A recently posted commentary by Ben Shapiro on National Review Online caught my attention. Contrary to the misleading view that the evolution of the conservative movement has been a generally harmonious development (toward ever greater moderation), Shapiro provides a different perspective. The leaders of his movement have been busily purging dissenters on the Right for decades; and Shapiro presents this example of industrious house cleaning to his friends on the Left as something they might want to emulate. Shapiro complains that his side has done its duty by “ousting bigotry,” but the Left, which only occasionally “slams” its baddies, has just not been as fastidious.
I shall admit to having a horse in this race. One of my young friends, Darren Beatty, who spoke at an organization of which I’m president, the H.L. Mencken Club, was fired as a speech writer by the Trump administration for consorting with “white nationalists.” Several cogent articles have already appeared, two on the American Greatness website, proving that our organization is not in any way a white supremacist one. These commentaries also show that Darren’s speech, which dealt with educational standards, had nothing to do with racial issues, and that his dismissal as a speechwriter for the Trump administration was an unmitigated outrage. All the same Ben thinks that it was commendable that Darren was fired, after CNN denounced Darren and after the SPLC had unkind things to say about the Mencken Club. Never mind that Shapiro and his colleagues at National Review have been similarly smeared by the same groups. Moreover, two years ago, Slate in a discussion of the Mencken Club, found us far less objectionable than Ben’s colleagues at National Review, whom the African author, Osita Nwanevu, condemned for “helping to build the alt-right.” Perhaps I should have anticipated Shapiro by urging “sensitive” conservatives last year to eschew National Review as a cesspool of bigotry.
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Ben’s admission that his movement (not mine) has been throwing out heretics for decades did however make me think about my own thankless task in researching these purges, first for my history of the conservative movement that was published in 2007 and more recently, for an anthology now in press. Up until the 1980s, contrary to what Shapiro suggests, these blood-lettings were never unleashed against racists or anti-Semites. Almost all the early victims of purges were unmistakably Jewish and inclined toward libertarianism, e.g., Murray N. Rothbard, Frank Chodorov and Ron Hamowy. These undesirables disagreed with Buckley on the policy implications of his aggressive anti-Communism. In 1965 Buckley and the National Review editorial board formally excommunicated the Birchers, but not for the reasons that are commonly given, namely that the John Birch Society was a pack of white supremacists and anti-Semites. (The JBS magazine American Opinion had Jewish and black members on its editorial board.)* National Review attacked the Birchers quite explicitly for opposing American military intervention in Vietnam. Significantly, a very outspoken anti-Semite, Revilo Oliver, was allowed to write for National Review years after the expulsion of the Birchers.
In recent years the victims of conservative purges have been overwhelmingly identified with the “far Right.” Some of these excommunicated have been immigration critics, who offer cultural as well as economic reasons for their stand. Others have written about IQ differences between genders and ethnic groups, and still others (like me) have been viewed as just downright uncooperative. This distancing by mostly young careerists from a more pronounced Right makes perfectly good sense. Like Shapiro these publicists seek to gain influence on the Left while controlling respectable debate on their side. Note that Shapiro is concerned that the Left allows “anti-Semites” to go unchallenged, by which he seems to have in mind pro-Palestinian Muslims. Shapiro also imagines that anti-Jewish prejudice dominates everything is on his Right, although in the case of the Mencken Club, the general membership and the board, as Jack Kerwick notes in American Greatness, are packed with Jews. And non-whites are certainly welcome as members.
But there is also the issue of positioning. NR authors, most notably David French and Kevin Williamson, have managed to become feature writers in left-of-center magazines like The Atlantic; meanwhile Never-Trumpers have been featured on the “fake” news networks as well as on the establishment Republican fox-news. Mainstream conservative writers’ like Kevin Williamson, have happily justified the removal of Confederate monuments and statues; they also predictably acclaim the merits of second (if not necessarily third or fourth) wave feminism as their position and like Jonah Goldberg, “are very sympathetic to arguments for gay marriage.” In my considered view, this veering toward the social Left has been driven by professional considerations and by funding sources. Well-heeled donors can be found in defense industries and in large corporations and even among casino owners who are preoccupied with Israeli security. But there are far fewer people with big bucks who care about fighting cultural wars.
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Needless to say, my generalization should be heavily qualified. I profoundly respect most black conservatives (who go after black race hustlers whom their white allies are mortally terrified to lay a glove on). I likewise admire the gutsiness of Tucker Carlson who grills establishment conservatives as well as terminal leftists; and I respect those who are now uncovering the shocking manner in which the Obama-Hillary administration abused intelligence services with the active assistance of their directors. But this commentary is not about these occasional bright lights on the conservative firmament. I am far more concerned here with setting straight a record that Ben Shapiro has brought up only to misrepresent. It is high time that we shed light on how the conservative movement has turned on its own. And adding insult to injury, the same movement has lied about the reasons for its treachery.
- Perhaps the most gifted writer associated with the Birch Society was veteran black journalist George S. Schuyler, about whom a young friend Mary Grabar is now publishing a Curiously recent tributes to Schuyler on movement conservative website pointedly ignore his longtime, passionate endorsement of the JBS. Indeed one has to consult Wikipedia in order to find out this otherwise well-hidden fact. A Jewish star writer for American Opinion (which was later renamed New American) Alan Stang, lived on to become the grand old man of the JBS. Such evidence of ethnic tolerance may be incompatible with the obligatory depiction of the Birch Society in the establishment conservative press as a viciously bigoted organization, after its ouster from the movement in 1965.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right. His latest books are Fascism: The Career of a Concept and Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers.