Ground Zero
by Scott McConnell

November 13, 2000

Among the Paleos

Spent the weekend in Rockford, Illinois at a meeting of the John Randolph Club, a quirky "Old Right" conservative group centered around the monthly magazine Chronicles.

It was my first airline flight since 9/11, and I returned believing the earliest expressions of war weariness will come from the country’s frequent fliers, and take the form of demands that the Bush administration use some common sense ethnic profiling in its efforts to keep hijackers off the planes. (As I write I learn of the crash of the American Airlines flight from New York to Santa Domingo, cause unknown. If terrorism is involved, the airport situation will only get worse.)

Under current airport security arrangements, a blonde American-born woman with two toddlers in tow is searched as rigorously as a young man from Algeria – so as no one is discriminated against or offended. As a result, everyone flying must spend hours in airport lines. Then there are the random searches. Before checked in, I was pulled out of the line (a consequence of random selection, I was told) so my bags could be opened up and examined by an airport security guard, a young woman whose appearance I took to be Pakistani.

The Wall Street Journal has been full of bellicose nonsense about this war, but a few weeks ago it printed a letter to the editor asserting that so long as native born Americans are being held up and searched as rigorously as foreigners, we are not "at War" but "at Patty Cake." After the spending large parts of two days at airports, that seems about right.

The Chronicles group has been one of the main poles of antiwar sentiment among conservatives during the past decade. Chronicles opposed the Gulf War, opposed American intervention (on the Muslim side) in Bosnia, opposed vigorously the war against Serbia. It has warned repeatedly, in articles large and small, that an American foreign policy seeking global hegemony will generate foreign enemies and spur them to violence.

Their perspective flows in part from the culture of old fashioned isolationism – the America of smaller towns and larger (in the sense of their cultural role) churches, distrust of European entanglements, "Main Street" as opposed to Wall Street.

But this is not quite accurate. In fact most Chronicles' editors are cosmopolitans of a fashion: classicists and Europhiles, committed to upholding the remnants of European civilization in all its regional manifestations. They feel themselves in battle against the myriad forces of cultural homogenization driven by global marketing and high rates of immigration. The magazine thus blends the reflexes of American prairie populism with those of classical European conservatism. Add doses of seasoning from home-schoolers, Southern pride people, anti-abortionists, various kinds of conservative Christians, and conventionally libertarian isolationists, and you have the right wing alternative to the neoconservatives, a group far less influential in Washington but far quirkier and intellectually more challenging.

Despite a weekend in Rockford, I still couldn’t say definitively where this group comes down on the war. They have all opposed the foreign policies in Europe and the Middle East that have given rise to so much anti-American sentiment. They have written countless articles predicting that if the United States doesn’t pull back and begin minding its own business, it would get into serious trouble. But saying "I told you so" doesn’t say enough once the shooting has started.

The antiwar right is not pacifist, nor is it as viscerally and reflexively anti-American as some on the antiwar left. Chronicles' editors may believe that the Civil War marked the beginning of the collapse of the American experiment (one said this over the weekend) but they are in their own ways, very patriotic. Characteristically, two of the conferences major speakers (Chris Check and Roger McGrath) are former U.S. Marines.

Let me distill (with inevitable oversimplification) some of the arguments about the present conflict I encountered, acknowledging that perhaps none of them would be adhered to by a majority of those in attendance.

In short, the John Randolph Club was a group in flux, holding tightly to its reflexes of opposition and dissent, but not actually opposed to what the Bush administration is doing now as much as it is opposed to the steps that led the United States into its current, difficult, circumstances.

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