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The Ornery Observer
October 23, 2007

Caligula’s Horse and Young Pod
by Paul Gottfried

The Roman emperor Caligula (A.D. 37–41), whom historians now seem to agree had something like postencephalitic syndrome, may have struck a blow for animal sensitivity when he pushed the Roman senate into recognizing his favorite horse as a god. For Roman historian Suetonius, however, such an act indicated the degradation of the old ruling families in the face of imperial tyranny. Caligula, who was the grandson of Augustus’s wife Livia by an earlier marriage, was free to wreak destruction on the Roman nobles because they had already grown accustomed to military dictators. Despite his orgy of murders and rapes, Caligula continued to enjoy some measure of popular support until the military, which had grown tired of his excesses, ran him through with a sword in A.D. 41.

This less than pleasant subject came to mind as I learned from a former graduate student that John Podhoretz had been named “editorial director” of Commentary magazine. This event seems connected to another noteworthy one, the decision by the Heritage Foundation to invite as an honored guest and expert on anti- Semitism the Anti-Defamation League director, Abe Foxman. Although Foxman is a person with demonstrably more smarts than the awkward son of Norman and Midge, who has held a multitude of jobs that his parents obtained for him and has done most of them without distinction, he is also a vicious leftist bigot. When he is not simply fronting for AIPAC, Foxman is producing hysterical tracts on the Christian anti-Semitism of those who oppose gay marriage. His hatred of the Germans runs so deep that in 1999 he tried to bully Metropolitan Books into canceling the publication of a work by two Jewish authors (one of whom was the hapless Norman Finkelstein) that challenged the deeply flawed book by Daniel Goldhagen presenting the Germans as an “eliminationist anti-Semitic people.” Foxman is furthermore the celebrity who had raged against The Passion of the Christ, insisting that this cinematic adaptation of parts of the Gospel narratives would unleash anti-Jewish pogroms throughout the United States. The fact that this did not occur did not occasion an apology from this Jewish counterpart of David Duke and Al Sharpton, but it may have contributed to his being invited to address the Heritage Foundation. Needless to say, such an invitation would never be extended to me or to Norman Finkelstein.

This brings me back to Caligula and to the elevation of John to his new leadership position. To a student of Roman history, it would not seem remarkable that, given the deterioration of Roman republican government in the hundred years preceding his reign, Caligula would have been able to degrade Roman government even further. The stage had been set long before this madman came on the scene, with a series of social wars and the military rule of Pompey and Julius Caesar.

So too it is not surprising that the postwar conservative movement, on whose fortunes I have just published a book, would have moved from relative seriousness and something looking like an American Right to its present pitiable state. The rot, which Joe Sobran portrayed graphically in his column last week, did not set in yesterday. It has been going on for decades. It can be seen in the decline of intelligence and character in the now misnamed “conservative movement” and in the waning of any nonleftist substance in what it preaches. (The resonant support by movement conservatives of the socially liberal, war-hungry Giuliani as a “conservative” presidential candidate is only one of the numerous signs of this trend.) But even the transformation of Commentary magazine, which once published the brilliant essays of Elie Kedourie, Edward Schils, and other scholars of their stature, into a staple of neoconservative propaganda and, finally, a sinecure for the ne’er-do-well scions of neocon ruling dynasties, offers evidence of an ongoing debacle.

The invitation to Foxman would not have been extended to someone the neocon masters of Heritage disapproved of, and its tendering may be an equally telling sign of where the movement once associated with Russell Kirk, Eric Voegelin, and Frank Meyer has gone.

At this point I am willing to wager that if Norm and Midge recommended my pet basset, Murray, for an executive post at Heritage or an editorial slot at Commentary, their wish would be immediately granted. I could also easily imagine that in the course of the following month, comments would appear in National Review and in the Weekly Standard praising Murray’s appointment (he is after all photogenic) and scolding those who had dared to oppose it as (what else!) anti-Semites.

Foreground: Murray the basset, worthy director for
neocon foundation. Behind him, his faithful owners.

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