Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

Delusions of a Convert


Fall 1996

UP FROM CONSERVATISM: WHY THE RIGHT IS WRONG FOR AMERICA
Michael Lind

The Free Press, 1996, viii + 295 pgs.

As usual, my reviews have been too generous. Although Lind's earlier work, The Next American Nation, struck me as fundamentally flawed, Lind seemed to me possessed of an interesting historical imagination. I was mistaken, unless indeed he has suffered severe damage to the higher lobes of the cortex since the earlier tome appeared. Up From Conservatism is a genuinely silly book.

Lind, once a stalwart among neo-conservatives, has abandoned the right, or, as I prefer, that simulacrum of it with which he was for a time associated. What has caused Lind's dismay with his former friends? They have been willfully blind to a dread menace.

One of the most influential organizations on the right, as Lind conceives it, is the Christian Coalition, headed by Pat Robertson. In several books, Lind claims, Robertson espouses a crude anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Like Father Charles Coughlin of old, the Reverend Pat combines "the offices of Christian cleric and political agitator" (p. 108). Once cognizant of this peril, Lind alerted his friends.

To his stupefaction, they refused to denounce the errant minister. They defended Robertson against him! It was just this that led to the rupture of Lind's friendship with William Buckley. What was our boy to do? To him the appropriate response was blindingly obvious: he jumped ship. He published an expos of Robertson, which attracted wide attention, in the New York Review of Books. The left bade him welcome, and he now contributes regularly to all manner of leading journals for the progressively inclined.

What is one to make of all this? Lind's fear of a mass movement that adheres to weird conspiracy theories rests on an elementary fallacy. His "argument" goes something like this: (1) The Christian Coalition is influential; (2) Pat Robertson is head of the Coalition; (3) Therefore, Pat Robertson is influential; (4) Therefore all of Pat Robertson's views are influential; (5) Robertson's views are anti-Semitic; (6) Therefore, Robertson's anti-Semitic views are influential.

Step 4 of the argument does not follow from the previous steps. The Coalition's program, elaborately choreographed by Ralph Reed, a self-conscious "moderate," contains no reference to Robertson's conspiracy theories. I have yet to meet anyone who takes the details of Robertson's books seriously; as Lind himself has abundantly shown, his writings consist largely of quotations and paraphrases of works long in circulation. To have a mass anti-Semitic movement, you must obviously have someone massively propagating anti-Semitism. Mysterious references to plots hatched by international bankers do not suffice.

Lind's charge that rightwing intellectuals have ignored anti- Semitism becomes even more ludicrous when its specifics are examined. Lind shows incontrovertibly that Robertson closely paraphrased the works of Nesta Webster, a British historian with little sympathy for Jews; but Robertson's paraphrases edit out her anti-Semitic remarks (p. 105).

Perhaps the sin, in Lind's eyes, is to take Webster seriously. But why should she not be taken seriously? True enough, she had several bees in her bonnet which readers must always keep in mind. (Besides being anti-Jewish, she was also strongly anti- German, a matter about which Lind utters no reproof.) But she was a serious historian, whose works merit careful study one thinks in this connection of her introduction of the research of Augustin Cochin to English readers. Lind might find it useful to look up A.J.P. Taylor's review of her two-volume Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, in the Manchester Guardian for April 16, 1937. Certainly she was a more reliable historian than Lind, who solemnly informs us that Lessing was a "Jewish philosopher" (p. 106). Where does he get such nonsense?

If Lind opposes Webster's conspiracy theories, it soon develops that he has a quasi-conspiracy theory of his own. And it is one that is far more ridiculous than anything she was able to conjure up. America, it seems, is in the grip of the "overclass." Of what does this nefarious group consist?

"I use the word 'overclass' to refer not to the rich in general or the educated in general, but to a specific social group that is at once an elite and a quasi-hereditary social class. The overclass is the credentialed managerial-professional elite, consisting of Americans with advanced degrees (MBAs, JDs, PhDs, MDs) and their spouses and children" (p. 34). Lind, better than any previous conspiracy theorist, has identified the true enemy. It is not the Jews, Masons, bankers, Communists, etc. it is people who are smart. After them!

Lind develops his theory on a similarly high level. Much of the educated elite favors a liberal immigration policy, in contrast with the more nativist proclivities of those who lack letters after their names. Why is this so? Lind has the answer: overclass families want cheap nannies for their children.

"Take away the elaborate moral arguments of the overclass left for immigration, and the equally elaborate economic rationales of the overclass right, and what remains is the naked economic interest in maintaining a supply of poorly paid, nonunionized foreign women whose labor permits overclass parents of all political persuasions to enjoy a lifestyle like that of the aristocrats of the past with their nannies and governesses" (p. 37). Has ever crude reductionism been carried to such absurd lengths?

Once in conversation, a friend unforgettably referred to "the worst argument of our epoch." I have a candidate for that distinction. Lind, who holds economists in contempt, thinks defenses of the free market ignore something important. "The possibility of military defeat and invasion are usually left out of discussions of economics in the United States and Britain" (p. 254). Nations "render themselves vulnerable" by becoming dependent on foreign food and resources. Supporters of free trade ignore the interplay of politics and economics, unlike such mighty strategic thinkers as Lind himself.

Lind is of course right that blockades are an important tool of modern warfare. But should we cripple our economy now in order to deal with a possible military threat whose identity our author leaves undisclosed? Who threatens us, and what measures does Lind think advisable to counter the threat? He does not tell us, but instead evokes a specter to frighten us into support for protectionism. That "dependence" in trade is a two-way affair is a matter, I suspect, undreamed of in Lind's philosophy.

I must, however, give Lind credit. He does come up with one genuinely insightful point. Commenting on the proclivity of many "conservatives" to support school vouchers, he states:

Vouchers "represent welfare-statism of the most radical kind. Not only would the federal or state governments give every eligible citizen a subsidy, based on citizenship, but the government that coercive, repressive, tyrannical government would tell citizens that the money could be spent only for a particular purpose. The very same conservatives who would denounce the idea of vouchers for health care or housing as socialism run amok have no qualms about proposing one of the most massive and expensive government entitlements ever contemplated in the United States while calling the school voucher system a 'free market approach'" (p. 245). If only Lind could sustain this level throughout!

Unfortunately, good sense and Lind are seldom conjoined. The alleged crisis over rampant illegitimacy, particularly in the black community, does not exist. Conservatives have frightened us with a statistical illusion. "[T]here is no illegitimacy epidemic in the United States, of the sort that conservatives describe. . . . The increase in the proportion of illegitimate births in the black community is a result, not of a strikingly greater tendency in recent decades on the part of poor blacks to have more children out of wedlock, but of the striking tendency of middle-class and affluent blacks to have fewer children in wedlock" (pp. 168 69).

Suppose that Lind is correct stranger things have happened. How could his point go any way at all toward showing that there is no illegitimacy crisis? Whatever the phenomenon's cause, a high proportion of black children are illegitimate; and this prima facie is a major social problem.

Perhaps Lind will counter that he does not deny this: he wishes only to challenge the conservative dogma that curtailing the welfare state will curb illegitimacy. But he has not shown the falsity of this view either. Even if there has been no great recent tendency of poor blacks to have more and more illegitimate children, it may still be true that reductions in welfare will reduce the number of such births. Nothing that Lind says counts against this possibility.

I have, however, so far underestimated Lind. Not content with being a historian, political theorist, economist, and statistician, he is also, it appears, a theologian. Contrary to popular belief, orthodox Christianity is not pro-family. "For St. Paul . . . [i]t is preferable to be celibate than to have sex, even within marriage. The Catholic Church institutionalized this bias against married people by limiting its hierarchy to celibate priests. Catholic thinkers, moreover, counsel people from lusting after their own spouses" (p. 173).

Where to begin? Why is it "anti-family" to suppose there is a higher state than marriage? Does holding this view make one biased against married people? Why is advising against spousal lust anti-family? Mr. Lind is interested in a great many things, but he lacks the ability to deploy his thoughts in coherent argument. Everywhere what James Burnham termed "the squid-like ink of directionless thinking" is apparent.


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