome The Grand Camouflage, which recapitulated the arguments definitively. Subsequently works aplenty, e.g., Hugh Thomas's popular history of the war and Paul Johnson's Modern Times, had pushed the same point so often that one would have to be cognitively challenged not to pick it up. The wholesale killing of Trotskyists and Anarchists by their leftist allies has been publicized for over sixty years.

What is really curious, however, is that Lowry then reverses his "telling historical analogy." He quotes NR Senior Editor David Pryce-Jones claiming that "the Fascist victory meant…that there was no chance to stop Hitler in his tracks." Lowry says this means that  

"…if the U.S. bends to the Palestinian/Iranian/Iraqi forces, it seems that there will be little chance to begin to roll them back in earnest with an invasion of Iraq."

Never in my life have I read anything quite so muddled, even while meditating on columns by Jonah Goldberg. It crosses my mind that Lowry does not actually know which side was which in the Spanish Civil War, or that maybe he thinks that the "Fascists" and the Communists were the same thing (both foreign, nasty, from the mists of the prehistoric past etc.), neither of which would surprise me, given my excruciating experiences as a college teacher.

What is really significant here, however, is the further evidence of the collapse of all institutional memory at National Review. The old American Right was sympathetic to Franco--because he was anti-communist and because he defended the Roman Catholic Church (once an interest of National Review's) against the leftwing murderers of priests and nuns.

And the Right, of course, was right. There was no "fascist" outcome because of Franco's victory. The wily authoritarian general, as shown by Stanley Payne and Arnaud Imatz, jailed even the anti-German Latin Fascist followers of the Spanish Phalange, the closest parallel to Mussolini's Fascists in Spain. He pointedly refused to lend bases to Nazi Germany after the fall of France, though he did opportunistically provide this service to the British toward the end of World War II. Judging by his remarks, Franco despised Nazi ideology. He did what he could to repatriate Sephardic Jews (from whom he himself was probably descended) in the path of the Nazi SS.

In any case, Middle Eastern conflict is definitely not a civil war. And there is no international terrorist Axis. Palestinians, as even William F. Buckley has pointed out in a rare moment of lucidity (has he checked with his editor?), are not Afghan terrorists or part of an Iraqi invasion. They may be deranged and violent but they also have legitimate grievances, which will have to be addressed sooner or later, for the peace and stability of the region.

The fascinating thing about Lowry's "telling historical analogy," however, is not that it's confused or plain wrong. What is served up is a leftist analogy. It might have come from The New Republic or The Nation, which always favored the Spanish Republicans, but hardly from the self-proclaimed "America's Conservative Magazine." It completes a process of lobotomization that quickly became evident soon after Lowry replaced the deposed John O'Sullivan as editor in 1998 and Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley's revealing investigation Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s was accused of McCarthyism in NR. The reviewer, Jonathan Foreman - the son of a blacklisted film producer – was allowed to swing away at 1950s anti-Communists in this magazine whose raison d'être had once been the lonely defense of McCarthy.

This is what I've called Goldbergism–the hollowing out of conservatism through the stealthy importation of leftist attitudes and sensibilities.

Or as Orwell put at the end of another expose of Leftism, Animal Farm:

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Paul Gottfried is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism and Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory.

April 16, 2002