Untimely Observations

Get Real

Since stumbling upon his articles at LewRockwell.com several years ago, my place, with respect to intellect and understanding, has been in Paul Gottfried’s shadow. Reading his obligatory volumes on twentieth-century politics is a precondition for serious conversation about the way we now are as a Western society. His polemical pieces are always timely nourishment for those of us starved for theoretical balance and sanity. And he has been a personally gracious mentor.

But even mentors make mistakes, glaring ones. In this case his was at once analytical and personal. Paul recently went ballistic on an undeserving colleague, in whom he evidently sees a callow minicon spear-chucker whose aim is “making nice to the Left.” Unlike the penitential apology of an intimidated, retreating Somers, however, Gottfried’s outburst raises more questions than it answers.

For starters, if Somers is indeed such a shallow suck-up why was he busily soliciting Nick Griffin’s visit in the first place? Somers did so mostly on his individual initiative in the isolated setting of a rural Ohio campus. Was this part of his long-term design to win approval from the campus Left? Or perhaps this gesture was calibrated to impress the hierarchical masters of the GOP, who joyously pushed Griffin to the speaker’s podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. And what, really, does Gottfried’s nasty bellowing represent, other than the relative security and comfort of a soon-to-retire professor with an attractive deal for an upcoming book? In particular I wonder to what tribe Gottfried is appealing in his bid to ostracize Somers. What comfort, personal friendship, or professional incentive was this tribe offering to Somers prior to his capitulation? In other words, what does Somers owe Gottfried, or anyone?

Though I can think of two words Somers might rightfully owe Gottfried at this point (and they aren’t “Happy Hanukah!”) in my analysis he was under no obligation to continue running the anti-fascist gauntlet regardless of the personal consequences. Somers’ remark referencing his need for self-examination, reproduced at the websites of the SPLC and the One People’s Project, is entirely intelligible as a ritualistic chant with the power to make the Leftist threat disappear. That threat felt very real and personal to the lonely Taylor, who had excited the hive not only through his arrangement to have Griffin speak. In a handful of online posts, and in particular in an interview with a hothouse anti-anti-fascist web outlet, Somers had begun demonstrating that the “Occidental” philosophical alternatives and political imagination he was cultivating were serious and already well developed. His output was not the predictable fan-driven echo of some favorite figure or theorist, say, Pat Buchanan or Sam Francis. To anyone who bothered to take notice Somers was showing that he’d already synthesized some weighty and various ideas into a new and coherent intellectual product, one that certainly would not be making headway in the established grooves of the mainstream track. These efforts helped induce an especially hostile blowback from the organized anti-fascist crowd, a response that may not have intimidated a near-septuagenarian but that after sustained application eventually cowed an isolated Somers. Nothing about Somers' activity would lead one to Gottfried’s bullying, insulting conclusion.

Not that Somers’ response was a public relations success. To me his effort recalls Daniel Sickles’s dramatic failure at Gettysburg, in which he zealously advanced his corps ahead of Union lines in pursuit of individual glory. Sickles paid for his mistake with his shattered leg and his troops with horrific casualties. While Somers’ face-saving gesture does not look as graceful as Sickles’ cool drags from his cigar while being carried from the field, there is no doubt that Somers was fully enlisted on the correct side of the conflict. Another difference is that the young student was not disobeying direct orders but generally following along with the program of our crummy right-wing subculture. He bit off more than he could chew in his attempt to wage a big, brave assault on the egalitarian establishment. Events spun rather wildly out of control. After a week or so of personal threats and campus-wide defamation Somers was ready to listen to the advice of college security officials, to the effect that the likelihood of violence and turmoil made cancellation sensible.

At that stage no one—not Paul Gottfried nor the snotty, knowing activists who now sit in judgment—was much aware of the situation. I was, though, and told Taylor to do what was necessarily to stabilize matters and restore a livable quality to his college existence. I’m glad he did so, and disappointed that after having dodged the witch-hunt from the Left he now has to be dragged through the mire again by the Right.

I usually find Dr. Gottfried to be distinctly realistic and fair-minded. And a recurring theme in his work is to give his neocon opponents their due for displaying remarkable in-group loyalty and solidarity. He ought to reflect on that theme, then, and decide clearly what sense it makes for a tenured professor to ferociously attack an anonymous undergraduate for doing his best under serious pressure. Throwing in the towel may not have been Somers’ finest option but he chose it for valid reasons. It’s the sort of situation in which those standing outside cannot presume to judge.

Why, I wonder, was Somers obligated to remain a good little right-winger in spite of everything? Is it because Gottfried's side is right and the neocons are wrong about historical change? With as much snot and bile as I can load into a single phrase I say, “Get real.”