“The First Seriously Intelligent Movement Of the American Right” Was What?

September 04, 2003

In an astoundingly silly remark
made by a presumably intelligent man, veteran
International Herald Tribune
columnist William Pfaff
asserted earlier this summer that American conservatives
were “not particularly intelligent” through most
of the twentieth century. He added

“The radical
neoconservatives, who appeared in the 1960s, are the
first seriously intelligent movement of the American
Right since the 19th century…the main intellectual
influence on the neoconservatives has been the
philosopher Leo Strauss.”

The long reach of Leo Strauss
William Pfaff,
International Herald Tribune, May 15, 2003

In a

truly devastating critique
in the current issue of

Chronicles Magazine

(September 2003), Sam
demolishes these opinions. Sam is easily
able to demonstrate that there was an extensive and rich
recent conservative heritage in the U.S. before the
neocons came along, by pointing to, among other sources,
George Nash`s

Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945

Leo Strauss does not figure in this heritage.
Furthermore, Francis shows that that most
neoconservatives are far too ignorant of Strauss`s
thought and of political theory in general to qualify as

Indeed, in my view it is very
questionable whether neoconservatives” have any
significant link do with what was considered
“conservative” before they took over the American Right.
A glance at the

old National Review
—say, before Vietnam –
would efficiently demonstrate this. For the
pre-neoconservative American Right,

Martin Luther King
, the welfare state,

immigration expansion
, crusades allegedly forglobal
, and human “rights” beliefs were all
objects of hostile comment. But for the
neoconservatives, these are the reference beacons for
their credo.

It is hard to believe that Pfaff, a
widely-read and published expert on foreign affairs and
other weighty subjects, now approaching seventy, could
really believe his own inane statements. Surely he has
read the commentaries of

Bill Kristol
Jonah Goldberg

Linda Chavez

Bill Bennett,

Ramesh Ponnuru
. Could Pfaff properly characterize
any of these prominent publicists as “seriously

Perhaps we should send him a copy

Bill Bennett`s doctoral dissertation
, a copy of
which I was forced to look at while preparing

The Conservative Movement
(second edition). This seventy-page
embarrassment abounds in grammatical and syntactical
bloopers. It contains long stretches of prose that I
have given out to students as examples of how not to

As for Irving Kristol, going back
to an original thematic essay, which was printed in the
Buffalo News in 1980, through his theoretical
phase in Neoconservatism (1984) until the
pronouncement recently published in the Weekly
(August 25), he has been going on about
how he is a Straussian because he prefers Aristotle to
Plato and Locke to Rousseau. In point of fact, Strauss,
and many of his disciples, have expressed exactly the
opposite preferences.

Pfaff would do well to look at the
telling observations that


Thomas DiLorenzo

Larry Auster
, and other conservative critics have
been making about Irving`s most recent attempt to talk
up his movement. Kristol`s political writing actually is
merely a pontifical assertion of
what American conservatives should embrace
: a large
federal welfare state, wars to spread “democracy”
(particularly if helpful to Israel), and a cult of those
presidents whom Irving and his friends happen to like,
e.g., FDR but not Eisenhower.

Ultimately, what is most disturbing
about Pfaff`s remarks is not that they are grossly
uninformed but that they plainly display deep
intellectual dishonesty. What Pfaff means when he
misrepresents the neoconservatives, and demeans non-neocons
leaders on the American Right, is quite simply that he
agrees with the neocons but not with the others.

Well, in my own research, I
frequently find myself writing about people I do not
agree with but who were obviously “intelligent.” The

of political correctness,

Jurgen Habermas
, is a case in point. I would not
deny that Habermas is “seriously intelligent”
although our political values are diametrically opposed.
Why can`t Pfaff demonstrate similar objectivity?

Arguably what has made Irving and

successful is actually the opposite of
what Pfaff attributes to them: their lack of the kind of
theoretical originality and brilliance that were common
to most of the subjects of Nash`s work.

It is the iron predictability of
the Neocon party line, and the reconcilability of that
party line, via Cold War liberal platitudes, with center
and center-left politics, that have made them more
successful than the real Right—especially in
ingratiating themselves with the main stream media.

Speaking as a scholar dealing with
political theory
, it is shocking to me that anyone
with a smattering of education could take any of the
neoconservative journalists as political thinkers of any
stature. (And in fact, Pfaff has subsequently published

scathing critique
of the result of all that serious
neoconservative intelligence applied ti Iraq.)

The fact that Pfaff initially
replicated such nonsense testifies to a fraud—and to the
curiously sympathetic reception of neoconservatives in
the media.

But let us not confuse journalistic
advantage, or the benefit of Pfaff`s approval, with
serious intelligence.

Paul Gottfried
is Professor of Humanities at
Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of

After Liberalism

Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory
, and
Multiculturalism And The Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy.