The Decline of The American Conservative
Linda Preston, American Renaissance, October 7, 2016
Over the years, American Renaissance has kept an eye on what the nation tells itself about race. This includes remembering the forgotten stalwarts of the American Right, following the historiography of Paul Gottfried, noting the promising half-truths of figures such as David Horowitz, chronicling the periodic “purges” of the Right, and considering the descent into political correctness of publications such as National Review. In keeping with this tradition, I examine The American Conservative (TAC), and consider how a once promising voice for white interests lost its way.
TAC had an encouraging beginning. Founded at the end of 2002 by Taki Theodoracopulos (who later started Taki’s Magazine), Pat Buchanan, and the paleoconservative journalist Scott McConnell (who had been fired from the New York Post for opposing Puerto Rican statehood), it was to be a high-toned right-wing magazine that opposed the then-looming invasion of Iraq. While Chronicles magazine had long held its position as the anti-war, immigration-control publication, it seemed to have lost its way after the unsuccessful candidacies of Pat Buchanan. Once the electoral prospects of his political program flickered out, Chronicles wandered into opaque examinations of Catholic philosophers and theologians. It also parted ways with its one-time libertarian allies at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and became steadily more isolated at its base of operations in Rockford, Illinois.
TAC was fresh and new, devoid of rivalries that had handicapped much of the paleoconservative world, and it was based in the center of everything: Washington, DC. Thus began what was the most mainstream, arguably pro-white publication in the United States. While its main purpose was lambasting the catastrophic Iraq War, TAC also tackled issues that both the Bush administration and its leftist opposition wouldn’t touch: immigration, multiculturalism, and the erosion of American civil society and social trust.
TAC kept its arguments conservative and nationalistic. Its opposition to adventures in the Middle East included no squawking about international law or genocide; these wars were bad for America and were unwinnable. In its inaugural issue, Pat Buchanan quoted historian A.J.P. Taylor: “Though the object of being a Great Power is to be able to fight a Great War, the only way of remaining a Great Power is not to fight one.” He then added:
To destroy Saddam’s weapons, to democratize, defend, and hold Iraq together, U.S. troops will be tied down for decades. Yet, terrorist attacks in liberated Iraq seem as certain as in liberated Afghanistan. For a militant Islam that holds in thrall scores of millions of true believers will never accept George Bush dictating the destiny of the Islamic world.
This was an implicit appeal to white and national interests: “This war does not benefit us. Why should we sacrifice our young men?” The magazine attacked neoconservative elites as distracted by the fantasy of restructuring a far-away land, while those who had to fight the war knew it was futile from the start. This was the instinctive sentiment of the “Middle American Radicals,” regularly championed by Sam Francis, who raged against a government that was run by an elite with interests at odds with those of the people.
That perspective went into every problem the publication took up. The cover story of another of TAC’s first issues was “The Great Somali Welfare Hunt,” by historian and AmRen contributor Roger McGrath. The essay described the complete inability of Somalis to assimilate, and their brazen abuse of government services. I wish American Renaissance had published it. Opening with the line, “The deconstruction of America is well underway,” and going on to declare, “We are under no obligation to destroy the ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions that have built this country,” it is one of the best essays on American immigration policy I have ever read.
TAC attacked the view of America as an abstract idea instead of an organic nation, emphasized that all wars expand the power of government, and published Steve Sailer’s scientific deconstructions of feminist delusions. While never explicitly identitarian or race realist, TAC marshaled many great minds to stand up for the interests of white Middle Americans.
For many years, white advocates could pick up an issue of TAC and learn a lot from it. Every issue carried excellent essays by race realists and nationalists who rejected orthodoxy on most every subject. Roger McGrath covered the awful racial transformation of California, Congressman Tom Tancredo eviscerated amnesty, Steve Sailer looked into the radical side of Barack Obama, and John Derbyshire slammed political correctness–TAC even published Sam Francis a few times. More than that, some young race realists and white advocates got their start there. Many would no doubt prefer to be unnamed, but Richard Spencer, now known for heading Radix Journal and the National Policy Institute, started his career on the Right as an assistant editor at TAC.
It is hard to pinpoint what caused it, but TAC slowly stopped being implicitly pro-white. Certainly one contribution to the change in tone was a change in staff. In 2007, Mr. Theodoracopulos and Mr. Buchanan stopped playing editorial roles, and that meant that Mr. Theodoracopulos’ financial support ended as well. Having to diversify their funding probably made TAC more timid in what they were willing to publish. Scott McConnell also became less involved. Mr. Spencer left the magazine and went on to the newly founded Taki’s Magazine, and many dissident writers started writing for this new site instead of TAC.
Over the next few years the managing editor and publisher changed several times–never a good thing for a publication. But it may have been Mr. Obama’s election as president that started TAC’s slide into political correctness. It had been founded as a conservative magazine opposing an abysmal Republican president. What was it to do once Mr. Bush was gone and his war was coming to a close? TAC lost its niche, and without the guidance of its founders and sharpest contributors, it floundered.
TAC stopped focusing so much on war, immigration, and multiculturalism, and began instead featuring more harmless commentary. Feature stories stopped being about immigration and were replaced with criticisms of right-wing radio, or generic conservative attacks on environmentalists. By 2010 the magazine even ran a cover story claiming Hispanic crime in America is exaggerated. People such as Roger McGrath, Steve Sailer, and John Derbyshire are now to be found only in the archives, their contributions having slowly thinned over the course of Mr. Obama’s first term. Mr. Spencer and a few others have largely disappeared from the site, no doubt from embarrassment. TAC still carries Pat Buchanan’s column–but for how much longer? Paul Gottfried contributes from time to time, and occasional gems emerge, such as Mr. McConnell’s recent essay on Donald Trump, or Benjamin Schwartz’s essay on immigration in England, but on the whole, there is little left for white advocates to sink their teeth into.
Much like Chronicles magazine, TAC has fallen into theological debates that have largely replaced Middle American Radicalism. New regular contributors such as Rod Dreher muse on the status and fate of devout Christian Americans, not white ones. Whereas the Buchananite TAC of 2002 would have championed the rise of Donald Trump, today’s TAC bemoans Mr. Trump’s secularism and even published an essay demanding that he be cheated of the nomination. Where there were once sociological considerations of white America, there are now theological considerations of Christian America.
In foreign policy, there is still much to admire. TAC opposed the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya and its temptations in Syria. It rightfully attacked the bellicose GOP presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and John Kasich, and now regularly slams Hillary Clinton, who is a lot more hawkish than she lets on. Foreign policy may seem secondary to white advocates, but it is important. Not only do these wars kill off white soldiers, they displace millions of Middle Easterners who head straight to Europe. TAC’s foreign policy positions are therefore blows for our side.
But otherwise, TAC has gone soft. It still discusses immigration, sometimes even from an implicitly pro-white perspective, but it denounces “Trump fanatics.” When the conservative movement at large purges dissident thinkers, TAC purposefully avoids commenting, or even joins in denunciation. TAC now regularly publishes meditations on things that simply don’t matter: Essays on how “Pokemon Go Re-enchants the City,” or reviews of lesbian musicals. While once serious in tone, TAC now stoops to the level of so many mainstream publications, publishing short, inconsequential commentary on the passing fads of our vapid culture.
The great tragedy in all this is the timing. If ever there was a time for a literate, academic publication with a foothold in the mainstream to come out for Mr. Trump and all he represents, it was about a year ago. I certainly appreciate the pro-Trump media we have, but websites such as Breitbart traffic in sensationalism and could never be called refined or academic. TAC had an opportunity to be that publication, and the old TAC would have been. Since then it lost its way, and the rise of Mr. Trump did not manage to steer it back.
I do not wish to make the perfect the enemy of the good, but TAC is now much like National Review and the rest of the conservative media. It is trying to make peace with Mr. Trump, and occasionally makes good points about immigration or culture, but doesn’t deliver much else–despite its muscular past. As Gregory Hood says, “That which is not explicitly for our people inevitably turns against our people with time.”