Paul E. Gottfried, Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), $28, ISBN 978-1-933859-99-6.
Reviewed by E. Michael Jones
“For this too is our way: to dare most liberally where we have reflected best. With others, only ignorance begets fortitude; and reflection but begets hesitation.”
Pericles, as cited by Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book II.
I have to admit that when I got a copy of Paul Gottfried’s autobiography, Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers, I checked the index to see if my name was mentioned. It was, of course, presumptuous of me to consider myself as having the standing of either a friend or a teacher or the stature of someone as famous as Richard Nixon or Herbert Marcuse. My only excuse for doing this is the fact that if I were writing my autobiography I would almost certainly mention him. Gottfried deals with this asymmetry in another context when, citing Aristotle, he writes, “but that is in the nature of friendship, which does not have to be a relation between those who are equally attached to each other” (p. 159).
I met Paul Gottfried through Nino Langiulli, who was a disciple of Sidney Hook and, at the time co-editor of an anti-PC newsletter by the name of Measure, put out by the Center for Rational Alternatives, which was a forerunner of the anti-PC neocon operation known as the National Association of Scholars. Nino proposed Paul as the ideal reviewer for Midge Decter’s memoir, and the review he wrote did nothing to disappoint our expectations. In that review, Gottfried wondered why the goyim were so reluctant to criticize Jews. It was one of the many things Paul said that made sense to me. Another Gottfried moment came in the living room of Tom Fleming’s house in Rockford, Illinois when I described Paul Wolfowitz as exhibiting “juedischer Groll gegen Russland” (“Jewish animosity toward Russia,” the conversation taking place in German). It was after this conversation that I decided to embark upon the research that eventually led to the publication of The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and its Impact on World History.
I mention this not because I think it merits mention in Paul Gottfried’s autobiography. As I’ve already said, if anything these incidents merit mention in my autobiography, not his. I mention this because, as with Chronicles Magazine, a journal for which both of us have written, I always seem to get in trouble, not by attacking the paleocons but by carrying their thoughts to what I consider their logical conclusion.
The best example I can give of this phenomenon is the speech I gave at the Sam Francis memorial at the National Press Club in Washington in March 2007. I have no idea why I was asked to speak at this conference. There were many people not present who knew Sam Francis better than I did, but asked to speak I was, and speak I did, and the results of my speech were such that once it was over Taki announced to everyone present his fear that we were all going to be arrested for what I said. Beginning with Peter Brimelow, one speaker after another after another marched to the podium to denounce me. Spies from the SPLC were also in the audience but refused to mention the split my words had caused. In the end, they denounced me being “red-faced and shouting” and predictably accused me of anti-Semitism, even though I explicitly condemned anti-Semitism in my talk. And all this came from a talk in which I was trying my darndest to be irenic and build bridges between what I saw were separate factions making up the conservative movement. Just think what might have happened if I had set out to be eristic instead of irenic! As it was, my wife had to brandish her umbrella in Sam Dickson’s face to keep him from storming the stage and attacking me.
And what did I say that caused such uproar? (For those of you who were not there, the speech was published as a review in the March 2007 issue of Culture Wars and is now on our website.) I did little more than unpack the implications of one Greek word, namely, logos. Paul Gottfried, who was in attendance that day at the Press Club in Washington, is certainly no stranger to Greek words. In fact, he teaches ancient Greek. He was also no stranger to the talk I gave, but knowing Greek and understanding logos are two different things.
To insure that those who had invited me knew what they were getting into, I sent the organizers an advance copy of the talk. I also sent Paul a copy and asked for his comments and suggestions. Hearing nothing from him led me to believe that he approved of what I was going to say, or at least that he didn’t disapprove. I can still remember him walking toward me after I gave the speech, smiling, even if the smile was combined with a look of disbelief, and saying to me, “I can’t believe you really gave that talk.” Well, what did he expect me to do with it?
More perplexing (and disappointing) was his reaction a few days after the talk when he denounced just about everything I said as historically inaccurate and unduly offensive. Far from being a revolutionary Jew, Caiaphas was a hidebound reactionary and supporter of Roman authority. Willi Schlamm and Frank Meyers, the men I portrayed as the Jewish revolutionaries who undermined the conservative character of National Review, were in fact pro-Catholic right-wing anti-Communists who kept the arrant Catholic William F. Buckley on the straight and narrow. Similarly, what I characterized as the poisonous Judaizing influence of Protestantism was, in Paul’s view, a childishly oversimplified view of Reformation theology, which seems to come from European clericalist polemics. Finally, any notion that I had that a conspiracy of Jews and Protestants were responsible for the horrors of urban renewal was, in Paul’s mind, “utterly laughable.”
As I said, if I set out to stick my thumb in the collective eye of the paleocons, I could understand this sort of reaction. But it’s bewildering when you set out to be irenic. Doubly bewildering is that fact that Paul had the speech in advance and had done nothing to save me from (in his view, at least) disgracing myself in front of the paleocon establishment, something which he could have done by pointing out the alleged historical errors upon which I had based my talk. It was as if I were walking toward an open manhole with my arms full of dishes and Paul did nothing to warn me, something which was doubly troubling because I specifically asked him to point out any errors in the talk.
Maybe I am hopelessly naïve. Maybe I am, as Tom Fleming put it in the wake of the same speech, “a holy fool” or “a child with a gun.” But then again maybe something else is at work here. Maybe bigger, more important issues are at stake. Whatever. All of these issues would have remained in the folder of unresolved questions and then been forgotten but for the fact that Paul Gottfried decided to write his autobiography. The fact that he did helps me explicate his reaction to my speech, but more importantly it gives much needed insight into the relation between politics and the higher things upon which any political order must be based.
In the end, things are less complicated than Paul Gottfried makes them out to be. If things get complicated, it is because, as Paul should know, a small error early on becomes a very big error later on. Early on has two meanings, one according to the order of being, which is to say in the realm of metaphysics, and the other in the order of knowing, which in an autobiography means early on in life.
Paul Gottfried was born into a German-Jewish family in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1941. He father was actually Hungarian, but Hungary at the time of his birth was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so, in some sense of the word, German. I remember the relief I felt while in Budapest in the 1980s, which is to say some 70 years after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, hopelessly lost, seeking in vain some sign that I could decipher in a totally alien non-Indo-European language, when an old man came up to me, accompanied by a much younger woman, and asked, “Was suchen Sie?” When I told him that I needed to get to the train station, he walked to the ticket machine, bought me a ticket, and when I asked if I could pay him he responded by saying that it was “Ein Geschenk aus Ungarn.”
Gottfried’s autobiography is suffused with the German Jew’s ancestral contempt of Ostjuden, the Jews from the Pale of the Settlement who poured into New York from roughly 1880 until 1920 in the aftermath of their increasingly violent revolutionary activity in Russia. The German Jews who had arrived in New York generations before—the Schiffs, Warburgs, Belmonts (ne Schoenberg), and Sulzbergers, the owners of the New York Times, that made up “our crowd”—had (or at least revered) “Bildung,” which is to say the appropriation of German culture that people like Moses Mendelssohn, David Friedlander and Salomon Maimun had pioneered in the days of the Enlightenment.
The Ostjuden, on the other hand, were characterized by “ethnic whining” (p. 177). According to Gottfried’s taxonomy, “the academic Left,” like Gaul, can be divided into three parts, the first two parts being Jewish. Type One is made up of good Jews, i.e., German Jews like Paul Gottfried, “representatives of which were predominantly Central European in ancestry, were conspicuously bookish and spent considerable energy working to make the world conform to a Marxist scheme of reality.” Then there was the second type, the bad Jews, which is to say, “New York Jews of Eastern European origin who were fixated on one overriding fear: anti-Semitism” (p. 187): “They were and are the most insecure group I have ever known, and their prominence in today’s elite history departments testifies to the decrepitude of an older Christian establishment they easily replaced.” If anything the WASP goyim, which is to say Type Three academics, were even more contemptible than the Ostjuden members of Type Two because
Whenever Type Two members are moved to scream “fascist,” “racist,” and “anti-Semitic,” droves of non-Jewish academics can be expected to rush to their defense and call for therapeutic and political action.
Hate, as we all know from reading First Things, is a Jewish virtue. When it comes to his dealings with Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Gertrude Himmelfarb and the the Ostjuden who make up the neocon establishment, Paul Gottfried is, if anything, typically Jewish. Not even the patina of time can dull his animus against the Ostjuden who ruined his career by blocking his attempt to get an academic position at CUA and a political position as head of the NEH.
Hate may be a Jewish virtue, but for those who aspire to docility to logos, it has its drawbacks because, like appetite, it distorts reality. One of the drawbacks in this particular instance is lack of coherence in a memoir that seeks to create unity out of a series of “encounters.” If you expected some coherent explanation of how religion, ethnicity, politics, political movements and academe fit together in one orderly scheme, this is not your book. What we have instead is a virtual stew of memories containing all of the above ingredients simmering away in a sauce flavored by ambition, an herb that has left a particularly bitter taste in Paul Gottfried’s mouth.
As some indication of how complicated things can become, Paul treats us to an entire chapter on Herbert Marcuse, the man who joined Freud and Marx at the hip, creating thereby the New Left of the ‘60s, a political movement which Gottfried, as a man of the right, should presumably hate. From the political perspective of a man who voted for Richard Nixon in 1968, Marcuse should have been the villain of the story, but this is not the case, because ethnicity trumps politics in this instance. Marcuse was sympathetic because, unlike the boorish Ostjuden at Commentary, “he oozed traditional German Bildung” (p. 47). At another point Gottfried tells us that “Marcuse’s . . . background reminded me of my father’s family, German speaking Jews who had fled from the Nazis and spoke English with a similar inflection” (p. 46).
Gottfried comes across as sympathetic in passages like this because of unabashedly frank support of filial piety and ethnic solidarity. These are virtues that any paleocon must honor, but they are not ultimate virtues by any stretch of the imagination, especially in a man who aspires to the intellectual life. For someone who feels that the unexamined life is not worth living, something else is needed, some understanding of where these virtues fit into the hierarchy of things as they are. The Greek term for this conjunction of being and reason is logos. The pale English equivalent is “reason.” The Latin word is ratio, but the thing itself transcends all languages. What is logos? According to Josef Pieper’s account in The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966):
“Reason” means. . . nothing other than “regard for and openness to reality,” and “acceptance of reality.” And “truth” is to him [St. Thomas Aquinas] nothing other than the unveiling and revelation of reality, of both natural and supernatural reality.
Filial piety is good, even if you grow up in family of criminals, because you owe your parents a debt for bringing you into existence. But filial piety should not be confused with moral theology, as it would be if the son of a mafioso were to claim that loan-sharking is a good thing because his father did it.
Unlike the neocon apologists for empire, who believe that America is a propositional nation which obliterates both the past and ethnicity of any individual who moves here, Gottfried understands the perduring nature of ethnicity in American life. When he brought up the (to him) “self-evident truth that much of the radical project of the Frankfurt School was attributable to the Jewishness of its founders” (p. 50), he was “scolded” for “recycling a position that is intrinsically anti-Semitic.”
When it comes to the influence of ethnicity on American life, Gottfried is much closer to the Hungarian Catholic émigré John Lukacs, who felt that “ethnic hostilities often seethe behind the exterior of human-rights language and the rhetoric of inclusiveness.” The eclipse of the WASP elite did nothing to change this. In fact,
The fading of the old guard from prominence and leadership, together with its waning self-respect, has accelerated the venting of hostilities by more demonstrative ethnics who nurse grievances against the old patriciate and against each other (p. 112).
In pointing out the persistence of ethnic antagonism in American life, Gottfried was viewed by both colleagues and students alike as somehow “un-American,” a favorite term of abuse that has been succeeded by “anti-Semitic” as the best way to end an argument.
Ethnic solidarity is good, even if you’re a gypsy, but it is not an ultimate good, and in order to understand the quality of its goodness, the man who aspires to be a philosopher must be able to integrate this good into its proper place in an objective hierarchy of goods. In order to accomplish this integration, a gypsy who aspired to be a philosopher would have to be able to make distinctions. So ethnic solidarity is good, but theft, which is part of gypsy culture, is bad. Logos in this instance means both facing up to reality and having the fortitude to say something that might be considered politically incorrect—e.g., the Frankfurt School was Jewish or theft is part of gypsy culture—and then integrating that insight into an objective hierarchy of being.
Paul Gottfried has trouble in both areas, i.e., with regard to both prudence and fortitude. Early on in his autobiography, Gottfried tells us that he had been warned by his parents, “Don’t go into anything that requires you to grovel to get ahead” (p. 19). The fact that he then went into academe is not a sign of filial piety. One of the reasons Gottfried enjoyed Marcuse’s class was because “this graying German radical thrived on debate” (p. 49). In his other classes at Yale, however, Gottfried “felt forced to cut off my remarks lest I injure my professional future by expressing unreasonable views (something that I ultimately did).” It’s difficult to see exactly what Paul means here. Since the highest good for man is reason, “expressing unreasonable views” is a bad thing, and expressing them would expose a defect of the intellect. One gets the impression though that what Paul means by “unreasonable views” is, in effect views which are true but unpopular. Suppressing that sort of thing would indicate moral defect.
ETHNICITY IN AMERICA
Similarly, when it comes to other ethnic groups Gottfried has difficulty making certain basic distinctions. He has difficulty, for example distinguishing between Catholics, who are all sinners, and the Church, which is perfect, or, put another way, between the opinions of Catholics and Catholic principle. Ethnicity in America is based on religion, but, even admitting that, logos impels us to distinguish between the ethnic group and the religion which informs it. The same distinction is true of individuals in that group, who, in the case of Catholicism, tend to ignore whichever precepts the dominant culture finds repugnant.
The same thing is a fortiori true of Jews because Jews, unlike gypsies, are a very important ethnic group. In fact, Jews make up an ethnic group unlike any other on the face of the earth because of their former identity as God’s chosen people. Beginning with the crucifixion, Jewish identity has been based on the Talmud, which is based on rejection of logos in all of its forms from rejection of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, to rejection of the moral law and cardinal virtues like justice when it comes to business dealings with the goyim. Heinrich Graetz, a German Jew who was a towering manifestation of the Bildung which Paul Gottfried admires, explained in great detail in his magnum opus how study of the Talmud had led to the moral corruption of the Ostjuden who were the progenitors of the staff at Commentary and the Weekly Standard. Talmudic scholarship was, in other words, a contradiction in terms. It was an exercise in anti-Logos. It was human reason at war with itself.
Gottfried never says this explicitly, but we get the impression that his undergraduate days at Yeshiva University left him vaguely dissatisfied with being a Jew, in spite of all the ethnic solidarity the experience provided. “I felt,” Gottfried tells us,
a massive cultural barrier separating me from my new classmates, who were preponderantly from Brooklyn and Queens, had attended one of several Orthodox Jewish schools and seemed to carry with them the social gracelessness of having grown up in a transported Eastern European Ghetto. . . . My religious beliefs seemed less and less to resemble those of my classmates, a fact that I noticed during my college years. I have never really been an Orthodox Jew, even if I had been a conventionally observant one. At the same time, I did keep traditional Jewish and other Rabbinic laws, although never with the rigor displayed by my Orthodox associates. These laws were for me mainly an ethnic and cultural point of reference. I could not relate them to a well-developed theology, as an ad hoc justification for ordering one’s communal life in accordance with certain Rabbinic teachings (pp. 21-2).
Paul Gottfried made contact with logos while in college, but only in a negative sense when he discovered that the Talmud could not lead to a “well-developed theology.” But instead of embarking upon a path that could, Gottfried turned to German Bildung for the answer to questions about higher things. Gottfried refers to Spinoza as an early role model because he was “the first evolutionary thinker” and goes on to claim that
By the time I was in my third year of college, I had come close to accepting, without knowing it, Spinoza’s scheme of human spiritual progress, from the Mosaic code through the visions of universalist prophets, like Isaiah, to the teachings of Jesus (pp. 21-22).
But it’s clear that the real evolutionary thinker who really informs Gottfried’s thought is G. W. F. Hegel. It is from his work on Hegel and the post-War American Right that Gottfried learned “that historical consciousness defines a truly conservative worldview” (p. 202).
From a theological perspective, Gottfried has had a “lifelong affinity for Calvinism,” but in spite of that fact:
I could never quite bring myself to become a Protestant, although I resonated to what the Reformers had said about the dialectic between faith and the law. God for me was the Hebrew one, who existed in splendid, transcendent Otherness. It was inconceivable for me that He would have condescended to have himself tortured to death in order to atone for “our sins” (p. 22).
Gottfried’s sarcastic use of quotes is telling. Even the judaizing revolutionary movement known as Calvinism had too much logos in it for Paul’s taste because, even if they tried to supplant the New Testament with the Old as their guide for life, Calvinists still believed that Christ died on the Cross for “our sins.”
Bildung may have liberated Jews like Mendelssohn and Maimun from the tyranny of the Talmud but in doing so it became a more sophisticated form of intellectual bondage. The same thing was true of Paul Gottfried. Instead of attaining the bread of logos, Gottfried settled for a stone, namely, the truncated form of logos otherwise known as the Enlightenment. Or as he put it, Gottfried saw in Spinoza, someone who espoused, “A historical stage on the way of a fuller religious consciousness—rather than a permanent counsel for dealing with those whose ethical and spiritual lives seem defective.”
Appalled by the intellectual chaos of the Talmud that derived from the Jews’ rejection of logos, Paul Gottfried became a Hegelian, which involved him in a more sophisticated rejection of logos. By substituting history for the principle of non-contradiction, the Hegelian is forced to bend his knee in worship of the Zeitgeist, and condemned to learn that he who lives by the dialectical sword will also die by it. The great irony of Gottfried’s book is that the encounters that make up his career end up telling the sad story of a Hegelian who ended up on the wrong side of history by backing an obsolete revolutionary movement.
From a political perspective, paleoconservatives like Gottfried did us all a service in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s by warning us of the dangers the neocons posed for America, warnings that were borne out when the neocons hijacked American foreign policy during the Bush Administration and involved America in a disastrous war with Iraq. In this regard, Gottfried was ahead of his time when he writes:
By the late ‘70s I noticed with growing discomfort the unalterably leftist sensibilities of many neoconservative journalists and social scientists. . . . Such characteristic views of theirs as attachment ot the anti-Soviet Left, a fixation on Christian anti-Semitism, and a raging hatred of Germans, Russians, and white Southerners, it dawned on me that I was looking at a mere variation on those usual opinions that could be found in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic (p. 37).
Then mysteriously the paleocon movement switched horses in mid-stream and started beating the drum against “Islamofascism” in a way that rendered it indistinguishable from Commentary or the Weekly Standard. I remember attending a Chronicles conference and listening to a talk by Srdja Trifkovich on the threat which Islam posed to the West. In the question and answer period following the talk I said, “I can understand your feelings toward Islam. If I were a Serb, I would feel the same way. But America has never been threatened by Islam, and the only reason we are threatened now is because of our support of Israel.”
Afterward Trifkovich admitted what I said was true, but he then added, “You can’t say that sort of thing in public.”
Paul Gottfried is not Srdja Trifkovich, but the two men were associated with the same political movement and it is that movement, as explicated by Gottfried’s autobiography, that we are trying to explain here. If life were a Venn diagram, there would be considerable overlap between these two circles. In the glossy photo section in the middle of Encounters, Paul chose a photograph of what might be described as the paleocon politburo as of 1987. He is pictured to the left standing next to Sam Francis. Tom Fleming is off to the right, standing between Joe Sobran and Murray Rothbard. Lew Rockwell is there too, along with Mel Bradford and Alan Carlson. Paul’s autobiography is not a history of the paleoconservative movement, but it does elucidate what went wrong with the movement. It also shows the limits of any political movement which refuses to take account of both being (as in my statement to Trifkovich) and fortitude (or the lack thereof, as in his inability to state publicly what he knew to be true).
Let’s leave fortitudo aside for a moment, since it is ancillary to prudentia, and let’s instead concentrate on the cognitive nature of prudence for a moment. “In colloquial use,” Pieper tells us,
prudence always carries the connotation of timorous, small-minded self-preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself. Neither of these traits is compatible with nobility; both are unworthy of the noble man. . . . The common mind regards prudence and fortitude as virtually contradictory ideas. A “prudent” man is thought to be one who avoids the embarrassing situation of having to be brave. The “prudent” man is the “clever tactician” who contrives to escape personal commitment. . . . Those who shun danger are wont to account for their attitude by appealing to the necessity for “prudence.” . . . Modern man . . . will often call lies and cowardice prudent, truthfulness and courageous sacrifice imprudent (pp. 5-6).
So much for contemporary distortions of the term. In reality, Prudence is “the model and mother of all virtues, the circumspect and resolute shaping power of our minds which transforms knowledge of reality into realization of the good” (p. 22). Prudence involves “the brave boldness to make final decisions. It means purity, straightforwardness, candor and simplicity of character; it means standing superior to the utilitarian complexities of mere ‘tactics.’”
Real prudence means making the right decision, but in order to make the right decision a man must first know the truth of the situation. In other words, in order to make the right decision ultimately, a man must first of all be docile to being. He must possess “the ability to be still in order to attain objective perception of reality.” This leads us to the true definition of the virtue of prudence, namely, “that the objective cognition of reality shall determine action; that the truth of real things shall become determinative” (p. 15).
This is no simple matter, but Gottfried makes the issue more complicated than it is by claiming that political life is full of random options. Instead of responding to the reality of political life in America in the late 20th century, which is to say the Jewish takeover of first American culture, then the conservative movement, and finally, during the Bush Administration, America’s foreign policy as well, the paleoconservative movement in a moment of false prudence decided to suppress the truth of what it knew.
Gottfried gives the impression not only that he can choose his battles, which is true enough, but also that he can choose, in the manner of a German idealist, whether or not a war is going on, which he cannot. When Gottfried describes his politics what comes across is a form of philosophical consumerism, with Paul picking and choosing at the intellectual salad bar. Paul can mix and match his political options ad libidem:
One could conceivably sympathize with the Southern side in the US Civil War, lean toward he Central Powers in the First World War, or believe that Martin Luther King was not a secular saint but a Marxist demagogue, and still be passionately supportive of Israel, as I explained in a feature essay on the changing foreign policy of the American right in Orbis (Winter 2007). Not every part of the neoconservative bundle of sentiments is related to every other one; nor does it receive its motive power exclusively from the impulse to rally to the Israeli government against its critics (p. 39).
The issue is simpler than that. The armature of history revolves around logos and man’s rejection of it, otherwise known as revolution. The Catholic Church is on the side of logos; Jews are by nature revolutionaries. Each historical epoch involves a struggle between the forces of logos and its revolutionary opponents. Over the course of the last 2000 years since the time when the Logos became incarnate, the Church has been the force which has stood for logos, and the Jews have allied themselves with every revolutionary assault on that order, oftentimes by becoming the revolutionary avant garde, to use Marx’s term.
Gottfried’s autobiography is silent on the big picture, no matter how you define that term. As some indication of his conflicted views on logos, Gottfried is even more conflicted when it comes to the Catholic Church than he is in dealing with the Jews. As I have already indicated, he is unable to distinguish between Catholics, who are all sinners, and the Church, which is perfect. As a result, he invariably makes judgments about the Catholic Church and its teachings based on the Catholics he knew in Connecticut growing up or, worse still, Catholics he may have had in his classes at places like Elizabethtown College. The net result is an ethnic animus even stronger than the grudge which Gottfried holds against the neocons.
But beyond that, Gottfried is unable to discern which groups support logos (or revolution) and which groups oppose it. Without this ability, there is no possible way to formulate anything approaching a coherent philosophy of “conservatism.” Gottfried’s biography is full of conversion stories, during the course of which an ideologue, usually a Marxist, someone like Eugene Genovese, awakes to logos and in some instances converts to the Catholic faith, as Genovese’s wife, Elizabeth Fox Genovese, did. Christopher Lasch seems to have made a similar contact with logos toward the end of his life, yet Gottfried dismisses his book The True and Only Heaven out of what sounds suspiciously like ethnic prejudice:
The good types [in The True and Only Heaven] who redeemed his [Lasch’s] dualistic universe were often the progenitors of the Catholic blue-collar working families that I can still vaguely recall from the 1950s. These families were marked by multiple offspring and by wives who prepared their husbands’ lunch pails. Lasch’s evocation of the females in his ideal but perhaps archaic nuclear family caused the feminist Susan Faludi to designate him as the “leading American sexist of the’90s” (p. 181).
Is it possible that Professor Gottfried believes that there are various kinds of family and that some varieties could be called “ideal but archaic”? If so, how does this essentially Foucaultian view correspond to conservatism?
Paul sought to avoid this dichotomy (and every other dichotomy based on the principle of non-contradiction) by becoming a Hegelian, but, by becoming a Hegelian, Gottfried condemned himself to worship the Zeitgeist, which is to say, whoever happened to be the Napoleon, the man Hegel worshipped as the Zeitgeist on horseback, of his age. From an ethnic, political and philosophical perspective Paul should have joined forces with the Neocons and marched with them in triumph as they took over Washington in the 1980s.
From a Jewish point of view, however, Gottfried found the prospect of working with Ostjuden, a group he considered a bunch of loathsome parvenus, personally repugnant. As a result he found himself impelled by a concatenation of forces—ethnic, personal, etc.—into taking a default position by backing not a counter-revolutionary movement which could be justly termed “conservative,” but an obsolete revolutionary movement instead. His choice of role models is instructive: “Some educated, wealthy German Jews turned toward the cultural and aesthetic Right, as exemplified by the rarefied circled centered around the poet-seer Stefan George.”
In other words, it was the “cunning of reason,” to appropriate Hegel’s term, and not logos which formed Paul, and it was that cunning which turned him into a right-wing, Jewish Hegelian, which in this day and age is something akin to being the world’s tallest midget. Needless to say, the most famous right-wing Hegelian of the 20th century was Adolf Hitler. Chesterton, as Robert Hickson pointed out in an article in Culture Wars, saw the affinities between Nazism and Judaism, and so it should not be surprising that Jews should see them too and be drawn to the same philosophy that Hitler found attractive. What’s puzzling is how anyone could take all of this and think that an American political movement could be based on it. But that is what Gottfried tried to do.
More surprising still is that he chose this quixotic path in the name of political realism. Gottfried was always ready to disparage his comrades-in-arms as “beautiful losers,” a term he appropriated from Sam Francis and which he applied to people like Russell Kirk, Pat Buchanan, and Sam Francis himself whenever Gottfried felt they violated political taboos. One of the most egregious examples, in Gottfried’s mind, took place when Russell Kirk “delivered a scathing and unexpected indictment of the neoconservatives at the Heritage Foundation in 1988.” Gottfried goes on to say that “I sat in the audience with an open mouth, more surprised than delighted by what seemed in this particular context a possibly costly indiscretion. (The speaker was being paid by a then largely neoconservative foundation for his rhetorical services.)” (p. 165).
Kirk’s “indiscretion” involved saying that the capital of the United States was Washington not Tel Aviv. If conservatives had heeded what Kirk said and if they had stood up to the Ostjuden in 1988, then perhaps the country might have been spared the disaster of the Bush Administration and his disastrous Iraqi war. That they did not is not Russell Kirk’s fault. Kirk should be praised for his courage is stating an inconvenient truth. Instead he is damned with faint praise by a man who headed to the tall grass (as Pat Buchanan would have put it) with the rest of the intellectual cowards that made up the conservative establishment at the time.
What exactly is the problem here? Was Kirk wrong? Did Gottfried feel that the Ostjuden were a benign influence on our foreign policy? No, what Russell Kirk said corresponded to being, and in saying what he said, Kirk was being docile to the truth, the cognitive prerequisite for prudence. The fault here lay not with Kirk but with the “prudence of the flesh” exhibited by the conservative establishment, which chose to punish the messenger that brought the bad news. Paul Gottfried, the Hegelian who worships history as the repudiation of logos, concurs in their act of intellectual cowardice by claiming that telling the truth in this instance was a “costly indiscretion.”
This is not the only instance of Gottfried disguising his timidity as prudence. Paul faults Pat Buchanan for defending John Demjanjuk, a man the Israeli Supreme Court eventually exonerated of the charges brought against him. “Discretion,” Gottfried tells us, “was urgently needed, particularly since Pat may have been planning to run for president at the time that he was rallying to Demjanjuk’s defense.” Predictably, Gottfried criticizes Buchanan for telling the truth and ascribes that “flaw” to “Pat’s tendency to move from boldness into rashness, a quality of character that is one of Aristotle’s vices.”
Sam Francis gets the same treatment. According to Gottfried’s analysis, Francis “was ousted from the staff of the Washington Times for his accumulated indiscretions” (p. 157):
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a speech Sam delivered at a 1994 conference held by American Renaissance, a publication that has been properly described as “soft racialist.”
Gottfried admired Sam Francis: “Although my junior by five years, he was the contemporary on the American Right who shaped by thinking most decisively.” Gottfried claims that Sam, like Will Herberg, whom Gottfried also admired, “thirsted for righteousness.” What made these figures “beautiful losers,” in Gottfried’s eyes, was “their willingness to forego worldly success for what they believed.” But underneath all of the encomia, there is the subtle insinuation that Sam lacked “prudence,” by which Paul means “prudentia carnalis,” the prudence of the flesh:
If my friend hoped to survive as a journalist in the present society, he would have to stay away from “insensitive” subjects. The alternative . . . was to do something that did not require direct contact with the media, the priests of the PC religion. In the world of communications, doctrinal conformity would likely remain the established rule.
Gottfried goes on to defend Francis by claiming that the neocon Douglas Feith was even more of a “soft racialist” than Sam, when what he should have done is correct Sam for his “racialism.” From the point of view of prudence, Sam was the opposite of Srdja Trifkovich. His “soft racialist” views, as Paul puts it, were a sign of defective intellect, not suppression of the truth. He was ignorant, but not wicked. Instead of chiding him for his “indiscretion,” Paul should have enlightened him about the intellectual inadequacy of the racial view of life. Sam had fortitude even if he lacked a proper understanding of reality, but fortitude cannot exist without prudence. What we have instead is bellicosity or rashness which urges the man without prudence to charge the machine gun nest of revolution waving the spear of his own anger.
Paul’s choice of words is telling. He accuses his comrades-in-arms of “indiscretion” whenever they tell an inconvenient truth. Discretion is a purely subjective term. It refers to “the power or right to decide according to one’s own judgment, freedom of judgment or choice.” Prudence, on the other hand, is a cardinal virtue. Indeed, it is the prime cardinal virtue, and it is missing from Paul’s lexicon.
This is not simply a semantic issue. Prudence is one of the pillars of logos, and prudence is based on “an objective cognition of reality.” There are two impediments to achieving an “objective cognition of reality.” The first is defect of intellect. The second is defect of character. “We are astonished,” Pieper tells us, “and yet to some extent we understand, when Thomas Aquinas discovers that these imprudences of ‘omission’ have their origin in unchastity, in that surrender to the goods of the sensual world which splits the power of decision in two.” Deliberation is part of prudence, but it kicks in only after recognizing “the duties enforced on us by things as they are” (p. 25).
What Srjda Trifkovich exhibited in his private conversation with me was not ignorance; it was wickedness. It was a willful suppression of the truth, which is the prerequisite of prudence, and therefore the prerequisite of all of the other cardinal virtues as well. As Pieper puts it, “Whoever rejects truth, whether natural or supernatural, is really ‘wicked’ and beyond conversion.” Like the mainstream conservatism from which it derived, paleoconservatism aborted itself in the name of what Pieper would call
“prudence of the flesh,” which, “instead of serving the true end of all of human life. . . is directed solely toward the goods of the body and is, according to the Epistle to the Romans, “death” and “the enemy of God.”
Prudence means that
not only the end of human action but also the means for its realization shall be in keeping with the truth of real things. This in turn necessitates that the egocentric “interests” of man be silenced in order that he may perceive the truth of real things, and so that reality itself may guide him to the proper means for realizing his goal.
An age which glorifies technique unsurprisingly mistakenly assumes that what the ancients called prudence is in reality cunning (or astutia), and as a result the political movements which those who claim to be wise in the ways of the world create and manage invariably succumb to all of the dangers associated with false prudence. This is most apparent in the chapters in Encounters about Gottfried’s academic career and his failed attempt to become chairman of the NEH. Gottfried spends a good deal of his autobiography talking about his academic career. Having gone to Yale for graduate school, Gottfried had certain expectations about academic life. By the time wrote his autobiography those expectation had turned to ashes.
Although I courted well-placed academics and enjoyed the smells and sounds of famous universities in my younger years, as I have grown older I have developed a distaste for academic culture. Most precisely, I have developed a Nietzschean reaction to the girly men and virago women that populate university settings.
As a result of the above-mentioned disappointments, Gottfried decided in his early fifties “that I would no longer seek academic advancement.” Instead, he contented himself with his tenured position “at Elizabethtown College, which as far as I could tell was the only college that would have me” (p. xvii).
Just why Gottfried should feel so sad about his academic career is not clear. He does, after all, have an endowed chair, which is more than Sam Francis ended up with. It may not be at what Gottfried considers a prestigious institution, but Chestnut Hill College, where John Lukacs, a man whom Gottfried admires, taught for years is hardly prestigious either.
Perhaps Gottfried’s sadness comes from the fact that he is a teacher who doesn’t like teaching. He certainly doesn’t like his students, whom he dismisses as yahoos every time they come up in the book. The antipathy seems to be mutual. After listening to their “gibberish” in response to a question about Senator McCarthy in his class, Gottfried concludes his description of the discussion in his class by writing, “Once it was over, they went back to jabbering on their cell phones and supplying each other with information about which designer’s jeans were on sale a the local mall.”
The sadness Gottfried manifests is not uncommon among professors these days but it has less to do with the quality of student and more to do with thwarted ambition and the acedia which flows from it. Acedia, according to Pieper, “is the dreary sadness of heart unwilling to accept the greatness to which man is called by God.” One reason for Gottfried’s acedia may be the fact that Gottfried has followed the advice he has given to others, and things have not worked out as he expected. In his quest to become head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Gottfried listened as his advisors “stressed the need for me to keep a low profile and not to grant compromising interviews if I made it onto the short list. Above all I should not appear to be on the far right.” (“Buckley,” Genovese told Gottfried, “has worked out a modus vivendi with the Neos—to speak bluntly, the NY Jews . . .”) That being the case, Genovese counseled Gottfried: “For God’s sake, keep your mouth shut. Bradford was ruined by being sucked into an interview with the Washington Post” (p. 173).
All of this “astutia,” however, led to nothing but the taste of ashes in Gottfried’s mouth. In fact, Gottfried’s description of his academic battles points out the futility of acting according to the “prudence of the flesh,” better than anything Aquinas could say on the matter.
The turning point in Gottfried’s career came when he tried to get an appointment as Genovese’s “vassal” (his term) in the University of Rochester history department, a plan that was thwarted by his ally later in life Christopher Lasch:
The setback that I suffered was so devastating that my career never really recovered. Not even the scheming that caused me to lose a graduate professorship at CUA 17 yeas later did as much harm to me as Lasch caused in a single afternoon of conversation. . . . It was a prestigious department, membership in which would have opened other professional doors, and at 29 I would have been young enough to take full advantage of my appointment. Within a year  the job market would collapse.
And yet, in spite of the bitterness he felt at the time, Gottfried feels that Lasch may have had a point in opposing his nomination because
He had been genuinely concerned about what he saw as the highhanded way in which Gene was dealing with his duties as chairman, and he feared that Gene was trying to fill the junior professorships in the department with hand picked vassals.
It was entirely possible that out of gratitude and youthful enthusiasm I would have been what my Stalinist chairman Gene was looking for: an indisputable academic conservative who could be counted on to rally to his benefactor.
Gottfried’s description of his academic career is, in many ways, the most depressing part of a depressing book because in this section Gottfried comes across as an “intriguer who has regard for only ‘tactics,’” who “can neither face things squarely nor act straightforwardly” (Pieper, p. 20). In describing what he considers his failed career, Gottfried becomes a paradigmatic example of “the folly of cunning,” according to which “the loquacious and therefore unhearing bias of the ‘tactician’ . . . obstructs the path of realization, blocks it off from the truth of real things.”
Henry Kissinger once said that academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low. If there is anything more depressing that an account of academic politics, it is an account of the “Insidiousness, guile, craft and concupiscence” that “are the refuge of small-minded and small-souled persons” who engage in losing academic battles. Pieper goes on to say that “All these false prudences and superprudences arise from covetousness, which “means . . . immoderate straining for all the possessions which man thinks are needed to assure his own importance and status (altitudo, sublimitas). Covetousness means an anxious senility, desperate self-preservation, overriding concern for confirmation and security.”
There is no point in second-guessing the outcome of long-lost academic battles. The point which comes across—subliminally, at least—in Encounters is that the disgust which Gottfried feels toward the girly men and manly viragos of academe is self-disgust, not so much as at having fought and lost, but at having to descend to the level of his opponents and still lose. There was no magnanimity in these battles because as Thomas declares in the Summa Theologica and Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, magnanimity disdains intrigue and “prefers in all things to act openly.”
Over the course of Gottfried’s career, conservatism became more and more cut off from reality, largely because of the timidity of its proponents. Gottfried refers to Sam Francis as a “beautiful loser” largely because Francis believed that Middle American Radicals would rise up and throw the managerial elites out of office:
Our political and to some extent social life was dominated by a managerial class pushing an egalitarian ideology; and that the only way in which the Right, however one defined it, could offer effective opposition to managerial tyranny was through a mass movement. That movement was to be based, Sam argued . . . on the propagation of a “redemptive myth.”
The problem, according to Gottfried, is that:
Sam never made entirely clear how this invented “myth” would work to achieve his end. The primitive Christian church, in which Sorel had located the power of a successful myth, truly believed its message. . . Early Christians went to their deaths bearing witness to God’s promise of redemption. But such would not be true for the kind of mass leader whom Sam had in mind. Such a figure wold be intrinsically different from those fearless leaders of the early church and of the anarchist movement (both of which Sorel cited to illustrate his thesis). What was not supposedly needed was a social redeemer who would devise and end-of-days scenario for political purposes. With some luck, Sam’s temporal savior would turn the average yuppie family into a raging opponent of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (p. 151).
In spite of Gottfried’s affection for Sam Francis, his description of Sam’s vision of “Middle American Radicals,” based on the research of Michigan scholar Donald Warren, is suffused with condescension. Who could seriously believe that a “Middle American revolt” . . . would surge out of the “heartland” (p. 152)? Condescension turns to something akin to sneering when Gottfried adds, “Whether this heartland referred to a place of the heart, a geographic region, or a sociological category was never fully explained.”
Gottfried devotes a whole chapter of Encounters to Richard Nixon. In fact the chapter on Nixon is the main “encounter” in the book, but even doing this Gottfried he fails to see Nixon’s real achievement and instead judges him according to the litmus tests of movement conservatism. This a significant omission because Nixon succeeded in successfully realizing Sam Francis’s fantasy of a “Middle American revolt” surging out of the heartland. Nixon didn’t just talk about a “Middle American revolt”; he actually succeeded in mobilizing the middle American radicals he called the silent majority by taking control of the most powerful political office in the land. Instead of conferring with the gurus of movement conservatism, Nixon did this by maintaining contact with “reality.” Nixon, whatever his faults, possessed the virtue of prudence. He understood who his allies and who his enemies were and did not make the mistake of trying to make an idol out of clay and iron by mixing natural allies and enemies in the same political movement. Nixon was the political genius who pried Catholic ethnics away from the Democratic Party for the first time since the New Deal. He was also reality-based enough to know that the Jews were his enemies because of the counter-revolution he was engaged in. Richard Nixon was prudent in the Thomistic sense of the term. His politics was reality-based and not ideological, and yet for all his praise of Nixon and his description of their dinners together, Gottfried seems blind to his achievement.
Ronald Reagan built on Nixon’s achievement, but he also destroyed it by bringing the Ostjuden Gottfried detests to Washington. Midge Decter mentions this moment in her memoirs:
As a kind of foretelling of Reagan’s Washington, one day in the late ‘70s my husband and I answered an invitation to come to [the] Heritage [Foundation] and lecture. . . . Not long after that, out of the blue, as it were, Ed Feulner, the president of Heritage, invited me to lunch. To my astonishment he asked me if I would be willing to serve on his board of trustee, and perhaps somewhat to his astonishment I took no more than three seconds to say yes. (Midge Decter, An Old Wife’s Tale, pp. 152-3).
Decter then wondered why she had been tapped for the post: “Was I perhaps there as a Jew?” she wondered.
What Nixon knew, but which Ronald Reagan did not is, as Father Hesburgh put it, “If you let the Jews in they take over.” This is precisely what happened to the Republican Party during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Jews, as masters of discourse, first redefined conservatism to mean, above all else, support of Israel, then the neocons dragged the US into a disastrous war in Iraq, as Gottfried’s friend Steve Sniegoski has demonstrated in his book The Transparent Cabal. And in doing that the Jews wrecked the Republican Party, a political institution that was a significant vehicle of counter-revolution under Richard Nixon.
The demise of the Republican Party at the hands of the Jews who first hijacked it and then abandoned it should be a cautionary tale for any reality-based conservative. One lesson to be derived from this tale is that anyone who constructs an intellectual edifice in defiance of logos, as both Jews and Hegelians do in their separate ways, will not know how to act properly, because without prudence there is no proper action. Needless to say, those who build political movements upon a foundation which takes no cognizance of prudence are doomed to failure. This is so because
. . . prudence is the standard of volition and action; but the standard of prudence, on the other hand, is the ipsa res, the “thing itself,” the objective reality of being. And therefore, the pre-eminence of prudence signifies first of all the direction of volition and action toward truth; but finally it signifies the directing of volition and action toward objective reality. The good is prudent beforehand, but that is prudent which is in keeping with reality.
If action toward truth is the basis of prudence and hence of any successful action, and hence of any successful political action, then the movement which goes by the name of conservatism was doomed from the start because it was created to suppress the truth in the interest of political expedience. If we take ISI, the publisher of Gottfried’s memoir as some indication of a conservative foundation, its point was to confound logos by getting Catholics, as in the students who went to Villanova and Fordham, to act like Jews, people like Frank Meyer and the other Jews who did the intellectual heavy lifting at National Review. Conservatism was a crypto-Jewish ideology. The National Review crowd had nothing but contempt for Richard Nixon because of his lack of ideological purity. Frank Meyer, in fact, took the occasion of Richard Nixon’s presidential nomination to lecture a group of (most probably Catholic) student activists on the difference between real and false conservatism. Real conservatism was Jewish, or as Murray Friedman put it:
Meyer declared, in a manner Jewish neoconservatives would adopt later, “a revolutionary force” that shattered “the unity and balance of civilization.” Conservatism should not be limited to an uncomplicated reverence for the past, which is the essence of natural conservatism. The conscious conservative, he proclaimed, was required to become, in a nonpejorative sense, an ideologue, with a clear understanding of how principles and institutions and men affect each other to form a culture and a society (Murray Friedman, The Neoconservative Revolution, p. 98).
When Richard Nixon mobilized the Catholic ethnics in 1968 and 1972, the Catholics did not have to convert to another religion, the religion of conservatism, in order to be saved. That’s why people like Frank Meyer hated Richard Nixon. That’s also why the movement failed in a way that Nixon’s presidency—aborted though it may have been—did not.
In the end conservatism had no fortitude because it had no prudence because “only the prudent man can be brave.” The movement was full of men who tried to cling “to the delusion that the disharmony of the world is fundamentally curable by cautious and correct ‘tactics’” (p. 140). The movement had brave men who were misguided and intelligent men who lacked courage, but what it lacked was the kind of man who
walks straight up to the cause of his fear and is not deterred from doing that which is good; if, moreover, he does so for the sake of good—which ultimately means for the sake of God, and therefore not from ambition or from fear of being taken for a coward—this man, and he alone, is truly brave (p. 127).
The net result of Gottfried’s “prudence of the flesh” is pessimism. Self-control is obsolete. The lesson Gottfried derives from Plato is that “most people never subdue their appetites and passions in order to rule over themselves, let alone others, by applying ‘logistikon [reasoning power].’”
since public administration and the media now direct our lives and opinions, Plato’s teaching about self-control may have become politically irrelevant. No longer is there any need for prudential reason as a check on the intemperate elements of our nature. People have outsourced this task through their certified votes to social professionals (p. 154).
The political movement he shared with the men in that room at the Rockford Institute, in other words, “The American future as envisaged by our companions” turns out to be, upon closer inspection, “an exercise in wishful thinking.” The West could be saved through “a successful reappropriation by Christianity of its own redemptive history,” but since Gottfried doesn’t believe in that redemptive history, why should anyone else believe it (p. 111)?
The related issues of “redemptive myth” and “redemptive history” bring up the most glaring omission in Gottfried’s book, namely, Sam Francis’s deathbed conversion to the “redemptive myth” of Catholicism. Gottfried admired Sam Francis:
Whatever my personal setbacks, I resent what happened to him more than I do my own tribulations. While I managed to survive my enemies this was not true for my reclusive friend, who expressed unseasonable thoughts all too loudly. (p. 159).
But, as in other instances, Gottfried felt the need to suppress the truth, in this instance, the most significant act of Sam’s life, his final turning to logos at the end. As Pieper points out, in this age, i.e., anno domini, the year of Our Lord, there is no such thing as logos without Christ. That is why the account of Sam’s deathbed conversion, which was probably the most controversial part of my talk, is such a significant omission. Paul mentions the funeral at Lookout Mountain. He mentions the ministrations of Sylvia Crutchfield (but not the fact that she stood guard at Sam’s hospital door to keep Father Scalia from administering the last rites, an action thwarted by God’s power). But he does not mention the fact that Sam, in spite of his cyncism, his disappointments, his wrong-headed racism, and his acedia, still chose logos in the end by choosing to die as a Catholic. Gottfried’s failure to mention of Sam’s deathbed conversion is the most telling omission in his autobiography. It turns his book into something like Brideshead Revisited without Lord Marchmain making the sign of the cross or a remake of King Kong without the monkey. It is one more instance of the suppression of the truth that is characteristic of the prudence of the flesh and leads to death of the spirit and the futility of any political movement based on it.
E. Michael Jones is the editor of Culture Wars.
This review was published in the September 2009 issue of Culture Wars.
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