The rise of Donald Trump has shown just how badly Beltway conservatism has lost touch with ordinary Americans. Its myopia has reached the point that even academics are predicting the coming collapse of the movement William F. Buckley founded in the 1950s.
One of the reasons American conservatism is so fragile is its decades-long history of expelling from its ranks anyone who believed in conserving that which most needs to be conserved: the people who founded the country and its institutions. Part of Mr. Trump’s appeal is his willingness at least to skate up to the edge of a racial/national conception of America. No other presidential candidate would dare point out that many Mexican immigrants are criminals or that Islam is wrecking Europe and must not be allowed to wreck America.
If conservatives had not been so determined to appease the left by banishing “racists,” they would not have cut themselves off from their natural supporters and from the most articulate spokesmen for a healthy conception of nation. Republicans are now suffering the consequences of this ideological self-amputation, so it is especially timely to examine its history and to reflect on what will be the outcome of a Trump victory–or defeat–in November.
In the final essay of his 1994 book, Beautiful Losers, the late Sam Francis included a memorable analysis of the conservative movement’s periodic purges of its own members.
Those outside the permissible boundaries of discourse are simply “derationalized” and ignored–as anti-semites, racists, authoritarians, crackpots, crooks, or simply as “nostalgic,” and other kinds of illicit and irrational fringe elements not in harmonic convergence with the Zeitgeist and therefore on the wrong side of history. That is where the de facto alliance of Left and neo-conservative Right has succeeded in relegating those who dissent from their common core of shared premises such as journalist Patrick J. Buchanan and anyone else who seriously and repeatedly challenges their hegemony . . . . At various times in its history, National Review has found it necessary to “purge” itself of such adherents, and each catharsis, no matter how prudent, has rendered its “renovated” conservatism less and less palatable to ordinary Americans and more and more acceptable to the Manhattanite intelligentsia it has always sought to attract.
It is therefore fitting that the very first book dedicated entirely to the purges opens with a dedication to Sam Francis–marking a decade since his passing–and republishes one of his essays. This volume is a worthy coda to Francis’s longstanding project of unmasking and dissecting a conservative movement he grew to despise, a task taken up here by many writers greatly influenced by him, such as Richard Spencer, Paul Gottfried, and Peter Brimelow.
Richard Spencer writes in the foreword, “A central crucible in this strange evolution of the American Right has been ‘the purge’–that is, the expulsion, often in an explicit fashion, of views or individuals deemed outside the boundaries of the official Right.” This book carefully examines these purges, and considers what they tell us about the prospects of the conservative movement, and ultimately, the nation conservatives claim to be trying to save.
The first two essays, by Richard Spencer and Paul Gottfried, summarize the key beliefs of American conservatism, and track its history of purges and “renovations.” The second two, by William Regnery and John Derbyshire, are first-hand accounts of what it is like to be on the wrong side of a purge. The next three, by Keith Preston, Sam Francis, and Lee Congdon, cover the rise of the war-mongering and government-loving neoconservatives within the conservative movement. The final two, by James Kalb and Peter Brimelow, describe how the ring of acceptability closes: not according to any kind of principle but because of social and financial pressure.
This book is nothing if not thorough. In the realm of foreign policy, it covers the early expulsions of anti-war libertarians such as Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard in the 1950s, the rise of neoconservatives, the ossification of a hawkish foreign policy obsessed with the Middle East, and the rejection of men such as Pat Buchanan and George Kennan who urged restraint. In all things pertaining to race–IQ, immigration, crime, segregation–the book is still more thorough, covering National Review’s slide from defending Jim Crow to expelling Peter Brimelow in the 1990s. The stories of the martyrs of the dissident right are all there: Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Jason Richwine, and many others.
The book also covers the ambiguous nature of purging “racists:” Why can Victor Davis Hanson write about black crime but John Derbyshire cannot? Why can Charles Murray write about IQ for the American Enterprise Institute but Jason Richwine must be kicked out of the Heritage Foundation?
Of course, for all its panicky purges, the conservative movement has accomplished very little. Peter Brimelow (echoing Sam Francis’s warning) points out that in surrendering on immigration, conservatives are creating a nation inhospitable to conservatism.
The plight of such people as John Derbyshire, the suicidal compromises of neoconservatism, and the decline of National Review are well known to racial dissidents. Still, there is great value to having a complete history all together in one book that showcases the talents of many of the most prominent writers willing to lambaste the conservative movement.
This book was published a year ago, before Donald Trump’s presidential run, but the phenomenon of conservative purges is now at a crossroads. The campaign to “Make America Great Again” has moved the limits of permissible discourse, and should Mr. Trump become president, the American Right will never be the same again. Anti-Trump publications that promote egalitarian orthodoxy such as National Review, The Federalist, and The Weekly Standard will lose their role as gatekeepers of acceptability. Meanwhile, outlets sympathetic to Mr. Trump and to racial dissidence generally, such as Breitbart and The Daily Caller, will gain power from having chosen the winning side.
In such a political atmosphere, purges would make no sense. To again frame things with an eye to Sam Francis, the managerial elite will have lost out to the Middle American Radical, and leftist hegemony will have ended. If the President of the United States tweets about non-white criminality and gives speeches about an “America first” foreign policy, how could a journalist be fired for saying the same thing?
Unfortunately, if instead of a President Trump, America elects a President Clinton, The Great Purge will need a sequel. Even though conventionally conservative Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections, if Mr. Trump loses, The Weekly Standard and National Review, along with organizations such as the Republican National Committee and the Heritage Foundation will immediately blame Mr. Trump’s loss on his “extremism” and his failure to “reach out” to minorities. All the forces within the conservative movement who opposed him will preen themselves on the prescience of having scorned him. They will claim that Mr. Trump has fatally tainted the Republican party with his “racism” and “mysogyny,” and will turn on anyone who supported him. Activists who worked for the Trump campaign will be blacklisted, websites such as Breitbart will be pushed into the wilderness alongside VDARE, and writers such as Ann Coulter who favored Mr. Trump will lose syndication.
It is at this historical fork in the road, while we still do not know if the GOP will turn itself into something genuinely relevant or cannibalize itself, that The Great Purge proves to be most edifying. The book is either a well documented account of a shameful facet of the conservative movement that was, or it is a warning of what will come if President Clinton is inaugurated. Either way, it is a valuable and thoughtful collection, well worth reading in these interesting times.