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On the production of fresh wingnuts

In “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists,” which veteran readers of this blog will know is one of my very favorite essays, Stuart Hall tries to account for how Thatcherism achieved the kind of hegemony it enjoyed in the UK of the early 1980s.  While he takes his distance from Louis Althusser’s structuralist-Marxist determinism (my own distance from Althusser can be gauged here), Hall nevertheless insists that it’s not the case that people simply change their minds like they change their clothes, and that therefore, if we are to understand how former liberals came to affiliate with the New Right, we have to understand the “discourses” and “subject positions” made available to them by the New Right:

Anyone who is genuinely interested in the production and mechanisms of ideology must be concerned with the question of the production of subjects and the unconscious categories that enable definite forms of subjectivity to arise.  It is clear that the discourses of the New Right have been engaged precisely in this work of the production of new subject positions and the transformation of subjectivities.  Of course, there might be an essential Thatcherite subject hiding or concealed in each of us, struggling to get out.  But it seems more probable that Thatcherism has been able to constitute new subject positions from which its discourses about the world make sense.

Those last two sentences are vintage Hall, wittily brushing aside old-left notions of ideology as “false consciousness” and trad-con notions of “essential selves” in one deft motion.  When I glossed this passage thirteen years ago in an essay for the Village Voice Literary Supplement, I wrote, “What Hall’s doing here, basically, is disputing the left’s ‘body snatchers’ theory of the rise of the New Right.  Think back to the Saturday Night Live sketch in which former liberals, taken over by evil Reaganite pods, sit dazed in a semicircle, playing acoustic guitar and singing a version of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in which the refrain is ‘the answer, my friend, is Ronald Reagan.’ The SNL sketch brilliantly captures that uncanny, chilling late-70s sense of finding out that your closest friends are suddenly closet neoconservatives— but, as Hall points out time and again, massive ideological shifts can’t be explained so easily.”

Well, these days I’m not so sure.

I’ve been wondering about this for about four years now: how is it that when former liberals pledge allegiance to George Bush (because, you know, everything changed on 9/11), they not only jettison many of their former beliefs, but they take on every single last one of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Wingnut Faith?

I can understand, to some teeny tiny extent, the way many of these former liberals reacted to the far left’s knee-jerk response to 9/11.  I thought the far left’s knee-jerk response to 9/11 was a knee-jerk response myself, and though it was well informed about American imperialism, it didn’t do very much to explain (a) the rise of militant Islamism, the origins of which had very little to do with American anything, or (b) the fact that none of the more immediate victims of American imperialism (from, say, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, East Timor, Palestine, or the Cherokee Nation) were involved in the attacks of that day.  But my differences with the far left on that score did not lead me to abandon the American left that fought for the minimum wage, the eight-hour day, the weekend, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Clean Air and Water Acts, unemployment insurance, reproductive rights, gay rights, and universal, single-payer health care.  By contrast, when the Charles Johnsons, James Lilekses, Tammy Bruces, and Roger Simons of the blogosphere parted ways with liberalism, they not only pledged allegiance to Bush; they also adopted all manner of traditional wingnut obsessions that predate 9/11 by decades.

It’s really quite eerie when you think about it, and I don’t believe it can be explained simply by hatred of Muslims or fear of another attack.  Because these people don’t just go on about the War on Terror and the firmness of Dear Leader; they also go on about Jane Fonda (!) and Dan Rather (!!) and the New York Times and the whole MSM and the United Nations (!!!) and Jimmy Carter and the Clenis® (!!!!!) and Teddy Kennedy and the French.  It’s just bizarre.  (Roger on the subject of the U.N. is especially unhinged.) It’s like, “Everything changed for me on September 11.  I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear any of them go off one day about our giveaway of the Panama Canal or the insidious plot to fluoridate our drinking water.  It’s as if the moment they threw in their lot with Bush, they were e-mailed a Wingnut Software Package that allowed them to download every major wingnut meme propagated over the past thirty years.

So maybe Stuart Hall was wrong; maybe some people do harbor in their bosoms an essential wingnut subject hiding or concealed and struggling to get out.  Perhaps, for some former liberals, their wholesale adoption of wingnuttery bespeaks the fervor of the convert, like unto the newly-minted Catholic or vegan who casts off his old beliefs with all the energy at his disposal, and whose zeal is a partial atonement (so he thinks) for his years in the wilderness.  Or perhaps it’s part of the miracle of the Internets, where new discourses and new subject positions really do come bundled with software packages for downloading new wingnut identities.  But in the interest of fostering a spirit of ecumenical inquiry and intellectual diversity, this humble and oft-perplexed blog will entertain alternate theories that try to account for the production of wingnuts.

Except for Intelligent Design.  That’s right out.

Posted by on 12/21 at 04:19 PM
  1. It’s all there in Whittaker Chambers’ WITNESS, which every student of American ideology should read. It has to do, among those with week egos, with the repression required to hew to an identity in the face of cognitive dissonance. Mature, grownup lefties know that Ted Kenendy might have acted criminally and got away with it, but get along perfectly well with the contradictory conclusion that his contrition was sincere and that there are so many other reasons to admire him, and that human redemption is possible, and that Ted Kennedy is thereby not essentially EEEEEEEEVIL. The weak-egoed lefty (call him “Soger Rimon") was probably someone who spent half an ideological lifetime banishing such contradictions from their mind--so when the complexities become too much for them (say, if they tried to believe some in some essential pristine nobility in Third World folk like, say, the Taliban), they loath everything about their former self, having invested so deeply in a “system” of “lies.”

    I saw it in Chris Hitchens around 1996: his leftism was becoming so knee-jerk, so inhospitable to complexities and contradictions, I really did predict we had a future Whittaker Chambers on our hands.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  06:11 PM
  2. No, Rick, that can’t be right.  It’s too smart and complex-like.  I’m sticking with the Wingnut Software Package theory for now.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  06:18 PM
  3. I’m sticking with the Wingnut Software Package theory for now.

    ok, but surely the package wasn’t delivered through such outdated means as emailing. I find a chip implant much more likely.

    Posted by Sadly, No!  on  12/21  at  06:20 PM
  4. A word on behalf of the Inner Thatcherite hypothesis: I suspect--partly on the basis of half-formed yearnings in my own, ahem, breast--that if you are a comfortably-off, middle-aged (why Rootless! 63 is positively youthful!) straight white man, something like a kind of emotional Thatcherism is the default position. That is, nobody had to construct a new subjectivity, they just had to wait for Hitchens et al. to age, and prosper, into an old one. Speaking out, and acting, in solidarity with people who are categorically worse off than oneself may or may not be risky, depending on the circumstances, but it does require an effort of sympathy and self-effacement, and one gets tired of the effort, one begins to resent that its objects aren’t appropriately grateful, one notices that after all the larger goal wasn’t met (postwar Vietnam: not the Cooperative Commonwealth after all) and one begins to feel, dammit, enough is enough, especially if a single misstep (for Hitchens it was his anti-abortion piece in the Nation, I think) brings down obloquy on one’s head.

    Posted by rootlesscosmo  on  12/21  at  06:31 PM
  5. Good question. I wondered the same thing myself immediately after Katrina. I did some shouting and arm-waving during that week, and then some fuming and ranting about the Davis-Bacon act and such, and dang if I didn’t get some extremely peculiar emails and a ton of peculiar comments as a result. ‘You people seem to have me confused with someone completely different,’ I kept thinking, and saying.

    (And going in the other direction, how did Arianna Huffington do that thing she did?)

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  12/21  at  06:50 PM
  6. As is explained in this documentary, it’s all Wilhelm Reich’s fault.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  07:00 PM
  7. how did Arianna Huffington do that thing she did?

    A crucial question.  Fortunately, I have gathered a crack team of political theorists and empirical researchers, with Rick Perlstein at their head, and they will be working around the clock to determine the origins of the Huffington Shift—and, more importantly, the means by which it can be diffused among the general population.  We believe it has something to do with leaving Michael Huffington and appearing in a bed with Al Franken on Comedy Central, but much research remains to be done.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/21  at  07:05 PM
  8. I don’t claim this to explain all, but I think many of the recent left-to-right converts have an authoritarian streak that runs deep.  Hitchens would be an example.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  07:16 PM
  9. My own half-baked and evidence-free theory involves a certain relaxation into selfishness.  After 9/11, the world seems hostile and we can’t afford to be generous and understanding.  We have to look out for number one, dammit.  (Remember the invective directed at those leftists who actually wanted to understand why anyone might want to do this, rather than bombing first and asking questions later.) Blatant self-interest can be quite liberating; suddenly environmentalism and feminism and all sorts of formerly-honorable causes are seen as signs of mushy appeasementarianism.  This is a time for action, not for nuance and empathy.

    Posted by Sean  on  12/21  at  07:17 PM
  10. Michael,

    As you may guess from my brief time visiting here, I am all in favor of a comprehensive discussion of this phenomenon.  And I agree with the italicized by of the recruiting memes.

    I am not a Marxist nor trained to analyze matters in dialectical methodology so defer to others along those lines.

    My initial take is that is important to pursue this analysis along at least two axis: (a) the individual; and (b) social environment.  Recruiting memes transmitted create merely Possibility.  Possibility requires external activitation by developments in the social and political sphere to reach actual conversion.

    Those developments are not only on the macro mass societal scale of dislocation, upheavel, uncertainty and transformation.  But also applies to the individual’s specific relations (or lack of them) with intermediary social and political entities between the individual and the State, and other value reinforcing mechanisms.

    As we know, the merchant said of Nuremberg 1934, “I felt I belonged again to something and was no longer alone.” Bowling Alone in America, with a vengeance. 

    The demotic and decadent times we are in exaccerbate the atomization.  For an atomized individual, memes + atomization = Great Possibility (but not certainty). 

    What helped turn Greater Possibilty into actualization was the Right’s self-reinforcing infrastructure for participation and re-newal: (a) talk radio; (b) the Net—and The Well notwithstanding, the Right moved faster on the whole online; (c) and for the non-New Right, the mega Churches, etc. and so on.

    Belonging is a powerful Reptilian brain response.

    Moreover, the Left was vulnerable because of who was doing alot of the seduction.  Former Leftists and Trotskyites.  The Neocons knew and know how to seduce their former collegues.  And by joining the neocons, many of the Left simply upgraded to the winning political team.  A Trotskyite today, assuming he wasn’t refuting “Broadband In One Country” stuff (a bad joke), would be quite at home with the intellectual tenants of the Strategy for National Security now existant. 

    Christopher Hitchens is the poster boy for this subset of course. Some of his writings about the violent destruction of the “Islamo-fascists” borders on the onanistic and pornographic—he has permission to rage because it is self-righteous.  As dialtectical materialism gave similar permission in Paris in 1968.

    My 2 cents to kick the can down the road.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/21  at  07:24 PM
  11. I thought it was a fairly well-understood phenomenon that newcomers are always the most strident proponents of the ideology they are have lately come to. You know, the zeal of the convert and all that, which seems to be a kind of folk saying, and since Surowiecki has blessed us with Wisdom of the Crowds, what is common knowledge must be right, right? He said ingenuously.

    Actually, I think that it’s already been nailed in previous comments—a repressed longing for authority, which releases the unsure from the annoying need to think every damn thing through on its own merits. The need to overcome, strongly, the embarrassing wrongness of one’s earlier beliefs. The sudden—snap!—realization, all Kuhn-like, that little cracks in one’s ideology were not simple gaps to be filled in with later research, but required a whole new paradign --- you know, ID, Ideological re(Design).

    Your friend Horowitz would certainly qualify, innit?

    Posted by mike  on  12/21  at  07:35 PM
  12. I think that a few different syndromes combine to produce this:

    1.  the Churchill effect

    You know: if not liberal when young, no heart, if not conservative when old, no brain.  This is B.S., but it serves as a ready-made template for people to use to bring their beliefs into congruence with their economic self-interest as they grow older.

    2.  Left authoritarianism

    Hitchens, Horowitz, no more need be said.  Real power is always going to be a temptation for people who wanted a vanguard party.

    3. liberal uncertaincy

    Many liberals, I’ve been surprised to notice, have no real understanding of how liberalism differs from leftism, or what a specifically liberal vision for society really entails.  Instead they have some mish-mash of leftist aspirations coupled with pragmatism.  As a result, and especially after world leftism tanked, this kind of liberal is left thinking that their life has been spent in pursuit of ideals that they aren’t even really working towards and will never reach.  As a result, they are easy pickings for an ideology that promises that selfishness is good.  You don’t have to do anything to reach the end state.

    And the rest is the usual fervency of converts that others have already commented on.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  08:22 PM
  13. Hatred is seductive.  Or rather, hating is seductive.  Modern wingnuttery offers a full-on complexity-free hate package that is enormously gratifying to a lot of people, including former liberals.  It’s almost orgiastic, the way they fling themselves into it with abandon, finally loosed from constraints of civility, compassion, and rational thought.  And they don’t even have to wait a week for their regular Hates—they can have one every day with Rush and every night with O’Lielly. It’s the beast within unleashed.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  09:46 PM
  14. The depth of the convert’s piety is an illusion. His new canon is flat, thin and circular. The Thirty Nine Articles of Wingnut Faith reduce to a carousel populated by the listed familiars, Hanoi Jane to lying Al Gore, always moving that one direction, never changing.

    For the faithful, arguing the Articles is a game you can’t lose unless you quit. Guts and will.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:22 PM
  15. For a gracious yet stinging (and prescient!) take on Hitchens, in which it is pointed out that you can take the boy out of the Trotskyite sect but you can’t take the Trotskyite sect out of the boy, see the incomparable Ian Williams’s November 2002 essay in In These Times (cached here).

    Posted by Michael  on  12/21  at  10:34 PM
  16. I hate to be venal and vulgar (it’s just how my mind works), but my wingnut kit is more effective than even the latest Microsoft WSP (codenamed Wingo!), and more powerful and longer lasting than the most diabolical and insidious chip implant. It’s the big stack of Benjamins!

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:47 PM
  17. My ex-roommate Robert Waldmann has a decisive argument for the “Intelligent Design” hypothesis for the production of wingnuts. “It is not possible,” he says, “to attribute the existence of Richard Cheney to blind chance plus bad luck.”

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:57 PM
  18. how did Arianna Huffington do that thing she did?

    Though she’s of a different generation, Joan Didion might be an instructive case as well.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  11:25 PM
  19. and though it was well informed about American imperialism, it didn’t do very much to explain (a) the rise of militant Islamism,

    [anxious] You have changed your mind about this, right?

    I mean, I would hate to have had Meteor Blades et al put so much effort into laying out the sordid histories of British Petroleum and Persia starting back in 1908 and the US entry into the Great Game (taking over many of Britannia’s cards for her) from the time of El Aurens onward, the kingmaking for the useful-satrap House of Saud that turned the Arabian peninsula into Saudi Arabia and the importance of oil for the new diesel-engined navies of the world that made securing the oilfields of the East, not just the Middle East but farther out in the Dutch East Indies, Conrad’s old stomping ground providing new treasures, and the Suez business and making sure that compliant satraps replaced the Caliphs and no real democracy ever took place in Cairo and Mossadegh and the Shah and Savak and the playing of Iraq against Iran and the business with weapons (conventional and otherwise) being supplied covertly (sort of) with the benign approval of the NYT for it no matter how illegal to one Saddam Hussein--

    You do know we were involved, the CIA, with deathsquads and hit lists and all, in Indonesia, back in the day? Some of it was just declassified a couple years ago, I heard about it on the Liberal NPR™ on my way home from work, even…

    And that we actually were conducting our own religiously-themed battle against Moslems (rather than just Johnny Furriner or Those Wogs) over a hundred years ago, when we decided we needed an Empire and were going to take one over from the Spanish (who had kind of given up on the Reconquista thing and lost steam what with their own dynastic problems and that messiness during the little Corsican’s ambitious tenure.)

    Not to mention the fact that we destabilized Pakistan by provoking an invasion next door to them, flooding them with refugees, supplying feuding tribesmen wiht weapons and training and destroying the infrastructure and civilization and giving them nothing to replace it with but self-taught apocalyptic piety, and after playing Pakistan off against India, dumped them when they were no longer useful to us - until all the sudden we needed them again, and hey Mr Musharraf, remember us? we’re your best friends, we’re gonna help you and let bygones be bygones, you remember those nice planes we used to sell you at a discount, you want to buy some more of them? We have this problem, remember that war we proxied next-door twenty-five years ago? Oh, yeah, sure you do - well, there’s this little bit of left-over business that’s blown back at us, you want to help us out? What, it’s going to destabilize your country worse? C’mon, don’t you trust us?

    --Creating climates suitable for, and destroying any chance of viable alternatives to, militant Islam from the Moro homeland to the Mediteranean sea - has rather been our business for a very long time now. Even if we weren’t aware of it as we bought rubber tyres from Sears and waxed sentimental about the Manila “sampans” we used to frequent while stationed there and never asked what went into getting cheap rubber from the Pacific or what we had been doing in the jungles there…

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/21  at  11:26 PM
  20. My take—Sean and drs have it right.  Being a wingnut is the native state of humanity.  It’s about basic selfishness and plays right into our stregth: the ability to hate the Other instinctively.  Once you reject some of the non-intuitive elements of a liberal ideology it’s just easiest to relax into one’s native state.  Wingnuthood.

    -- TP in UT

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  11:30 PM
  21. Michael, as to the apparent flip-flopping of the Old Left, I don’t think it’s all that complicated. Utopian Authoritarians get easily frustrated by Real Human Beings - there’s a good lot about this in the Discworld books, especially in Nightwatch, on which I did a kind of symposium a while back - and when you’re committed so ferociously to Making The World A Better Place, but all you’ve got is People to work with, and they Don’t Listen, and they argue over who didn’t turn the coffeepot off so it’s cracked AGAIN while the world keeps burnin’ and nobody will pay attention to your PROOF that Flax Will Save Civilization (the seeds are good for your heart, see, and by growing our own Flax and spinning it we will break our dependency on sweatshop clothing and reconnect with the earth) they want to go carry those damned puppets around again and—yes, I know, Frank, it’s so frustrating, even if we are on opposite sides we can at least agree that the People Are Stupid Sheep!!!

    --it’s very seductive to just MAKE people do what’s Right and Good For Them.

    And you know what? It’s hard, and expensive, to make them do it by force. You have to get a lot of people to agree with you and give you guns and not lock you up as a nut or an anarchist instead.

    But lulling them into submission, prescribing Opiates, be they composed of Organized Religion or of Free-Market Social Darwinism, is a *lot* easier, as Mr. Strauss can tell us.

    And easier, too, than slowly, patiently, (or cantankerously, for that matter) leading people to critical thought and responsible behaviours. --Safer, too. Telling people what they want to hear - that they’re wonderful, not the source of their problems, it’s the fault of those weaker SOBs, that their Fearless Leaders will protect them from the <s>Helots</s> <s>Trojans</s> <s>Achaians</s> <s>Persians</s> <s>Athenians</s> <s>Spartans</s> <s>Romans</s> Other - is always safer than truthtelling, and better paid too.

    Gorgias and Thrasymachus after all, don’t end up drinking Hemlock Cocktails…

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/21  at  11:39 PM
  22. I suspect this is just a flippant abbreviation of what’s already been said, but if, as the saying goes, a Conservative is a Liberal who’s just had his/her wallet stolen, perhaps 9-11 might be thought of as the nastiest wallet-stealing of (recent) All Time.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard a second part to this saying, which is that a Liberal is a Conservative who’s just had his/her stash confiscated. I’m hoping Bush’s recent acts are finally starting to push supporters away.

    Please, guys, don’t make him eat live kittens on tv.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  11:39 PM
  23. In all seriousness, Michael, I think your framing of the question illustrates why the answer eludes you.  It’s like you’re saying, “Why can’t people succumb to mindless vengeful hatred of Muslims, yet still be thoughtful, discriminating intellectuals capable of nuanced thought?” Yeah, why is that?  And you are asking about the production of wingnuts, not the evolution of liberals who have come to believe that there is a serious problem with terrorism and a need to confront Islamic fundamentalism.  The latter are still liberals, still thinking clearly.  But wingnuts have dipped into the Hate. The Hate is a package deal which by its very nature resists analysis and nuance.  (And if you buy now, you get Jane Fonda and a special edition of The Hillary Chronicles as our gift!)

    It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me either, but there it is.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  11:41 PM
  24. (BTW, you need to get your comment software to accept strikethrough. ^h^h^h^h is so tedious, and not as funny. In fact, it’s frustrating enough to make me want to go off and leave the Liberal People’s Liberation Front and found the People’s Liberal Liberation Front, that’ll show you servile obeyers of hidebound convention--)

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/21  at  11:42 PM
  25. You’re missing the key ingredient for people like Mssrs Johnson & Simon & Goldstein, though. That’s the organic soup that was the Primal Blogosphere.

    To mix metaphors. It was clear early on in those heady days that the growth market for Blogosphere success was in wingnuttery. That’s where you got the big rewards, like a link from Insty. It was, if you like, the return of the tech bubble of the 90s, only in the form of the brand spankin’ new profits on offer in what really was a new social field.

    It seems fairly silly and petty now, but that’s what it was like. Bliss was it in that dawn to have 50 daily hits, and to be linked by Glenn was very heaven.

    If money were literally involved all these twits would be broke by now, but some grubby little treasures you don’t give up so easily.

    Posted by Thers the Hostile  on  12/22  at  12:14 AM
  26. bellatrys, my comment software will accept strikethrough, but only if you type a < then the word “strike” then a > then the text to be struck then a < then a /strike and a >.  Just saying.

    And drs, I understand the hate.  I do.  But I’m asking about the excess on top of the hate.  It’s one thing to learn to hate Islamic fundamentalism; it’s quite another to buy the whole dee-luxe wingnut package, with the obsessive ‘70s fixations on Dan Rather and Teddy Kennedy.  How is it that wingnuts of the twenty-first century have come to resemble so precisely the wingnuts of the mid-1970s?

    Aha!  That’s it.  It’s the Cheneymatic® device.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/22  at  12:23 AM
  27. I would add other hypotheses:

    In order to be a successful pundit, one must be marketable.  Media organizations and media consumers appear to love (or love to hate) people with strong opinions.  Media organizations, and many individuals, also like a commentator to be reliable in their bias:  “Tonight on Fox News we have Mr. Righty McWingnut, and Limpy Lefty McModerate to talk about...” When a commentator shifts there views in one area, they are no longer as marketable.

    This is not to say that the commentators actually consciously thought about how they would financially gain, but self-interest combined with a distaste for cognitive dissonance can be a domineering force in the mind. 

    Their Skill Set
    It might also be noted that it is likely these writers were never very thoughtful.  Their skill is to employ rhetorical strategies in favor of a partisan cause no matter what the issue.  Their minds are best at making facts fit a predetermined opinion, not at critical analysis.  They have to pick a side.  They need a set of conclusions to write towards.

    Why flip?  Besides economics and the rise of new conservative media, maybe 9/11 was one issue they did have a gut conservative reaction towards. Once they made the switch to the other side on one issue, they were supplied with a new set of conclusions they had to write to.

    Tacked on to these other reason, one might argue that humans prefer to be apart of identifiable groups.  Being a conservative is not just a set of political positions, it is a community.  It is an identity.  If you take on partisan positions in part because of a desire to label yourself (as opposed to a marketing tactic), you cannot simply abandon one liberal position, you must abandon them all.

    Egomaniacs Against Terrorism
    They did not actually change their positions on anything, except the War on Terror.  They have never valued honest debate, and they have a very heightened sense of their own importance.  They know that anything they say that might lead someone to vote Democratic will also lead to terrorism..  So, as patriotic Americans, they must deride Kennedy, not because they don’t want to see a national health care system, but because that health care system will come delivered with a dirty bomb.

    Put another way, the moment a outcome appears to be slightly more beneficial than the alternative (A Republican rather than Democratic government) to the commentator, it is rational for them to act in such a way to ensure that outcome, no matter the (dishonest) method.

    Don’t be afraid to mix and match!

    Posted by c&d  on  12/22  at  12:37 AM
  28. It’s one thing to learn to hate Islamic fundamentalism; it’s quite another to buy the whole dee-luxe wingnut package, with the obsessive ‘70s fixations on Dan Rather and Teddy Kennedy.

    What I’m saying is that to discriminate between the two requires the exercise of a critical faculty that the Hate itself corrodes.  The modern wingnut core dates back to the 70s and so their hatred of Muslims is bundled with all their other hates—libruls, feminazis, Ted Kennedy, Satan (are those last two different?) This Wingnut Core are the proprietors and main hawkers of the hate, and they’re offering their whole package.  I think something like this happens:

    1.  Previously normal liberal person becomes enraged and terrified by 9/11;
    2.  PNLP dips into the Hate as directed at Muslims;
    3.  PNLP’s brain is corroded by the Hate and stops working;
    4.  PNLP begins to trust everything from the Wingnut Core (who supply the Hate);
    4.  Remainder of Hate Package suddenly makes sense.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  12:38 AM
  29. Oops!  The last step should be 5.  (Though the key step is 3, of course.)

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  12:45 AM
  30. My back-o’-the-’lope take is that it’s simply easier for the new Muslim-hating wingnut to wrap himself in the swaddling clothes of Old Wingnuttery. New set of friends, don’t want to upset them. Hitchens is an oddity in that regard, but because he’s a high-value catch, he’s excused for cursing out Christians.

    But how does one map the John Gray trajectory onto (or against) this model?

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:24 AM
  31. I happened to see Tammy Bruce on C-Span this past weekend.  She was speaking before the Horowitz group and she looked uncomfortable as if she really didn’t mean what she was saying.  I think Tammy ‘s conversion is something that is probably somewhat common:  better money on the Right, power issues, etc.

    Hitchens and Roger Simon strike me as guys who were inordinately terrified by the events of 9/11/01 and fear is a key ingredient underlying far-Right nostrums, as several commenters have ably noted.

    The flip side, as others have mentioned, is Arianna Huffington’s trek to the liberal-left, and a populistic economic left--which is vastly different from the elitist sensibility that continues to underlie the cultural radicalism of a Joan Didion.  I believe there is less mystery to Arianna’s change, however, if we take the two points above and reversed them. 

    Unlike the others who need money for a new gig, Arianna became filthy rich and richly satisfied economically when she divorced her out of the closet wealthy husband.  And unlike those who were on the outside looking in with respect to the national power corridors, Arianna had been in the DC power corridors with Newt and Company and found it confining and often stifling.  Way back in Arianna’s earlier life, she was an aspiring intellectual, not an activist with authoritarian tendencies nor was she a bookish, isolated sort of writer.  Finally, unlike Simon and Hitchens, she did not become unglued by 9/11, which, if she did, she would have easily made the trek back to the GOP.  No fear, no loss of liberalism.  Hence, the continued left-liberal rage and strength of Arianna Huffington.

    Posted by Mitchell Freedman  on  12/22  at  02:43 AM
  32. Are we talking about wingnut pundits or living room-variety wingnuts?  Because there are different forces at work.  With the former—the public wingnuts—there are issues of power and money.  I think a lot of their ideological “conversions” are nothing of the sort, but just the switch to the winning side.  If violent Marxist revolution were the idea de jure, they’d all be quoting Che Guevara and the anchors on Fox News would wear berets and automatic rifles.

    But some of the pundits are true converts, of course, as are virtually all the living-room wingnuts.  And it’s that conversion which is puzzling.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:59 AM
  33. Glad you all still riffin’.

    First off, Michael: “For a gracious yet stinging (and prescient!) take on Hitchens, in which it is pointed out that you can take the boy out of the Trotskyite sect but you can’t take the Trotskyite sect out of the boy, see the incomparable Ian Williams’s November 2002 essay in In These Times (cached here).”

    Prescient? Brother, I TOLD you I was on that case in 1996!

    On the matter Arianna. Someone also mentioned Joan Didion, and cited generation. But there’s a more interesting gender component. In our instinctual patriarchalism, we universalize the male case, ala Churchill. But in fact my unscientific observation is that women go from right to left when they get older all the time. Further thoughts, anyone?

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  03:36 AM
  34. I’ll take myself up on the question.

    I’ve noticed, from historical sources from the ‘40s and 50s, that what we now think of as “social conservative” issues were then thought of as “women’s issues,” and not tied to either particular party: keeping your kids away from meritricious pop culture, for example, and crime, and questions of bourgeois order generally. The “women’s divisions” of the RNC and DNC both put out pamphlets on stuff like this.

    Delving one level deeper, I suppose these were thought of not so much as “women’s issues” as “mother’s issues.”

    Just pixelating out loud, but maybe there’s a trend towards, as the kids get older and less impressionable, the parent more in charge of parenting getting less uptight about bourgeois order generally.

    Whereas, ala Churchill, as the financial stakes get higher, the parent more in charge of the pecuniary aspect of life gets more uptight about keeping their $$$.

    While we’re riffing reductionist: Arianna and Didion both raised daughters, no?

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  03:42 AM
  35. By the way, that “liberal-into-conservative” quote didn’t really belong to Churchill. May never have said it, according to his estate.

    On the larger topic, has no one noiticed how short the line is on the other side? If you Horowitz or Hitchens yourself, make the appropriate public representations, scourage yourself in fron of the AEI headquarters, spit on Muslim (in a pinch, a Sikh will do), you find that checks start arriving in your mailbox on a regular basis. There are whispers, too, of an expense account and lavish speaking gigs in Bangkok after which adolescent prostitutes are delivered to your hotel room by Richard Scaife himself. You find that you are no longer one of the herd: seeking “balance,” Bill Keller is all over your answering machine, and all you have to do to be quoted in his paper is read the talking points that arrived in your fax machine at dawn today. You don’t have to supply thought or indignation--you now have people for that. If you step a little lighter, it’s proabably because you’ve been relieved of that pesky soul, but still.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  08:10 AM
  36. Hitchens is an oddity in that regard, but because he’s a high-value catch, he’s excused for cursing out Christians.

    Ahem, that is something I noticed starting in the early 90s, with the “social conservative/fiscal conservative” dichotomy: that there was this gracious respective ignoring of the ideologically-diverse within movement conservativism, for the most part (altho’ some of it wasn’t at all conscious, it was clueless obliviousness of people who didn’t get out of their own little circles enough) so that the bible-thumpers and Franco-venerating theocrats looking towards the New Reconquista overlooked the existence of the secular/agnostic/atheistic Gold Standard/Strong Defense conservatives, for the sake of victory.

    Now that they’ve won, and are fighting over the spoils, it’s becoming a little harder to ignore who they’re in bed with, and different ideologies within the Party are struggling for dominance and disaffecting rivals. Frex, the August issue of Regnery’s American Standard had apparently a long main article lauding Intelligent Design.

    I know this, because the bulk of the September letters were long angry rants from secular conservatives demanding to know when their conservativism had gotten hijacked by the religious nuts? To which I only laughed, b/c they were obviously asleep or wilfully blind through the 70s, 80s and 90s.

    you type a < then the word “strike” then a > then the text to be struck then a < then a /strike and a >.

    --Comrade Berube, that is a very inefficient method and needs to be corrected. Moreover, it is fundamentally irrational and unscientific: why, when we use (bracket, /bracket) i, b, u, is strikethrough handled by strike--? You will be hearing from the Central Comittee for Rational Styles shortly.

    About why they buy the whole intellectual package, this is a frequent occurrence with conversion cases. People get pushed into it by peer pressure, the craving to fit in and chameleonlike take on the color of everyone on the rock next to them, and/or they think “well they were right about THIS and we were wrong - maybe they were right about everything else all along.”

    The fact that there is a lot more chaotic diversity on the Left, may make it harder to happen when people convert the other way (Clinton - heroic Big Dog or always a disgraceful pander to the Corpos? Strong Defense or Down with the Military Industrial Complex? There is no orthodoxy on the Left, whereas the orthodoxy on the Right has gotten harder and harder and still more rigid with every half-year: I realized circa 2000 that there was no longer any room in it for the diversity that had existed among some of the founders of the Catholic academic wing (think Michael Novak, Deal Hudson, Bill Bennett) back in the 1970s, who were now all marginalized and embittered, that they wouldn’t want me back even if I wanted to come, because these days, being for organic food and small farms is a sign of dangerous heresy, not authentic Anarcho-Syndicalism.

    And I realized that I now understood how the intellectual purges in Russia had happened, even though it would be a few more years before I worked out the progress of the solidifying orthodoxy and the role of money, and especially the intent of the sources of that money, in causing it.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/22  at  08:48 AM
  37. Nobody seems to have mentioned the role of information.

    When you buy into a particular political movement, you may well change the blogs and magazines you read. Suddenly all your “facts” are coming from a new source. You may be being told details - typically framed in an emotionally loaded, polemical way - that you never heard before.

    This works both ways: a recent convert to the left, who starts reading Eschaton, Daily Kos and so forth, is exposed to a great deal of information that they never would have received on the right or from the mainstream media.

    Hence the importance of think tanks and rapid response: once you go inside the bubble of an extreme political ideology, these things seal you in there and prevent any “Kuhn” cracks in your paradigm developing.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  10:13 AM
  38. Well, too, why not the reverse? Where is the stalwart orthodox 10 September conservative who woke up, shaking, on 12 September, confessing to his peers that, well, maybe our nation should consider regulations that eliminated the production of automobiles that consume gallons of gasoline for each mile travelled? Or, maybe, just maybe, Israel, for all its democracy working among its Jewish majority and Arab minority, is bent on disenfranchising the residents Occupied Territories, cleansing them from the land, and colonizing the areas, and that the US oughtn’t countenance such a thing? And, really, isn’t this Gift and Estate Tax repeal a big fat morsel of hokum when you consider how much our homeland security depends on easing the transition to modernism that must follow in the Third World after our proxy wars in it?

    Someone who slips out of the fold Over There gets called up before the Office of the Doctrine and the Faith. It’s not the truth, the Inquisitors remind the wayward one, that there’s really not much that drilling in the Arctic will do to relieve high gasoline prices in the short and medium term, if at all. And, no, being able to drill in 83 percent of the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve is not sufficient. Only opening all of it will do. We must all hang together, or some of us will hang on their own. Do what we say, and nobody gets hurt.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  10:23 AM
  39. Michael: “How is it that wingnuts of the twenty-first century have come to resemble so precisely the wingnuts of the mid-1970s?”

    The Baby Boom, perhaps?  Most conservatives and liberal-to-conservative converts alike probably had their formative years occur then.

    But to some extent I dispute the characterization.  If it was merely a mid-70s fixation, why would they be fixated on all Clinton all the time?  Or Michael Moore?  No, I’d say that they just need people to demonize, and they have a wide historical range of figures.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  10:25 AM
  40. We believe it has something to do with leaving Michael Huffington and appearing in a bed with Al Franken on Comedy Central, but much research remains to be done.

    I voted for GHWB in 1988 and 1992.  In 1994 I cheered as Republicans seized control of Congress, because it would clean out institutional corruption.  In 1996 I voted for Clinton.  In 2000, I was screaming about the election being stolen from Gore.

    Up until now, I partially attributed this realignment to growing up, and partially to the immediacy with which Republicans said, “Just kidding!” and started handing out goodies to their pals, while slashing funding for my pet projects (scientific research, etc) and promoting further government authoritarianism.  Meet the new boss, an order of magnitude worse than the old boss.  However, I now suspect that it had to do with an all-too-brief 1995 tryst with a certain pudgy Minnesotan.  Clearly, we must get Mr. Franken to share his charms as widely as possible.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  10:30 AM
  41. it didn’t do very much to explain (a) the rise of militant Islamism, the origins of which had very little to do with American anything,

    Mr. Berube, I love this blog. And I admit that I’m not as well-read and smart as you and many of your commenter’s, but can you explain what makes you write and think this?

    Was it not the U.S. that ARMED AND TRAINED the Islamic Radical core of the modern international terrorist cadre? That funneled BILLIONS of dollars to those groups and their sponsors via the Islamic Madrassas in Pakistan, via the ISI, via the Saudi Wahabbis and Royal Family, and via arms for hostages for guns and drugs and terrorist death squads in Iran/Central America?

    Didn’t Gary Hart write the most clearly aggressive, thoughtful and comprehensive analyses of Terrorism, tactics, strategies, and problem areas...BEFORE 9/11?

    Didn’t Clinton (ok not really a “liberal,” but still) have in place massive military surveillance, border watch, visa watch, intelligence operations, and fast-action prevention plans that WORKED to stop the “millennium plot”?

    Didn’t Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeld ignore, reverse, and/or bumble all of the above policies, strategies, and operations?

    Serously, even Noam Chomsky agrees that fighting terrorism is important and a serious problem. Howard Zinn.

    My problem, and I guess I consider my self a lefty, is that I doubt that doing the same thing that the US/West has been doing for the last 100 years is going to suddenly start working.

    Posted by a-train  on  12/22  at  11:20 AM
  42. Hey, a-train, thanks for asking.  The Muslim Brotherhood dates back to 1928, and its origins have nothing to do with American policy.  Nor did the U.S. ever fund Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual father of Islamist radicalism.  And even though it’s true that Zbigniew Brzezinski and his successors played their little chess game with Islamists in Afghanistan, even that doesn’t explain 9/11.  I mean, think of it this way:  we funded bin Laden and his friends when they were fighting the Soviet invasion, and then hey!  they attacked us 15-20 years later!  There’s ingratitude for you!

    I’m serious about this: if we want to discuss the root causes of 9/11, we have to look not only at American imperialism—which is an enabling condition, not a direct cause (an important distinction)—but at the origins of Islamist radicalism.  Believing that the former created the latter amounts, oddly enough, to believing that the U.S. is ultimately responsible for all the forces operating in the world.  It just ain’t so.

    I’m with you on Hart, Clinton, and the incompetent Bush crew, of course.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/22  at  11:45 AM
  43. The reason, Michael, is that the former liberals’ attachment to these principles was nostalgic, not organic.  They were like a dead leaf, which may flutter on a branch for weeks or months but eventually falls in a hard storm.

    The former liberals are people whose parents or teachers were labor union activists, leftist academics, federal employees in regulatory agencies.  They have nostalgic ties to the beliefs of their youth but they do not live them and they do not need them in order to be successful.  In fact, those beliefs are a hindrance to their day-to-day work.

    And no one learns to be a liberal in college anymore. The academic left long ago drifted over a radical skepticism and pessimism that sneers at engaging with practical political problems and is therefore defenseless in real-world debates with conservatives and libertarians.

    Many of the former liberals are Jews (and before the anti-anti-Semites jump up, let me say that I am one myself).  In terms of education, occupation, and income, Jews resemble Episcopalians.  In terms of voting behavior, they resemble African-Americans.  Their political beliefs result from a combination of nostalgia for the early days of Jewish radicalism; a vestigial fear of the anti-Semitism of the American right; and a religious tradition that emphasizes the prophetic message of social justice. But these forces are weakening and the ordinary class interests that guide the voting behavior of most affluent Americans are coming to the fore. 

    I would think that for many such former liberals, the opportunity presented by 9/11 came as a relief.  It allowed them to adopt a set of beliefs and behaviors that are more comfortable, given their current class and professional status.

    Or, if we are talking only about the pundits, in a past age the liberal pundits would be reflecting the opinions of a large class of vocal representatives of working people- union and union-funded public policy types and government agency people from vigorous regulatory agencies like the FTC, the FPC, Justice, EPA, Labor. This entire class of liberal spokespeople has disappeared.  The pundits are basically ignorant people.  No matter how well meaning they are, they cast no light of their own.  And nowadays, there is no light coming from the left for them to reflect.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  11:58 AM
  44. if we want to discuss the root causes of 9/11, we have to look not only at American imperialism—which is an enabling condition, not a direct cause (an important distinction)—but at the origins of Islamist radicalism.

    True dat.  Religious radicalism can’t simply be arising from payback for external oppression.  Seriously, do we blame the rise of “Christian” radicalism on 18-century British imperialism?  Because I’d also like to figure out how Dominionism became such a force, and when it’s going away.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  12:01 PM
  45. a vestigial fear of the anti-Semitism of the American right

    Well, we can only hope that this will become less vestigial thanks to Mel Gibson(*), William “Jews and their anal sex” Donohue, the “War on Christmas"(TM), and AFA boss Donald Wildmon’s threats to the Anti-Defamation League that Christians might “withdraw support” for Israel if they’re not careful.  Personally, I’ve long been offended by, “We support Israel because it will hurry along the End Times and lead to the extermination of two thirds of the Jews!” But that’s just me, and I didn’t learn to be a liberal until graduate school.  And my time with that hunk of burning love, Al Franken.

    (*) I know, I know, “Passion of the Whitebread Christ” wasn’t anti-semitic.  It just had cackling black-toothed Jews conspiring with Satan, and was dedicated to a Holocaust denier.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  12:15 PM
  46. I often ponder what made perfectly educated priests and clerics become inquisitors back in the 1400’s. At that time few people in European society had been exposed to the amazing breakout of humanism that began in the 12th and 13th centuries, and many Catholic clerics were most certainly a part of the small group who had. Yet The Church was never at a loss to find willing and eager clerics who had no problem torturing and burning anyone who even uttered one antithetical thought against Catholic canon.

    In my mind that’s what these wingnuts have become: America’s inquisitors. The religious canon they defend is the narrow right-wingnuttia view of American governance, and is it their duty to “expose” all the heretics who support any view antithetical to this right-wing canon.

    Seriously: Remember the almost orgasmic glee the wingnuts expressed over the horrible death of Rachael Corrie? Or how, if they could get away with it, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter would GLADLY fling the torch into the woodpile that would burn Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore at the stake?

    And the most passionate and diligent of these wild-eyed right-wingnuttia inquisitors are the converted “classical liberals.” Their manic passion to defend “the faith” makes one wonder if, at night before bedtime, they whip themselves senseless and then sleep wearing a horsehair shirt in order to purge their former “liberal” selves.

    I think at the heart of this total conversion is self-hatred and cowardice. Imagine you’re some dork on the morning of 9/12 who wakes up and realizes you’ve never once made any kind of self-sacrifice for the national weal: no military or public service, no nothing. Your life was all about advancing you. And now you’re too old (too fat, too dorky [e.g. Jonah Goldberg]) to enlist and go fight the bastards who financed and planned the 9/11 attacks. Or to be that brave New York City cop or fireman who bounded up the stairs in the South Tower trying to rescue poor souls trapped at the top just as it came crashing down.

    Now, for most people, this was no big deal, and only brought on mild pangs of guilt or regret, if at all; I mean, we all couldn’t have been Rambos in the Cold War, and we certainly all can’t be warriors and heroes now. But for squirrelly chumps like James Lileks or Charles Johnson or Glenn Reynolds, I imagine the guilt and self-loathing they felt was so overwhelming that they’ve turned into an almost cartoonish superpatriot and right-wing inquisitor of the most passionate kind, right down to the self-scourging. THIS IS HOW THEY CAN DO THEIR PART. And that is what makes them so easily embrace the entire canon of historical right-wingnuttia despite being perfectly educated in the liberal arts, enlightenment principles, and humanism. In the case of converted right-wingnuts, they’ve rejected the entire social progress of the 20th century if favor of...who knows what.

    That might explain a nutjob like James Lileks, who as a younger man probably uttered the words “Reagan” and “fascist” and “impeach” in the same sentence quite often in conversation. Fast forward twenty years and Lileks openly wept over Reagan’s death as if America had just lost its version of Pericles.

    Posted by mat  on  12/22  at  12:54 PM
  47. We did not create it, perhaps - there’s good reason to track it back to the institutional failure of Holland to respond to the tragedy of Krakatoa on top of all their other colonial abuses, at least a convincing case is made for the importance of that - but the nascence of radical Islam cannot be tied to one place/time any more than Communism can all be laid on Karl Marx.

    What we, as one of The Allies did, in and after WWI, w/r/t the Ottoman Empire, and what we did internationally elsehwere in the Great Game, suppressing real democratic movements, making “Western” a synonym for “repressive corrupt dictator taking guns from the West as our traditions are destroyed”, what Exxon and the other oil tycoons did playing international politics with and without CIA assistance - all of that has its part to play in why radical Islam is a force to be reconed with rather than something as unimportant (globally speaking) as ETA or the IRA.

    You can’t just play the Great Game for upwards of 70 years and then go “Whoa, not me, I had nothing to do with it” when they come after you for having five aces and a microphone…

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/22  at  01:13 PM
  48. mds, you’re probably correct that the newly emboldened anti-Semitism of the Christian right is forcing some newly minted Jewish conservatives to re-evaluate their new allies. But Jews who are middle-aged and younger have not experienced anti-Semitism in a way that would form them politically.  The liberalism that arose in part as a response to anti-Semitism is vestigial.

    In my parents’ generation, there were neighborhoods Jews could not live in, clubs they could not join, jobs they could not get.  That tends to affect your politics.  My father to the day he died believed that he did not get into Columbia med school because of its Jewish quota.  In my life, I have faced no such overt anti-Semitism from anyone with power. 

    When I was a boy, there were still kids who made anti-Semitic jokes. You couldn’t avoid casual anti-Semitism. For my children, even that is gone.  Nowadays, Jews are just white.  Sure, in some places - Port Arthur, Texas, say - if you don’t belong to a church you have no social existence- but Jews don’t live in Port Arthur.  In fact, the anti-Semitism that younger Jews are most likely to confront is from the more strident opponents of Israel on college campuses- and I hope I haven’t just turned this thread into a free-for-all about Israel- but my point is that the right has pretty much abandoned the rank discrimination that it used to practice against Jews.

    It used to be that a Jewish conservative was as bizarre as Alan Keyes - and for the same reasons. Becoming a Republican was about as unthinkable as becoming a Baptist.  That’s not so anymore.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  01:38 PM
  49. Having watched the hippie scum to yuppie scum transformation firsthand, I have to say that it was entirely predictable which of my friends/classmates/associates/connections would morph into country-club Republicans.  So I question whether an actual transformation has taken place.  It was more like getting rid of a necktie that was of a now-unfashionable length, or throwing out the Earth Shoes on grounds they’d no longer get you laid.

    Obviously that’s insufficient explanation for Hitchens/Horowitz, but Lileks, eg, doesn’t strike me as someone who was ever a liberal, and his tough talk now sounds like a guy in the fifth row of a mob yelling invective lest somebody ask why, exactly, he’s there.

    Isn’t this the same vibe as Sully’s shocked reaction to His Leader backing the homophobes, or the Republican libertarians who were astonished, after Schiavo, to learn they shared a party with religious radicals?

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:03 PM
  50. I blame team sports.  Johnny Damon is now a Yankee.  He did not decide that he wanted to bat for the Yankees once a game, but stay with the Red Sox otherwise.  That just can’t happen.  Team sports is our metaphor for politics.  Being a good teammate is the most important thing.  Maybe a generation that grows up with fantasy football will be able to mix and match issues better.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:03 PM
  51. I often ponder what made perfectly educated priests and clerics become inquisitors back in the 1400’s. At that time few people in European society had been exposed to the amazing breakout of humanism that began in the 12th and 13th centuries, and many Catholic clerics were most certainly a part of the small group who had. Yet The Church was never at a loss to find willing and eager clerics who had no problem torturing and burning anyone who even uttered one antithetical thought against Catholic canon.

    Education is often not a barrier to inhumanism in the name of cause, but an essential precondition for it.  Both in theory creation and even elite implementation.

    (The Einsatztruppen in Poland and Eastern Europe/Soviet Europe were famously composed of doctors, lawyers and PhDs).

    Felix Derzhinsky positively wept they say as he signed each death sentence.  But he was just the functionary.  The others were positively surfeit with education.

    The neocons today are almost all uniformly bright. And have Kultur.

    And so on through history.

    As someone said, the educaton allows abstraction, and abstraction permits pursuit of the ideal without regard for empathy or conscience. The intellectual novacaine of “Theory”.  And suppression of cognative dissonance.

    But I don’t share some of the “blame America” meme here—although there is a need for historical honesty—some of the causality attributed to it is still suspect imo.

    Consider Cambodia/Kampuchea.  Sid Schanberg et al. blamed the radicalism of the Khmer Rouge on B-52s, Nixon, Proctor and Gamble, and possibly DisneyLand. (Not sure about the latter).

    But “Year Zero” was conceived in Paris at the Sourbonne and elsewhere by Son Sen and Pol Pot in the 1950s.  The deliberate genocide of a people.  Perhaps over some Absinthe?

    Finding and attributing causality in history is hard work.  And often not related to what one actually experiences in a slice of time, ala Schanberg’s horrific and true factual reporting.

    Btw, from a non-American perspective, trying to be objective is hard for any of us.  But try and answer this question.  What is the actual difference in form between Marxist Leninism and full fledged Wilsonianism?

    And then note that Thatcher/Blair and now 43 are largely recycling many of that earlier meme.  The attraction for the Left should be clear.

    And btw, another nit.  9/11 itself didn’t change everything.  But how it was packaged and sold?  Perhaps.  That game is still underway.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/22  at  02:04 PM
  52. And now for something completely non-theoretical: Those of us who live in Santa Barbara have this theory about the political shape-shifter Arianna Huffington...it seems one dark night when a particularly eerie marine layer (our tourism industry approved term for fog) crept over the Santa Ynez Mountains, Arianna was driving a gas-guzzling Range Rover along East Valley Road in the wealthy enclave of Montecito (home to Oprah’s $50 mil estate), and just as she came around one tight turn, just as one very rare to the area flash of lightning lit the night, another car going the other way swerved out of her headlights and headed off into the creepy night. The driver of that other car? Dennis Miller. Since that odd evening neither has been the same.

    Posted by George  on  12/22  at  02:07 PM
  53. the political shape-shifter Arianna Huffington

    To me, part of understanding the question means delving into what it was like being around Newt and his informal court in the late 1980s and through say 1996 (when formalism and structure took over).  Imagine getting past the rope line at Napoleon Dynamite’s Studio 54. 

    Except no sex (good sex?), music and drugs.

    Fellini or Terry Southern could have mined gold.  Pure gold, I tell you.  Or in retrospect, the “Spinal Tap” version of a Parisian salon. 

    But there was alot of excitement and promise of change. [deleted details here].  When 1994 happened, it was like the Bastille had fallen.

    And the sobering reality followed.

    So to me, the transformation is not surprising.  Other “conservatives” have done the same. Some hide it because their career and cable TV gigs require them to opine the Talking Points for lucre. But they are not philosophically far from Arianna in private.

    (Which raises another question of how strong the current regime really is, or whether it is more brittle than apparent).

    I remember seeing her from afar when I was in Philadelphia for 2000.  Many of us fled the banality downtown and went up to the Counter Inauguration at Penn.  And how much more fun and alive Arianna seemed to be even then.

    Maybe that is an example of really being born again?

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/22  at  02:49 PM
  54. Reluctantly, you may want to consider the idea that education, class, family life, religion, life’s experience together have not had that much of an impact on your ultimate political inclinations; your gene makeup may just suit you to face one direction or another. How altruistic will you be? Any or all of you, if you had not had the life you had, but had been adopted at birth, even by right leaning parents, probably would be looking in the direction that you are now; if not, you would be the classic Horowitz example, harboring latent contrary sentiments that only need a series of provocations to push you onto your true path. I don’t think money has anything to do with it. I don’t think being a “good” fella has anything to do with it either.

    Those who make a conversion that is contrary to their true nature will probably drift back to their true self. The questions are what set of altruistic impulses (or selfish impulses), selected for success over 100,000 years will lead to triumph and continued success, and how much will those impulses be repressed by ethical or political systems.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:52 PM
  55. Rich makes a point, somewhere around #12, that seems to represent the process as gleened from my own personal observations over the last 40 years.  Much of the disillusionment of the 60’s hip-leftist population stemmed, not so much from the confrontations with the “man” symbolizing the capitalist consumer culture, but from the young-adult, dawning realization that in those few short years they had frivolously expended most of their potential investment capital.  I had too many radical left friends (many who claimed great public"allegiance" to socialism/communism) who suddenly lurched into the consumer culture upon discovering that if they had put $10K down on some junk house or on some investment (i was sitting in an airport on Dead tour in ‘71 when a guy approached our group and presented a prospectus for buying into a large jojoba farm in Arizona--one friend bought it, while the rest of us thought it was another scam by the man--and it turned out of course to have been wildly successful: check out the hemp futures in Canada!!), they would have made a “ton of money.” The fear of not having that was a major driving force in their immediate and abject turn to the right!!

    “(a) the rise of militant Islamism, the origins of which had very little to do with American anything, or (b) the fact that none of the more immediate victims of American imperialism....”

    This of course assumes, without all that much supporting and documentary evidence, that the US government had no involvement in 9/11 whatsoever (including choosing to not act versus act to stop it).  I suggest that we all begin a careful review of the Rendon group, whose job it is is to make people accept certain constructs.  http://www.rendon.com/

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:55 PM
  56. “But in the interest of fostering a spirit of ecumenical inquiry and intellectual diversity, this humble and oft-perplexed blog will entertain alternate theories that try to account for the production of wingnuts.”

    At some point they decided that they would rather have someone else bear the enormous responsibility of finding the truths in life. The enormity and complexity of this struggle became too much for them to sustain. Eventually they were drawn to the party that deplores debate of any kind - especially the internal ones. A party that does not have to prove a truth because they adamantly adhere to the truths that they are told. 

    This observation is made extremely evident when you observe how those in the righteous party engage their opponents in a debate. Invariably they always speak from the same script. A script that has been prepared for them. A script that does not require the consideration of their own personal experience and acquired knowledge. A script that requires no investment of their thoughts - just an investment of their time.

    In my mind at least this is the secret to the current success that the Republican Party has found with many moderate minds - they offer the smile of certainty in an uncertain world. For those made weak by the burdens of life sometimes a reassuring smile is all that it takes to leave ones thoughts behind.

    Posted by Jim  on  12/22  at  03:23 PM
  57. Horowitz was a Stalinist, and he’s still a Stalinist.  Stalinism is a right-wing ideology. It’s all about militant conformity. If you don’t care about the economics, just the cultural side, there is no difference at all between Stalinism and fascism.  The move of communist ideologues to the hard right is not instructive about what has happened to former liberals.

    Another case in point, this time concerning a great historian who unfortunately also happened to be a Stalinist:  Eugene Genovese, who with the end of capital-C Communism became a Catholic wingnut.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  03:34 PM
  58. (*) I know, I know, “Passion of the Whitebread Christ” wasn’t anti-semitic.  It just had cackling black-toothed Jews conspiring with Satan, and was dedicated to a Holocaust denier.

    Details, details.

    The driver of that other car? Dennis Miller. Since that odd evening neither has been the same.

    LOL, George, but in all seriousness, Miller’s political judgment was never very much better than that of a dancing badger.  We’re talking about a passionate Perot voter here—one of the ones who voted for the amazing Ferengi billionaire even after he’d dropped out of the race, whispering darkly that Republicans were planning to disrupt his daughter’s wedding, and then re-entered anyway in October.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  04:32 PM
  59. Michael,
    I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one for which
    “it didn’t do very much to explain (a) the rise of militant Islamism, the origins of which had very little to do with American anything”
    inspired a bit-packet double-take.

    Do you REALLY believe that Islamic Fundamentalism would possess the power it now has if the U.S. (and the British before them) didn’t do so much to undermine workable alternatives in (especially) the Arab world?

    That being said, just by discussing possible U.S. culpability does not raise the act of flying planes into buildings (or any act of terrorism) to the level of legitimate political discourse. Let’s see these acts for what they are.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  05:34 PM
  60. Have to say Michael that I think you oversimplify the relationship between militant Islam and US foreign policy during the Cold War. While Qutb and other militant Islamists were not merely reacting to US imperialism, (in Qutb’s case, it might have been a mixture of an abhorence to US materialism, hedonism, and consumerism as well as his witnessing of Jim Crow and other manifestations of US racism), there certainly is a connection with US foreign policy. I think that you have to bring in the issue of the dissemination of an ideology and the creation of networks of financial and political patronage by the US government, besides a strict focus on “subject positions”. Mahmood Mamdani does an excellent job of cataloging the context for the emergence of groups like al-Qaeda out of the support for the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan (the CIA in effect turned a local resistance to Soviet imperialism into an international resistance, actively recruiting in the Maghreb and other countries with predominantly Muslim populations). Mamdani demonstrates that the largely covert forms of support for anti-communists around the world were the default mode of US foreign policy after the defeat of the US in Vietnam. Enter Iran-Contra. Later, enter Osama bin-Laden. Cheers.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  07:19 PM
  61. if the U.S. (and the British before them)

    But that’s a significant parenthesis, CF.  When I speak of the origins of Islamist radicalism, I’m going back before the Cold War (that’s for you too phil), and collapsing the US and the UK back then just won’t suffice.  For instance, the United States opposed the Sykes-Picot agreement as a betrayal of the principle of self-determination for Arab states.  Those were, I suppose, the good old days.  You know, before the overthrow of Mossadeq.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/22  at  07:30 PM
  62. 1920 ff - Allied arm-wrestling over the oil-fields of Persia and Araby

    The State Department decided against arguing for an American interest in Iraq in pure national self-interest terms. It could not argue that only American companies should be allowed to explore in the area without appearing to take unfair advantage of its victory in World War I. Such a position would have contravened Wilsonian principles. The State Department therefore adopted an “open door,” policy knowing that the only companies then capable of taking advantage of an open door would be American. Under this policy the Department urged that all areas of the world should be open to development by the nationals of all countries, unencumbered by nationalistic regulations or restrictive agreements.

    The State Department’s diplomatic initiatives found their impetus in the American oil industry. When Exxon first expressed an interest in Iraq in 1919, the Department said that it could not support one company alone but would help a group of American companies. The American Petroleum Institute thereafter adopted a resolution which expressed its fear that US companies might be excluded from the Middle East and asked that the State Department take steps to correct the situation. “If, under a protectorate or any other form of control” the resolution declared . . . . “British and French interests . . . should be permitted to gain and maintain in exclusive right of development in Persia and in Turkey, to say nothing of the other oil-bearing lands embraced within the peace settlements . . . we do not hesitate to say that the results to the American petroleum industry might eventually prove to be disastrous."10 In August 1921, the API was informed by Secretary of State Hughes and Secretary of Commerce Hoover that preliminary geological surveys in Iraq should be undertaken by the API on behalf of all interested members. In addition to Exxon, the other companies that decided to participate were Texaco, Gulf, Atlantic Refining, Sinclair, and the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. In November 1921, Secretary Hughes told the companies that he would inform them as soon as he had learned “that permission for prospecting in Mesopotamia is being or may be granted by the authorities in that territory . . ."11 The companies, however, went ahead and designated Exxon as their representative in negotiations with British Petroleum over an American interest in Iraq. BP was apparently persuaded by Gulbenkian that it would be better to join with the Americans rather than fight them and suffer the ensuing commercial and diplomatic repercussions.

    When Exxon informed the State Department of its private negotiations, the response was quite pragmatic: “It is not the desire of the Department ... to make difficulties or to prolong needlessly a diplomatic dispute or so to disregard the practical aspects of the situation as to prevent American enterprise from availing itself of the very opportunities which our diplomatic representations have striven to obtain."12 Although the State Department urged the American companies to avoid any restrictive agreement, this became impossible as the negotiations with the European interests proceeded. The price of establishing the first American presence in the Middle East was the 1928 Red Line Agreement which obligated the consortium members not to compete against each other within the area of the old Ottoman Empire. “All members of American Group have accepted Agreement . . .” the American companies cabled their London attorneys on April 17, 1928, “and State Department has approved respecting its open door policy and you are authorized to close."13 “Never,” Gulbenkian later wrote, “was the open door so hermetically sealed.”

    Posted by bellatrys  on  12/22  at  09:12 PM
  63. I think that you have to bring in the issue of the dissemination of an ideology and the creation of networks of financial and political patronage by the US government, besides a strict focus on “subject positions”

    Blowback is a bitch.  No doubt about it.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/22  at  09:39 PM
  64. Hitchens and Roger Simon strike me as guys who were inordinately terrified by the events of 9/11/01 and fear is a key ingredient underlying far-Right nostrums, as several commenters have ably noted.

    Oh, w/r/t Hitch, I disagree. He’s been looking his entire life for a Spanish Civil War, and chose this to be his one. Except that he neglected to re-read Homage to Catalonia before doing so. Thus, he forgot Orwell’s warning that being against an enemy can mean standing alongside (and giving credibility to) pretty nasty types.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  12:42 AM
  65. I’m serious about this: if we want to discuss the root causes of 9/11, we have to look not only at American imperialism—which is an enabling condition, not a direct cause (an important distinction)—but at the origins of Islamist radicalism.  Believing that the former created the latter amounts, oddly enough, to believing that the U.S. is ultimately responsible for all the forces operating in the world. It just ain’t so.

    That is kind of a jump. 

    In the original post it seems you are saying that the “far left’s” reaction to 9/11 was “knee-jerk” (and, by implication, wrong). What was (or would have been) the correct reaction?

    The idea that we can somehow kill enough of the right people and by this method end the threat or the occurrence of 9/11 type attack in the future seems kind of unrealistic to me (my belief is strenghtened by the fact that this hasn’t been an effective tactic for Israel) ... (Invading Iraq to plant the seeds of democracy with white phosphorous and torture is obviously counterproductive)

    Currently, we are flailing at the problem, and as a result, making it worse.

    And in political discourse (even among the leftist of the left) simply considering non-violent policy initiatives is just cause to be dismissed as unrealistic and unserious (i.e. the loony left).

    Posted by a-train  on  12/23  at  12:59 AM
  66. A spate of interesting articles asking the same question: how did the right wing in this country turn from a bunch of big government fearing, gun-toting eschatologists to yellowbellied infants willing to give up any freedom necessessary to receive the protection of daddy Bush?

    Boston Globe

    Posted by Alan Taylor  on  12/23  at  12:24 PM
  67. I don’t think you can blame the rise of Islamic Radicalism on America, especially not on America entirely.  However, to the extent that they have designated America as an enemy i think you do need to look to American actions.  Fundamentalist movements come and go, sure, and for a variety of reasons.

    However, when that fundamentalist movement starts producing suicide bombers aimed at your country, i don’t think it is reasonably to protest that you are entirely innocent, without at least looking at some of your country’s recent actions that may have affected the issue, such as support for right wing dictators and monarchies in the region; unconditional support for Israel; encouragement of fundamentalist movements as alternatives to statist and communist movements; the quartering of troops in the muslim holy lands/cities, Bin Laden’s pet peeve as i understand it; and probably others that i am less aware of.

    So we didn’t *create* fundamentalism in the region, sure, i’ll give you that...but we sure have pissed these people off, haven’t we?  I mean, they aren’t bombing Argentina or Japan much....and there is a reason for that.

    Posted by Zenji  on  12/23  at  12:27 PM
  68. Zenji,

    Have avoided the Islamic Fundamentalism topic issue here because it is such a complex multi-dimensional topic. (More than the movement of Left to the New Right) imo.

    But quick points (all heavily imo):

    (1) Islamic revivalism is the issue (’fundamentalism’ is one sect of the manifestation);

    (2) Revivalism includes many so-called “moderates” who also revolt against Western notions of “Modernity”.  Many parties to this dialogue have different notions of Time.  I.e., in the cultural memory there, events of Byzantium and the 735 AD - 1600s are sometimes as fresh in their memory today as the last week’s NFL games are here;

    (2.5) In other words, large portions of the Islamic world use Time different than we do in the West.  They remember well today that when the West moved in on their world from 1100 AD - past Lepanto - the West were the barbarians and thugs. Attacking the center of Culture and Civilization.

    (They are not alone.  Other societies have different notions of time and collective memory than we do. Japan comes to mind.)

    (3) The U.S. is the “Far Enemy” to the Qubt acolytes and even to some moderates not only because of the support for Israel.  Or the propping up of the clan-ocracies. But also because we are seen as the engine of Western/Asian “Modernity”.

    (4) The Qutb acolytes attack us to remove the prop for the local clan-ocracies to make their overthrow of the “Near Enemy” easier.

    (5) We will never come to terms with the Qutb acolytes imo.  But for the broader Islamic populace of some 1.1 billion, U.S. actions do matter and our policies do serve as a catalyst.  But until Iraq were not the contemporary catalyst. 

    How Islam will deal with Modernity must unfold internally within Islam. This is where the neocons are especially wrong, imo.  Prior to Iraq, our policies were a battery used by parties to this internal dialogue to jump start their internal agendas.

    Iraq changed that imo.  We are the main catalyst now.

    (6) For the Qutb acolytes today, their Islamic revivalism can only succeed when the Far Enemy and Modernism is destroyed. Moderates may not embrace that “Total War” scenario yet. Yet the mirror image of 43’s “Town Square” test and other notions of “freedom” triumphant ala Scharansky, etc. should be clear.  Both extremists believe in univeralism and can achieve security anywhere when “the enemy” is destroyed everywhere.

    (7) Our Iraqi “excellent” adventure so far ratified the narrative made by the Qutb acolytes to the ambivalent “moderates”.

    (8) As I wrote on my blog, while I do not think Scheuer should have been the man to run Bin Laden Station for the Agency in the 1990s (for linguistic, in country experience reasons), as an analytical mind, he has much to commend him.  Particularly his first book, let alone for “ Hubris”.

    Overlong as usual, but instead of my 2 cents, you got 3! wink

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/23  at  01:05 PM
  69. I think a lot of people are moving in the wrong direction here. 

    Part of this phenomenon (the part that most people are pointing to) is so graphically depicted originally in Flaubert’s Sentimental Education - the 1848 generation of young people in France became the solid bourgeoisie of the Second Empire.  Then the Paris Commune after the fall of the Empire, which is replaced by the bourgeois self-satisfaction of the Third Republic. It even happened on the Right - when the radical Right (fascism) was defeated in WWII, most of the Right revolutionaries (those who weren’t killed) eventually became self-satisfied bourgeois within quite liberal states (West Germany, France, Japan, Italy and so on) from whom essentially no further serious disturbances to those fairly liberal states ever occurred (too busy making money, etc). And so on.

    That’s not unusual, and, indeed, was predicted early in the Enlightenment (Thomas Jefferson for one essentially recommends eternal revolution - or frequent revolutions as may be).

    The weird thing is NOT that we have disenchantment with ideals post-1968.  The failure of the French Revolution, the 1848 attempted revolutions, the Paris Commune and so on would already teach us that.  What IS unusual is that, instead of mellowing into mushy bourgeois kinda-liberalesque non-ideological fatsos (as had always happened so many times before), so many of the 1968 generation REMAINED radical, but moved their revolution from Left to Right.  That IS very unusual.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  07:41 PM
  70. I think we have several possible avenues of thought:

    1.  Was the failure of 1968 somehow drastically different from 1789, 1848, 1871 (for the left) and 1945 (for the right)?

    2. Is there something different about Thatcherism or the New Right?

    3. Was the crisis of the 1970s a unique one (I’ll get around to what that means)?

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  07:52 PM
  71. Additional point:

    I very much disagree with the characterization that the New Right (or Thatcherism or neoconservatism, however you want to call it) as a CONSERVATIVE mellowing post-failed revolution (i.e., the same mental model as 1848 or 1871).  If you look at post-1848 or post-1871, the Leftists in those eras were simply disappointed or in disarray or confused or went looking for more bucks in their purses.  Very few became bellicose radical royalists or Bonapartists.  I.E. they remained on the Left or mushy liberals, but decided to “go with the flow”. (The few exceptions - Leftists who went very strongly to the Right- are actually extremely interesting and a foreboding premonition of what was to come).

    Instead, the New Right is a radical and revolutionary movement.  Notice that the New Right itself uses the term “movement”, which was always a term preferred by extremists (revolutionaries) of both Left and Right.  It’s not at all a mushy defense of status quo.  The hardcore New Right wants to overthrow large institutions of government, overthow many established “modes and orders” and indeed, in many cases, institute entirely new types of regime: the theocratic one of the Dominionists, the Imperial Presidency of the neoconservatives, etc.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:05 PM
  72. A fourth potential avenue of thought:

    4.  Why did the New Right mellow and essentially disappear in the UK, while it grew and metatisized in the US? After all, the New Right theoretically was in power far longer in the UK (Thatcher + Major) than in the US (only Reagan and Bush II).

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:07 PM
  73. Love your comments, Leo!  You do honor to the namesake.  (BTW, the website doesn’t work).

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:11 PM
  74. "Do you REALLY believe that Islamic Fundamentalism would possess the power it now has if the U.S. (and the British before them) didn’t do so much to undermine workable alternatives in (especially) the Arab world?”

    I would argue that it was the US’ undermining of socialism (in all it’s variants) in the Middle East that is the root cause of the current problems.  Right now, if a young person WANTS to be politically radical in the Middle East, he has a single choice - Islamic revivalism. Previously, that same young person had the choice of socialism. And most young people in the Middle East preferred socialism for many, many decades.

    As we can see in the post-Iraq debacle, Islamic fundamentalism is HUGELY worse for the West than socialism. A socialist in the Middle East is not inherently at war with all of the West - quite the converse, he is a comrade with the working class everywhere (equally including the West).  Even if our Arab socialist sees himself in conflict with many (though not all) Western GOVERNMENTS, he is not inherently in conflict with all Western people as people, or with “Western culture” as a whole, etc. (Certainly, in radicalized forms of socialist revolutionary ideology, terrorism is acceptable - but that terrorism is directed at changing Western foreign policy primarily - the Western “industrial proleteriat” is ALSO being oppressed by the bad Western capitalist governments).

    For better or worse, in my opinion, socialism (again, in its seemingly innumerable variations) was a very positive intellectual movement in the middle East.

    Ok, I hate using the nonsensical term “West”, but you guys get the drift.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  08:24 PM
  75. <i>Love your comments, Leo!  You do honor to the namesake.  (BTW, the website doesn’t work).

    Thanks. Apologies re website link. The Scowcroft Realist Wreckers sabotaged the link with a typo.  Smert ‘Wrecker’am! 

    The link should go now.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/23  at  08:44 PM
  76. Leo,

    Don’t make the assumption that your namesake was a conservative.  Your namesake:

    1. wrote several books in which he prefers Grecian communism (yes, the dominant economic theory in ancient Greece was communism) over capitalism. Strauss quotes Marx much more than Adam Smith in his extraordinary last book on Xenophon’s Oeconimicus.
    2. wrote a letter to National Review arguing that Israel was a conservative country.  Remember that Israel at that time was the most socialist country in the world outside the Marxist states.  Of course, all the leadership of Israel at that time were heavy-duty outright Socialists, with the Israeli Communist party being a major force in Israeli politics then. Clearly, whatever Strauss meant by “conservative” wasn’t on the same planet as what the National Review meant (Israel barely had any privately owned land at that point!)
    3.  So far as anyone can tell, was a lifelong Democrat.

    The Straussian (erg, whatever that word means) bulletin boards are just as full of people yelling at each other about politics as anywhere else. Thomas West, a rather pathetic person who equates Leo Strauss with American New Right Neoneoclassical Economic Conservatism, was so badly beaten up and intellectually criticized he fled the main “Straussian” discussion board in fear.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  09:18 PM
  77. Don’t make the assumption that your namesake was a conservative

    Hi, thanks.  No worries.  Actually just the opposite. The site is, um, as they say,esoteric . . . hence the distinctly ironic name for the blog and all that it entails.

    Strauss like Jabotinsky and others who went on from Irgun to Likud was largely part of that broader anti-modernist movement so widespread in Central and Eastern Europe at the time.  Along with that hostility to liberal democracy came a relationship with and to economics, distinctly <b>not<> inherently capitalistic. 

    A reason he had to hide in open sight in the West/U.S. And express his loathing and contempt for the West/U.S. so furtively.

    Too bad for him that the race element in Germany precluded his participation.  If he had been south, in say Italy, he might have been quite happy.  I share the interpretation of his long suppressed letters from the early 1930s (and long never translated).  A longing for the boots, the leather coat and the salute.

    Periodically I used to monitor some of the silliness on the web, like Abe Shulsky (most recently part of Rumsfeld’s shop over at OSD) trying to lead Straussian esoteric discussions of how Thucydides in esoteric terms was really one of them.  But I have lost track of where the most entertaining stuff is happening.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/23  at  09:58 PM
  78. "Strauss like Jabotinsky and others who went on from Irgun to Likud was largely part of that broader anti-modernist movement so widespread in Central and Eastern Europe at the time.”

    a. Strauss says that he once was attracted by Jabotinsky, but found Jabotinsky unsatisfactory.
    b. The Likud (or the Herut party that later became the Likud) was politically irrelevant at the time of the National Review letter.  They were a small, outcast party which had very little influence on the Israeli government (which indeed had briefly imprisoned some of its leaders).  Strauss is clearly praising Mapai and Ben-Gurion as “conservative”. Mapai was a moderate Socialist Zionist party (still far to the left of any Western European government of the time).  In the mid-Fifties, Herut only held 8-15 seats in a Knesset of 111 seats, compared to Mapai’s 40-47, Mapam’s 9-15, Progressive’s 4-6 and Maki’s 3-5 (all socialist/Marxist parties).

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  10:23 PM
  79. "A reason he had to hide in open sight in the West/U.S. And express his loathing and contempt for the West/U.S. so furtively.”

    Most of the people who interacted with him say he quite enjoyed living in the US.  After all, he certainly could have gone back permanently to Europe after 1945 (he had several job offers to do so).  Also importantly, there is no evidence within Strauss’ writing that he admired the Franco regime or the numerous other right-wing authoritarian regimes that continued after 1945.  Are you saying that his colleagues at the New School, most of whom had the most intimate knowledge of fascism possible, failed to detect that Strauss was a fascist?  I don’t think Levi-Strauss, Max Lerner, Hans Jonas, or Maritain would be easy folks to fool.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  10:37 PM
  80. "I share the interpretation of his long suppressed letters from the early 1930s (and long never translated).”

    They weren’t suppressed, they were in German and sat in a university collection until they were translated as part of a general move to publish Strauss’ other early work.

    The letters, which others might not know of, are from Strauss to Carl Schmitt (and Karl Lowith), immediately before and after the Nazi take-over of Germany. Strauss had already been living in France by the time.

    There are parts of the letters that can be intrepreted as supportive of Schmitt’s ideas, who later did become enmeshed in Nazism.

    1.  Strauss is clearly seeking a place to attack the new regime from within it’s own ideology (or from places on the Right, perhaps trying to see if the rest of the German Right could be convinced to turn against the new regime). Since Lowith was a victim of the new regime (from which he actually had to flee), it’s very difficult to see that Strauss is defending the new regime.  He’s trying to find a way to defeat the regime by triangulating.
    2. Insofar as there is praise of Wilhemine Germany within the letter to Lowith, it’s neither repeated later in Strauss’ career nor it is something he talks about except in connection to undermining the Nazis by using the German royalists.

    Strauss is attacking the Nazis from the Right, as Xenos argues.  The question is whether that indicates that Strauss himself was on the Right.  It’s hard to see, how by 1932, that anybody BUT the Right was going to overthrow the Nazis (the SPD and Communists were completely disabled). The best way to get rid of the Nazis by that time is to somehow convince the remaining German conservatives to do so, and the best instrument was probably some sort of revival of the Wilhemine era - not least because of Hindenberg and the power of the German army, which remained heavily royalist in sentiment.

    Liberalism (as in liberal democracy) was not going to be immediately revivable in 1932/1933.  But a Wilhemine-esque military dictatorship was still vastly preferable to the Nazis, and could have eventually led back to a more democratic form.

    Insofar as Strauss was personally friendly with Schmitt, he apparently didn’t know Schmitt had joined the Nazi party. Meanwhile, Strauss needed a job and Schmitt was a very influential academic (and essentially did get Strauss a job). Strauss’ critique of Schmitt is both positive and negative; and Strauss’ later study of Hobbes severely disagrees with Schmitt.

    Posted by  on  12/23  at  11:26 PM
  81. Burritoboy, you raise good points. I will respond to them in one note. 

    And I note the earlier effort to redirect the conversation towards the original post.  So after this note, Burritoboy, we can go into emails or continue it over on my or your blog. I can start a post.

    (a) Whether Strauss ultimately stayed with Jabotinsky is not the issue.  The point is the common milieu in which they operated.  And this was before 1933. And Jabotinsky et al. were no friends of liberalism (conservatism in American parlance), democracy or even capitalism.

    (b) The early 1930s Strauss letters were deliberately ignored by Strauss’ American adherents. And in their untranslated state essentially buried to the American audience while he was alive. Deliberately.

    (c) Strauss’ alleged defense that he was “attacking” Nazi-ism from within its own ideology is not an exoneration but an further indictment.  Within the Movement, there were great struggles over its final expression, and whether further revolution would continue from below—the Rohm affair in 1934 settled some of that.  Although Goebbels always aggitated for a return for more from the “Left” within the Nazi structure.  Strauss was immersed in the Movement before its rise to power and was comfortable within it intellectually.  The race issue simply barred his participation.

    (d) I do not argue that Strauss was not happy living in the U.S.  Going back to Europe, standards of living aside, would hold no attraction.  The post War world would be decided in the U.S. and U.S.S.R.  Europe was a pawn.

    Of course Strauss did not endorse Franco.  Fascism was discredited by 1945.  Hence the hide in open sight and the esoteric reading of Plato.  Did some people miss Strauss as a disappointed fascist (in the broader meaning, not the formulation of 1922-1943, 1933-1945)?  Did some overlook it?  I am not in a position to judge the difference.

    Burritoboy, if we want to continue, we can do it privately or on another thread at another blog?

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/24  at  12:58 PM
  82. Thanks (apologies?) to Jello Biafra via Phil Ochs:

    “Love Me I’m a Liberal”

    I cried when they shot John Lennon
    Tears ran down my spine
    And I cried when I saw “JFK”
    As if I’d lost a father of mine
    But Malcom-X and Ice-T had it coming
    They got what they asked for this time

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    I go to pro-choice rallies
    Recycle my cans and jars
    I’ll honk if you love the Dead
    Hope those funny Grunge bands become stars
    But don’t talk about revolution
    That’s going a little bit to far

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    I cheered when Clinton was chosen
    My faith in the system reborn
    I’ll do anything to save our schools
    If my taxes aint too much more
    And I love Blacks and Gays and Latinos
    As long as they don’t move next door

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    Rush Limbaugh and the L.A.P.D.
    Should all hang thier heads in shame
    I can’t understand where they’re at
    Arsenio should set them straight
    But if neighborhood watch doesn’t know you
    I hope the cops take your name

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    Yeah, I read the New Republican
    Rolling Stone and Mother Jones too
    If I vote it’s a democrat
    With a sensible economy view

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    Once I was young and had an attitude
    Stickers covered the car I drove in
    Even went on some direct actions
    When there weren’t rent-a-cops to be seen
    Ah, but now I’ve grown older and wiser
    And that’s why I’m turning you in

    So love me, love me, love me,
    I’m a liberal

    Came out over ten years ago, but more relevant than ever.

    Happy Holidays, all!

    Posted by  on  12/25  at  07:10 AM
  83. I know I’m late to the comments, but something about Michael’s “software package theory of wingnuttia” reminded me of a personal experience.

    I have a close relative with Borderline Personality Syndrome.  If you don’t know of this disorder, consider yourself lucky.  But to oversimplify a bit, people with BPS have a trouble with complexity in other people.  That is, they tend to split everybody into “all good” or “all bad,” heroes or villains.  If you are, to a BPS person, a “good” person, therefore, your every action, no matter how petty or malicious, will nevertheless be interpreted as good or beneficent.  On the other hand, if they have decided to lump you into the catergory of “bad” people, they will take a dim view of your every action, whether it be helping little old ladies across the street, or organizing Live Aid concerts. 

    The maddening thing for long-term acquaintances of BPS victims is that your status may, at any time, and without warning, “flip” from hero to villain, or vice versa.  Thus, especially for a relative, any particular action in your lifetime may be interpreted sequentially as “good,” and then “bad,” and then “good,” ad infinitum, depending on which way their neurotransmitters are washing on this particular morning.

    There seems to be a germ of this splitting behavior in the newly fledged wingnuts.  Perhaps in a way 9/11 really *did* change everything for these people, and nothing, sort of adding Prozac to tap water, will help?

    Posted by tikistitch  on  12/27  at  07:15 PM
  84. To answer Michael’s original question most directly, imo the reason the Left is such a fertile recruiting ground for the New Right is that the origins of the Left criticisms of liberal democracy, that Reason is “tyranny” and that liberal democractic process norms were disguised forms of force and coercion (insert Focault, De Man, etc.) are critiques that are based on Counter Enlightenment thinking at heart, whether Carl Schmitt, Strauss, Heidegger, Neitzche, etc.

    So when the New Right essentially resurrects the old critiques against liberal democracy (albeit this time, perversely, in the ostensible ‘defense’ of democracy (how esoteric can one get?)), the Left is not only powerless to resist but actively predisposed to accept the critique, this time with moral outrage, the power of World’s most effective military, and a fully developed meme wurlitzer at their disposal.

    As I wrote on my blog, this Administration is essentially the quintessential ‘post modern’ political entity, celebrating the overthrow of empiricism, Reason and the liberal democractic notion of ‘Man’.  In 1933, the club-footed propogandist famously said “The year 1789 is hereby repealed”. 

    In the 2005 American vernacular, that saying would be met with generally mute bewilderment.  Most do not even know where and how “Left” and “Right” entered political discourse.

    The Left critique of liberal democracy has met itself in the mirror of the New Right.  Cue in coda from Pete Townshend 1971 synthesizer anthem here.

    Posted by Leo Strauss  on  12/27  at  08:05 PM
  85. I’ve read with pleasure. Maybe it’s offtopic, but i just wanted to say, that it’s really interesting to read everything this with the comments… You discuss here a lot of interesting things on different useful themes. Thanks for that =)

    Posted by Kate  on  12/29  at  04:37 PM
  86. "How is it that wingnuts of the twenty-first century have come to resemble so precisely the wingnuts of the mid-1970s?
    Posted by Michael on 12/21 at 11:23 PM”

    Part of it is the nature of the Right. They demand complete intellectual loyalty and consistency. So that someone as genuinely wonky as David Brooks feels he has to put in a good word for intelligent design. Diversity and debate are not an option. Leo Strauss at 7:05 is on to something. It is a sendback to nationalism, the romantic hero and all the anti democratic force that entails. Terrible.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:04 PM
  87. When I was a boy, there were still kids who made anti-Semitic jokes. You couldn’t avoid casual anti-Semitism. For my children, even that is gone.  Nowadays, Jews are just white.  Sure, in some places - Port Arthur, Texas, say - if you don’t belong to a church you have no social existence- but Jews don’t live in Port Arthur.  In fact, the anti-Semitism that younger Jews are most likely to confront is from the more strident opponents of Israel on college campuses- and I hope I haven’t just turned this thread into a free-for-all about Israel- but my point is that the right has pretty much abandoned the rank discrimination that it used to practice against Jews.

    Posted by Peter  on  01/07  at  04:55 PM
  88. Peter, you’d have just started an argument with me with your apparent equation of very harsh criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
    Fortunately the thread is dead.  And anyway I’ve had that argument recently elsewhere and am tired of the subject at the moment.

    I gotta remind myself more often of your existence, Michael.  This was a great thread.  I agreed with bellatrys on the US role in increasing the influence of the Islamic fundamentalists.  I half-agree and half-disagree with your criticism of the “knee-jerk” response of the far left to 9/11.
    My knee jerked a little too hard, but a slightly softer jerk would have been just right.  To be more specific, I should have very tentatively supported the invasion of Afghanistan while feeling great uneasiness about our supposed good intentions and humanitarian intent.  You can never go too far wrong distrusting US government intentions, but sometimes you can miss the fact that US military intervention can be the lesser of two or more evils.

    Otherwise my kneejerk reaction was correct. 
    It took people about a year, but even conservatives started to admit that US policy of supporting dictators had contributed to the popularity of Muslim extremists.  Of course the conservatives were making this admission in preparation for the attack on Iraq which would wash away all our foreign policy sins, but I always welcome truthful statements from people, even conservatives, no matter what their motives might be.

    BTW, Hitch hasn’t rejected his past.  He’s inconsistent on this as best I can tell, since he’s been hobnobbing with exactly the same crowd he used to call fascist back in the 80’s.  That little contradiction aside, he still thinks that America’s Cold War atrocities were atrocities and I even saw him being somewhat gracious with respect to Chomsky’s pre 9/11 positions in an essay he wrote responding to an attack by Norman Finkelstein.  On the other hand, I think Hitch is said to have voted for Thatcher, so if that’s true there was something a little odd about his leftism all along

    Time to go to bed.  What sort of obsessive types up long posts on long-dead threads?  Don’t answer that one truthfully.

    Posted by  on  01/14  at  01:54 AM
  89. This is, at its core, a psychological question. Political conversion is much like religious conversion, and this article, though it doesn’t have a lot of answers, does shed a little light on the question.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  11:35 AM





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