Patrick J. Buchanan, National Socialist
Pat Buchanan never struck me as being a very bright man, and having read his Great Betrayal, I can say confidently that he is, in fact, a rather stupid man. This is not to say that he is always wrong; but the good sense is jumbled up with so much nonsense that the whole mixture is worthless.
It's a shame, because I was predisposed in his favor. At the end of the Cold War, I too decided that there is no more need for America to be the world's policeman, and I too dislike "conservatives" who think we have a duty to uplift the world into a woodrowilsonian utopia of peace and democracy. If this is "isolationism," well, why should we let a word scare us away from common sense? Likewise with "nativism": this is our country, and we have every right to keep it for ourselves. And I've been against NAFTA ever since I wondered why they needed a thousand-page treaty to define the terms of free trade: the answer is that NAFTA is not really about free trade at all, but multinational socialism of the EU type.
When I say that Buchanan is a "national socialist" (rather than a nationalist) I use the term advisedly (note that I do not capitalize the term). I say he is a socialist because he habitually sees capitalism as the problem and government as the solution. Socialists, depending on their relative sophistication, attribute the alleged evils of capitalism either to deliberate conspiracies of capitalists, or to systemic failures of the free market: Buchanan wavers between both of these accounts. He even blames cultural problems (e.g. family breakdown, drug abuse, ethnic separatism) on free trade, as if nothing happened in the 1960s except the Kennedy Round.
There is a case for "economic nationalism" if one asserts plainly that economic goals may sometimes be subordinated to political ones, and occasionally Buchanan does say this. But for the most part he argues on the far weaker ground that protectionism is preferable strictly as an economic policy. One doesn't have to be an economist (I am not, and I actually have very little interest in the free trade v. protectionism debate as such) to see how weak his argument is: its flaws shout out from nearly every page.
The biggest flaw is particularly worth mentioning because (1) it is spectacularly stupid, and (2) immigration enthusiasts, who detest Buchanan, make the same stupid mistake. Buchanan argues that we had high tariffs throughout the 19th century, and the nation prospered; pro-immigration people (that is, the ones who think immigration is good for America, rather than the ones who know it's not) argue that we had nearly unrestricted immigration throughout the 19th century, and the nation prospered. The stupidity involved is to consider one factor in isolation, ignore the differences between the 19th and 20th centuries, and assert that if the policy worked then, it must work now.
Buchanan knows perfectly well that, besides high tariffs, 19th-century America also had sound money, no income tax, and overall a vastly less oppressive and expensive burden of government; and within its tariff walls, America was a free-trade zone of continental magnitude. Being a socialist, though, he cannot make the connection between these facts and America's economic success; for him, the tariff is the only thing that matters. Likewise, the pro-immigration people ignore the facts that 19th-century America had an open frontier, a confident Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony, no welfare state, and no affirmative discrimination for certified minorities.
Buchanan does pay lip service to the free market (within its tariff walls), but so do the Democrats, even as they strive day by day to make the USA more and more like the former USSR. If we were to enact his program, and balance tariff increases with income-tax cuts, this would indeed be good for the country; but it is far from adequately addressing the fundamental issues of national security, sovereignty, and cohesion. It is certainly not worth deserting the Republican party and splitting the conservative movement.
Here is where his ideological stupidity produces strategic stupidity. He picked the most divisive issue he could, and promoted it in the most confrontational way he could. From the nationalist point of view, the most important issues are immigration, "affirmative action," and bilingualism. Polls regularly show that most Americans oppose these things. Among conservatives, immigration is the only one that is at all controversial, and it seems that conservatives generally are coming to realize that immigration needs to be limited, if not cut off altogether (and even pro-immigration conservatives assume that immigrants will be Americanized: they just don't realize how unlikely that has become). Instead of focussing on these issues, Buchanan prefers to rail against the WTO.
© 1999 by Karl Jahn