Iraq

David Frum and the "Unpatriotic Conservatives"

Something has changed for the better since 2003.

|

There's a lot of nuggets to be mined from David Frum's self-serving memoir of the Iraq war—Jon Schwarz points to a notable one here—but it's just as interesting to look for the things the author left out. One piece of history that went unmentioned was an article Frum wrote for National Review called "Unpatriotic Conservatives," in which he attacked right-wing opponents of the war. Or more exactly, as Daniel McCarthy explains over at The American Conservative,

Alt-text confiscated. Report immediately to party HQ.
Jack Chick

only the first dozen paragraphs did that. The rest, about two thirds of the essay, rehashed roughly a decade's worth of right-wing squabbling that had little to do with patriotism, war, or foreign policy. Frum conflated critics of the war with paleoconservatives and conflated paleoconservatives with critics of neoconservatism. These categories overlapped but weren't identical even in 2003—Robert Novak was a stalwart of movement conservatism, not a paleoconservative rebel. Scott McConnell had worked for Pat Buchanan's 2000 presidential campaign, but his start in journalism came writing for Commentary, and he was still best known for having been editorial page editor of the New York Post. Frum included University of Michigan history professor Stephen Tonsor in his account of the origins of paleoconservatism, but Tonsor never adopted that label—he was a traditionalist, a 1960s National Review type—and he actually supported the Iraq War.

McCarthy's point isn't to rake the author over the coals (though I wouldn't say Frum comes off well here). It's to note that there was a time when those conflations were easy to make, since "the only organized opposition to the war on the right came from institutions that were distinctly, indeed definitively, paleo….There were dissident neocons, non-Rothbardian libertarians, non-paleo traditionalists, and mainstream foreign-policy academics who opposed the war but had no outlet. They were the sort of people who before the war would have published in First Things or National Review or, for that matter, The Atlantic rather than in paleo publications, which had their own tone and set of interests that were self-consciously—even defiantly—out of the mainstream."

I can't entirely agree with McCarthy about that—antiwar libertarians, many of them non-Rothbardian, published frequently here at Reason and in other libertarian venues. But I don't really consider the libertarian movement part of the right, though the two do intersect at certain points, so I think his basic argument is valid: A lot of antiwar conservatives lacked a highly visible outlet 10 years ago. And I agree with McCarthy's conclusion, which is good news for those of us who want to see skepticism about an interventionist foreign policy increase across the political spectrum:

When Frum wrote his essay "antiwar conservative" was nowhere near as strong a brand as "paleoconservative"—with all the additional baggage that concept carried. Today the reverse is true: there are all kinds of relatively well known "antiwar conservatives"—the label is less important than the core idea—and nobody would think that the antiwar perspective on the right could be discredited just by attacking the paleos.

Advertisement

NEXT: Progressives Won the Social Culture War: Can Libertarians and Conservatives Win the Economic Culture War?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. And some people want to have open borders. Isn’t it bad enough that one David Frum has entered the country, what will happen when millions of them poor across the Canadian border?

  2. Well, to be fair, under Postrel _Reason_ was strangely silent on all things war-related. This is one area in which the magazine has improved vastly since.

    1. My favorite Reason time period was while Virginia Postrel was at the helm.

        1. Warmongers are always welcome to post in the comment threads.

          https://reason.com/blog/2013/03…..ch#comment

    2. What do you expect me to do with this? Do I need to stop drinking? Should I skip my drink the next time someone invokes Postrel to diminish the current Reasonettes? This type of confusion would have never happened on Postrel’s watch.

      1. When in doubt, CONSUME

  3. Fuck Frum.

    1. With Tony’s dick.

  4. Excellent use of Chick tract (the greatest Chick tract, in fact!) for story picture.

  5. “the origins of paleoconservatism”

    The PaleoConservatives are simply conservatives who saw that neo-conservatism is not actually conservative. You could actually substitute paleoconservatism with conservatism 40 years ago. Read Murry Rothbard’s The Betrayal of the American Right for more info.

    http://mises.org/books/betrayal.pdf

  6. There were dissident neocons, non-Rothbardian libertarians, non-paleo traditionalists, and mainstream foreign-policy academics who opposed the war but had no outlet. They were the sort of people who before the war would have published in First Things or National Review or, for that matter, The Atlantic rather than in paleo publications, which had their own tone and set of interests that were self-consciously?even defiantly?out of the mainstream.

    These Inside Baseball / Palace Intrigue stories bore the shit out of me. All those motherfuckers should be rounded up and gassed.

    1. You know who else wanted to gas dissidents?

      1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash?

  7. Frum conflated critics of the war with paleoconservatives and conflated paleoconservatives with critics of neoconservatism.

    Well, sure. Because when push comes to shove, setting up straw men and false dichotomies and substance-less sneering is the sum total of David Frum’s means of argumentation. Logic and David Frum run parallel. They never intersect.

  8. Speaking of conservatives, or whatever, Rand Paul was just on Glenn Beck. Beck and the other hosts fairly fellated him.

    1. Hannity has been doing the same thing. They’re opportunistically latching onto the energy.

      So hey who would have thought that actually having ideas and principles can make you popular?

  9. I have an idea. Let’s group people together based loosely on their political belief system. Then, because that’s too broad, let’s make smaller groups within that group. Then, because even the smaller groups are too broad, let’s make smaller groups within the smaller groups within the group. Then, because even the smaller groups within the smaller groups within the group are too broad, let’s make smaller groups within the smaller groups within the smaller groups within the group. Then, because the smaller groups…

    Is there a point where this gets beyond fucking ridiculous?

  10. At this point, “conservative” is utterly meaningless as a political label.

  11. “They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.

    War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen ? and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.”

    That unbridled vitriol like that got published in National Review is just as shameful as the lack of outlets for antiwar conservative opinion.

    I wonder if National Review– or anyone for that matter– would feel ashamed to run something like that today. I also wonder whether they would be confronted about calling opponents of the war traitors to their country. I doubt it would go unremarked in the media as it did back then.

    1. “I wonder if National Review– or anyone for that matter– would feel ashamed to run something like that today.”

      I think they would prefer to have this stuff go down the memory hole. Apparently, Frum lacks the courage of his convictions because he didn’t include this essay in his memoirs – a telling omission. Would Cato have excluded his speeches against Cataline from *his* memoirs? Not bloody likely, because unlike Frum, Cato wasn’t a bottom-feeding Bush knob-gobbler.

      1. Oops – Cicero, not Cato. I’m a moron.

      2. To be fair, Cicero was almost certainly right to oppose Cataline, even if his techniques left a lot to be desired.

  12. Frum forgets to mention in his reminisce of Iraq that the same Ahmed Chalabi that he tells us now he was skeptical of he compared to James Madison in 2004. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Fuck David Frum. Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.