Tuesday, September 22

If Phony Intellectual Histories Were Green Stamps, You Guys Would Have About Twenty Toasters By Now

Michael Lind, "Intellectual conservatism, RIP". September 22

LISTEN, I thought you guys were intellectually opposed to the whole "Everybody Gets a Medal" thing:
On Sept. 18, Irving Kristol died. On Feb. 27, 2008, William F. Buckley Jr. passed away….The intellectual conservatism that they, in different ways, sought to foster had passed from the scene before they did.

Yeah. Death by flourishing.
A neoconservative of the older, Democratic school, I broke with the right in the early 1990s and warned about where right-wing radicals were taking the country in my book "Up From Conservatism."

Don't be shy, Michael; that's a whole one-and-a-half paragraphs you wasted before making this about yourself and your back catalogue. By the way, you were born in 1962, weren't you? Meaning you signed up for "Old School Democratic Neoconservatism" when you were, what, ten?

Okay, so, you hit the Professional "Conservative" Gadabout Circuit in the mid-90s. Harper's. The New Yorker. The Andrew-Sullivan-era New Republic. This makes you a pioneer? Only to people who think of the 90s as sepia-toned Era of sleeve garters and ice cream socials.
The train wreck I predicted occurred during the Bush years, and the postmortems have begun.

Train slips the rails in 1959; "Conservative" Gadabout Guy predicts crash in 1996. Is immediately clutched to the warm, moist folds of the Liberal bosom for "having seen the Light", which, of course, excuses a further decade of "Conservative" gadabouting distinguishable from the author's previous outright neoconservatism by the fact that it now insists neoconservatism was, in fact, a Liberal phenomenon unfortunately corrupted by some cross-pollination, rather than the flight of the Strangelovian Coldest of Cold War Democrats across the aisle, where their love of Massive Military Procurement Boondoggles would be truly appreciated.
In the 1950s and 1960s National Review featured some brilliant mavericks like James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall and Russell Kirk

Right. Two Trotskyites-turned-Royalist and a guy whose intellectual output amounts a series of footnotes to a selective reading of Burke, and who would be completely forgotten today if it weren't for succeeding generations of simpering authoritarian lash cravers imagining they score debate points by demanding to know why no one else reads him. That, plus the Golden Age of Unfettered Racism Advanced By High Latin Derivatives.
but for most of its subsequent history it was simply a partisan opinion journal.

Yeah. Death by not-quite-flourishing.
As for the libertarian intellectual movement, isn't that a contradiction in terms? How intellectual can a movement be, if it reflexively answers "the market!" to every question of domestic and foreign policy, before the question is even asked?

Y'know, Alan Greenspan was appointed by Ronald Reagan. Milton Friedman won the Noble Fucking Prize in Economic Sciences, which ought to include an asterisk, in Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Six. When did you tumble onto this, exactly?
That leaves neoconservatism.

Thanks, I'd love to.
But in its origins neoconservatism was a movement of the center-left, not of the right.

How long, O Lord, must we endure this? The thing that's always sorta amazed me is how influential Trotskyite-turned-Monarchists have been in the "Conservative" movement, compared to how few you actually run into on the street.
Here is Nathan Glazer, co-editor with Irving Kristol of the Public Interest, in that magazine's final issue in spring 2005, recalling the origins of the journal in the 1960s: "All of us had voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and I would wager (?) that most of the original stalwarts of The Public Interest, editors and regular contributors, continued to vote for Democratic presidential candidates all the way to the present. Recall that the original definition of the neoconservatives was that they fully embraced the reforms of the New Deal and indeed the major programs of Johnson's Great Society ... Had we not defended the major social programs, from Social Security to Medicare, there would have been no need for the 'neo' before 'conservative.'"

In other words, that nest of vipers in the Great Society, the ones who would, while Dr. King lay a-moulderin', lay the intellectual groundwork for "respectable", "principled" racial backlash, on the grounds that real backlash would be ten times worse; the ones who ran screaming from the US debacle in Vietnam on the grounds that honest evaluation threatened further generations of anti-Communist weapons procurement, or--to paraphrase the brilliant maverick Russell Kirk, the US capitol, Tel Aviv--would now like to pat itself on the back for never advocating a complete dismantling of the social safety net, a series of programs which actually achieve something, while it was swearing allegiance to the party which swore to eliminate them. Except it can't, because a snake's arms are too short.
The "neoconservatism" of the 1990s, defined by support for the invasion of Iraq and centered on Rupert Murdoch's magazine the Weekly Standard, edited by Irving's son William Kristol, had little to do with the original impulse, as Glazer points out: "There is very little overlap between those who promoted the neoconservatism of the 1970s and those committed to its latter day manifestation."

Which is a lot like reaching the Buddy Holly plane crash site just in time to hear The Big Bopper wheeze, "On second thought, I'll stay on the bus."
While Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz set aside any differences with the Republican right by the 1990s,

Yeah, I remember the uproar in neo-con circles.
other first-generation neocons like Glazer and the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan remained true to their New Deal/Great Society principles.

Or "principles".
The '70s neoconservatives were so focused on the utopianism of the '60s campus left, however, that most paid too little attention to a far greater threat to their beloved New Deal tradition, the utopianism of the libertarian right.

Right. And how could they have known that a party, and a political movement, whose raison d'ĂȘtre since 1932 had been the exposure of the Communist World Domination scheme behind Social Security, the fluoridation of drinking water, and the career of Larry Parks, would eventually go all nutty an' stuff?
Ultimately Milton Friedman and other free-market ideologues did far more damage to America

Meaning you're "ultimately" willing to admit it.
than the carnival freaks of the counterculture.

Meaning some long-haired Molly Hatchet fan stole your lunch money in '79. We'd guessed as much.
Like today's right, the '60s and '70s left was emotional, expressivist and anti-intellectual. (One of its bibles was Abbie Hoffman's "Burn This Book!")

The fuck you say. I got there a little late myself, but, y'know, none of those smug, Patchouli-drenched stoner motherfuckers ever loaned me a copy. Or urged me to read it. Or, y'know, ever even referred to Abbie Hoffman, even obliquely. And it was Steal This Book, not that that detracts from the accuracy of your Sixties travelogue. And I'm sorry about your lunch money.
The prophets of the Age of Aquarius and the "population explosion" were every bit as apocalyptic as Glenn Beck.

Jesus Fucking Christ, how do you even find Paul Ehrlich these days to take a swing at him? I'm fifty-five years old. I clearly remember the hubbub made when the US population headed inexorably for two-hundred million. Even adjusting for misanthropy I can't find much benefit in our having doubled that in four more decades, unless you really like strip malls. And that's just from the exponential multiplication of junk culture thirty years of "Conservatism" has championed, and before we look at climate change, water, and agricultural problems for the century ahead.

But then, I guess that Ol’ Libertarianism still exerts some strange, anti-intellectual pull, huh?
Boomer nostalgia to the contrary,
Look, motherfucker: I’m not apologizing about that lunch money thing again.
in the case of practically every domestic issue disputed by the counterculture and the original neoconservatives the mainstream progressive position today is that of the neoconservatives of the '70s. While the neoconservatives of the Committee on the Present Danger in the 1970s exaggerated Soviet power, the kind of muscular liberal internationalism that Pat Moynihan defended against the left in the 1970s and against Reaganite unilateralism in the 1980s is today's progressive grand strategy.

In case there’s anyone out there still reading me, and wondering why I was still reading this, here it is. “Boomer nostalgia” holds that every domestic issue was resolved in favor of the “Counterculture”.

Now, there may be people, nostalgic or no, who do believe this, and perhaps some of them are no longer institutionalized under court order. But fer crying out loud, if you were there you might still recall that Nixon won in ’68, and then crushed the Counterculture candidate in ’72, while the Scoop Jacksons and the D.P. Moynihans nodded in assent. By ’76 liberal Democrats couldn’t even see to the nomination of one of their own. Then Reagan was elected, while the Scoop Jacksons and the D.P. Moynihans nodded in assent.

Enough’s enough, really, which is what we have to say about the whole exercise. The pretense that the utter disaster wrought by the cascading snowfield of Reaganism has nothing whatever to do with the people up at the top who were lighting the dynamite, that it Couldn’t Possibly Have Been Anticipated before the mid-90s, when some bright Boy Cassandra got a job at Harper’s, and that the mushy middle-ground still occupied by a large percentage of the cowards in the Democratic party represents both its True Home and some sort of intellectual consensus about our incontinent international adventurism is just more right-wing fabulism. It’s just a mostly-forgotten trench where a few stragglers have sheltered, in that pretend war where their real ideas haven’t already been routed. It only works, to the extent it does, because the Game is rigged, because the Mushy Middle isn’t in opposition to far-Right insanity but the boundless swamp that occupies its border. It’s a helluva lot easier to keep your Seat in a Blue State (say, New York) while voting for weapons programs and carrier deployments and dick-contest invasions, than it is to speak in favor of multinationalism, let alone a truly rational evaluation of what all those trillions and trillions have bought us since Korea. Any intellectual tradition would have tumbled onto this a few decades ago, and not because it read all about it in Harper’s. So the Bible says, anyway, the Lady sang, and…you know the rest.


Murfyn said...

Burn This Book would be an interesting title for a book; maybe for a book about the intellectual failures and factual errors of the modern neoconservative movement.

Uncle Omar said...

At least Steal This Book had useful information in it. Such as how to get comped in Vegas without gambling with your own money. At the time--late sixties, early seventies--many casinos gave free flights, free rooms and a few hundred dollars in house chips to suckers in the hope that the sucker would blow the minimal amount of house chips, then dip into the trailer rent. As Abby pointed out, if you and a friend took the free chips and went to the roulette wheel and one of you bet on red and the other on black, one of you would win, then you could take the winnings, split them and have some walking around money. The Uncle Omar Corollary to this is to take 5% of the free chips each and one of the friends bet on Zero and the other on double zero. That covers all the chances and it is free money. And it worked. At least once.

Anonymous said...

fact checking is so --sixties. Jeebus. How can you be bothered to remember Abbie Hoffman and get the name of the book wrong unless the sixties were some kind of fugue state which, since he and I were both the same age at that point, I doubt. I mean, I was 0-10 and not doing any drugs.

great post, dog.


ckc (not kc) said...

...does this guy by any chance know Jonah Goldberg?

NutellaonToast said...


That doesn't make any sense. Betting on a color in roulette pays out crap odds, so you'd lose half your money and win much less. Why would you bet at all? Just cash the chips in...

Murfyn said...

Two things: Bob Harris' Steal This Book,
and, there actually is a
Burn This Book

Uncle Omar said...

Because the chips they give you are marked and can only be used in their casino and you can't cash them in for real money until you've changed them into unmarked chips. Incidentally, casinos wised up to this ploy and don't offer this program any more, unless they are really desperate.