THE FIGHT ON THE RIGHT: Neoconservatives versus Paleoconservatives

with Steven Hayward, John Theodoracopulos
Friday, May 16, 2003

Conservative: favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. But is the definition of a conservative changing in twentieth-century America? Today conservatives seem to be divided into two groups, the neoconservatives and those who view themselves as traditional conservatives—sometimes derisively called the "paleoconservatives." Are the neoconservatives, including many in the Bush administration, actually, as some charge, radicals in conservative clothing? Or have the paleoconservatives become too hidebound for their own good?

Recorded on Friday, May 16, 2003

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, the fight on the Right.

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation.


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, in 21st century America, what does it mean to be a conservative? For decades, the American conservative movement was coherent. Its leaders were William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan, and its great unifying cause was opposition to communism. Well, now the Cold War is over and a new generation of conservatives is coming into its own. It turns out though that that new generation is divided into a couple of camps. On the one hand, a new kind of conservative, the neo-conservative. On the other, conservatives who think of themselves as traditional conservatives, the paleo-conservatives. As you're about to see, the neo-cons and the paleo-cons don't like each other very much. What is a neo-con, what is a paleo-con and what does the dispute between them portend for the future of American conservatism?

Joining us, two guests--Steve Hayward is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The Age of Reagan, The Fall of the Old Liberal Order. John Theodoracopulos, known as Taki, is a columnist and editor of the new paleo-conservative magazine, The American Conservative.

Title: The Right Stuff

Peter Robinson: Taki Theodoracopulos, writing in his new magazine The American Conservative, I quote you, "We are now in a senseless war that was promoted by the neo-conservatives, the Arab world will sink into despair and terrorists the world over will find thousands of young men ready to die as long as they take an American with them." David Frum in National Review, in an article entitled, "Un-patriotic Conservatives," quote, "The paleo-conservatives have collapsed into a mood of despairing surrender unparalleled since the Vichy Republic. What are we to make of self described conservatives who make excuses for suicide bombers." Briefly, what are we to make of the paleo-conservatives? Steve?

Steven Hayward: Well, what you see is something that happens a lot in political argument whereas differences over principles that can be discussed calmly descend into personality clashes and the kind of invective that characterizes a lot of our politics, not just on the right, it exists on the left as well.

Peter Robinson: Taki?

Taki Theodoracopulos: Just because we oppose an American empire, that doesn't make us unpatriotic.

Peter Robinson: All right, so we've got the terms here--the neo-conservatives and the paleo-conservatives--let's spend a moment just exploring the taxonomy here. I'll quote Pat Buchanan, again writing in the American Conservative, "Who are the neo-conservatives? Ex-liberals, socialists, and Trotskyites, who rafted over to the GOP at the end of conservatism's long march to power with Ronald Reagan. A neo-conservative is more likely to be a magazine editor than a brick layer, he's likely to be a resident scholar at a public policy institute such as the American Enterprise Institute." We ask a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, so what is distinctive about neo-conservatives--that they all used to be liberals? Where do they come from?

Steven Hayward: Well, you know, I think the term originated with Michael Harrington, the socialist far-left politician back in the '70s and of course he didn't mean it as a compliment. I think it was Irving Kristol who was called the godfather of neo-conservatism, who said that a neo-conservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality. I suppose one difference between what we now call paleo-cons and neo-cons is that a lot of the neo-conservatives were social scientists. They came to understand that the welfare state didn't work for a variety of reasons. They came to understand that detente and foreign policy weakness was inimical to the country's future. And where I would disagree with Pat's characterization is I don't think they were sort of a rump that rode on the conservative movement's drive to power, I actually argue that they helped complete that drive to power. Ronald Reagan would not have been elected and would have been able to govern us effectively without some of the prominent neo-conservatives who joined the Republican side.

Peter Robinson: Fair characterization?

Taki Theodoracopulos: Fair characterization except the only thing I disagree with Steve's analysis is that I think that the neo-cons saw what was coming with the coming of Reagan, how people have finally caught on, and they just joined the bandwagon.

Peter Robinson: Okay, Samuel Francis writes in again, theAmerican Conservative that "paleo-conservatism developed as a reaction against trends in the American right during the Reagan Administration, including the bid for dominance by the neo-conservatives." So funnily enough, it's the paleo-conservatives who are the more recent establishment.

Taki Theodoracopulos: No, I don't agree with that because Samuel Francis does say that, but Samuel Francis splits people into--he thinks that what is referred to as paleo-conservatism--he thinks that we are patriots and that the neo-conservatives are nationalists. So he has a different--I like what he writes of course, I don't agree with that though. Paleo-conservatives, it's very simple, we just wanted to conserve family and traditions that made this country great.

Peter Robinson: Taki and Patrick Buchanan have founded a magazine, The American Conservative to present the viewpoint of the paleo-conservatives. Let's take a look at the magazine's mission statement.

Title: Prepare to Be Assimilated

Peter Robinson: First immigration, I quote from your mission statement, "We believe that America has gained and still does from new immigrants, but we also after two decades of intense immigration, believe that the nation needs a slowdown to assimilate those already here." Now, Steve, 1965, new immigration legislation and for four decades now, 90% of immigrants have come from non-European countries. This is the first time in American history that the majority of immigrants come from elsewhere than Europe. Is this a reasonable position to take that we need a breather to assimilate this new influx?

Steven Hayward: I go back and forth on this question. It seems to me that if you took a breather it might not change any of our problems if you don't change the deeper problem, which is the problem of assimilation today is a cultural problem, not a problem of numbers or what countries they come from. This country has always been very good at making Americans out of people from diverse countries and traditions--people from the Balkans in the last century--early in the last century for example--the doctrines of multi-culturalism and affirmative action and cultural liberalism are the heart of the problem. I mean, they ruin Americans as well as immigrants. And so, I tend to disagree with them in the main that the problem is simply the sheer number or that an immigration pause will change that.

Peter Robinson: What I want to know is is this a real fault line between paleo-conservatives and neo-conservatives? You'd agree with every word he just spoke, wouldn't you?

Taki Theodoracopulos: I agree with every word that Steven said because multiculturalism--when I came to this country I didn't speak a word of English.

Peter Robinson: And when did you come?

Taki Theodoracopulos: 1948, but as...

Peter Robinson: You were a child.

Taki Theodoracopulos: I was a child and I didn't come over as an immigrant. Anyway, I once made a crack and said I came over in my father's yacht, but nevertheless, immediately I was sent to Lawrenceville, I spoke no English, but I learned how to tackle low, I learned not to wear Plus Fours, which we wore in Europe at the time, and within three months, I had become an American, learned every American tradition. I did not come and join the Greek community and insist that Americans become Greek. Don't forget, I agree with everything that Steven said, but there's a million immigrants coming in every year and there is close to 9 million illegals, 8.7 to be exact, $64 billion are spent on legal and illegals.

Peter Robinson: So you do insist that you want to shut down the borders for...

Taki Theodoracopulos: Five-year moratorium, I would say.

Peter Robinson: Okay, does that strike you as outrageous? How deep is that disagreement?

Steven Hayward: Well not outrageous, but I just don't--well first of all, it's very difficult to police our borders without sending our army there. And I don't think anyone is going to do that anytime soon. I just don't think it would make that much difference. The illegal immigrants are still going to come and the ones who are already here, what's going to happen to them in the meantime? It's the wrong fight, it seems to me the other fight is the one we ought to have.

Peter Robinson: Okay, the two of you have been very congenial about it, but as I read the magazines, people are hurling bricks at each other over this issue of immigration. Now let me suggest one reason possibly why. Samuel Francis, again writing in your magazine Taki, theAmerican Conservative, he's reviewing a book, he writes, "America was intended--" he puts this forward as the paleo-conservative view--"America was intended by the Founding Fathers to be an Anglo Saxon Celtic Nation." The problem is that the way the paleo-conservatives frame the argument comes extremely close to laying down racial qualifications for immigrants and that is flatly unacceptable to the neo-cons as to large elements of...

Taki Theodoracopulos: Well, even to us. My answer to that is Samuel Francis does not speak for the editorial board. I personally think that it would be nice to have some more Europeans coming in because it was after all a European nation, but I'm very open about it. I can understand--in the hotel I was staying here, everybody was Spanish speaking and I could understand these people need jobs and I'm very happy that we do take them in because--but at the same time, we cannot become Brazil.

Peter Robinson: Next on The American Conservative agenda, worries about globalization.

Title: Making a Protection Racket

Peter Robinson: The American Conservative magazine's mission statement, "We will question the benefits and point to the pitfalls of the global free trade economy." And your fellow editor Pat Buchanan ran for president three times on a protectionist ticket.

Taki Theodoracopulos: On a protectionistic...

Peter Robinson: So, the paleo-conservative position is protectionist?

Taki Theodoracopulos: I do feel very sad when you see Bethlehem Steel, whose President we raced against sailing in the '50s, Bethlehem Steel was one of the great giants and now to see these people. You know, people used to go, grandsons, great grandsons, straight into the business. All those wonderful John O'Hara books, everything was based on big businesses which kept the thing going--no longer. To support sweatshops so Nike can make a fortune here, in Vietnam, I'm not for. I believe in protection for American workers.

Peter Robinson: Steve?

Steven Hayward: We're dancing around on all these issues; I think the core of the problem...

Peter Robinson: Go to the core.

Steven Hayward: The core of the issue, which is both on immigration and on the idea of trade and globalization and all the rest. What's lurking in the background is an understanding of what kind of country America should be or ought to be in people's opinion. And in some respects, we'll get into I suspect the arguments over American empire...

Peter Robinson: That's next, go right ahead.

Steven Hayward: Well, maybe I anticipated too much, but in some respects the argument we're having now looks in substance and in form very similar to the argument that went on in Britain at the end of the 19th century between the Little Englanders, who didn't like the empire, and the great--the imperialists who wanted to keep it going and so forth. And I mean one of Pat's phrases is, America is a republic not an empire. He tries to, although the distinction is not entirely clear in my mind.

Peter Robinson: Actually hold on there, hold on there--let's just go right on to this--so let me set it up with this mission statement, and the last quotation from the mission statement since we're getting on to this republic and not an empire--"We, the editors of the American Conservative, we will turn a critical eye on those who favor go-it-alone militarism where America threatens and bombs one nation after another while the world looks on in increasing horror." Okay, back to you. That's the Little England point of view, the Little America point of view, so to speak.

Steven Hayward: Well, I mean there's several parts to this--one part of it is, we can sit around in our parlors and talk about--as the Founders did--I mean there were some people who argued against an American Confederation in 1787 saying we ought to have a Christian Sparta and look inward, where others have said, we're going to have an empire of liberty, that was the phrase that was used by the Founders and their successors. See. So, but the point is in a globalized, interconnected world we have now, as a historical matter, America is going to have to lead the world or there's going to be a lot more chaos. Now, you can have all kinds of reasonable arguments about what makes sense, what's prudent and what's not prudent, we'll make lots of mistakes, but American withdrawal from the world is just not realistic. We're going to lead it because we're the biggest player in the world, just as Europe was for 500 years, just as Greece and Rome were 2,000 years ago.

Peter Robinson: Niall Ferguson has a new book out now in which he clearly--wonderful book, from your lips, wonderful book...

Taki Theodoracopulos: I happen to be the godfather of his daughter.

Peter Robinson: Oh do you? In which Niall argues that for all its faults, the British Empire spread capitalism, liberal values, that India was a poor country when the British went into it, it was still a poor country when they left...

Taki Theodoracopulos: That is very true.

Peter Robinson: was very much less poor; it was an instrument on balance for good in the world.

Taki Theodoracopulos: But, nevertheless, in Empire, Niall points out also that what the Belgians left behind and what the French left behind in the Congo we're still reaping the benefits. The most ungovernable--it is hell on earth. This is not...

Peter Robinson: The Belgian Empire in the Congo?

Taki Theodoracopulos: The Belgian and the French, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and all those--even ours, Liberia, look what's happened in Liberia, this was our baby. So India was lucky because it got the English but still it's the Indians who did it.

Peter Robinson: So let me put the neo-con point to you--it is simply the case that the United States is overwhelmingly the richest and most powerful country on earth and it has fallen to us to enforce peace, to spread liberal values...

Taki Theodoracopulos: I totally disagree.

Peter Robinson: ...and if we don't, the world will be a messier, uglier, poorer place, and sooner or later we will be a messier, poorer, uglier country.

Taki Theodoracopulos: I don't agree at all with you, Peter. We're not saying to be isolationist, maybe Pat says it, I don't say it and I don't think Pat says it any longer. I'm just saying we cannot go around in alien cultures imposing democracy.

Peter Robinson: You oppose the war in Iraq?

Taki Theodoracopulos: Absolutely. The first war of America that I've ever opposed.

Peter Robinson: Let me press Taki on this paleo-conservative opposition to the war in Iraq.

Title: Bang the (War) Drum Slowly

Peter Robinson: The war is over, it was quick, there were very few casualties, even civilian casualties--it was hard to get firm numbers but it looks as though there were fewer killed in this war than died in a month under Saddam Hussein from hunger. We're discovering mass graves, people let out of prisons, it was a filthy, rotten mess. Haven't, as we tape this, discovered any obvious weapons of mass destruction, but there are hints that there were some here, do you still oppose that war?

Taki Theodoracopulos: I oppose this war for the following reasons--first of all the big lie was that they have nuclear bombs, they were threatening America, this was like Greece threatening America in 1948. Come on, this is a joke. (B) I still believe very much as a father and we're all fathers at this table, losing a child is so horrible that we went in there and more innocent people were killed much less because America was not out to kill a population. Of course, they did it brilliantly--I predicted two weeks and Saddam dying in the rubble, it took three weeks, I'm very happy it happened this way. But no, because the next thing you do is why didn't we attack Mugabe? Mugabe starved half the population in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was called. He's a much bigger monster. Are we going to start measuring how big monsters are? I'm very happy by the way that they got rid of him, but I was against the war and I still am.

Steven Hayward: This whole argument between paleo-cons and neo-cons long predates the most recent war.

Peter Robinson: Right, but it's a pretty good example to chew on.

Steven Hayward: A phrase from John Quincy Adams that I'm sure that Pat Buchanan and others of the American Conservative likes is when he said, "America is a friend of liberty everywhere but a defender only of our own." Now the question during the Cold War...

Peter Robinson: We do not go in search of monsters to destroy...

Steven Hayward: Now, one of the questions during the Cold War and I think it's the same question now in a different form, is does the defense of American liberty begin on the Rhine River? That was the great question about NATO and there were a few conservatives, especially some of the older, I would say pre-paleo conservatives of the '50s and '40s like Bob Taft and so forth, who said no, I didn't agree with that then, I don't agree with it now. The question now about the Middle East, I've had long arguments about this and the broader phenomenon of terrorism in Islam, is can the United States tolerate the deep instability of that region or are we going to have to do something about it? And that becomes a prudential argument. Mugabe, I completely agree, I wouldn't mind knocking that guy over, but we don't go out searching for monsters to destroy. Mugabe is not implicated in I think the way Iraq can be implicated least circumstantially if not more so as being a great part of a large part that we cannot tolerate.

Taki Theodoracopulos: All right, I agree with what Steven said, but you know that the problem can be solved overnight if America imposes its will on Israel.

Peter Robinson: Israel. Now that Taki's brought it up, there's something we have to address.

Title: A Bone to AIPAC

Peter Robinson: Pat Buchanan, "We charge,"--you let me know whether by that "we" he includes you...

Taki Theodoracopulos: Yes he does.

Peter Robinson: "We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seeks to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interest. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars on an assumption that somehow what's good for Israel is good for America." Now, we've got a couple of issues here. One is, just the foreign policy analysis. The other is, it has to be raised, that the American Conservative, Pat in particular, is often accused of anti-Semitism.

Taki Theodoracopulos: He's often been accused.

Peter Robinson: Let's take them both on. Steve?

Steven Hayward: It seems to me this--I like to be charitable when I can--it seems to me this is unfortunate...

Peter Robinson: Go ahead.

Steven Hayward: The way this falls out is, Pat uses language like cabal, the left by the way uses the same language--a conspiracy, mostly when you say neo-conservative that's often a euphemism for somebody who's Jewish, even though many prominent neo-conservatives aren't.

Peter Robinson: Bill Bennett, Gene Kirkpatrick...

Steven Hayward: Michel Novak, the Catholic theologian. Right. Okay. And then the return fire from the other side, what gets in the New York Times and elsewhere as well, there's anti-Semitism behind all that. And this distracts us completely from the nature of the argument, which Taki just raised in a very reasonable form I think. Now, I have a lot to say about this--I take the heterodox view, oddly enough, that most of the Arab regimes there want the status quo with Israel to continue for the very simple reason that--the existence of Israel and its alliance with the United States is a way to channel the frustrations and discontent of their own people.

Taki Theodoracopulos: Oh sure.

Steven Hayward: And if Israel were to disappear tomorrow, the region would probably be in worse shape and/or it would have to pivot even more fully to anti-Americanism. And one of the problems you see all around the world, I mean there's anti-Americanism in areas far remote from the Middle East and part of what it is is people are resentful about McDonalds, they're resentful about, just that Americans dominate the globe. And that sort of thing goes on...

Taki Theodoracopulos: That is to be expected.

Peter Robinson: Okay can I--Taki, we just have to deal with this. You have said you believe in Israel's right to exist, Pat Buchanan has said the same thing, absolutely no question about it, but you make the point that Israel's interest and American interests do not always coincide...

Taki Theodoracopulos: Are not necessarily the same.

Peter Robinson: ...or do not always coincide and that when our interests differ from theirs we should put our interest first. Now that strikes me as pretty reasonable. However, you've got Pat saying stuff like this--he writes, again in your magazine, you're co-editor, in other words, you're associated with this stuff in one way or another. Pat wrote not long ago that for neo-conservatives it is a matter of, I quote him, "One nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud." Now that is an obvious play on the Nazi slogan, "Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer."

[Talking at the same time]

Peter Robinson: That's vile, don't you want to disassociate yourself from that?

Taki Theodoracopulos: Hang on. He's obviously being provocative--I can see him laughing when he wrote it. Now, we're not in a state of war that we cannot even--I was reading something on the plane yesterday coming here, the moment you say anything, you can't even make a joke, you are charged with anti-Semitism. There is a letter sent by, as he called them, a cabal of intellectuals who sent a letter to the President of the United States saying you are either going to do this or otherwise we will treat you as an anti-Semite. That letter exists, it was sent, it was published in the American Conservative. Now, since when does anybody accuse the President of the United States unless you do what we tell you you're going to be called an anti-Semite?

Peter Robinson: But here you have Steve Hayward at the American Enterprise Institute struggling to put the most charitable construction, trying to construct you for our viewers here as a reasonable man making reasonable points, wouldn't life be easier if you said to Pat knock it off, you're offending people needlessly. Don't talk about cabals, which is a word with a Hebrew root, which Pat Buchanan who knows words knows very well...

Taki Theodoracopulos: I don't even know what cabal means--I mean, I know what it means, I didn't know oit was Hebrew.

Peter Robinson: And then this thing about playing on Nazi slogans, I mean just slap him around a little bit Taki.

Taki Theodoracopulos: He's my superior, meaning intellectual superior. He's run for President three times...

Peter Robinson: That crosses the line, no?

Steven Hayward: Well I think so. But we are talking about him right? Taki's right, he does this on purpose.

Peter Robinson: Last topic, I've known Taki for 20 years, when did he become such a pessimist?

Title: Backs to the Future

Peter Robinson: You write in a recent issue of theAmerican Conservative, it's a column entitled "Professor Taki's Reading List"--"So what books should our President be reading? I'd start with The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington is a nice antidote to all the absurd euphoria about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy. The Golden Age by Gore Vidal is a wonderfully nostalgic look at pre-1941 America." The West in decline, our hopes for democracy and free markets in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, a mere chimera, and we should all be taking a longing look back at America of 65 years ago. You personally are a man of unbounded optimism, good humor, patriotism, why are you suddenly sounding like a curmudgeon? What about Ronald Reagan, what about the smiling face of conservatism? What about buoyancy and hopes about America?

Taki Theodoracopulos: We are being cautious, we're not being pessimistic. We just think that America is overreaching.

Steven Hayward: If you had handed that reading list to Ronald Reagan, he would have handed it back and said, you've got to be kidding. By the way, you know, Henry Kissinger persuaded Richard Nixon to read The Decline of the Westand of course what came out of all that was détente, because Kissinger thought, you know, America is on the way down...

Peter Robinson: We're losing, we can only bargain for time.

Steven Hayward: This is why, I think the conservatism of Ronald Reagan, which is neither camp really, is a very different animal--is the kind I think we should get back. That's the kind I associate...

Taki Theodoracopulos: Well you should know, you wrote the definitive book on it. But I actually think that we are overreaching as I said and I think that America, as Pat says, is a republic and I think American people don't want downtown Chicago to be like downtown Tel Aviv--people looking for terrorist bombers and all this. We don't want to turn America into an armed camp which will be, if we continue to impose our--don't think that Baghdad is finished and I wish it were and don't think that anybody in the American Conservative is praying for defeat, we're praying for victory and for peace. But they're not going to have peace there.

Steven Hayward: I find it ironic that the American Conservative is called the American Conservative. It's not really clear what it is they want to conserve about America now. In fact they want to restore, I think a country that never existed.

Peter Robinson: Give me two or three sentences on what you would like Taki and Pat Buchanan to do to correct their position. If you get two or three sentences in which to change paleo-con thinking, what would you tell them?

Steven Hayward: One, I'd understand what actually all conservatives, paleo, neo, and otherwise, have in common--they have a great skepticism of rationalism and social engineering, a great regard for religion and its importance in our society, skepticism or opposition to the way the Supreme Court is out of control and has been for 30, 40 years. The visions are quite clear, so I'd understand those similarities. The second thing I would say is think through what I was just remarking about, what is it about America that actually we want to conserve? Or actually are you quite radical in wanting to restore some earlier version of the country? We have two different visions of America...

Peter Robinson: Taki, closing argument. What would you say to Steve to persuade him to become a paleo-con?

Taki Theodoracopulos: Oh, I think Steve knows too much to be persuaded by me, but--and I'm not trying to pay you a compliment. I would just say to Steven ask your friends, the so-called neo-cons, to practice a little bit more Christian values. In other words, you don't have to--they're tremendous haters. Conservatives were never haters. They say unless you're with us, you're against us. They say unless you agree with everything we say, you are out of line. And I think if they are real conservatives, which I don't believe they are, I think they are careerists, then they should just accept us for maybe having a difference of opinion the way we accept them. They control everything, they control the Weekly Standard, they control the National Review, they control the Wall Street Journal, they control meaning. So...

Peter Robinson: The man who came to America on a yacht feels oppressed.

Taki Theodoracopulos: Oh I don't feel oppressed at all. I just want to be able to return on my yacht without having to have bodyguards. I'm just joking.

Peter Robinson: Taki Theodoracopulos, Steve Hayward, thank you very much. I'm Peter Robinson, for Uncommon Knowledge, thanks for joining us.