As everyone else seems to be responding to this Frum-AEI business, I will add a few observations. Let me start first by citing a long quote from Austin Bramwell’s “Goodbye to All That,” which appeared in TAC in November 2006. I have had occasion to critique parts of Bramwell’s article and other Bramwell arguments over the years, but I completely agree with him in what he writes here:
Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all.
First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell’s “Inner Party,” those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example. In the run-up to the invasion, leading conservatives announced that conservatism now meant spreading global democratic revolution. This forthright radicalism—this embrace of the sanative powers of violence—became quickly accepted as the ineluctable meaning of conservatism in foreign policy. Those who dissented risked ostracism and harsh rebuke. Had conservative leaders instead argued that global democratic revolution would not cure our woes but increase them, the rest of the movement would have accepted this position no less quickly. Millions of conservative epigones believe nothing less than what the movement’s established organs tell them to believe. Rarely does a man recognize, like Winston Smith, his own ideology as such.
Second, conservatism is concerned less with truth than with distinguishing insiders from outsiders [bold mine-DL]. Conservatives identify themselves in part by repeating slogans (“we are at war!”) that, like “ignorance is strength,” are less important for what (if anything) they say than for what saying them says about the speaker. At the same time, to rise in the movement, one must develop a habitual obliviousness to truth, or what Orwell labeled “doublethinking.” Anyone who expresses too vociferously too many of the following opinions, for example, cannot expect to make a career in the movement: that the Soviet Union was not the threat that anti-communists made it out to be, that the current tax system discriminates in favor of the very wealthy, that the Bush administration was wrong about the Iraq invasion in nearly every respect, that the constitutional design itself prevents judges from deciding cases according to the original meaning of the Constitution, that global warming poses small but unacceptable risks, that everyone in the abortion debate—even the most ardent pro-lifers—inevitably engages in arbitrary line-drawing. Whether these opinions and others are correct or not matters little to the movement conservative, even if he knows next to nothing about the topic at hand. If you do not reject these opinions or at least keep quiet, you are not a movement conservative and will be treated accordingly.
Third, and closely related to doublethinking, the conservative movement engages in selective editing of history. When events have a tendency to disconfirm ideology, down the memory hole they go. Thus, conservatives do not recall their dire warnings about the Soviet Union during the Cold War or about the economy after the Bush I or Clinton tax increases. On the Iraq invasion, they will not remind you of their claims that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, that the world would soon be applauding the Iraq invasion, or that events in Lebanon and the Ukraine heralded global democratic revolution [bold mine-DL]. Nor will conservatives remind you of their predictions that the insurgency’s demise was imminent, that Saddam Hussein and then Zarqawi were the Big Men of the insurgency, or that the insurgency consisted largely of foreign jihadis. As in 1984, the ability to forget that any of these events ever occurred signals one’s loyalty to the movement. (Hence, the rise of hawkishness against Iran, not four years after the last effort to sell a war to an otherwise balky public.) To prove his loyalty to the emperor, everyone must compliment him on his new clothes. The most loyal believe that the emperor is wearing clothes to begin with.
This did not happen yesterday, and it did not even start in 2001 or 1994 or 1981 or at some other turning point when strict ideological limits started to be imposed. What many people are now lamenting as the “closing of the conservative mind” is simply the latest repetition of a process that is integral to what this movement and what all ideological movements are. Some of us understand conservatism to be a temperament and a persuasion rather than a programmatic agenda to be carried out through ideological indoctrination and political action. We naturally react whenever we see movement conservatives enforcing their ideology, but what they do has nothing to do with us or the conservatism we articulate.
This process is hardly unique to the conservative movement, nor is the conservative movement anywhere near the worst ideological movement, but it would help put all of this in perspective if we remember that the movement has thrived on the vilification and expulsion of perceived undesirables for a very long time. This is forgotten or excused when most people deeply dislike the people being pushed out. Most people today would not sympathize with many of the people Buckley and his allies denounced in decades past, and certainly there were and are few actual sympathizers with the antiwar conservatives whom Frum declared unpatriotic and would-be collaborators with jihadists (“the paleoconservatives have collapsed into a mood of despairing surrender unparalleled since the Vichy republic went out of business”). What is a little strange is that there seems to be much more sympathy for someone who eagerly enforced earlier party lines while deploying the most despicable rhetoric to do it. Now there is great concern for the quality of internal conservative debate among people outside the movement, but there was none of this earlier. On the contrary, earlier episodes of ideological enforcement were either cheered or paid no attention at all, because the targets in those episodes did not express views pleasing to the majority of the country at the time.