Paleoconservative Diversity

I usually read Conrad Black’s well-constructed, perceptive commentaries with profound pleasure, even if I am more critical than he of such statesmen as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Thus I nodded in agreement while looking through most of Black’s latest assessment of the Russo-Ukrainian war, but then I came upon these passages in the concluding paragraph:

Paleo-conservative objections to it in the United States are nonsense. That the West is able to frustrate this hare-brained scheme in the midst of one of the most inept political periods in its history, with only a moderate commitment of resources to spare the West what would otherwise be a thumping humiliation, indicates to all but the most militant atheists that God has taken this most propitious time to bless America again, not in its leaders but in the identity of its adversaries.

I wish the author were more specific about which paleoconservatives he had in mind before he scolded us generically for speaking “nonsense” about American opposition to Vladimir Putin’s aggression. If memory serves, I published on this website a defense of the Ukrainian resistance last year, which Mark Levin read on his radio program. In both instances, I was identified as a paleoconservative. I also edit a paleo monthly and even invented the term in question. 

The fact is the paleoconservative camp is divided over the turbulent war in Ukraine. Contrary to what Black suggests, some paleoconservatives do, in fact, take the Ukrainian side, even while being concerned about the open-endedness of American military assistance. The editorial board of our magazine, which is split over the question, has agreed to disagree about this complicated matter. 

Moreover, despite my view that Putin’s attack on Ukraine was unjustified aggression that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties and deaths, I can see why some on the traditional Right would recoil from Zelenskyy’s woke allies here and in Western Europe. Much anti-Putin rhetoric has focused on the Russian leader’s opposition to the LGBT agenda and his conservative nationalism. What we paleos who oppose Russia’s aggression against Ukraine oppose is the invasion, not Putin’s unwillingness to throw open Russian public schools to the gay lobby. 

Among criticisms of continued American aid that I have heard in the paleo camp is that the money earmarked for Ukraine would be better spent on protecting our broken southern border. If forced to choose between the two, I would opt for closing our southern border before spending more money on the war in Ukraine.

 Of course, that is not a choice that we are currently allowed to make. Joe Biden and his advisors are trying to ensure a permanent Democratic electoral majority by allowing our Southern border to be overrun, with all the dangerous consequences that iniquitous behavior has brought. There are also concerns being voiced on the Right about the corruption of the Ukrainian government, a reality that clashes with the heroic image of the resistance government promoted by the media. 

Finally, I discern anxiety on the Right about pushing the Russian government too far, which may result in a nuclear confrontation. Despite what seems to me defensible reasons for giving assistance to the Ukrainians, I also think the concerns that I’ve heard are justified.  Needless to say, all paleos are   bothered by those who are using the war to overthrow the present Russian government and to install one that is more congenial to woke Western governments.

The debates about such issues in the paleoconservative camp are far more serious than Conrad Black suggests. They are also conducted with an openness that I have rarely encountered in the conservative mainstream. Paleoconservatives vigorously debate controversial questions because we do not have to worry about irritated donors. For better or worse, we have no sugar daddies. We also don’t have to worry about building bridges to the Left because we have no expectations of succeeding at that task. Although we are generally in accord over first principles, we never mock dissent in our ranks, providing it is ably defended.

An anthology of paleoconservative writings will be available from Lexington Books next month, and reading it should make clear that there are obvious differences of opinion among the contributors. Only a very obtuse reader would fail to notice the wide range of views, even on theoretical matters, among those who persist in calling themselves paleoconservatives. Some of this is attributable to the fact that our camp emerged out of a Right that resisted the neoconservative ascendancy of the 1980s. Dissenters on the Right back then could more easily agree on what they opposed than on what united them. 

Since then, paleos have never shown what seems to me the automatic, predictable consensus found among conservative think tanks and most conservative publications. It may therefore be useful to observe which paleoconservative is taking which position. We don’t always speak with one voice on current events—and certainly not on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.  

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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