In recent weeks I finished a book by John Lukacs entitled A New Republic: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century. Sometimes it takes a naturalized foreigner to see things American-born citizens can’t or won’t see. From pp. 337-8 of the 2004 printing:
Here was a peculiarly American paradox: the liberals had become senile, while the conservatives were immature. Their intellectual – and moral – substance was not sufficient to fill the post-liberal vacuum. The reason for this was not the cultural inferiority of American conservatives when compared to American liberals: that was a condition that the conservative intellectual movement had, by and large, outgrown. The reason for this was the conservatives’ split-mindedness — suggesting that split-mindedness, too, was not a monopoly of American liberals. The conservatives argued against big government: yet they favored the most monstrous of government projects, laser warefare, biological warfare, nuclear superbombs. They were against the police state: yet they were eager to extend the powers of the FBI and the CIA. They were against government regulation of “free” enterprise: yet they supported at times the govermnent shoring up or bailing out large corporations. They stood for the conservation of America’s heritage: yet they were indifferent to the conservation of the American land. They proclaimed themselves to be the prime defenders of Western civilization: yet many of them had a narrowly nationalist, and broadly Californian, view of the world — narrow enough to be ignorant, broad enough to be flat. “I was a nationalist,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf about his youth, “but I was not a patriot.” So were, unfortunately, most American conservatives, unaware of the crucial difference (George Orwell described it in one of his prime essays) betwen the ideological nationalist and the true patriot: the former is moved by the desire to extend the power of his nation, the latter is moved by the love of his country. They were nationalist rather than patriotic: they put their nationalism above their religion, their nationalism was their religion. Thus American conservatives welcomed (at worst) or were indifferent (at best) to the dangers of excessive American commitments to all kinds of foreign governments or — what was more important — to the flooding of the United States by countless immigrants from the south who would provide cheap labor but whose increasing presence could only exacerbate deep national problems…The true patriot and the true conservative is suspicious of ideology, of any ideology: yet the American conservatives were, more than often, ideologues, disregarding John Adams’s pithy statement that ideology amounted to idiocy. Their view of the world and their consequent advocacies of foreign policies were lamentable, since their view of the Soviet Union as the focus of a gigantic atheistic conspiracy and the source of every possible evil in the world was as unrealistic, unhistorical, ideological, and illusionary as the pro-Soviet illusions of the former liberals and progressives had been. Even though intellectuals of the American conservative movement were often more generous and less narrow-minded than were liberal intellectuals, they seldom hesitated to ally themselves with, and to seek the support of, some of the most uncouth and slovenly-minded people and politicians. That was just the trouble. As Jonathan Swift said, certain people “have just enough religion to hate but not enough to love.” Many American conservatives, alas, gave ample evidence that they were just conservative enough to hate liberals but not enough to love liverty.