George Hawley, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama, supplies an invaluable service to students of American politics with his recently published book, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.
All too rarely do we encounter a work that is as theoretically as it is practically significant. Though published by an academic press, Hawley’s work has much to say to popular audiences—particularly to those who self-identify as “conservative” or as being “on the right.”
And at this juncture, as the meteoric rise of Donald Trump to the status of GOP presidential frontrunner has been met by Republican Party apologists in the media and political classes with insistence upon “conservative” purity, it’s a timely analysis indeed that reveals the intellectual diversity on the right.
I will say more about this crucial book in the future. For now, though, I’d like to make some brief remarks.
What passes for “conservatism” or “the right” in the mainstream of American media—i.e. in both Democrat and Republican-friendly outlets—is actually neoconservatism. The latter, in turn, is synonymous with what many are currently, and contemptuously, referring to as the GOP “Establishment.”
But as I’ve argued in my own book, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front, not only is there little to nothing genuinely conservative about neoconservatism; it is more a species of leftist or “progressive” thought than it is an expression of anything that’s traditionally been associated with the right.
Hawley, for his part, is more concerned with identifying both the dissident voices on the right and, at least as importantly, the relentlessness and effectiveness with which those voices have been “purged” or otherwise excluded from what is known as “the conservative movement.”
He deserves immense credit for achieving both goals in spades.
However, the many virtues of this book aside, Hawley’s discussion of “paleolibertarianism”—an oft-neglected variant of the classical liberal perspective from the genuine right—could’ve been vastly enriched had only he said a thing or two about a specific paleolibertarian writer whose omission from his exposition struck this author as glaring.
That writer is Ilana Mercer.
There are three reasons why it is imperative that Mercer be included in any discussion of paleolibertarianism.
First, and most obviously, she is a paleolibertarian—and a tireless one at that. For decades, this defender of the paleolibertarian vision has published a couple of books and thousands of articles and blog posts in which she’s shattered not only leftist pieties but neocon and “libertarian-lite”(left-wing libertarian) sureties as well. Much blood, sweat, and tears, to say nothing of opportunities for professional advancement, has Mercer foregone in her campaign against the idols of our Politically Correct age.
Second, not only is Mercer a veteran paleolibertarian writer. She is unquestionably the most visible, the most widely read, of such contemporary writers. At one point, she was nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate, and for nearly the last 20 years, World Net Daily (WND), a site that boasts roughly 1 million visitors a month, has featured Mercer’s weekly column, “Return to Reason”—its “longest standing, exclusive, paleo-libertarian weekly column.”
In addition to WND, Mercer’s work has been showcased in a plethora of outlets, both internationally and stateside, and she’s currently a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
No paleolibertarian—to repeat, a rightist proponent of a tradition-grounded classical liberal ideal—has nearly as much exposure when it comes to scholarly and popular audiences alike as does Mercer.
Third, Ilana Mercer is a woman. Moreover, she is a Jewish woman, the daughter of a Rabbi who was raised in both South Africa and Israel. This is no insignificant detail: Mercer is a standing repudiation of the stereotype, all too easily reinforced by her exclusion from any study of “right-wing critics of American conservatism,” that such critics are exclusively elderly white men.
Moreover, this willingness on her part to break with the pack—paleolibertarianism, like all political persuasions to the right of Fox News and “conservative” talk radio, tend not to appeal to those who are interested in “social respectability,” much less does it appeal to your average Jewish female intellectual—distinguishes Mercer for both her courage and devotion to truth.
John Derbyshire is a former writer for National Review Online. Hawley correctly identifies him as one of the many right-leaning critics of American “conservatism” who have been unceremoniously rendered into non-entities by its self-appointed guardians. Yet even Derbyshire, who, having written with admiration for Mercer’s work, should’ve known better, neglected to mention her in one of his articles on paleolibertarianism.
Upon lauding the latter as a “once-promising intellectual movement that stayed true to libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness,” he rejoices that there’s at least one paleolibertarian left.
Yet the person to whom he refers is Hans Hermann Hoppe, a German born political philosopher and economist who is now a retired (but still active) academic living in Turkey.
Hoppe is most certainly a paleolibertarian. And he’s an arresting thinker in his own right.
But Mercer has proven to be a far more influential voice as a right-wing critic of American “conservatism” than either Hoppe or most of the right-wing critics named in Hawley’s book, for unlike many of them, she has invested her resources in promoting paleolibertarianism to a large popular audience.
And unlike most of Hawley’s right-wing critics, she has succeeded not just in acquiring a hearing among very large numbers of readers, but in maintaining that audience over a span of decades.
Before the second edition of his fine book goes to press, I’d urge George Hawley to consider including Ilana Mercer in his section on paleolibertarianism, for both it and his readers would be well served by this addition.