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Neoconservatism and paleoconservatism

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Neoconservatism and paleoconservatism

This article describes ideological and practical differences between Neoconservatism and Paleoconservatism, the two branches of the American Conservative political movement. Representatives of each faction often argue that the other does not represent true Conservatism. Disputed issues include Immigration, Trade, The United States Constitution, Taxation, Budget, Business, The Federal Reserve, Drug policy, Foreign aid and the Foreign policy of the United States.


Conflict of values

The phrase Paleoconservative ("old conservative") was originally a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder used in the 1980s to differentiate traditional Conservatives from Neoconservatives and Straussians. Pat Buchanan calls Neoconservatism "a globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology." The Paleoconservatives argue that the "Neocons" are illegitimate interlopers in the Conservative movement.

The roots of this conflict predate both the Paleocons or the Neocons, which both came to prominence in the 1970s and '80s. In 1950, essayist Lionel Trilling said that liberalism is the "sole intellectual tradition" in the United States. He dismissed Old Right conservatives as expressing "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." Three years later, Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind challenged this thesis by arguing that American Conservatism had a long and distinguished pedigree in the history of ideas.

The Neoconservative movement, as it rose in the 1970s, articulated a different vision from the Old Right. While Neoconservaties were not opposed to the New Deal as were the Old Right, they thought the subsequent developments in the Great Society and the New Left went too far. Neoconservatives embraced an interventionist foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. They espoused especially strong support for Israel and believe the United States should help ensure the security of the Jewish state.

In 1972, James Burnham commented that the Neoconservatives still clung to "what might be called the emotional gestalt of liberalism, the liberal sensitivity and temperament." He said they substituted abstractions about "compassion, kindliness, love and brotherhood" for indispensable civic virtues. These were "courage, duty, discipline, and especially self-discipline, loyalty, endurance, [and] yes, patriotism."

In a feature article called "The Democracy Boosters" in the March 24, 1989 issue of National Review, Claes G. Ryn warned of the uncritical advocacy of democracy and abstract universalist principles among so-called Conservatives, including Michael Novak, Allan Bloom, Ben Wattenberg, and Richard John Neuhaus. These sentiments, Ryn argued, were more akin to leftism than to Conservatism. In the ensuing controversy Ryn was attacked at length in National Review by the democratic socialist Sidney Hook, as well as by others aligning themselves with the exceptional notion that America is called by history to advance its principles in the world. In 1991 Ryn argued in a book, The New Jacobinism, that Neoconservatism bears a close resemblance to the ideas behind the French Revolution. The French Jacobins of the late 1700s appointed France the agent of universal principles; the new Jacobins of the late 1900s had similarly selected the United States for the task of transforming the world. Ryn thus warned of the dangers of ideological imperialism.

The late Samuel T. Francis, a leading Paleoconservative intellectual and a student of Burnham, wrote that during this time,

Old Conservatives who welcomed the Neocons into their ranks soon found that their new allies often displayed the habit of telling them what was and what was not "permissible" to say and how to say it. Criticism of the New Left and domestic communism was fine, but what the Neo-Conservatives regarded as "McCarthyism"—calling for restoration of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, for example, or the FBI's domestic security functions—was not respectable. Criticizing affirmative action was also acceptable, but criticism of unconstitutional civil rights legislation, the Civil rights movement, or Martin Luther King Jr. was not respectable. Old Conservative heroes like Joseph McCarthy, Douglas MacArthur, Charles Lindbergh, Robert A. Taft, and even Barry Goldwater tended to disappear or earn scorn in Neoconservative journals, while Harry Truman, George Marshall, Hubert Humphrey, and Henry Jackson developed into idols before whom conservatives were supposed to bend the knee. Almost none of the Neo-Conservatives showed any interest in American constitutional principles or federalist and states' rights issues and arguments based on constitutionalism were muted in favor of the "empirical" arguments drawn from disciplines like sociology and political science in which Neoconservative academics tended to concentrate.

Paleo historian Thomas Woods elaborated on the divergence in the Conservative movement, and the ascent of the Neoconservatives, and their distinguishing features from more traditional Conservatives:

The Conservative’s traditional sympathy for the American South and its people and heritage, evident in the works of such great American Conservatives as Richard M. Weaver and Russell Kirk, began to disappear... [T]he Neocons are heavily influenced by Woodrow Wilson, with perhaps a hint of Theodore Roosevelt. ... They believe in an aggressive U.S. presence practically everywhere, and in the spread of democracy around the world, by force if necessary. ... Neoconservatives tend to want more efficient government agencies; Paleoconservatives want fewer government agencies. [Neoconservatives] generally admire President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his heavily interventionist New Deal policies. Neoconservatives have not exactly been known for their budget consciousness, and you won't hear them talking about making any serious inroads into the federal apparatus.

In discussing Neoconservatives' distinctive positions on state power, Irving Kristol wrote in 2003:

Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable... People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional Conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of de Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.

What made the Neoconservative movement so potent was the number of influential intellectuals who attained positions of power in the government and media. Paul Gottfried argued that the neocons funded their efforts using funding originally intended to fight the New Deal or the Great Society. Kristol remarked that "one can say that the historical task and political purpose of Neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American Conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of Conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."

By comparison, the Paleocons were marginalized. Samuel Francis wrote,

Contemporary Paleoconservatism developed as a reaction against three trends in the American Right during the Reagan administration. First, it reacted against the bid for dominance by the Neoconservatives, former Liberals who insisted not only that their version of Conservative ideology and rhetoric prevail over those of older Conservatives, but also that their team should get the rewards of office and patronage and that the other team of the older Right receive virtually nothing.

Francis also argued that many on the Left misunderstood both the Neocons and Paleocons, as well as the conflict between the two. He said they disregarded the Paleocons' critiques and over-emphasized the influence of Leo Strauss on the Neocons:

This silence about the Paleocons was the result, in part, of the abysmal ignorance of the writers of most such articles but also of the hidden purpose that lurked beneath much of what they wrote. That purpose was not so much to "deconstruct" and "expose" the Neocons as to define them as the real Conservative opposition, the legitimate (though deplorable and vicious) "right" against which the polemics and political struggle of the left should be directed. The reason the left prefers the neocon "right" to a paleo alternative is, quite simply, that the neocons are essentially of the left themselves and, thus, provide a fake opposition against which the rest of the left can shadowbox and thereby perpetuate its own political and cultural hegemony unchallenged by any authentic right.

Further, Francis also complained that the Neocons never fought the left with anything more than elegant reprimand. If they saw serious criticism in return, they issued charges of anti-Semitism. He also said that if "the point is to wipe out Israel's enemies," such as in the Iraq invasion, "the [neocon] Likudniks don't care about American casualties very much."

Claes Ryn places Neoconservatism in a larger historical and philosophical context. In America the Virtuous (2003) he argues that America's traditional civilization, specifically, its constitutionalism and liberty are rapidly eroding and that neoconservatives exemplify and aggravate this development. Their abstract moral principles, summarized as "virtue," constitute a break with older Western values. Though speaking in the name of America and patriotism and even Conservatism, the neoconservatives are replacing attachment to America's older religious, moral, intellectual and cultural traditions with a form of universalism that has roots in leftist thinking. Neo-Jacobin imperialism threatens to produce interminable wars and poses a serious threat to American constitutionalism.


Neoconservative view: Neocons strongly support free trade as a way to spread American values throughout the world. Neocons also support globalization. Neocons believe in free market capitalism and believe in an open market and oppose tariffs.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons devoutly support fair trade. Paleocons support the Republicans old stance of tariffs and protectionism. They believe free trade has failed the American worker and American manufacturing. Paleocons claim the trade deficit has skyrocketed under free trade. They still support Free market capitalism even though they support a protectionist economy. Paleocons strongly oppose globalization.


Neoconservative view: Neocons are open to illegal immigration and support amnesty for illegal aliens living in the United States. Neocons would argue that they do oppose illegal immigration but Bush 43' was open to giving amnesty to illegals and supported the DREAM Act.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons oppose illegal immigration in sometimes support reducing legal immigration for certain periods of time. Many Paleocons believe in building a fence/border wall along the U.S-Mexico Border. They believe we should defend our own border more and not police the rest of the world.

Foreign Policy

Neoconservative view: Neocons call for very aggressive foreign policy that can include preemptive war. Neocons support Imperialism and they also support Nation-building. They also support a strong military and inflated military spending. Neocons support a Wilsonian-type of foreign policy, this type of foreign policy can be incredibly dangerous if used. Neocons believe that the United States should intervene in wars that they are not directly related to, which can create potential enemies.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons are Non-interventionists. Paleocons believe in going to war only if the United States is attacked or is directly threatened. They also oppose Imperialism. Paleocons do agree with Neocons on a strong national defense but Paleocons believe that while there needs to be a strong military budget, they believe that the military budget does need to be cut down and is too wasteful. Paleocons stand firm in saying that staying out of war benefits the country and the world as a whole.

The Constitution

Neoconservative view: Many Neocons believe that the Constitution can be changed at will and is a living document. Neocons will often block unconstitutional laws proposed by Democrats, but will support unconstitutional laws that Republicans create.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons believe that the Constitution is a document that is supposed to be interpreted the way and during the time it was written and that the Constitution is not to be violated. Paleocons could be referred to as "Constitutional Conservatives".

Size of the Federal Government

Neoconservative view: Neocons talk about decreasing the size of the federal government but, it only gets bigger under their watch. If Republicans try to make the federal government larger Neocons will usually support it.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons are strong supporters of a limited federal government. Paleocons support abolishing many government agencies to create a smaller federal government.

Taxation & Budget

Neoconservative view: Neocons support tax cuts but advocate to increase government and deficit spending. Under Bush 43', the deficit increased massively over a period of 8 years.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons support tax cuts and call to decrease government and deficit spending. Many Paleocons are budget "hawks". These are people who strongly support a balanced federal government.


Neoconservative view: Neocons support mild forms of welfare. The first Neoconservatives supported the New Deal formulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression years.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons support dismantling welfare programs altogether.

Big Business

Neoconservative view: Neocons massively support big business. Neocons support corporatism and corporate welfare.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons are skeptical of big business just like they are of big government. Paleocons support cutting corporate welfare because of their stance of government spending.

Federal Reserve

Neoconservative view: Neocons support keeping the Federal Reserve in place.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons support abolishing the Fed and support bringing back a constitutional monetary system and the gold standard.

Drug Policy

Neoconservative view: Neocons are against outright drug legalization and strongly support the War on Drugs.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons are also against outright drug legalization but oppose the War on Drugs. They see it as a waste of taxpayer money and believe it has failed to achieve the desired results.

Foreign aid

Neoconservative view: Neocons support giving foreign aid to other countries. Many Neocons are globalists and support putting the issues of the world in front of putting America first.

Paleoconservative view: Paleocons oppose all forms of foreign aid to cut government spending. Paleocons strongly oppose globalism.

Politics and Jewish identity

Some Paleocons say they are honest Conservatives who were bullied and smeared by a corrupt ideology tied to Social democracy and globalism.

Historian Edward Shapiro, tracing the debate back to the 1960s, wrote that many Neoconservatives saw their new political philosophy within a specifically Jewish context. This became an element in the dispute with the Paleocons. He said that these neocons equated Conservatism with country club exclusion, racism, and the "Protestant hinterlands." They also considered the Burkean social order as a "premodern social order revered by Edmund Burke and the other pioneers of Conservative thought, a world which had ostracized Jews to the fringes of society." He continued:

"For the Jewish Neoconservatives, children and grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe, this was far too narrow a view of American culture. They emphasized the pluralism and openness of America and claimed that Americanism was less a matter of biological descent and European culture than of civic values and political ideology. Just as the neoconservatives stressed the ideological content of American diplomacy and asserted that American political ideology had well-nigh universal applicability, so they underscored the plastic character of American identity. Anyone was potentially a good American just as long as he or she affirmed the fundamental American political precepts of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address. The Neoconservatives, the traditionalists responded, exaggerated the appeal of American political principles to the rest of the world, and they underestimated the powerful hold which culture has, or should have, on its citizens.

1981: National Endowment for the Humanities

The beginning rift is often traced back to a dispute over the directorship of the National Endowment for the Humanities by the incoming Republican administration in 1981. Senator John East proposed literary scholar Mel Bradford, a former Dixiecrat. Bradford withdrew himself from consideration after Neoconservatives argued that his record of academic articles criticizing the actions and thought of Abraham Lincoln ill-suited a Republican nominee. They circulated quotes of Bradford calling Lincoln "a dangerous man," and saying, "The image of Lincoln rose to be very dark" and "indeed almost sinister."

Historian Paul Young described Bradford's view of Lincoln as follows:

Bradford cast all of Lincoln's life in the most sinister of terms. He gave Lincoln no credit for any intellectual or moral progression from his pronouncements in the 1840s to the years of the Civil War. Rather, Bradford freely juxtaposed the young Lincoln's comments on race and slavery, whether on the political hustings or otherwise, with his later statements and actions in order to convict him of hypocrisy. Neither did Bradford afford any consideration to the expediencies of politics; no sin by Lincoln could ever be justified by an appeal to political necessity. Bradford's Lincoln was a paragon of venality: hypocritical, corrupt, racist, unscrupulous, and duplicitous in his rhetoric. He was motivated by his own ambitions and thirst for power, provoking sectional conflict in order to attain his goals. Lincoln was guilty of war crimes for denying medicine to the South, complicit in the under rationing of his own troops, given to locking up political opponents in a "Northern 'Gulag,'" and, in general, an apt model for the twentieth-century dictator. Noting the dyspeptic Edmund Wilson's comparison of Lincoln to Bismarck and Lenin in Patriotic Gore (1962), Bradford added Hitler for good measure.

The Neoconservative choice, William Bennett, was nominated on November 13, 1981. Curiously, a few leaders, whom the Paleocons would later oppose, supported Bradford: Dan Quayle, William F. Buckley Jr., and Harry Jaffa. Former Bradford associate Thomas Landess wrote in 2003 that today's Neocons "are too busy running the world to tilt with Mel Bradford."

1983: The John Birch Society

Democratic congressman from Georgia Larry McDonald was elected second president of the John Birch Society upon the retirement of first president, Robert Welch. Shortly after, McDonald was reported killed when the passenger plane he had boarded to take him to the 30th year commemoration of the U.S.-S. Korea Mutual Defense Treaty, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, was shot down near Moneron Island by the Soviets. Three months earlier, McDonald had appeared as the guest of Pat Buchanan's Crossfire T.V. show, on which Buchanan and journalist Tom Braden discussed with him the John Birch Society's position with regards to the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, and conspiracy. Speaking of the Rockefeller family, McDonald had written in the introduction of a book:

The drive of the Rockefellers and their allies is to create a one-world government, combining super-capitalism and Communism under the same tent, all under their control ... Do I mean conspiracy? Yes I do. I am convinced there is such a plot, international in scope, generations old in planning, and incredibly evil in intent.

1986: Intercollegiate Review and Philadelphia Society

The real genesis of the Paleocons came in 1986 when the Paleoconservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute's journal Intercollegiate Review ran a "State of Conservatism" symposium. Some of the contributors complained about growing Neoconservative dominance. Historian Clyde Wilson wrote of being "crowded out by overwhelming numbers." Gregory Wolfe argued that true Conservative scholars valued "order and organic community, class and natural aristocracy" and considered "Christian belief as the foundation of morality and law."

Soon after, a Conservative group called the Philadelphia Society held a symposium on Neoconservatism at its 1986 annual meeting. Among the critics was historian Stephen Tonsor (who does not accept the paleo label), who said:

It has always struck me as odd, even perverse, that former Marxists have been permitted, yes invited, to play such a leading role in the Conservative movement of the twentieth century. It is splendid when the town whore gets religion and joins the church. Now and then she makes a good choir director, but when she begins to tell the minister what he ought to say in his Sunday sermons, matters have been carried too far.

Tonsor also argued that the movement divided "techniques from ends in an effort to maintain their cultural modernism while rejecting its social and political implications." He said it couldn't be done.

Neoconservatives are, as Irving Kristol remarked, "liberals who have been mugged by reality," but while they have been detached from their social and political myths they have not located themselves in a body of principle that makes life worth living, or that one would die defending.

1987: The Catholic University of America

Paul Gottfried says that Neoconservative lobbying kept him from a professorship in classical political theory at The Catholic University of America. David Frum claims this allegation is "relentlessly solipsistic." Gottfried described the incident as follows:

[In 1987,] Neocons denounced me to the authorities at Catholic University of America, on the grounds that I was "not safe on Israel," their flagrantly illogical argument: I had denied that Imperial Germany was principally to blame for the outbreak of World War One. Somehow this proved that I had denied the Holocaust, at least by indirection (never mind that it was the wrong German war!), and therefore I had to be against the Israelis (many of whose ancestors fought for the Central Powers in World War One—as did my own, Austrian Jewish forbears). Nevertheless, I still lost a graduate professorship.

Gottfried described Israel as "an ethnic national state with a constitutional government that offers legal protection to non-Jewish minorities." He said the country "should remain predominantly Jewish and that the U.S. and Europe should remain predominantly Euro-American—and I support whatever is necessary to achieve these objectives." He also argues that "American and European Zionists" insist that Jews "have a special inviolable right to an ethnic state, while Euro-American gentiles are expected to practice multiculturalism." He explained his position in the interview:

Clearly Jews outside of Israel have adopted a double standard about Jewish and gentile rights to national identity, but the Israeli government has not caused the problem. Israelis have not ordered Martin Peretz, Alan Dershowitz, and Abe Foxman to think and act in this hypocritical, malicious fashion. In my view, Jewish liberals and Neocons who favor both a Jewish right to ethnocentricity and a Euro-American obligation to have open borders and to exchange their traditional identities for "Human rights," have turned Paleocons against Israel.

1988: The Heritage Foundation

Russell Kirk found himself in the minority on December 15, 1988, when he gave a lecture at The Heritage Foundation. The title was "The Neoconservatives: An Endangered Species." As Chronicles editor Scott Richert described it,

[One line] helped define the emerging struggle between Neoconservatives and Paleoconservatives. "Not seldom has it seemed," Kirk declared, "as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States." A few years later, in another Heritage Foundation speech, Kirk repeated that line verbatim. In the wake of the Gulf War, which he had opposed, he clearly understood that those words carried even greater meaning.

Neoconservative commentator Norman Podhoretz's wife), called Kirk's line "a bloody outrage, a piece of anti-Semitism by Kirk that impugns the loyalty of Neoconservatives." She claimed that Kirk "said people like my husband and me put the interest of Israel before the interest of the United States, that we have a dual loyalty." She had previously denounced Joseph Sobran and the Intercollegiate Review symposium as anti-Semitic as well. She told The New Republic, "It's this notion of a Christian civilization. You have to be part of it or you’re not really fit to conserve anything. That's an old line and it's very ignorant."

Conversely, Paleocon Samuel Francis called Kirk's "Tel Aviv" remark "a wisecrack about the slavishly pro-Israel sympathies among Neoconservatives." He called Decter's response untrue, "reckless" and "vitriolic." Furthermore, he argued that such a denunciation "always plays into the hands of the left, which is then able to repeat the charges and claim Conservative endorsement of them."

1989: The Rockford Institute

Another defining incident came on May 5, 1989, when the Rockford Institute fired Richard John Neuhaus, who went on to launch the religious journal First Things. One issue between them was that Neuhaus claimed that Chronicles, Rockford's magazine, tilted toward nativism and was "insensitive to the classic language of anti-Semitism." Allan Carlson, then Rockford's president, called the allegations "egregious and potentially damaging." Fourteen years later, Neuhaus called Chronicles "racist and anti-Semitic," joked about "Schadenfreude" and said he holds a "gala staff luncheon" every year to commemorate his termination.

John Judis, a left-wing author and journalist, described the incident:

Under the Rockford Institute's name and funding, Neuhaus published a regular newsletter out of his Center for Religion and Society in New York. But in March 1989, Neuhaus and Podhoretz took strong exception to two articles published in Rockford's glossy journal, Chronicles. In one of them, Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming called for stricter quotas to prevent the United States from "being dominated by Third World immigrants," and in the other, novelist Bill Kauffman defended Gore Vidal, who had earlier attacked Podhoretz for putting Israel's interests before America's. In a letter, Podhoretz wrote Neuhaus, "I know an enemy when I see one, and Chronicles has become just that so far as I am concerned." In May the Rockford Institute made the next move by locking Neuhaus out of the center and confiscating his files. When Neuhaus left, three foundations linked to the Neoconservatives, Olin, Smith Richardson, and Bradley, withdrew their funding for the Rockford Institute, costing an estimated $700,000 a year.

1990: The McLaughlin Group

Pat Buchanan's Paleoconservative views soon became a point of dispute. The major controversy began with the August 26, 1990 The McLaughlin Group television broadcast. He said that "there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East—the Israeli defense ministry and its 'amen corner' in the United States"—and was accused of anti-Semitism.

1993: The National Review

A further event was the demotion and eventual firing in 1993 of Joseph Sobran from National Review, who had criticized American supporters of Israel. One such comment was that the New York Times "really ought to change its name to Holocaust Update." Neoconservative Norman Podhoretz vehemently objected to such writing, saying they were "anti-Semitic in themselves," His wife, Midge Decter, told Sobran she felt "shock and disgust—and contempt—at the discovery that you are little more than a crude and naked anti-Semite."

Sobran himself claimed that founder William F. Buckley told him to "stop antagonizing the Zionist crowd," and Buckley accused him of libel and moral incapacitation. Buckley had previously said that an outsider "might reasonably conclude that those [Israel] columns were written by a writer inclined to anti-Semitism." Before his firing, Sobran discussed the issue in National Review, saying:

I'm responding to an obsession—a more or less official national obsession with a tiny, faraway socialist ethnocracy, which, I agree, ought to be a very minor concern of American policy-makers, but isn't. The orthodox view that Israel is a "reliable ally" is so brittle that a single maverick can ignite a frenzy. The reason, I repeat, is not that critics of Israel are so numerous, but that even one, as far as Israel's claque is concerned, is one too many. There is the terrible danger that the public may be more interested in what he has to say than in the party line the rest of the chorus is emitting.

1997: The New York Post

Paleoconservative Scott McConnell was fired as the New York Post's editorial page editor on September 4, 1997 after writing editorials critical of Haitian immigration and Puerto Rican statehood. About the latter, he had cited statistics that "half the island's 3.7 million inhabitants receive Food Stamps" and "59.4 percent of Puerto Rican children born on the U.S. mainland are born to unwed mothers." He concluded:

We believe that the looming vote on Puerto Rico's status is yet another sign of how the congressional GOP has lost its way. The current leadership seems more interested in trying to placate the liberal Washington establishment—or hatching schemes it imagines are popular with minority voters—than in protecting the interests of the voters who elected it. This is a feckless way to guide America's destiny.

McConnell, an heir to the Avon cosmetics fortune, later remarked that "our society had developed an expected script of white Anglo contrition and apology... and that I had failed to follow it." He found himself replaced by John Podhoretz, who denounced him as a "very dangerous" sort of Conservative. About his former employer, he said:

When push comes to shove, Rupert Murdoch does not want any difference of opinion with the Hispanic community. So if you have to put on one side appeasing a growing demographic and on the other side a conservative principle having to do with the language and traditions of the United States, he falls clearly on the first side.

Two years after the incident, McConnell said he had changed his mind about Pat Buchanan and joined his campaign as an adviser. He once dismissed his presidential hopes as "not worth discussing." Soon he helped found The American Conservative.

The Ongoing Conflict

Since the end of the Cold War, the rift within the conservative movement has deepened with the Neoconservatives' ascent and the Paleocons' marginalization. For example, there were no prominent Paleocons in the Bush administration. Charles Krauthammer called Paleoconservatism a "philosophical corpse" and "a mix of nativism, protectionism and isolationism."

On domestic affairs, The Weekly Standard claimed that "the paleos' radical dissatisfaction with contemporary America could eventually veer into an anti-Americanism almost indistinguishable from the more familiar variety on the left." David Brooks, in the same magazine, claimed that the movement combines "high principle and bad-boy bravado," along with melding good ("longing for the old virtues") with bad ("race and sex roles"). He concluded that paleocons replace "the universalist ideas of the Founding" with "blood and soil." Brooks also described Pat Buchanan's campaign supporters as "people who thrived in the machine age" but who "are not going to thrive in the new economy."

Lew Rockwell once illustrated the depth of paleo/neo schism with the story of an encounter between a Paleocon and a Neocon. The Neocon complained that the Paleocon made an "insensitive remark" about AIDS and said, "How can you say that, when we all have so many close friends who have been struck down by this terrible disease?" The Paleo replied, "'Close friends?' I don't know anyone who has AIDS. I don't know anyone who knows anyone who has AIDS." After that, the Neocon stopped speaking to the Paleocon.

March 2003: The Crossfire

David Frum of National Review and Pat Buchanan of The American Conservative exchanged harsh words just before the Iraq War began. Buchanan wrote that Neocons influence the U.S. government toward the pursuit of global empire and the benefit of pro-Israel hawks. Frum charged that Paleocons have become unpatriotic, racist, and anti-Semitic. He also hinted that Paleocons were subversives, claiming they "made common cause with" international Islamists and "deny and excuse terror." (Though a year later, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described The American Conservative as "highly literate" and "wonderfully well edited.") It seems that mainly Neocons use the same excuse of "anti-Semite or racists" over and over, even though isn't a lot a evidence to prove these allegations.

In his article, Buchanan wrote:

This is a time for truth. For America is about to make a momentous decision: whether to launch a series of wars in the Middle East that could ignite the Clash of Civilizations against which Harvard professor Samuel Huntington has warned, a war we believe would be a tragedy and a disaster for this Republic. To avert this war, to answer the Neocon smears, we ask that our readers review their agenda as stated in their words. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. As Al Smith used to say, "Nothing un-American can live in the sunlight."

Frum wrote that:

Having quickly decided that the War on Terror was a Jewish war, the Paleos equally swiftly concluded that they wanted no part of it. It's odd: 9/11 actually vindicated some of the things that the Paleos had been arguing, particularly about immigration and national cohesion. But the Paleos were in no mood to press their case. Instead, they plunged into apologetics for the enemy and wishful defeatism.

Beyond Paleo and Neocons

In 2003, Paleocon Clyde Wilson speculated that their critique of this "nasty little cabal" might be "belated and repetitive—a diversion from more fundamental problems," namely "a fatal defect of national character." He wrote that the Neocons are courtiers who saw "the chance presented by the vast gaping vacuum of ideas and principles that is the Republican Party." He concluded that Middle America is too willing to "clamber aboard" a GOP bandwagon "and hosanna their way down the road to perdition," instead of creating a populist replacement that might preserve "some semblance of civilized order and liberty."

In addition, while Paleos and Neos quarrel over Middle East policy, Paul Gottfried argued that domestic equality and the exportability of democracy are greater points of contention between them. He wrote that the neocons' call for "permanent revolution" exists independently of their beliefs about Israel, characterizing the Neos as "ranters out of a Dostoyevskian novel, who are out to practice permanent revolution courtesy of the U.S. government". He also said, "What bothers me is not what Israel is but the manner in which its well-wishers blatantly misrepresent it," Also, Paleos, while not wanting the US tied to Israel too strongly, freely disagree with one another about certain Israeli leaders. Pat Buchanan supported Yitzhak Rabin, while Gottfried, who criticizes "truculent [neoconservative] Zionism," admires Ariel Sharon.

Note, however, that not everyone associated with American conservatism can be easily sorted into neo or paleo categories. Prominent examples are Claes Ryn, John Lukacs and George Carey, who are strongly critical of neoconservatism but do not share the paleocon fondness for sociobiology, positivist social science or populism. The division into two camps also ignores that it might be possible to support the war in Iraq, for pragmatic rather than ideological or ethnic reasons, and yet support economic nationalism and immigration reform. Note further that paleos and neos both oppose the New Left, Marxism and Soviet Communism, especially Stalinism, and do not necessarily disagree on every political and cultural matter.


Neoconservatism and paleoconservatism Wikipedia