Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Glenn Beck and isolationism

Andrew Bacevich is correct when he observes that "isolationism" is mostly used as a bogeyman in American national security debates. Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republicans have really been dominated by isolationists since the Second World War. Bacevich would probably argue that even those called isolationists in the 1930s really weren't exactly that. But I won't go there in this post.

But far-right isolationism does play a role in today's Republican Party. Its main effect is to reinforce the narrow nationalist impulses of the main tendencies in the Party, particularly the neoconservatives. Far-right isolationists, which include the John Birch Society, are just as hostile as neoconservatives are to the US being part of any international organizations, particularly the United Nations.

It's notable in that connection to see that as Glenn Beck plunges deeper and deeper into Bircher/Birther-style conspiracy theories, he's also embracing Bircher-style isolationism. Peter Wehner, posting at a blog for the leading neocon journal Commentary (Glenn Beck: Harmful to the Conservative Movement 09/21/09) writes that Beck:

... seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screaming at his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger — the antithesis of Ronald Reagan. [my emphasis]
This is not a sign of the Republican Party being on the verge of embracing a non-interventionist foreign policy.

It's one of the two sides of nationalist jingoism asserting itself against a Democratic President. If Beck is still around working the political-extremism racket the next time we have a Republican President, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if his isolationism quickly morphs into raving jingoism.

Not all isolationists are equal. Antiwar.com is a site that I've always had big reservations about exactly because it's run by rightwing libertarian isolationists. But they also run a lot of articles and do interviews on their Antiwar Radio service with Scott Horton (not the human rights lawyer) that include perfectly sensible and even left critics of US foreign policy, as well as some top journalists and historians. So it wouldn't be accurate to say it's a rightwing isolationist site. Although that description does fit Justin Raimondo, the editorial director of the site.

The American Conservative also falls into that category. It publishes left-liberal as well as libertarian-isolationist criticisms of US foreign policy, and is especially critical of neoconservatives. Taki's Magazine is more just straight rightwing isolationist. One of their most recent articles is The Forgotten Conservative by Nesta Bevan 09/22/09, which aims to revive the memory of Revilo Oliver, a long-time writer for the John Birch Society who became too rightwing for even the Birchers to stomach. Bevan writes:

Oliver and the John Birch Society came to a final parting in July 1966, after a speech by Oliver, “Conspiracy or Degeneracy?” which he delivered at the New England rally for God, Family, and Country. In this talk, Oliver asked whether the failure adequately to confront Western decline stemmed more from biological degeneracy or conspiracies that aim at our destruction. Suggesting that the former was more likely, he asked his audience to imagine that the Jews, a group he held in the forefront of the anti-Western conspiracy, “were vaporized at dawn tomorrow.” Would not the problems that had led to the present crisis, Oliver thought, soon recur? He was taken by hostile critics to have called for the extermination of the Jews, though this was not what he had said. Nevertheless, his position in the Society became untenable, and, after a bitter break with [JBS head Robert] Welch, he resigned.
The JBS was generally understood to be an anti-Semitic group. But they tried to keep at least a hair of a distance between themselves and explicitly anti-Semitic publish statements like Oliver's eliminationist speech cited there. Bevon says:

Given the record of his later years, it is small wonder that contemporary conservatives prefer to ignore Oliver. To do so, though, is a serious mistake; his thought continues to raise issues of vital concern to the Right.
And what might those be? Bevan explains:

An underlying theme in “Conservatism and Reality” came to the fore in his later work, and this again raises a fundamental issue. If, as Oliver does, one rejects religion as a guide to life, what is to replace it? For Oliver, the answer is clear: race is fundamental. In “History and Biology,” American Opinion [JBS magazine] (1963), Oliver highly recommends Lothrop Stoddard’s “The Revolt Against Civilization” Stoddard, “one of the most brilliant of American writers,” argued that the colored races pose a threat to the white race, and Oliver enthusiastically agrees. For him, racial struggle is primary, and he regards ethical obligations as limited to one’s own race. For him, this view was unquestionable. In response to a correspondent to National Review who asked why one should give primary emphasis to the needs of one’s own race, Oliver was puzzled. Was this not how everyone in fact acted?
So the fact that Beck may be using isolationist criticisms of US military interventions shouldn't mislead anyone into thinking that he's embracing some kind of left-right, out-of-the-box libertarian thinking. A far-right isolationist viewpoint can float in a sewer of anti-Semitism, racism and jingoism.

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