Grifting Along: Neocons and the ‘Freedom Conservatism’ Movement

Last week David Azerrad posted on American Mind a detailed critique of the ‘statement of principles” issued by Freedom Conservatism, a movement that came into existence this summer. David recognized in his subjects the remnants of a desiccated Reaganism, from whence arose the Never Trump persuasion. Almost all signatories to the document have been outspoken opponents of the former president and profoundly upset by the rise of the populist Right. Most of their rhetoric has an unmistakably shop-worn appearance. “Fiscal sustainability,” “American exceptionalness,” “the shining city on a hill,” “a nation of immigrants,” and ”immigration is a driver of prosperity” are among the document’s less than inspiring tropes.

Most striking about this apparent appeal to “principle” is the striking insincerity of much of what is affirmed. The statement expresses support for what the signatories are not likely to bring about or perhaps are not even interested in giving us. They are not exactly itching to restore our traditional constitutional freedoms and fiscal integrity. Instead, they are really focused on combatting what they designate as “authoritarianism” at home and abroad. The signatories are also high on America’s “distinctive creed,” which is now being allegedly challenged from both right and left. The struggle against authoritarianism abroad, I take it, is a call for more military engagements in the name of “democratic” values. Perhaps our “distinctive creed” is also a call to arms, whatever else it may be.

What we are offered are warmed-over neoconservative positions, plus the promise of returning us to some Reaganite golden age, presumably with due recognition of LGBT and other socially leftist victories that have been achieved since the 1980s. Not at all surprisingly, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, and Bill Kristol’s surrogate and son-in-law, Matthew Continetti, are featured prominently among the statement’s endorsers. Equally present are the signatures of such reliable neocons as Mona Charen, George Will, Charlie Sykes, and Noah Rothman.

Although I may have picked on him once too often, I find it remarkable that one of the statement’s signatories, Jonah Goldberg, still pretends to be some kind of libertarian. Jonah, as David easily shows, was a longtime supporter of affirmative action for blacks; and he became obviously annoyed, when Rand Paul complained that the Public Accommodations Clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to an attack on freedom of association. I’ve no idea what concept of freedom Goldberg and others who signed this document embrace. But for me freedom means freedom of association and the absence of government social engineering. For them, however, freedom may mean enhancing the influence of the pre-Trump Republican establishment.

We are also given the impression that anyone to the right of where the signatories have placed themselves has stumbled into right-wing extremism. What evidence is there that the populists (who may be the true target here) and those struggling American workers whom populists defend but whom Kevin Williamson, another signatory, wishes to see dead, are not perfectly law-abiding, responsible Americans? Of course, we and our friends may see the world differently from some of the better-connected signatories. After all, we don’t run a large Washington think tank; nor are we exactly welcomed as dignitaries at National Review.

Perhaps the single most unsettling part of the statement, and here I must echo David, is its palpable indifference to antiwhite racism, that is, the racism that is deeply embedded in our popular culture, universities, government hiring practices, and publishing world. For example, the statement lets us know that we must pay a “promissory note,” as Martin Luther King phrased it, to make up for the cumulative sins committed over many generations by white Americans: “Many who descend from victims of this system now face economic and personal hurdles that are the direct result of this legacy. We commit to expanding opportunity for those who face challenges due to past government restrictions on individual and economic freedom.”

Although the signatories claim to “adamantly oppose racial discrimination in all its forms, either against or for any person or group of people,” they are clearly avoiding the obvious here.  Shall we assume that the signatories are unaware of the raging explicit antiwhite bigotry that pollutes our society and the difficulty of rooting it out, given how relentlessly our two national parties but particularly the Democrats promote it? Perhaps it is not ignorance that has caused this apparent oversight. “Freedom Conservatives” are reaching leftward in search of new allies because their present enemy is the surging populist Right. Since the Left plays up white racism, “freedom conservatives,” as their would-be allies, are making similar noises.

It is hard for me to find anything, except perhaps MSM rants against racism, sexism, and homophobia, that is quite as stupefying as this statement of principles. This is the soporific response of the well-heeled Washington Republican establishment to those on the right who scorn its rule. As punishment for our resistance, our would-be leaders are flooding us with platitudes that should have been retired eons ago.

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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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