Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Confessedly, I know virtually nothing about the Canadian publication, the National Post.

Yet I know more about the Post than one of its contributors, Robert Fulford, knows about Paul Gottfried, the American conservative movement, and the so-called “alt-right,” for of these subjects Fulford knows nothing.

This, though, didn’t deter him from presuming to speak to them.

So, I know this much about the National Post:  It lost whatever credibility it may have had when it decided to publish Fulford’s hit piece on Gottfried, a retired academic and veteran scholar of European and American intellectual history who Fulford ominously characterizes as “the godfather of the alt-right.”

The alt-right, Fulford explains, is a movement whose “adherents have nothing in common but the concepts they love to hate—liberalism, multiculturalism, free trade and political correctness.”

According to Fulford’s narrative, Gottfried spent “years” in the proverbial wilderness entertaining “thoughts that seemed at best eccentric [.]” “He was against globalism, the ‘therapeutic welfare state,’ the Civil Rights Act and most of the other obsessions of the left.” Fulford laments that these “at best eccentric” ideas now belong to the “everyday conversation” of the internet.

So, what changed?  Well, to hear Fulford tell it, Professor Gottfried met…Richard Spencer, the young, handsome, articulate, and charismatic figure who the media decided to make the face of the “alt-right.”  Gottfried and Spencer, Fulford continues, recognized each other as “natural allies” and, together, decided to brand “their movement ‘alt-right’,” i.e. an alternative to what Fulford (laughably) describes as “the traditionally right-wing Republican Party” (emphasis mine).

It is at this juncture that Fulford’s tale takes a telling, if subtle, turn, a turn obviously designed to convict Gottfried of a sort of guilt-by-association, for the remainder of his essay focuses on the position that he attributes to Spencer—not Gottfried.  Spencer is recognized as a “white supremacist,” Fulford remarks, even though he disavows this label in favor of “identitarianism,” a term that Fulford dismisses as a ploy by which to conceal—what else?—Spencer’s “white supremacy.”

All-too predictably, Fulford refers to Spencer’s role in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer, a rally, as Fulford describes it, comprised of “white nationalists, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis”—comprehensively, “far-right extremists”—who “battled with counter-protestors,” “anti-fascists,” while “chant[ing] racist and anti-Semitic slogans [.]”

Fulford’s analysis is scandalously wrong.  That his monumental errors are sincere is a proposition that stretches credibility to its snapping point.  Where to begin?

First, Gottfried is hardly some fringe figure.  In 1967, he received his Ph.D. from Yale University, where he studied under, among others, the Marxist, Frankfurt School critic, Herbert Marcuse. Gottfried is a prolific scholar who over the last half-of-a-century has authored numerous books and an exponentially greater number of academic and popular essays.  He has served on the editorial boards of journals, presided over scholarly associations, and taught at a variety of colleges and universities. Moreover, Gottfried served in the Reagan White House, participated intimately in Patrick J. Buchanan’s presidential campaign, and influenced Richard Nixon, who, in his post-presidency years, cited as one of his favorite books Gottfried’s The Search for Historical Meaning.

Gottfried reads, writes, and speaks in several languages and is unquestionably among the most erudite observers of the European and American intellectual landscapes.  His work on the American conservative movement is second to none.

His ideas, though increasingly unpopular in a culture that continues to drift leftward, have never been “eccentric.” Much less is Gottfried’s thought of the invidious character that Fulford insinuates.

Second, Gottfried and Spencer never conspired to brand a “movement.”

For starters, to as great an extent as anyone, it is Gottfried himself who spares no occasion to remind those of like mind that the old or “paleo-conservative” right with which they sympathize isn’t a movement at all.  He entertains no illusions that this tradition of thought will reverse its extensive sequence of misfortunes in the foreseeable future, and unfailingly assumes the charge to dispel those illusions in others.

Another reason that Fulford’s analysis runs aground on this score is that “alternative right” is a term that Gottfried alone coined some years back with an eye toward distinguishing the old, authentic right from the contemporary impostor that passed in its name (Spencer shortened the label to “alt-right,” retired it, and then embraced it once again after Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 Presidential campaign and in an attempt to undermine Donald Trump, made “alt-right” a household word).  The official right, the Republican or neoconservative right, though obviously more visible and resourceful than the intellectual-political tradition to which Gottfried subscribes, is nevertheless a fake: It isn’t right-wing at all.

The right-wing of the popular American (and, evidently, Canadian) imagination is but a softer species of leftism.  The “traditionally right-wing Republican Party” to which Fulford alludes shares with its left-wing Democratic counterpart the same essential ideology: On the issues of potentially limitless immigration at home, potentially limitless military intervention abroad, increased government spending, subsidies for Big Business, the promotion of Political Correctness, “free trade,” and, generally, the centralization and consolidation of government power and, thus, the erosion of American federalism—America’s “right-wing” and left-wing are of a piece.

And this brings us to the next point:

Contrary to Fulford, Gottfried has refused to become a member of America’s “traditionally right-wing party” precisely because there is no such thing.  And he’s been even more critical of the GOP than he has been critical of its rival precisely because the former is the animal that pretends to be rightist when it is not.

Fourth, given the foregoing, by now it should be clear that when Gottfried referred to his political-philosophical orientation as “alternative right,” he did not mean to imply that it was a second right, so to speak.  In the last analysis, Gottfried has strenuously maintained that, in reality, there is no alternative right; there’s just a relatively small, not particularly resourceful, but genuinely right-wing composed of himself and some others of like-mind.

Fifth, this last point having been made, however, it is critical to note that, despite what Fulford would have readers believe, the stuff of which Gottfried’s understanding of the old right consists is not the “racism,” “anti-Semitism,” “neo-Nazism,” “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and even “nationalism” with which Fulford attempts to link it.

Those of us, like Gottfried, who are convinced that the Managerial-Therapeutic state, Political Correctness, and the policies birthed by the union of the two are disastrous for the country recognize in nationalism, whether of the white or some other variety, something like a natural ally of these ills.  After all, the federalist design of the American Constitutional order, affirming as it does the sovereignty of each state member of the federation of states, is, or at least was meant to be, an antidote to the homogenizing Leviathan of the Nation (or nationalism).

There is, though, a second reason why it is not just patently absurd, but morally offensive, to link Gottfried with “anti-Semitism” and Nazism:

Gottfried is a Jewish man.  He is a Jew whose family suffered persecution under Hitler and his Nazi party.

Inexcusably, yet predictably, Fulford fails to mention these details.

It is painfully obvious that behind Robert Fulford’s article on Paul Gottfried is bad faith.  He should be ashamed of himself, and the editors of the National Post should be ashamed of themselves for publishing Fulford’s grossly misinformed and reckless piece.

 

 

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