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The Paleoconservatism of Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is a name every conservative in America should know.

The Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa., Gottfried is considered one of the founding fathers of the modern-day paleoconservative movement.

Beyond giving the movement its name in the mid-1990s, Gottfried has published 12 books on conservatism, and is an avid writer for,, and other paleoconservative sites.

Richard Nixon was a fan of Gottfried’s and he’s friends with presidential candidate Ron Paul, commentator Pat Buchanan and other leading conservatives. Why then, isn’t Gottfried embraced by the American media? Where are his TV interviews and radio commentaries?

“My work has been so marginalized by the neocons, that I barely have a voice in the debate anymore,” Gottfried said. “Neocons have driven most of the paleos out of public life.”

Let’s make one thing clear right away: Gottfried, although tied strongly to the movement, doesn’t consider himself a paleocon, in the modern sense of the word.

“The paleo camp is now beset with anger and desperation but has little influence outside its own ranks,” Gottfried said. “[The] paleos who … converted to an extreme type of Catholicism [are] representative of this mood of outrage at the way things have gone for their side in an American society and culture that has rejected their influence.”

Bad Blood
The main reason the paleos are in a bad situation, Gottfried said, is that they lack the means to effectively do battle with neocons, otherwise known as neoconservatives.

“I do sympathize,” he said, “with many of the paleo positions, for example, on immigration, subsidiarity in government, defense of traditional gender roles, the identification of higher education with the transmission of traditional Western learning, etc. But I don't think the paleos will go anywhere unless they can pull themselves up into the public discussion, in the teeth of neocon-liberal opposition.”

To get to the heart of the feud, one must go back more than 25 years; back to the first term of President Ronald Reagan -- back when paleoconservatism was simply conservatism. Back, Gottfried said, to February 1981, when Reagan tapped Melvin E. Bradford to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“To the paleocons – he was all theirs,” he said. “But the neocons weren’t happy with the nomination. They had Bill Bennett lined up for that position, and because of that, they attacked Bradford viciously. It was an unbelievable display of muscle. Bradford was wounded professionally, and some say he never recovered.”

The consequences of this rift were monumental and unrelenting. Since that moment in history, Gottfried said, paleocons have suffered many more injustices at the hands of neoconservatives.

“The war over the nomination of M.E. Bradford in February 1981 [was] the breaking point in the relation between paleos and neocons,” Gottfried said. “The nasty, underhanded way in which the neocons torpedoed that nomination laid the groundwork for all future confrontations between the two sides.”

Ninety-nine percent of the conservative movement switched sides after that display of power, Gottfried said.

William F. Buckley Jr., who died last week, is a perfect case-in-point, Gottfried said.

“Buckley started out as a paleocon,” he said. “But he became a trophy to the neocons. He was a brutal writer, a great stylist, but he marginalized the rest of us. He threw us to the wolves.”

A few months before his death, however, Gottfried said Buckley appeared to have a change of heart.

“Just before he died, he attacked the neocons for the war in Iraq,” he said. “He called it a ‘War of choice.’ It created tremendous bitterness among the neocons and they denounced him as a paleocon. So Buckley died a paleocon.”

A Grim Future
Gottfried is grim about the future of the paleoconservative movement.

“The paleoconservative side cannot get off the starting block until it can raise billions of dollars in order to become a known factor in the American political debate,” he said. “If there is one priority that neoconservatives and liberals fully and consciously share, it is keeping the Old Right out of the public conversation.”

As for the movement’s public face, people like Buchanan only take paleoconservatism so far.

“Although Pat Buchanan is a well-known TV personality who is identified with the Old Right, he does not usually articulate paleoconservative positions,” Gottfried said. “He presents his own views and priorities, particularly on economic protection, and his lifelong role as an advocate for the Republican Party renders him largely uncritical of past Republican administrations. Pat sometimes descends into the good Republican/bad Democratic routine which I associate with [Ann] Coulter, [Sean] Hannity and even [Rush] Limbaugh.”

When asked about the movement’s priorities, Gottfried is equally grim.

“At this point it is almost useless to discuss our priorities,” Gottfried said. “Unlike the neoconservatives, we are not invited to write for the New York Times and Washington Post or featured on Sunday network news. Unless we can get our hands on funding, to create a TV presence, the battle will go on the way it has until now, with us being the marginalized outsiders.”

Nevertheless, there is a small, but growing paleocon presence, he said.

“Our greatest assets right now are our websites; and thanks to our patron Taki Theodoracoplos,” Gottfried said. “Taki Top Drawer has pulled tens of thousands of readers each month. The number of monthly hits on such antiwar, generally rightwing websites as and is in the hundreds of thousands; and both and have taken on the immigration question with great boldness. There are also dozens of excellent younger paleo journalists out there but none of them can presently get the exposure that young neocons enjoy, thanks to their liberal friends and their own truly daunting resources.”

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