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Cracks and Fissures in the Electoral Right

While the right has been resurgent, it has been continuously bickering. By the late 1980's the New Right coalition was fraying at the seams, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe further tore the fabric.54 As John Judis explained:

"During the Bush years, strife among these groups was rampant. Tory 'neocons' and Old Right 'paleocons' warred over Israel and immigration, while libertarians and the Christian right quarreled over family matters. In the 1992 Republican presidential primary [neoconservative] Bill Bennett accused Bush challenger Buchanan of 'flirting with fascism.' Ross Perot's third-party candidacy divided the movement further, drawing off the Old Right and laissez-faire conservatives."55

The outcomes of these ongoing internal struggles is difficult to predict, but the cleavages are useful to examine for both tactical and strategic reasons because the shape of the Right will reflect how the dominant sectors either win these debates or demotes them below the primary principles of unity for new tactical and strategic coalitions. It would be a serious mistake, however, to equate internal contradictions and realignment of coalitions with the collapse of the right.

Culture Warriors v. Economic Libertarians

With the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the 1980s, the social conservative theme of the Culture War bested economic libertarianism as the new central metaphor for the struggle between conservatives and liberals.56 Paul Weyrich had proposed cultural conservatism as the new glue for conservative mobilization for many years. The idea of a Culture War has its primary effect on public policy through demands that the state play a role in policing monocultural concepts of morality rooted in shared mandates of Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy. This provokes an intrinsic conflict with libertarians who rage against most statist intervention other than narrow government activity to protect property and wealth such as national defense and law enforcement.

One domestic example of this monoculturalism is the Christian Right's core focus on sexuality, especially any attempt by women--or men--to step outside the limits of conservative Christian patriarchal assumptions of family.57 The idea of building an alliance of socially-conservative Protestants and Catholics originally focused on opposition to abortion. The social conservative alliance deepened throughout the Reagan years, and in the 1990s emerged as an energetic force on the state level seeking the denial of rights to gay men and lesbians.

State level homophobic initiatives displaced anti-abortion activism in the early 1990s, anti-gay sentiments attracted support from many neoconservatives who called for an idealized level playing field for women and people of color, but didn't want homosexuals to leave the locker room closet. Meanwhile, some economic libertarians, including a small but vocal group of gay conservatives, pestered the Christian right for its obsession with passing laws curtailing rights based on sexual identity.58 Anti-abortion strategy sparked a fierce debate over the text of the Republican Party platform in 1996, with candidate Bob Dole failing in an effort to offer pro-choice Republicans at least a rhetorical refuge against the dogmatism of the Christian right ideologues who dominated the party at the grassroots.59

The Christian Right also promoted several highly-biased abstinence-only curricula-- riddled with misinformation and based primarily on fear and guilt--in an ineffective effort to force young people to abide by the norms of conservative Christianity. Even when not adopted, abstinence-only curricula have helped erode comprehensive sexuality education nationwide.60 Most libertarians and even some traditional Republican Party conservatives were uncomfortable with the attack on comprehensive sexuality education in the era of AIDS.

In terms of foreign policy, Culture War themes extend well into the mainstream. Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order argued that the crucial global division in the post Cold War period was between cultures. Huntington (who once worried about too much democracy in a paper for the Trilateral Commission) now saw ethno-religious worldviews pitted against each other, with global blocs of Islamic, Orthodox, Japanese, and other cultures battling the beleaguered (heroic, idealized, preferred) Western culture.61 Noting this paradigm omits consideration of other cleavages, such as between modernists and traditionalists and the haves and have nots, Ronald Steel observed:

"Indeed, the whole 'civilization' thesis sometimes seems motivated by a profound distaste for multiculturalism at home, and can be viewed as an elaborate 'decadence of the West' alarm that requires battening down the hatches against cultural assaults from within as well as without."62

Some economic libertarians found themselves at odds with monoculturalists who opposed immigration. Some libertarian think tanks, with an eye toward cheap labor and an arm against state regulation, were quick to point out that most immigrants, over time, pay more in taxes than they use in social services. Some xenophobic libertarians, however, sided with the anti-immigrant campaign, arguing that capitalism and democracy work best in monocultural societies where (they allege) less government regulation is needed given widely shared values.

Biological Racialists v. Cultural Supremacists

Even those who supported the Culture War argued whether it was based on behavior or bloodline. The 1990s saw a renewal of the biological determinist claim that genetic racial differences accounted for class inequalities.63 This focus on race played out in policy debates over street crime, welfare, and immigration.

The loudest salvo from the biological determinists came with the publication of The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.64 The Bell Curve argued that Blacks and "Latinos" were genetically inferior, and then concluded that most affirmative action and social welfare programs were doomed to failure.65 Much of the underlying research was funded by the white supremacist Pioneer Fund, including a number of studies published by the Institute for the Study of Man, a racialist group that promotes the same debunked pseudo-anthropological claims of a racial Aryanist Diaspora favored by the Nazis.66 The Pioneer Fund is a significant source of funds for various academics promoting racialism and White superiority.67

The sentiments of critics were easy to gauge, one collection of essays was titled Measured Lies: The Bell Curve Examined.68 Not all critics of the Bell Curve were on the left. A stinging rebuke of the thesis was published in an anti-abortion publication by a conservative author who warned that eugenicist thinking in the past had led to calls for terminating persons and bloodlines thought to be dysgenic.

Paleocons v. Neocons

The fracture between the Neocons and Paleocons has had continuing repercussion within US conservatism.69 The split began in the mid-1980s as an elite intellectual debate appearing in the pages of the Neoconservative Commentary, and two periodicals with Paleoconservative leanings, National Review and Intercollegiate Review.70 It reached a boiling point in 1989 during a feud involving theologian Rev. Richard John Neuhaus at the Center for Religion and Society, a think tank in New York City that networked closely with leading neoconservatives. Neuhaus and his staff were fired and locked out of their offices by the parent organization, the paleoconservative Rockford Institute in Illinois.71 According to the New York Times:

"The raid on the center's office was provoked by Pastor Neuhaus's complaint, supported by a number of leading conservative figures, that the Rockford Institute's monthly publication, Chronicles, was tilting toward views favoring native-born citizens and values and that it was 'insensitive to the classic language of anti-Semitism.'"72

Rockford is hardly a marginal institution on the right. Pat Buchanan endorsed the work of the Rockford Institute after the Neuhaus incident. Perot's running mate, James B. Stockdale was on the Board of Directors of Rockford in 1989. After Buchanan's antisemitism was outed during the Gulf War, other paleocons made bigoted references about the people who "control" the Neocon movement, leading Neocon critics to charge with much justification that the Paleocons were tainted by "anti-Semitism" and "nativism."73 Since then the split has widened.

The revolutionary right frame of some reactionary paleocons such as Sam Francis is easy to demonstrate from their own arguments. Francis allies himself with other paleocons such as Thomas Fleming, editor of Rockford's Chronicles magazine, Paul Gottfried, author of The Conservative Movement, and E. Christian Kopff, a contributing editor to Chronicles. Citing speeches delivered by himself and these colleagues at a conference of the rightist American Cause group, Francis describes the theme of their presentations as involving "a mission of challenging and overthrowing the incumbent elites of education and culture, not conserving them or fighting them" with reasonable arguments drawn from Republican Party rhetoric.74 Francis' explained his speech "dealt with the theory and practice of Antonio Gramsci's concept of 'cultural hegemony' and how it might be applied to the right."

Along with the Rockford Institute, the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Independent Institute have been singled out as paleoconservative havens.75 Influential conservative foundations that paleocons decry as seized by neocons include Bradley, Olin, Scaife, and Smith Richardson.76

Neocons v. Theocons

Diamond has observed that although "the Reagan administration's anti-communist agenda proved irresistible," to neoconservatives when they joined the New Right coalition, the neoconservatives "never adopted certain right-wing tenets, such as the biological determinism of the racialist Right, nor the theologically adorned social Darwinism of the Christian Right libertarians...."77 The relationship of Calvinist Protestantism and unrestricted forms of early capitalism has been studied at length as a historical phenomena, but few studies of the flourishing Christian economics sector exist.78

Despite many differences, modernist neocons and Christian Right fundamentalists could agree on many socially conservative legislative and policy matters. What could not be overlooked by neoconservatives were increasingly-open suggestions by some sectors of the Christian Right that the real solution to the moral crisis was the reassertion that America was a Christian nation. Conservative Christian evangelicals were one thing, but theocratic dominionists were quite another.

Another tension that contributed to the move of some neoconservatives back to the Democratic Party to support Clinton was the growth of economic nationalist and isolationist tendencies, not only in the Republican Party, but also in the activist and far right.79

Purists v. Pragmatists

In 1996 militant Protestants and Catholics unhappy with the pragmatism of the Christian Coalition began to question the legitimacy of electoral politics, the judiciary, and the regime itself. These groups began to push openly theocratic arguments.80 A predominantly Catholic movement emerged from this sector to suggest civil disobedience against abortion was mandated by the primacy of natural law over the constitutional separation of powers which allowed the judiciary to protect abortion rights.81

Decrying pragmatism, Howard Phillips used his US Taxpayers Party in an unsuccessful attempt to lure Pat Buchanan to run for president under the purist banner. Although Buchanan was a paleocon, racial nationalist, and theocratic Christian nationalist, he was nonetheless a team player and pragmatist. Phillips went on in another failed attempt to prod Christian Right leader James Dobson of Focus on the Family to denounce the pragmatists. While these electoral efforts were unsuccessful, the purist sector in the Christian Right continued to grow.82


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