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An Interview With Paul Gottfried

Paleo Conservative legend, Dr. Paul Gottfried, was kind enough to grant WWTFT an interview.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Dr. Gottfried:

Paul GottfriedHe is the author of numerous books and articles on intellectual history, paleoconservatism, ancient historiography, and political theory. Gottfried has also been a close friend of important political and intellectual figures: Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, John Lukacs, Christopher Lasch, Robert Nisbet, Murray Rothbard, and Joe Sobran. In his memoirs, he speaks of his “encounters” with these and other personalities. He is a critic of the neoconservatives within the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Gottfried contributes frequent articles on conservative politics and stresses the growing indistingushability from the Left of anything that passes for establishment conservatism in the late modern Western world.


1. Background

Martin:  Thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me.  I’ve done a few of these and asked for your time, before I knew much about you.  I now realize this is quite an honor.

Before we get into the book, on which I’ll focus most of the interview, I’d like to get a little background information.

I have the impression that you don’t think much of the so-called Neoconservatives, or Republicans in general.  This is an opinion we share, at least with regard to Republicans.  ….

Paul:  That is absolutely correct.  As a matter of fact I dislike both.  I despise Republicans, I dislike, but admire Neoconservatives who control them.  It’s an important distinction.  I think Republican operatives are beneath contempt.   The Neoconservatives at least have a plan and are pursuing goals and a certain vision of the world, which I think are evil, but at least they stand for something other than just winning elections.

Martin: Having embarked on a course of study of the American Revolution.  I’d categorize myself as, perhaps maybe not someone  you’d dislike, I suppose, maybe a liberal (classical sense) republican (small r).  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well for today’s terminology.  …

Paul:  I think that’s ok.  I sort of know where you’re coming from and I respect your position.

Martin:  Ok, So how would you describe yourself from that same kind of political perspective?

Paul:  I would say that in 19th century terms, I’m a conservative liberal.  That is to say, I admire  a bourgeois society with a strong protestant culture.  I suppose Catholics were also in a similar way, but I’m thinking of the North American model of government; strong traditional nuclear families, strong gender roles.  At the same time, we have strong constitutional limits on what the government can do.  I favor the existence of nation states as opposed to empires.    I consider nation states to be a moral and political advance over what existed before.  And certainly enormously better than what we have right now, which is a global democratic consumer imperium.

I generally favor a free market economy given what the alternatives have been.  That sort of makes me a kind of generic conservative around 1950.

Martin:  OK!  I like those!  I suppose that’s a good thing.

Martin:  So, in that light, if I pose to you the question: Hamilton or Jefferson?

Paul: Hamilton.  I know that is a surprising answer.  But, it is an historically based answer.  I think in his time Hamilton was right.   This does not mean that I favor the New Deal.  I can have questions about the wisdom of Lincolns invasion of the South in the civil war.  But, I see in Hamilton a great nation builder.  He built America as a nation state.  So I can respect him for that.  Jefferson extolled the ugliest things in the French Revolution.  He was a radical when it came to European politics.  Hamilton takes exactly the right position during the French Revolution.  He is a person with a certain kind of aristocratic sense.  He is not a modern advocate of an egalitarian welfare state.  Although he does favor in his time a strong national government.  So, I lean heavily toward the Federalist side in that debate.

Martin:  I thought going into this study about 2 years ago, that Jefferson would be great; and the more I read about him, the less I liked him.

Paul: The point is, that they are used as symbols.  If you look at the people themselves, though, I would have to come down on the side of someone like Forrest McDonald, who is a very conservative conservative, but is a Hamiltonian.  You cannot generalize on things you see back in 1800.  As I tell people, I probably would have been a Whig rather than a Democrat, given a choice in the 1840’s.  But that doesn’t mean I favor centralization or consolidation of government today.

Martin: If you could require a curriculum composed of 5 books as mandatory reading for elementary and high school students, what would they be?

Paul:  Gosh that’s a hard question.   If you asked for like 200 books, I’d have an easier time of it.  Anything I’m going to give you is going to be an arbitrary collection of books.  I would be very happy to have an anthology of speeches by early American leaders.  If this would be addressed to American youth.  I’d like them to be introduced to Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, all these early Americans.  I think they have a great deal to teach us.  Something like the Federalist Papers would be very hard for them to read.  You’d have to look for material that would make sense to them.  I would try to get them to understand the debate, I would try to introduce them to Aristotle’s politics.  I would certainly make them read the Bible, right away.   It is the moral basis of Western Civilization.  The King James Bible is as important as Shakespeare’s plays for creating literary English.

There are many things I’d give older people to read, like my 11th book.  Things like political theory and so forth.  But the things I work on would not be useful for teaching children.

Martin:  This sort of gets to a later question, so we’ll jump to it now.  You mentioned that you’d have to be careful what you select for kids or even young adults, because they wouldn’t understand them.  One of things that I’ve struggled with is realizing that, we don’t have common ground as much as, it seems like, we used to have.

Paul: Right.

Martin:  And what I mean by that, is that we used to have a basis of discussion.  Well everybody agrees that X.  So we can start building on that.  It seems to me that, as described in your book, we have transformed society in such way that it’s very hard to find a starting point.  How do you get to that starting point?

Paul:  Well, you know, one of the things, I’ve argued in some of my other books, not this one, is that in order to have some kind of republican government, or something other than an empire in which the people can actually run things, what you have to have is a high degree of homogenity.   You cannot have pluralism.  You have to have people agreeing on most things, sharing a common life.  There is no other way you are going to do it.  It is not a matter of just teaching people, as the Neoconservatives want to do, some propositions about democratic equality.  This is nonesence.  There has to be a common belief on first things.  Whether it’s Christianity … There has to be an agreement there.  There has to be a similar culture.  And as Aristotle said, – community proceeds from the family.  It has to be an extended family.  There is a point at which pluralism simply breaks down and you can’t make it operate.  When everyone depends on public administration, public education from these dangerous idiots who run public education in America, this becomes the way that you try create a common philosophy to get every body to agree.   Early America works because these communities are very homogeneous.  I don’t know how you go back to what the Greeks called homonoia, which is people being of one mind.  I would argue contrary to Christopher Lasch says in Revolt of the Elites.  It is not debate, it is agreement which is the basis of Democracy.   I agree with Rousseau. People have to agree.  Consensus is the basis of democracy.  It cannot be imposed from the top, which is what the Neocons want to do.  They want to fill people with their political programs from the top.  It has to be a genuine community which exists, which is then able to govern itself.

Martin:  That’s a harder proposition to re-instill a community that gets lost.

Paul:  Yes it is.

2. Multiculturalism and The Politics of Guilt

Martin:  OK, let’s talk about the book.  Much of what you described in Multiculturalism and The Politics of Guilt was infuriating.   I felt like I was reading The Screwtape Letters.   I think I mentioned that it one my emails to you.

Paul:  I took that as a high compliment!  I taught myself how to write by modeling myself after his style!  He was a great debater.

Martin:  In particular, I was struck by your depiction of the feminization of Christianity and the spread of collective salvation theology, imposed by the administrative state.

Do you view the things you described in Multiculturalism and The Politics of Guilt as evolutionary or intentional?  IE are you philosophically closer to C.S. Lewis or Ayn Rand?

Paul: I would have to say philosophically I am much closer to C.S. Lewis.  I don’t know which is identified with which position here!  But, I can’t imagine myself agreeing with Rand about much of anything.  I would say that it is a lot more intentional than most movement conservatives would like to believe.   I’m reading this book by Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind.  He describes people being run by the state, who of course have the best of intentions.  I don’t agree.  I do not assume that people who are out for power and control have the best of intentions.   They really want to control everybody.   They want to reconstruct their moral life, their families, and all kinds of other things.  There is an element of wicked, power lust that I see in this.  I think at the end the day, there is a moral critique that I am making.  I don’t thing that this evolves by itself, which is the impression I give in the book that precedes this one,  After Liberalism.  That one is almost a mechanistic look.  Multiculturalism and The Politics of Guilt is  an attempt to look at the people who do these things.  I don’t think that they are well-meaning humanitarians for the most part.

Martin:  I was afraid you were going to say that.  That is the impression I get as well.  It seems intentional and concerted. Too much so to be just accidental or a simple evolution.

Paul: No, you’re right!  It is not accidental.   While some things just evolve, I think I gave the wrong impression in my earlier book, After Liberalism.  Both in Multiculturalism and The Strange Death of European Marxism are attempts to show that people are consciously reconstructing the mindset of ordinary people under their control.   I think the managerial state is evil.  I don’t make those moral judgements explicitly, but I think you can guess that they are there.

Martin:  I discovered your book as a result of a comment left on a review of another book I reviewed on WWTFT, Underdogma.  He said, “For some historical and intellectual background of how the ‘underdogma’ paradigm arose, read Prof. Paul Gottfried’s MULTICULTURALISM and the POLITICS OF GUILT: Toward a Secular Theocracy.”  The commenter was quite perspicacious as it turns out.  Michael Prell defines the phenomenon of the almost religious sympathy for the underdog  instilled in our culture and focuses on the consequences.  You explain why!  Have you heard of Prell’s book?

Paul: No, have not.  However, I do see it as a kind of twisted religious impulse  in all this.   Without the liberalization of Christianity, and without Christianity, you would not have multiculturalism.

My preoccupation with leftist ideology, and what prompted this work, is the double standard in judging left-wing and right-wing atrocities.  The fact that the communists have killed more people than the Nazis, doesn’t seem to have any impact on anyone, aside from a few conservative intellectuals.  Nazism is the great evil, fascism is the great evil,  the communists were well meaning…  Why is it that the left can commit any crimes and get away with it, any atrocities are excused as well-intended or humanitarian.  Whereas anything that is done by what is perceived or defined as the right, is evil.  The double standard is appalling and it seems to be embedded.  It seems to be very much part of journalism, etc.  It seems to be irremovable.   This is the mindset that would lead to the major political/social reconstruction, where total equality is the goal.  Communism is supposedly just a well meaning, preliminary experiment.

A kind of cultural Marxism seems to have triumphed everywhere in the western world.  The people who push this still have a warm spot for communist tyranny.  They will still go out of their way to say that Stalin wasn’t that bad, or that people who were communist were all well meaning civil rights leaders.  That double standard is still there.  There is a preoccupation with the communist experiment and continuing to apologize for their atrocities.   Like the New York Times extolling what a great man Mao Tse Tung was, even though he killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined.  But he created a society of equals, or something like that.

Martin:  For me, one of the most terrifying statements in the book was something you said right at the beginning.  A key factor “necessary for social engineering [to succeed] is the malleability of those upon whom it is practiced.”  You question whether there is a core culture at all anymore.  What is your answer?

Paul:  There is, but it is now based on political correctness and consumerism.  Being able to buy a lot of junk, kids’ spoiling by their parents, buying junk for them.  We have an entertainment culture.  Everyone is politically correct.  This forms a noxious structure of values.   People know that certain political groups are to be treated with more deference than others.  The past has to be looked at as a history of oppression.  For example, we know that if we meet a gay person, that person is to be treated with special consideration, because they were persecuted.  This is instilled in young people at an early age, together with the entertainment industry and the possibility of buying lots of things the kids don’t need.

Martin: One of my favorite historians is Gordon S. Wood.  He wrote a book called Revolutionary Characters in which he makes the argument that the Founders basically ensure their own extinction by formulating a republic in which their class was no longer in control.  Is our form of government still viable today in the United States? (Or is it predicated on a certain culture which is rapidly disappearing?)

Paul: I do not agree or even like what Wood is saying.    What he is saying is that what happened in the 18th century laid the groundwork for the great democracy that later develops in America.  I don’t think these people were ensuring their own extinction.  I think what they were trying to do was build a kind of mixed regime in which the educated propertied would always be able to guide what was going on.    They couldn’t see the future.  I don’t buy that they were planning for their own extinction …

Martin:  I don’t think they were planning for their own extinction, I don’t think that’s what he says.  Rather what he kind of alludes to is that it got away from them.  They wanted exactly what you’re talking about.

Paul:  Well, that’s true.  In the course of time it does get away from them.   By the time of the Jacksonian democracy you have a kind of populist revolt against the old ruling class.  But to answer your larger question, the cultural preconditions that existed in the time of the founding, I don’t think are with us any longer.

Martin: Follow up:  What will we have.   What kind of government do you see us ending up with.  I don’t see things changing.

Paul:  More of what we have now, more of the same.  More centralization, more bureaucratic control, more brainwashing by the central state, in collaboration with the media and the entertainment industry.   I don’t see these things changing.  They may change in the long run, in the next few hundred years.  I don’t see them changing in the foreseeable future.  The Republicans may beat Obama, but they’ll simply put his programs into operation claiming that they’re doing so in a fiscally responsible way.    What you have in every Western country today is political parties that are more similar than they are different.  The people rally right and left around these ridiculous political parties which aren’t very different.  The Democrats pave the way for change and the Republicans follow and claim to be doing what the Democrats are doing, but in a more moderate fashion.  Americans are happy with their government overall.  They are unhappy with the parties now, because there is high unemployment.  I don’t expect any turn toward the right.

Martin: The things described in your book reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.  If I understand correctly, you paint a more dire picture than Jonah Goldberg did in his book Liberal Fascism.  You called this at one point “the rhetoric of empowerment” requiring “hard love” for those that resist.  Where do you see the “therapeutic state” ending?  I think we are going to get a gradual turn toward the left with the Republicans and the Democrats.

Paul:  I disagree with Goldberg, I don’t see liberals as comparable with fascists.  It will end in the vicinity of Sweden.    It will be like western Europe, multicultural, anti-fascist country.   In all these countries you have quasi conservative movements like the neoconservatives.   They really don’t hold up the left much.   Western Europe may be doomed, since they don’t have kids, and because they are being resettled, in many cases by Muslim extremists, or by people with utter hostility for western societies.   Mark Steyn is right, this is going to go on and on.  There is no counter force.    US will move a bit more slowly than Europe, but in the same direction.  Jean Francois Revel wrote a book in the 80’s called How Democracies Perish.   He saw them all becoming communist.  I see them all becoming  multicultural nightmares, with states that are not even solvent and are unable to pay for all the social programs, etc.

Now things could turn around, I’d be delighted if they would.  I just don’t see how this is going to happen.

Martin:  Your book was written a couple of years ago.  How do you think the current administration’s refusal to acknowledge or even name the enemy fits in the context of your thesis in Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt?  Or is that a different phenomenon entirely?

Paul:  It fits very well, because remember the enemy is anti-Christian.  Anything anti-Christian is good.   Liberal Christianity consists of favoring anti-Christians as victims.   The other side does not present anything much better.   What they are going to do is simply put themselves at the disposal of the Israeli government, and then declare war on Muslims to spread democracy or something like that.    If Perry or Romney wins, you’ll have a conservative foreign policy with democracy commissars being stuck all over the globe to spread the American way of life.    I don’t think you have a politically realistic alternative that’s going to go anywhere right now.

But as for Obama and the Democrats, they are clearly liberal Christians who are reaching out and trying to ingratiate themselves with anti-Christian enemies.

I’m afraid I’m not giving you any cause for hope or optimism.

Martin: Ok, well since we’re being so upbeat, I have another depressing quote from the book:

“A transformation of the self-image of the majority population would have had to take place for the therapeutic state to reach its present strength.”

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of the United States?  What are the odds we can get back to anything resembling Founding Principles?

Paul: In history you never go back.  It’s always something else that you do.  But I can see the system reaching a critical point.   If we try to resettle the country with large numbers of unassimilable Latinos.   If we push the victim card too far, we may get a reaction.   I’m not even sure it will be a right wing reaction, by the way.  We might end up nationalizing everything.   You need a certain type of population for a right wing reaction.  This population may not even exist anymore, since they’ve all been socialized by our public education system and by the media.   Political correctness is so widespread.   I could see things reaching a crisis point if serious economic and social disruption caused by forcing multiculturalism through immigration policies happen.    That is about the only way I see this regime changing.  The US is so wealthy.  as long as people get to live comfortably, they are not going to be unhappy with the system.    I think the economy will remain vigorous enough.

3. Thanks and Final Thoughts

Martin:  I started WWTFT as a means of documenting my own educational journey.  I had hoped that it might also be useful to others.  It has really become clear to me that ideas have power.  It has also become clear to me that the left has succeeded in removing most of the common touchpoints in what was American culture.  You have almost certainly run into the difficulty of conveying your ideas.  Do you have any strategies for bridging the chasm?

Paul: I hear that ideas don’t have power, usually from the left.  The reality is that they are lying to me.  It’s not that they don’t believe in ideas, they just believe in their ideas.  They are trying to stuff them down my throat.  For instance, people use evolution as a club to beat up Christians.  These same people are inconsistent, they only selectively believe in the things they claim to believe in.   They don’t believe in racial, gender differences, all of which are tenets of Darwin and other evolutionists.   When it comes to human beings, they think they are all totally equal blank slates.

When I talk to materialists, I tell them that materialist conceptions are in fact ideas.  It’s the way their minds organize the world.  It doesn’t mean that their minds are simply products of chemical or material changes.  It’s the other way around.  This is the way they try to make sense in their own minds about what’s going on.

So what you have to do is to expose the lies, hypocrisy and deceits of people that try to tell you that ideas don’t matter.

Martin: Then they get angry …

Paul:  It’s funny, I’ve been arguing with this one woman who accuses me of being angry.  I told her that’s irrelevant.  You can either refute logically what I’m saying, or you can’t.  Whether I’m angry or cantankerous is irrelevant has no bearing.  You run into these people constantly who do not want to take ideas seriously.  They don’t have any values, they are values relativists.  They are always lying to you. They want to impose their own ideas on everybody else.  A kind of power play. People lie, they are not honest when they deny the power of ideas.

Martin: What didn’t I ask you about that I should have asked you?

Paul: You have asked me everything.  I sort of gave you the gloom and doom picture, but I suppose you were prepared for that having read the book!

Martin:  What is your next project?

Paul: My 11th book on Leo Strauss.  It’s an explosive book in that I use a C.S. Lewis type device in showing the other side before tearing apart the Straussian arguments in the last chapter.

Anti-fascism is another topic I find fascinating.  I find comparisons between the multicultural left and fascism to be ridiculous.  They aren’t the same. Fascist is anti-democratic and eventually blow itself up.  The multicultural left seems to be successful and we can’t get rid of them.

Martin:  Thanks very much for your time!

Paul: You’re welcome.

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1 Jeff Edelman { 10.04.11 at 10:07 pm }

The commonality — the homogeneity — of the early republic was morality. George Washington said it was essential to the survival of this government i.e. — the country. It’s really quite simple.
Alas, America may now be a democracy. Thus our situation. This wasn’t the intentions of the Founders. I believe it was John Adams who said democracies commit suicide. It appears that we’re getting a firsthand look at this fact.


Martin Reply:

Jeff, you’re exactly right. Adams, Washington, Franklin, and others all made no bones about the indispensability of a moral people for our system of government to function.


2 Quinn { 10.04.11 at 11:11 pm }

Thanks Martin for the picture of and interview with Paul Gottfried.
I am glad to be introduced to him, his writing, his views. Gloom and doom is right. However, it is good to know those who strive to stem the tide.


Martin Reply:

Quinn, so nice to hear from you again. 🙂 I’m glad you find value in what we do. Dr. Gottfried was very interesting to talk to and speaks very forthrightly. As a result of his implacable nature, he’s not popular with many on the right or the left.


3 Jim { 10.05.11 at 5:34 pm }

Great interview Martin. Now I have to get the book. I found most interesting the discussion about the future of our country. Alas I think the good Dr. is right in that “history never goes back”. The United States of Sweden is a depressing thought.


Martin Reply:

Thanks. I felt it was quite an honor to speak with such a distinguished and learned guy.


4 Nate { 10.05.11 at 10:12 pm }

Great interview! I had never heard of Dr. Gottfried until now, very smart man, but very interesting views. Love the site, by the way.


5 Bob Mack { 10.06.11 at 12:09 pm }

Excellent piece. I must disagree with this, however:
But as for Obama and the Democrats, they are clearly liberal Christians who are reaching out and trying to ingratiate themselves with anti-Christian enemies.

I think Obama is a neo-Muslim Marxist & the Dems largely secular Progressives. And they are the enemy.


6 Marcia { 10.07.11 at 8:36 pm }

Amen to that.


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