Victor Davis Hanson: The Almost Conservative Classicist

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In the unhallowed halls of neoconservative thought, there are many names that ring with regularity. While thinkers like Leo Strauss, Harry Jaffa, and Irving Kristol have much in common, there are some outliers among the neocons who do not quite fit the mold. The classical scholar turned journalist, Victor Davis Hanson, is one of the neocons who has almost as much in common with traditional conservatives as he does with the liberal imposters who have hijacked the movement. A descendent of fruit farmers from Selma California, Hanson has written a number of books such as Fields Without Dreams, The Land Was Everything, and The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization, which celebrate small farm American agrarianism as being integral to the fabric of our civilization. Hanson also has written abundantly on the martial and political values of Western civilization that has enabled it to be so successful in such works as Carnage and Culture and The Western Way of War. However, there is another side to Hanson’s story; such a genuine patriot and defender of Western Civilization who literally has dirtied his hands working American soil, wears another hat: that of a neocon stooge.

It is entirely fair as well as entirely awkward to call someone as intelligent and erudite as Victor Davis Hanson a “useful idiot.” In fact, Patrick Buchanan has called Hanson “the court historian of the neocons” after neocons wheeled out Hanson to attack Buchanan’s book Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War.” Hanson protested this appellation, but as Tom Piatak pointed out in Takimag, Victor Davis Hanson was a historian who served the court of George W. Bush. Hanson’ works appear regularly in a variety of neocon media outlets, including the National Review and Pajamas Media. For neocons, such an educated man and skilled writer as Victor Davis Hanson provides useful cultural capital. The other leading neoconservative classicist, Donald Kagan does not quite fit the bill, for as an effete chicken hawk and Zionist, Kagan has less mass appeal to the average Joe or Jill.  Hanson has actually done work and his Scandinavian farmer-scholar voice is genuinely authentic.

Like the father of neocon intellectuals, Leo Strauss, Hanson looks to Periclean Athens as his ideal state: rich, “liberal,” democratic and supposedly not authoritarian. This is the real West, according to Hanson; there is no racial or religious requirement to be part of the civilization; one just has to be liberal. Thus, for Hanson, every battle found in the West is a battle between the forces of liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Like most neocons Hanson sees the most important historical event in the history of the world as being World War II. Therefore, Hanson even reads ancient Greece through the lens of battle of “the greatest generation” against Hitler, and, according to this narrative, all enemies of liberalism are fascists or Nazis. The Spartans were fascists. The ancient Persians were fascists. Germany and Austria during World War I were fascists. Contemporary enemies such as Muslims are fascists too; not because they are anti-Christian or from foreign cultures but because they are anti-liberal.

Hanson, like most neocons, is thus more Jacobin and Trotskyite than American in his outlook, firmly believing the necessity of worldwide regime change in order to accomplish the world revolution of liberalism. Like many neocons, Hanson reads history through Martin Luther King Jr. misreading Abraham Lincoln misreading the American founding. He sees America evolving through history to become the guardian of liberty, equality, and big business capitalism around world. Any regime in the world that does not have Walmart, universal suffrage, and the rights of man is a potential Third Reich, which must be taken out by American military might. Hanson believes in the strange, neocon, pseudo-Hegelian idea, rooted in heretical apocalyptic cults of the Middle Ages, that there will be an end of history, a period of prosperity and harmony once liberalism triumphs over its religious and political rivals.

At the same time, there is a fundamental pessimism in Hanson’s work, present in books such as his bestselling Carnage and Culture and The Father of Us All. In his work, Hanson repeatedly returns to Heraclitus’s fragment “War is the father of all and king of all, who manifested some as gods and some as men, who made some slaves and some freemen.” Even though he is dumb (or greedy) enough to eat out of the hand of neocon idealists, Hanson is intelligent and conservative enough to recognize the fundamental flaws of human nature but refuses to go to the next step and recognize need for tradition, order, and discipline to grow a strong and healthy society.

With the imminent loss of Iraq to a force far more dangerous and brutal than Saddam Hussein ever was and obviousness of the absolute failure of neoconservative foreign policy, Hanson like other neocons with traditional tendencies, becomes increasingly more of a ridiculous than a tragic figure. Hanson’s recent articles continue to defend the Iraq War and argue for yet more regime change, but there is a palpable weariness and doubt in the professor’s work. One can only hope as it becomes increasingly clear that there is absolutely no difference between the neo-liberalism of Barrack Obama and the Clinton regime and the neo-conservativism vomited out of the National Review and espoused by the Bush dynasty, that an older, chastened Victor Davis Hanson will dig deeper into the soil of the Western tradition and show himself as a true conservative.

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