From time to time in this column, we’ve mentioned a former Georgetown University history professor and think-tank defense analyst, now a Seattle-based writer. Although we may “see” things differently, we admire his wisdom, fresh thinking and diagnostic-prognostic acumen.
For the past several decades, Philip Gold has been one of the Cassandras of American conservatism. Two Cassandras, actually. He predicted 9-11 long before it happened, and declared its imminence in a pair of magazine articles in summer 2001. He also called for many of the defense transformations that are now under way. As a cultural historian, he argued endlessly with conservatives about the complexities of the Culture Wars, and against the “We’re Good, They’re Evil and That’s All We Need to Know” mindset of far too many on the Right.
Now he’s back in dual Cassandra mode. He opposes a full invasion of Iraq on military and political grounds. “There are too many other things we need to do right now,” he says. “And destabilizing the region plays right into the hands of the Islamists.” And he sees conservatives heading down a very dubious path with “Let’s Use the War to Take Back the Culture” strategies.
But this time, there’s a difference. After 40 years in the movement, Cassandra’s calling it quits. Not an easy decision for someone who started out as a high-school sophomore with Goldwater ’64 and ended up with Steve Forbes 2000. At Yale, he joined the Conservative Party of the Political Union. Upon graduation, Gold lied about his 20 documented years of serious allergies and dodged an IV-F medical exemption in order to join the Marines . “I had a sense that, in the long run, the people who were against the war, and the ideas and tactics they developed, would do more harm to the country than the war itself. I had to take a personal stand.”
After graduate school came 20 years of academic and journalistic work. Four books and over 400 articles and columns in such publications as the Washington Times, Policy Review, American Spectator and Weekly Standard. He recalls that the New York Times even ran him once.
It wasn’t a bad life. “I took the grants and the jobs,” he says. “I met a lot of very good people. But it just kept getting more frustrating. I was warning about the dangers of psychologized ethics 30 years ago, but conservatives shrugged it off as too crazy to bother about. Until the laws and the lawsuits and the President Who Feels Your Pain smacked them upside the head. Then we argued for most of the ’90s about the ‘Neoclassical Revival’ that they’re still refusing to take seriously, except when it means ‘Back to the Great Books’ or ‘Learn Latin.’
But Dr. Gold is leaving the movement (he’s resigning his think-tank position over his opposition to Iraq) for more reasons than personal frustration.
“I look at what conservatism has become, and I no longer recognize the movement. The most important core principles ‘limited government, civil liberties and economic opportunity, lighter taxes’ are libertarian issues now. I voted for Bush and expect to vote for him in 2004, but there’s no pretending that the Republicans aren’t one half of the Republocrat system, devoted to keeping the game the way it is. Culturally, conservatism has little to offer except reruns and resentment and moody separatism. As for a foreign policy, unless we’re very lucky, we’re walking into disaster.”
So, if you’re Gold, what do you say after you say good-bye?
According to Gold, “You say hello to other people. My audience these days is liberals – especially older liberals, who’ve had it with what the left has become, but still don’t want to go right. I’ve also started hearing from disillusioned conservatives. It’s not a zero-sum game intellectually and culturally. And if things really go wrong with the war on terror and the economy stays down, if national disgust really gets going by 2006, it won’t be just the Republocrats anymore.”
For the next few months, Dr. Gold will be writing a book, “The Wars of the Ways.” “We still don’t understand that these struggles are about far more than terror or Jihadism. And we still don’t understand how our culture – where it’s going – will determine how and why we fight, and whether or not we win.
While these two guys from the West haven’t completely converted yet, we wish Gold good luck. We’ll be watching and praying because he usually gets it right. That’s what really scares us!