Whenever I read a syndicated column by Jonah Goldberg that touches on the historical past, I expect to find nothing of substance. And I’m rarely disappointed. A widely-featured mouthpiece of Conservatism, Inc., Jonah has about the same relation to historical erudition that Jay Z has to Mozart’s minuets: a bit less than none. In Jonah’s latest pronouncement, he tries to block the growing backlash to rampant Political Correctness:
[I]t’s good to understand that things have been worse than they are today. There’s a tendency to think our government has only become more intrusive and censorial than ever. That’s simply untrue.
Last, we should be wary of thought-crime panics.
Again, things are not nearly so bad as when Wilson’s Attorney General Mitchell A. Palmer [sic—he means Alexander Mitchell Palmer] set about to eradicate the ‘disease of evil thinking.’ That’s a pretty low bar for an open and tolerant society.”
[Be wary of thought-crime panics, May 7, 2014. Links added.]
Although two of Goldberg’s heartthrobs, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Somali feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, were recently disinvited by universities as speakers, even these horrors, Jonah informs us, should not occasion the outrage we should feel for those attacks on (mostly) foreign residents unleashed by the notorious “Palmer Raids.”
It’s not surprising that Jonah should single out the Palmer Raids as the non plus ultra of American political intolerance. He has simply internalized the Leftist indoctrination given to his generation—which is a particularly necessary professional qualification for Conservatism Inc. apparatchiks, who (I have long argued) are basically Judas goats, leading the faithful to accept liberalism.
A real conservative would ask questions like:
- What about the suspension of habeas corpus and other constitutional rights that the Lincoln administration inflicted on American citizens, even in states that had not seceded, during the War Between the States?
- What about the government-incited attacks on German Americans and their property that began even before President Wilson managed to get us into WWI?
Whoops, I forgot! Those were outrages that Jonah’s neoconservative patrons approve, Therefore they are not as worthy of condemnation as the Palmer Raids (which could also well have targeted his patrons’ Leftist forebears).
The Palmer Raids took place for about three months, between November 1919 and January 1920, with presidential and congressional authorization. No doubt they did involve excesses, but they seem on their face to have been far more justified than the assaults on war-opponents and German Americans that took place before and during World War I and World War II.
In 1919, thirty bombs were sent to government officials by Anarchists, led by an Italian radical who was then resident in the US, Luigi Galleani. Agents of the Soviet Comintern were active in the US and Western Europe openly inciting violent revolution—and making no pretense about what they were doing.
In the end, Palmer and his assistants managed to get 500 “foreign citizens” deported. All or at least most of these deportees had certainly engaged in revolutionary activities—people like Emma Goldman—exactly as Palmer and his agency believed.
If the objects of the raids had been right-wingers, nobody would now be calling attention to them. We know this because there is never any mention by journalists and fashionable historians of those alleged right-wingers who were hounded by the House Un-American Committee during World War II, before that Committee began investigating Communists and Communist sympathizers after 1945.
Last—if I may borrow this misused adjective which is supposed to serve as an adverb in Jonah’s much-admired prose style—it is ridiculous to compare the three-month Palmer Raids to the black night of PC intolerance that has been descending on the US and the onetime West since the 1960s.
I have spent decades of my life investigating and writing about this pervasive thought-control, which government administrators, putative educators, and the Main Stream Media have all sedulously advanced. We have all been put permanently on guard against any new threat to Leftist activities. But this has not brought to an end the crusade against “bigotry.” The Palmer Raids have been blended into the Cultural Marxist narrative that supports this expanding crusade, together with the now-conventional account of what we are told was the McCarthy White Terror.
From Jonah’s abbreviated account of thought- and speech control in modern America, it would seem that he is ignorant of the dangers we face. When PC comes up, our publicist turns the conversation to academic speech codes and which Republican celebrity or feminist critic of Islam has been recently snubbed by a university. But what about the vast array of “anti-discrimination” laws that operate on the state and national level and which (as I argued at length in my After Liberalism) have effectively imported speech and thought restraints on educational institutions? Government surveillance for the purpose of maintaining ideological orthodoxy would be there even if our universities weren’t looney-tunes Leftist.
The plain fact is that Jonah buys into the Left’s war against “bigotry,” both principle and in many of its details—see Rand Paul’s Civil Rights Act Comments Revisited [NRO, May 26, 2010], witness his joining National Review’s John Derbyshire lynch mob. Government at all levels has been restricting our commercial and social activities since the 1960s. What is now happening in both the public and private spheres is simply icing on the cake, and there may be no practical way of getting rid of the cake or the icing after fifty years.
For Jonah, the iron fist of PC is not really a problem at all, except for trivial cases of Leftist campus intolerance that can serve the GOP in the next election—and then be conveniently dropped. Is Brandeis’ disinviting a Third World feminist who has made a career out of bashing Islamists the worst Jonah can cite as evidence of thought control? What about the fact that in England, which for neoconservatives is the sacred source of Anglophone “liberal democracy,” it is now apparently a criminal offense to read Winston Churchill’s warnings about Islam?
Apparently this is not be the kind of thing that Jonah wants to notice. It has only limited value to his patrons. They wish to stress the goodness of the “liberal democracies” as they prepare for war against the next Hitler of the month. Otherwise, they want to continue Electing A New People—and dispossessing the old.
Paul Gottfried [ email him ] recently retired as Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism His most recent book is Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.