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Revisiting the Diana West Controversy

The ongoing implosion of the conservative ethos.

by
David Solway

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September 16, 2013 - 12:01 am
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The controversy currently raging among conservative luminaries over the substantive nature and scholarly status of Diana West’s new book, American Betrayal, need not be rehearsed in detail here; its features are by now reasonably familiar to most readers of the political sites. But it will do no harm to offer a schematic overview of the broad contours of the “debate”—to give it the politest of tags.

It began when David Horowitz at FrontPage Magazine scrubbed Mark Tapson’s favorable account of the book and replaced it with Ron Radosh’s intemperate and distressingly ad hominem demolition masking as a “review.” Indeed, Radosh’s logomachic intervention read more like a personal vendetta than a scrupulous assessment. As a seasoned writer and veteran debater, Radosh should have known better. From that point on, a war of words was launched and the psychodrama shows no signs of tapering off. West published her Rebuttal and was heatedly defended by the notable historian Andrew Bostom and by many of the talkbackers to Horowitz’s own site. Meanwhile Horowitz and Radosh, and even the orotund Conrad Black, continued to pummel both book and author.

I do not wish to enter into the vortex of the dispute. I readily admit that I am no expert on the subject West’s volume addresses. Was Harry Hopkins the infamous KGB agent 19 or was it Laurence Duggan? Was American WWII policy subtly shaped and surreptitiously directed by Soviet espionage and penetration of the inner circles of the White House—and if so, to what degree? Was Eastern Europe lost to “Uncle Joe” Stalin owing to American ineptitude or to Communist infiltration of the decision-making process? I am in no position to weigh in on the matter. These issues may—or may not—be satisfactorily settled in the future, provided an honest, impartial, and intellectual debate is permitted to flourish without rancor and personal vituperation.

I can only say that Diana West’s thesis is surely deserving of scholarly consideration, whether pro or con. Whether one agrees with her conclusions or not, one must recognize that her argument is meticulously researched and abundantly footnoted. It seems to me that David Horowitz was wrong to remove a review that he had originally vetted and, furthermore, to substitute a largely personal imprecation in its stead rather than, say, to post a countervailing review and let the reader decide. Whatever his motive, the decision leaves an editorial stench that is not easily dissipated.

This is unfortunate, for Horowitz is one of the great conservative writers of our time who has done yeoman service in defending the principles of liberal democracy, in both the political and educational domains. No less unfortunate, there has been far too much name-calling on either side of the embroilment. But it needs to be candidly said that the unseemly fracas began with Radosh’s and Horowitz’s ill-advised, adversarial tactics.

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Top Rated Comments   
I read "...Betrayal" and I've followed most of the back and forth about it. I think a lot of it is woofing and chest pounding to try to show or establish dominance over who is the "true expert" on the left and leftyness. I understand it; I woof and pound my chest a bit when somebody takes a position I disagree with regarding collective bargaining and unionization. I think a lot of it has been unnecessarily nasty, but really a lot of that is old leftiness showing through. The Left has really good tactics for establishing dominance and they are especially well suited to situations where all you have is your status and posture; if you know how to use them, you do, comes naturally.

To West's position; it is scholarly almost to a fault but I don't think that she really understands the dynamics of power inside a government and how much is dictated by "stuff happens." Policy is as often as not determined by who got there first with an idea, any idea. There is NO doubt in my mind that there were several high level Soviet moles inside the FDR administration; we never found our Kim Philby. There is no doubt in my mind that there were LOTS of high and mid-level useful idiots and fellow travellers, still are. There were lots of people in the FDR Administrations that were very hostile to the policies and personalities of the Republican Party and its, then, primary source of power, American business.

FDR seems to me a rather empty-headed charmer who got by, got ahead, on the big picture and lots of staff work, and that staff was primarily Hopkins and people Hopkins directed or influenced. I think it was possible that Hopkins was a Soviet agent, but I think it extremely unlikely because of the risk were he compromised or exposed. Hopkins wouldn't need to be an agent to see a lot of things the Soviet way and all it would take is people around him to influence him with suggestions and nudges. I think it works the same way in the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress; most of the appointees and elected Democrats are nothing more than standard liberal squishes, but they are very receptive to the nudges and suggestions of the hardcore leftists and outright communists in the Administration.

The dirty secret in America is just how much infiltration and influence there was from the FDR Administration onward. The communists were somewhat run underground in late Truman and Eisenhower. Kennedy was a staunch anti-communist but communists were firmly entrenched in the bureaucracy and throughout Democratic Party and liberal institutions, so he could be influenced. There was heavy homegrown communist influence in the Civil Rights Movement, and probably not a little influence and support from actual KGB assets, likewise the Anti-War and Anti-nuclear movements. Nowadays, it has a life of its own and it is open in ways unimaginable even in FDR's time. I went to a gathering of state labor relations officials from around the Country back in '05 or early '06 and one of the speakers was the political director of the Machinists' Union. He sounded like somebody right out of the Soviet Union of twenty years before; it was like listening to Radio Moscow, except it was live in Seattle.

FDR was worshipped in America and we know that Truman's great fear on learning of communists and agents inside the government was the political effect of the communist influence being attached to the Democrats. Unfortunately, some, many, of the Birchers were unpleasant people, but worse, they had an unpleasant message that the bulk of the Country did not want to hear. McCarthey, Nixon, and everyone associated with HUAC were all mau-maued by the left and the leftist even then media. The media coup d'etat known as Watergate was as much about Nixon's time on HUAC as anything else. To this day I think most "mainstream" Republicans think that talking about communist influence in the Country generally and the Democrat Party specifically is the third rail of politics. Anybody who knows anything about history and politics knows that Obama's mother and grandparents were fellow travellers if not outright members or even Soviet assets, but nobody who is anybody will say it. Maybe it is. Certainly you can start a good fight about it even when all the participants are nominally on the right side of the ditch.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Interesting observation - about William F. Buckley personally determining the unacceptability of the John Birch Society members and their ideas. Gary Bowings - what were the ideas that were so unacceptable? Do you know? And what light has the intervening 50 years cast on the ideas of the John Birch Society, that were so odious as to require that these people be deemed unacceptable? Sounds a lot like the Republican Party treatment of the Tea Party today. Is this what Yogi Berra said? Deja vu all over again?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you Mr. Solway. There is an evil now penetrating the conservative movement. Oddly, it is Leftism. You can see it in the treatment of Diana West, targeted and isolated with pure Alinsky totalitarian tactics. The supposed critics did not "criticize" her ideas, they attacked her existence. You can see another side of this in Karl Rove's hatred and venom in his "commentary" on Fox News about Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Rove's goal, and same for Dana Perino, is not to critique the wisdom or efficacy of Paul and Cruz, but rather to instill a mantle of unacceptability on their existence. The same thing was done by Krauthammer, George Will, Rove, Bush, Noonan, against Sarah Palin. These people are offended by those who take the battle to save the country seriously and actually work to win the war. For some reason, Rove, Radosh, Perino, Krauthammer prefer not to engage the real conservatives in intellectual debate, instead they smear and do drive by character assassination. These are the disgusting tactics of the Left. Now employed by "conservatives". They are not conservatives. Rove is content to build the State, and he wants his massive payday for helping keep the sheep corralled. I have a message for Rove, Sununu, Perino, Radosh and the others. But PJMedia is a nice family site, so I will just let them imagine. Finally, to Diana West, Pam Geller, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and their allies - thank you for what you do and don't let the disgusting and evil tactics of these Republican Alinskyites get you down. We have your back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (102)
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Excellent article and insightful comments. I see the problems of Conservatives as actually having to stand up and take the heat, in the pursuit of beliefs and ideals. It's as if they wish to collect medals and citations, but not risk their skin or humiliation on the battlefield. They like to write in Conservative journals, but don't want the greater exposure to direct enemy fire. The writers at Commentary fit this mold.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
We live in a progressive culture: the left defines the limits of acceptable discourse and succeeds in enforcing it through its control of media and education. Transgressing those limits makes you a "nut" and an object of ridicule to "the masses." For conservatives to make any headway at all, they still must operate within those limits when they try to reach out beyond their base. The left's narrative on McCarthy's project and the seriousness of the Communist threat is long settled and anyone who questions it is a "nut." Conservatives long ago (grudgingly) ceded this ground to the enemy in order to maintain credibility on other, more pressingly relevant issues. West's book (following Coulter who followed Evans) threatens to re-open an old wound and again subject conservatives to ridicule. However, the main difference between the left and conservatism is that for the left the movement trumps all other values; for conservatives the truth trumps (or ought to trump) all other values. I bought West's book because I'm interested in her evidence and her reasoning. Enough has come out in the last couple of decades starting with the declassification of the Venona files to make people more open to the evidence. I'm going to suspend judgment until I've read the book and some of the more reasoned critiques. Either way, she's not wrong for writing the book and making the argument. I believe the reigning leftist narrative on American Communism (idealistic intellectuals) and its enemies (right-wing toadies of big business) is self-serving and wrong. I welcome more evidence on the subject.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Watching the train wreck, I am mindful of the old saying about getting impressive flak when directly over the target. Seems to be the case here and the adoption of alinsky tactics by "conservatives" is dismaying.
As it happens, shortly before this issue began I had been watching old youtube movies and one of them was Judgement at Nuremberg (another was The 49th Parallel, how to deal with socialists), when the minions were held to account for their failures. Back to the book, when, as I read the excerpts quoted by Diana and pro/con reviewers, I wondered, where were the Nuremberg trials for the Soviet Union? Did the 100 million murdered by Stalin...minions...Putin not matter at all? Does this massive omission not support her central thesis?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems to me that this battle between West and her detractors is above all, instructive. I think it illustrates the bright-line contrast between elitists and those who are merely elite. Because Radosh has done so much good work, I am disappointed by by the narcissistic arrogance and pure meanness of his poorly prepared ad hominem attack on West. In support of my charge of elitism I offer a thought experiment.
Regarding the matter at hand (and I would guess many others), suppose both writers were challenged on the merits of their arguments. Whom do you imagine would be more receptive to amending a strongly-held opinion when presented with solid, contrary evidence? Which writer would hold truth in higher esteem than personal/professional status?
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the Leftists are infiltrating anything, they are laughing at all of you because they rolled a grenade into this forum and are caused everyone to start ointing figures at each other,

Radosh made clear arguments against West's premises. West was offered a turn at rebuttal. She declined, possibly because she was afraid of entering a battle of wits only half armed.

Then the leftists and other agents of chaos set the place on fire.

52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's obvious that the Communists have been infiltrating all aspects of American society since the 1920's. This is what they do. The Great Depression accelerated this in the 1930's. By the 1940's, communist agents and useful idiots were quite common. By the 1960's they came out of the closet and our Judeo-Christian culture was overturned. It's interesting that only Churchill seemed concerned about the USSR taking over Eastern Europe. He was the only conservative among the Allied leaders. Roosevelt was a useful idiot of Hopkins, and Stalin was a communist.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
While it may be too late for anyone to read this, as a historian myself I feel it necessary to add my thoughts on this matter.

First, as attractive as such a hypothesis may be, Diana West’s ultimate argument makes some pretty ludicrous claims. As Art Chance has noted, dismissing the Normandy invasion, championing the invasion of Italy, and calling for the rearming of defeated Germany are all arguments of someone clearly alien to the strategic realities of the war. Ask yourself: when reading a history book and coming upon an egregious error, do you ignore it or does it make you question the rest of the book?

Second, it should be noted that the dismissal of Diana West as an “amateur historian” has real bearing – she is not a historian, she is a journalist. It is an inconvenient truth on most college campuses that journalism/communications majors are among the dullest minds enrolled. Their program’s standards are simply lax in comparison to most other majors. That said, I would never dismiss a book simply because it was written by a journalist – if only because they sometimes put historians to shame.

The truth is that the public must stop looking at the academic community with rose-colored glasses. History classes and debates, even amongst tenured, well-known historians, are some of the most rowdy and vicious arenas one can ever take part. Shouting, name-calling, etc., all take place in the name of professional history. When a friend and I complained as PhD students about the atmosphere, we were told that if nobody backed down to hear our ideas that meant they were not worth hearing in the first place. Knowing that that is what academic history is like, is it any wonder that Radosh’s attacks were so vicious?

The history field has never been a haven for conservatism, but in the years since Vietnam is has certainly taken a hard left-turn. (Consider the sad fact that military history is slowly eroding from existence in favor of its socialized form of War & Society – the study of war upon the racial, gender, and economic oppressed.) Is it any wonder that researchers of non-history backgrounds do so well? Allison Weir is without a doubt the ultimate authority on the Tudor dynasty, and Shelby Foote understood the American Civil War vastly better (and with more even-handedness) than any tenured historian ever has. Should their works be dismissed for their lack of formal training? I have had professors say that they should, but I must disagree.

My last post on PJMedia dealt with Reza Aslan, where I argued that being an outsider to one’s subject harms one’s understanding of it. Such is the original sin of history. How can we know what took place if we weren’t there? (Even being there doesn’t mean one has the whole story.) The simple fact is that any crackpot historical argument can be proven if one is careful and choosy with the evidence. So what are we to do? Well, there has to be a middle ground if there is to be any history at all. I would argue that the popularity of non-academic historians is a good thing, if only if it keeps the academics on their toes – the more of an impact the better, as otherwise they’ll just shrink back in and argue amongst themselves. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to notice that many “professional” historians are dangerously out of touch with their subjects. Diana West touched some nerves with her book, and that is a good thing. It shows that not only are people listening, but they care about the subject as well. That said, the book is not perfect and it has some major flaws, but a little tempering in the critiques from historians like Radosh would go a long way in maintaining good relations. (If only to give a good example of what academic history should be, rather than what it actually is.)
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Smearing people and their reputations is not just a prime tactic of soviet-style disinformation, it's a tactice the devil has been using to milsead countries for millenia.

Jeremiah 18:18 says, Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.

And of course saying Peace, Peace, when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14 & 8:11) And No, No, the difficulty will be short and sweet and then we'll go on with all being well. (Jeremiah 28:9-11)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who cares other than these intellectuals in a (so called fist fight). Horwitz (who I like0 and Radosh who is so popular a scholar I didn't eve know he was a former leftist), are basically reverting true to form to those same tactics (leftist) towards Dianna.
I do not cae one way or the other, but Dave and Ron have NOTAHING to apologize for with their socialist ex-brethren. It is also a lot to do about nothing.
Reasonable people disagree.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ronald Radosh said: "West is the Right's equivalent of Saul Landau on the far Left". This was after Radosh said that Saul Landau was a moral monster, which means Radosh has called Diana West a moral monster. This is even beyond Alinsky sick. In fact, I don't think it gets much sicker. Anyone who doesn't understand this has shut the eyes of their mind and is keeping them shut by force.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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