Monday, August 24, 2009
Derbyshire encounters Gottfried
I have always found the “paleocon”/”neocon” controversy depressing and counterproductive. I know, like, and respect people on both sides of the divide. The “paleocon” and “neocon” labels seem to me mostly unhelpful, covering over many important differences between thinkers within each purported camp and disguising important similarities between thinkers in the opposed camps. By now they serve as little more than a kind of fossilized shorthand for two sets of caricatures, retarding rather than fostering serious thought about conservatism. (I have had both labels applied to me, which is some small evidence of how useless they are.)
How refreshing, then, to see a positive review of a “paleocon” author in a “neocon” outlet – to wit, John Derbyshire’s review of Paul Gottfried’s Encounters over at National Review Online. (Though this sort of thing is actually not as unusual as one might suppose. As Derbyshire points out, John Lukacs often gets treated well in “neocon” outlets. See e.g. this review by Jonah Goldberg of Lukacs’s Democracy and Populism.) And the feeling is mutual, since, as Derbyshire notes, “for a book written by a representative of the losing side in the conservative wars, Encounters is wonderfully free of rancor.” I can testify to the truth of this judgment, having found Gottfried’s book a very enjoyable piece of summer reading.
Not that Gottfried has laid down his arms. It’s just that he is – in his treatment of such topics as Richard Nixon’s legacy, say, or Pat Buchanan’s attitudes toward Israel – “nuanced,” as John Kerry might say. Gottfried is always interesting even when one disagrees with him.
Unfortunately, Gottfried left this reader dissatisfied on one point. What was the recipe of that drink Nixon served him, and which effectively knocked him out for the rest of that dinner party? Inquiring right-wing boozers want to know…