Just one of the questions Tevi Troy asks me in his New Books in Public Policy podcast.
I know, I know, after reading the epic post below, the one thing you want is more. But since I merely asserted that Klein didn’t understand, or even read, Liberal Fascism I figure I should at least justify the statement.
He writes that the “essential point [of Liberal Fascism] was a simple one: fascists believe in state control of almost everything, and so do liberals.”
“There was one small flaw in this argument, though,” Klein continues. “Liberals don’t believe that at all. They may favor government action to bail out the auto companies, but they don’t favor government auto companies.”
I love that Klein sees this as something of a knock-out punch. I can even see him doing his best Howard Cosell yelling “Down goes Goldberg! Down goes Goldberg!” And no doubt there’s a strawman somewhere struggling mightily to get off the mat.
First of all, the whole idea behind Fascist economics is that it doesn’t seek to take over whole industries, but merely regulate or bully them as de facto, though not necessarily de jure, extensions of the state. As long as you play ball with the government’s agenda, the government will let you keep your “independence,” and, often, your profits.
This is called “corporatism” (though the Nazis called it Gleichschaltung) and it’s a subject that has been discussed a great deal over the last three years, in no small part because that is exactly what we’ve witnessed from President Obama’s treatment of the auto industry (not to mention, finance, green energy, healthcare etc). Klein seems to have missed this national discussion entirely including in Liberal Fascism, which he claims to have read.
As for liberalism, it’s not so much that liberals want to control everything. But they do have a hard time explaining what isn’t the state’s business. Just consider the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare hearing. The Court asked the Solicitor General for a “limiting principle” to the role of government under the Commerce Clause. Can the government really compel citizens to eat broccoli? The Obama administration couldn’t say. And, I suspect, neither could Klein.
Joe Klein, who was in my youth an interesting writer, has reviewed The Tyranny of Clichés for the New York Times. If you work from the reasonable assumption that he set out to pan the book — and me — from the start, it’s something of a rave, full of grudging compliments and concessions. Indeed, according to Klein, “Goldberg’s erudition can entertain and enlighten.” I should’ve had him blurb it!
The problem, of course, is that Mr. Klein comes not to praise me, but to bury me, and such compliments are intended to generate an air of regret that I’ve squandered what little talent and insight I have on such bilge (he even ends the review with groan-worthy “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”). Indeed, the most grating thing about the review is Klein’s studied pose as my better, who’s been forced to render an opinion of my work at all. Most of us know the type. Someone who assumes that he knows more than you and then proceeds to demonstrate he doesn’t, but from a great height. To that end, the review is peppered with the sort of haughty concessions you might expect from a professor who really doesn’t think you’re worth his time.
In short, I’m not all that bothered by what I think are his unjustifiably low opinions of my work, but I really can’t abide his unjustifiably high opinion of himself.
One quick point about Liberal Fascism. My first book still serves as something of a liberal emetic. It elicits vomitous exhalations of bilious nonsense. There’s just something about that damn book that many liberals can’t make peace with or contend with honestly. It can be very annoying, but I also take it as a compliment. If the book didn’t matter so much, they’d stop bringing it up and distorting what it says. So I take some pleasure in the fact that he spends the first quarter of the review of my new book whining about a book that came out four years ago. And I think it’s outright funny how he claims to understand it.
The Serious v. The Silly
Before I get into the weeds — and what is the point of having a blog dedicated to your book, if not to get into the weeds on such things? — I will admit one mistake. As various reviewers have noted, The Tyranny of Clichés is really two books in one. The first book is a serious, sustained argument about the nature of ideology in general and liberal ideology in particular. The other book is intended to entertain the reader. The problem is that they are the same book. People who get that tend to enjoy the book. As Mark Hemingway writes, “It’s quite a feat to write a polemic about byzantine ideological disputes and political semantics and make it thoroughly enjoyable.”
But here’s the problem I did not fully anticipate. The fun parts — let’s call them “silly” — and the serious parts can work against each other if a reviewer is working from bad faith or is simply obtuse.
Enter Mr. Klein.
Vast swaths of his review play the trick of treating the serious arguments of the book as if they were silly and the silly parts as if I were deadly serious. For instance, he takes my argument ad absurdam about centrism and reduces it to this:
One of Goldberg’s next targets — and we’re still in the introduction, by the way — is centrism, which he sees as a particularly insidious brand of liberal obtuseness: “Well, the Wahhabis want to kill all the gays and Jews. The Sufis don’t want to kill any gays or Jews. So the moderate, sensible position must be to kill just the gays, but not the Jews. . . . The point is that sometimes the extreme is 100 percent correct while the centrist position is 100 percent wrong.”
Would it be pedestrian, in a decidedly liberal way, for me to point out that this sort of argument is not merely infantile, but a sly denigration of the necessary compromises that are at the heart of almost every real policy dispute? Figuring out how to calculate cost-of-living increases for Social Security is not an all-or-nothing proposition. But Goldberg is not interested in anything so quotidian as actual governance.
Well yes, it is pedestrian in a decidedly liberal way for him to say this. When I write: “The point is that sometimes the extreme is 100 percent correct while the centrist position is 100 percent wrong,” I mean “Sometimes the extreme position is 100 percent correct.” Does he deny that? Or does he honestly believe the difference-splitting middle is always right?
Well, maybe he does. Like so many in his phylum, Klein is fixated on the issue of “compromise.” These days, “compromise” means conservatives should cave in on all of the big issues and liberals should be gracious about not rubbing it in too hard. Amusingly, this is a major theme of my book, and Klein not only doesn’t really seem to understand it but – like Piers Morgan before him — seems determined to illustrate the point for me.
He says that real policy disputes revolve around how much Social Security checks should go up, and that it is “infantile” for me to suggest otherwise. In other words, according to Klein conservatives are grown-ups when they agree to the status quo and/or growth in the size of government, but they are extremists when they suggest more structural reforms. Liberals, meanwhile, are grown-ups when they agree to bend a little on how much bigger the checks should be and, I surmise, they are never extremists because Joe Klein’s version of liberalism is never wrong. Ultimately, any effort more ambitious than slowing the rate of increase in entitlement spending is, by Klein’s lights, extremist.
No wonder he doesn’t like the book. It’s as if I wrote it about him!
The Wasteland Chapters
So much for him taking the silly stuff seriously. Now here’s Klein treating the serious stuff as if it were silly:
And so we get whole chapters wasted in combat against the tides of standard English usage, in which it is argued that having an “ideology” or “dogma” is not a form of extremism. If you have one of the above, Goldberg posits, it just means you have a “worldview.” Even pragmatism, that classic American anti-ideology, is a worldview — although a rather smarmy one, since William James’s “moral equivalent of war” was a liberal cliché: “In Europe James’s will to believe joined forces with Nietzsche’s will to power and produced the ideas that led to Italian Fascism.” Who knew?
First of all, if Klein thinks the first few chapters are aimed at the “tides of English usage” his grasp of what constitutes English usage is shakier than he thinks. You might say, I suppose, that I am combating common liberal usage in the hope that it doesn’t become any more established as common English usage.
Regardless, I don’t merely “posit” that ideology and dogma aren’t forms of extremism (though some ideologies can certainly be extremist); I make a sustained argument in this regard. Indeed, I do so for “whole chapters,” as he puts it. His hand-waving dismissal doesn’t change that fact. Moreover, my arguments about dogma and ideology are hardly unique to me, or even all that controversial, as anyone who has read the book will know. I align myself with G. K. Chesterton, William F. Buckley, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, and quite a few others on this point. Klein shows not the slightest interest in taking these arguments seriously. Perhaps because he can’t.
A Word on Pragmatism
As for pragmatism, this is a bit more controversial and complicated because it does brand itself as anti-ideological. But of course it is a worldview. Even — especially! — William James wouldn’t dispute that. Pragmatism seeks to reduce notions of eternal truth to more handy conceptions of usable truth. Famously, James measured truth by its “cash value.” But that doesn’t mean James rejected the idea of making dogmatic commitments. “Democracy,” James explained, “is a kind of religion, and we are bound not to admit its failure. Faiths and utopias are the noblest exercise of human reason, and no one with a spark of reason in him will sit down fatalistically before the croaker’s picture.”
Does that really not count as a worldview or ideology? Really? Ironically, James was far more open to the idea that different ideologies, or worldviews, are legitimate if they work for you. Such open-mindedness certainly can’t be found in abundance among today’s liberals (like Klein) who witlessly and maliciously insist that the tea parties are two holes in a pillowcase shy of being Klansmen simply because they think government is too big and Obama is spending too much.
Take Out Your Red Pens
Actually, I’m a modest fan of William James himself, as I note in the book. Besides, it was the later pragmatists and progressives who made a mess of things and turned a sincere effort to be unbiased into a marketing effort for progressivism and, eventually, a self-serving myth of liberalism’s monopoly on empiricism. I am happy to discuss this more in future posts (or you could just read the book), but let’s get back to Klein.
Klein scoffs at the idea that James’s “moral equivalent of war” has become a cliché of the liberal mind. But he makes no effort to dispute the point because, I assume, he can’t. Still, if Klein seriously thinks that liberalism hasn’t been enthralled by the quest to find a “moral equivalent of war” over the last century, I’m tempted to say he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
But then he removes the temptation entirely and replaces it with the obligation to say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “Who knew?” he tweely writes of my suggestion that James’s will to believe and Nietzsche’s will to power were merged to help form the foundation of Italian fascism.
Who knew? Well, for starters Mussolini knew. A lover of Nietzsche, Il Duce often cited James as one of his greatest influences. He was probably exaggerating a bit but, more important, Mussolini and the amorphous group of socialist, syndicalist, and pragmatist intellectuals who laid the foundation for fascism were deep readers of Georges Sorel, whose influence on fascism is not disputed by anyone who knows anything about the intellectual roots of fascism. Sorel and similar thinkers swam in the tide of Nietzschean pragmatism (Julian Benda’s phrase) that flowed across the West at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Here’s the philosopher Lee Harris:
Combining Nietzsche with William James, Sorel discovered the secret of Nietzsche’s will to power in James’s will to believe. James, like Pareto, had shown that certain spontaneously occurring beliefs enabled those who held these beliefs to thrive and to prosper, both as individuals and societies. But if this were true of spontaneously occurring beliefs, could it not also be true of beliefs that were deliberately and consciously manufactured?
(By the way, perhaps my favorite liberal philosopher, Richard Rorty, argued that Nietzsche and James were committed to the same project, although they came at it from different ends.)
I’m not contending that my argument about Nietzsche and James is the only legitimate point of view, but anyone familiar with the works of A. James Gregor, Ze’ev Sternhell, John Patrick Diggins, et al. will concede that it is a legitimate point of view. Why Klein’s ignorance should count in his favor is beyond me. Oh, and if he actually read Liberal Fascism, as he claims, he’d be familiar with all of this since I talk about it over and over again.
By the end Klein simply starts to unravel entirely. It’s easy to imagine him dictating the last bits from his fainting couch, as he gestures for his attendants to bring him a cold rag for his brow. Assuming you’re still with me, I promise to keep it briefer than Klein deserves.
He suggests I’m being absurd when I write: “Liberals are uncomfortable with the topic of patriotism because their core philosophical impulses are to make America a different country than it is.”
“In other words,” Klein responds, “the reforming instinct — the progressive insistence that meat be inspected by the government, for example — is inherently un-American because it’s a first step down the slippery slope toward government control?”
Yes, that is exactly what I am saying! Meat inspections are unpatriotic!
(Actually, I make no such slippery-slope argument, but he makes a slippery-slope inference. Also, I never say liberals are unpatriotic, I say they are confused about patriotism. For instance, Barack Obama has voiced his desire to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” a locution, I think, that is hard to square with a love for America as it is. Don’t believe me? Tell your wife or husband, “Honey, I love you, I just want to fundamentally transform you.”)
Finally, Klein completely abandons his condescending professorial pose and just throws his dress over his head. He writes, for example:
After a while, it just becomes exhausting. “Feminism was in no small part launched as a Trojan horse for an older and more familiar Marxist assault.” And “No Jews were tortured in the Spanish Inquisition” (only “former” Jews who claimed conversion to Catholicism were, but Jews were treated far better by the Muslims than by the Catholics, a fact Goldberg neglects). Gandhi evinced “stunning naïveté” and was, occasionally, “incandescently dumb,” without a mention of the impact of his philosophy on the American civil rights movement or the collapse of the Soviet empire. Does Goldberg really believe this stuff? Or is he just being tendentious for rhetorical effect?
Well, yes, I do really believe this stuff. What I want to know is whether Klein thinks any of this amounts to an impressive rejoinder or is he just monkey-dancing for the readers of the New York Times Book Review as the editors churn the organ grinder? Does Klein dispute that Gandhi was “incandescently dumb” when he advised the Jews of Germany to commit mass suicide? How about after the war, when Gandhi said, “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife”? Does he know George Orwell and I see eye to eye on this? Is Klein arguing that Gandhi was savvy and smart when he told the British to surrender the British Isles to the Nazis? Does he deny Gandhi was naïve to call Hitler his friend? And what does Gandhi’s influence on the American civil-rights movement have to do with anything?
While we’re at it, does Klein dispute that Betty Friedan was a water carrier for Marxism? (Before he answers he might want to review her work over at Marxists.org.) What do his “gotchas” about the Catholic Church have to do with anything I’ve written? How are they even “gotchas”?
In the Tyranny of Clichés I write that liberals are largely ignorant of, and disconnected from, their own intellectual history and blind to their own dogmatic and ideological commitments. As a result, their thinking has become calcified, and they tend to mask their ideological agenda behind clichés that sound more intelligent and harmless than they really are. I want to thank Mr. Klein for proving my point.
In TOC, I have a long discussion about “Lady Justice” and how the concept of social justice is at war with the idea that justice should be blind.
The notion that justice must be impartial and universal, showing neither favor nor animus to rich or poor, became one of the most revolutionary and liberating ideals in the history of humanity. As with any ideal, nobody has ever perfectly implemented it, but the conviction that one should try was the engine of human progress for millennia, toppling the divine right of kings and laying the groundwork for democracy and the rule of law. That’s why Lady Justice stands vigil outside our own Supreme Court and is given full expression in the Supreme Court justices’ oath of office. Each justice vows to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon [me] . . . under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”
But, hey man, times change.
So argued the progressives. Drunk on a rich cocktail of Hegel, Darwin, and Dewey, they believed that they were smart enough to scavenge what they thought useful from the whole mule cart of Western civilization, and then throw the rest of it off the cliffside of history, clanging and banging its way down the memory hole. They would start over. Fresh. Blank sheet. They would rebuild Lady Justice, stronger, faster, better (cue bionic man sound effect). Here’s New Republic editor Herbert Croly writing of Lady Justice’s need for a total makeover.
In the past, common-law justice has been appropriately symbolized as a statuesque lady with a bandage over her eyes and a scale in her fair hands. The figurative representation of social justice would be a different kind of woman equipped with a different col- lection of instruments. Instead of having her eyes blindfolded, she would wear perched upon her nose a most searching and forbid- ding pair of spectacles, one which combined the vision of a microscope, a telescope, and a photographic camera. Instead of holding scales in her hand, she might perhaps be figured as possessing a much more homely and serviceable set of tools. She would have a hoe with which to cultivate the social garden, a watering-pot with which to refresh it, a barometer with which to measure the pressure of the social air, and the indispensable type- writer and filing cabinet with which to record the behavior of society. . . . [H]aving within her the heart of a mother and the passion for taking sides, she has disliked the inhuman and mechanical task of holding a balance between verbal weights and measures.
Alas, this book doesn’t come with illustrations, because I would rather enjoy commissioning an artist’s rendition of a woman outfitted to look like a cross-dressing hybrid of Mr. Gadget and Granny Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies, as the great symbol of progressive jurisprudence.
Well, the folks over at RightNation have given a whirl at drawing Croly’s vision of Lady Justice.
If you’re artistically inclined, send me your version. Best submission gets a tote bag! (Sounds better if you say “Tote Bag!” like Oprah).
Yet effectively rebutting liberal arguments isn’t where this book shines the most. Goldberg quotes George Orwell’s famous observation that “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” Of course, the real need goes beyond restating the obvious; it’s finding a way to make the obvious engaging. And here, Goldberg succeeds admirably. Which is not to say that The Tyranny of Clichés is without flaws. A few chapters feel needlessly discursive, and some topics could stand to be fleshed out a bit. Given Tyranny’s short length and wide ideological/historical sweep, it would be nearly impossible for most readers not to have a few objections, or stumble across places where they feel the argument could be made better. Still, it’s quite a feat to write a polemic about byzantine ideological disputes and political semantics and make it thoroughly enjoyable. If you’re interested in giving a precocious student or open-minded liberal an explanation for why they should take the trouble to understand conservatism, this is the book to give them. There’s a good chance they’ll actually read it; it will likely make them do some rethinking; and it almost certainly will make them laugh.
Bonus! Andy Ferguson’s great cover story on the New Phrenology (sound familiar?) calls The Tyranny of Clichés “Dazzling.”
Bonus II!: In his review over at Goodreads.com, Mark Hemingway calls TOC: “… might be the best and most fun-to-read primer on the tenets of conservative politics since P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores.”
Update: The Hemingway review is now out from behind the firewall.
Rich has a very good column on Obama’s “sudden” change of mind on the issue. He writes:
The president’s willingness finally to say what he believes increased the sense among gay-marriage supporters that final victory is inevitable. History with a capital “H” is on their side. The 21st century itself is practically synonymous with gay marriage. Although this smug confidence will envelop President Obama as he campaigns in such lucrative precincts as George Clooney’s living room, it badly overstates gay marriage’s prospects.
History is littered with the wreckage of causes pronounced inevitable by all right-thinking people. The failed Equal Rights Amendment looked inevitable when it passed Congress in 1972 and immediately 30 states ratified it. Opposition to abortion that was supposed to inevitably wither away is as robust as ever. The forces favoring gun control seemed unstoppably on the march when Congress passed the Brady Bill and the assault-weapons ban in the 1990s, but there are more protections for gun rights now than two decades ago.
It just so happens that “the right side of history” is one of the topics I discuss early in the book. My chief problem with the “right side of history” argument is that it is used an appeal to the authority of an imagined future that hasn’t even happened yet. It is a way of saying to your opponents: you should give up not because your arguments are wrong but because you will eventually lose anyway. It is an attempt to demoralize your opponents not engage them. Some excerpts:
How often do we hear people say we must “get on the right side of his- tory,” as if they know their own history? “When they say it, what do people mean?” asks my National Review colleague, Jay Nordlinger.
They may mean “my side,” or “the good side,” or “the side that posterity will smile on.” People may be alluding to the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy. Or they may be alluding to the ultimate triumph of socialism, or a stricter form of collectivism. For generations, the Left has assumed that history marches with them: Get out of the way, or be crushed.
The phrase has what British historian Robert Conquest calls a “Marxist twang.” The Marxists believed that history was predictable and unidirectional, so of course there must be a right side and a wrong side to it. The candle makers were on the wrong side, the lightbulb makers the right side. But history doesn’t work like that. There were times when it was obvious that technology aided tyrants and there have been times— much like our own—when it seemed equally obvious that technology must liberate the individual. The truth is, it must do neither. As Richard Pipes tells Nordlinger, “The whole notion is nonsensical.” To which Nordlinger adds, “History does not have sides, although historians do.”
Marxism surely contributed to the idea that there’s a right side to history, but the chief culprit is the arrogance of the present (Marxism, one could say, is a subspecies of this arrogance). We look back on the past and see it as prologue to our moment in time. History becomes a movie for which we know the ending and we think the characters of yesteryear are fools for not seeing it, too. Like the idiot teenager who declares, “I’ll search the attic” in a horror movie, we marvel at the stupidity of earlier generations.
I pick up the conversation later in the chapter on the “slippery slope.”
The problem with the slippery slope cliché is not that it doesn’t describe a real problem; it’s that it describes a real problem poorly. Of course precedents matter. But slippery slope metaphors can be pernicious because they discount, even remove, the dynamism of human agency…..
Then after a dissection of the boiling frog and domino theory metaphors that often dominate slipper-slope arguments, I write:
…. When a domino hits another domino, there’s no chance that there will be a domino backlash where the dominoes band together to fight back against the trend of domino toppling. Yes, the falling of the first domino increases the odds that the next one will fall, just as legal- izing gay marriage does make legalizing polygamy more likely. But the similarity ends there, not least because humans aren’t dominos, and we cannot compute the probabilities of human actions nearly as easily. If the government funds Catholic schools, then opponents of funding of religious schools will say it’s a slippery slope, and we’ll have to fund all religious schools, including jihadist madrasas and Satanic academies. But that’s not true. Rather, if we give money to Catholic schools then some people will say we have to give money to jihadists and Satanists, because fairness and consistency requires that we do so. These people will fall into four general groups: jihadists, Satanists, lawyers, and idiots. And it is the duty of all good men to marshal the energy and will to tell jihadists, Satanists, lawyers, and idiots: “No.”
Consider civil liberties, the breeding ground of slippery slope argu- ments. There have been countless moments in American history when civil libertarians, on both the right and the left, have insisted that we must not do something to avoid careening down the slippery slope. Now if the slippery slope were the phenomenon they claim, America today should be a police state. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
With the arguable exception of the Civil War (and, of course, the institution of slavery), the lowest point in American civil liberties wasn’t during the Bush years, or the Nixon years. It was during the administra- tion of Woodrow Wilson—who oversaw the censoring of scores of pub- lications, the incarceration of political prisoners, the imposition of loyalty oaths, dissemination of sweeping propaganda, and the wholesale and of- ten bloody intimidation of dissenters. At any time during this period one could have raised the specter of the slippery slope—and many decent people did. But guess what happened next? The country swung back to normal. The American people threw out the progressive Democrats responsible for the bedlam and voted in Republicans who ran on the plat- form of a “return to normalcy.” It fell to the Republican president Warren Harding to show clemency to the political prisoners held by the Wil- son administration.
This raises one of the most underappreciated dynamics of the Amer- ican political system, and of democracy generally. Regular elections are circuit breakers. They stop—or at least can stop—the acceleration of slippery slope impulses. A change in party power often—though perhaps not often enough—halts the transmission of error. Totalitarian systems have no such circuit breakers—no checks and balances—and, hence, good intentions more easily snowball into evil results.
It is those areas of American life most immunized from democracy and partisanship that are most susceptible to slippery slope problems precisely because they are not democratically accountable. Bureaucracy is a superconductor of bad ideas. No democratic or market-based system would ever shut down lemonade stands; the circuit breaker would kick in long before the cops made some six-year-old girl cry.
It is when the circuit breakers are turned off or bypassed—for instance, during a war—that slippery slope problems flourish.
Anyway, we may yet come to a point where gay marriage is an unremarkable institution in everyday life in the United States, but if we do it won’t be because it will be inevitable. Very little in the affairs of men is inevitable.
Here are my radio appearances for today:
8:05-8:15amEST WXKS Radio (Talk 1200 AM, Boston)/The Jeff Katz Show
8:35-8:44amEST WLS-RADIO (Chicago)/The Don & Roma Show
9:08-9:22amEST WROK-RADIO (Cumulus 1440 AM, Rockford, IL)/WROK’s Morning Show
10:06-10:28amEST GENESIS COMMUNICATION NETWORK (Fargo, ND)/The Scott Hennen Show
10:45-10:55amEST KSFO-RADIO (Cumulus 560 AM, San Francisco)/The KSFO Morning Show with Brian Sussman
11:15-11:25amEST KKSF-RADIO (910 AM, San Francisco) & KSTE-RADIO (650 AM, Sacramento)/The Armstrong and Getty Show
4:00-4:20pmEST KKHT-RADIO/Salem Radio Network, Houston
5:35-5:55pmEST WHO-RADIO (Des Moines)/The Simon Conway Show
A very nice reader review from long time reader, Len:
I finished Tyranny last night and closed the book wishing I hadn’t just finished it. In the way it shone light into dark corners, it was like Liberal Fascism, but it was a “funner” read. Your instinct for deploying humor at the right moment in service of a serious point is the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe in this way, Tyranny was more “like” you, at least to me.
It surely will not fail to infuriate all the right people. If Piers Morgan does actually bring himself to read it, and is sufficiently self-aware to see how perfectly he played into your overall thesis, my guess is your invitation to reappear will quietly get lost in the shuffle. A more exact caricature of the liberalism you describe could hardly have been devised. It had to have been exasperating – I know I couldn’t have done it – but you patiently allowed him to make an utter jackass of himself. I thank you for that.
One question: The blows kept landing with increasing force as the book progressed, but the ending was a complete stunner. Had the Zimmerman/Martin story broken before Tyranny went to print, or did you write “You will not lynch this man today” by mere chance?
I looked up from the page and involuntarily muttered, “Damn!”
From a reader:
Over the years, I have been struck by your habit of leading your readers to your most vicious critics.It is an admirable trait, but I wish you would reconsider sharing the limelight with a true hack like Mr. Pareene. It borders on masochism.
There is enough nastiness in the world, please don’t lend it credibility. There is nothing redeeming about a man whose life work is mocking others
Update: I liked this email, obviously:
Even Hamilton would not have found this fellow to be duel worthy. It is, however, a sad commentary on our society when some hack can publish such mean spirited nonsense (which includes attacks on your mother), have the gall to say he is bullying you and then not have even the slightest fear of being punched in the head. The world of Twitter is annoying.
Btw, I have been reading your stuff for more than 12 years and think you are one of the best writers out there.
I was waiting for the nastiness to start. And so it has. Here’s Alex Pareene who long ago carved out the time-honored junior hack’s role of denouncing alleged hacks more successful than him. I’m not going to bother with most of this garbage since I have actual work to do, but since Pareene has been taunting me on twitter about how he’s “bullying” me, I figured I’d take the bait enough to acknowledge the piece. You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions about its merits and the intent behind it.
But one general point: Pareene and many of my critics over the years seem fixated on this idea that I am desperate to be taken “seriously.” I’ve always found this claim to be odd. If I was so desperate to be taken seriously — which I will admit I probably was in my 20s for the usual reasons — I would not write the way I write. I would not talk the way I talk. None of you would know anything about my dog, and my Twitter pic would not be Cosmo in a birthday hat. I can fake the Washington tropes of self-seriousness as well as anybody. The only problem: I don’t see why I should bother.
I think what confuses some people is that while I don’t take myself all that seriously, I do take ideas seriously. But even that doesn’t mean one has to stop having fun or start treating everything like it’s of deadly, earth-shattering importance. If you read the Tyranny of Cliches, you’ll pretty much see the same person you’ve known from NRO and the G-File for years, because that’s who I am. (Ironically, Bill Kristol, much to my pleasant surprise, made something of the same point in his generous introductory remarks about me yesterday at AEI). Indeed, that’s why I enjoyed writing this book so much more than Liberal Fascism — because I got to write with my voice, something I felt I couldn’t really do in my first book. If you don’t like my voice or my ideas, you probably won’t like me. And that’s okay with me.
Moreover, as a conservative, I honestly believe in being a happy warrior when at all possible. First of all, you sleep better. Second, conservatives are constantly cast as grumpy, anally retentive, bigots. If you can demonstrate in your arguments and your actions that you come from the same country and the same culture as everybody else it helps. My friend Andrew Breitbart and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, but on this we were in complete agreement: Enjoy yourself, it pisses all the right people off. And if you can make people laugh and think in the process – and make a living from it – you’re way ahead of the game. And when the trolls start attacking you for it, it’s a sign you’re being effective.
There’s a blog over at Forbes dedicated to following young people and their attitudes. The whole thing strikes me as a tribute to the clichéd feitishization of youth I discuss in my book. The bulk of Steven Richer’s argument is that Republicans have hurt themselves today because young people are in favor of gay marriage and so one day young people will hold it against the Republicans. This is a very commonplace argument. It amounts to saying, “if the youth are for it there’s no point being against it.” This is s a pretty undemocratic and unrealistic way of looking at politics because it assumes attitudes are baked into the cake and there’s no reason to try to persuade young people they are wrong. The upshot is that we must therefore bend politics and policy to the fashionable attitudes of the least informed, least experienced and least mature voting demographic. It’s amazing how everyone understands in their own lives that young people are a mixture of naivete and passion, but if you multiply their numbers into a whole age cohort, suddenly they are wise beyond their years. Given this logic, why not skip ahead and just pander to toddlers now?
Richer also asks a telling question:
Just one question for the conservatives: How is using the government to impose your vision of “the good” — no gay marriage — any different than when President Obama uses the government to impose his vision of “the good” — universal healthcare?
This is shockingly silly. Look I’m a lot more open to gay marriage than most of colleagues around here, and I’ve been for civil unions since before they became so uncontroversial on the right. But the comparison is absurd. First of all, when it comes to gay marriage, the imposition is from the left, not the right. The status quo definition of marriage is what pro-same-sex marriage advocates want to overthrow, imposing their vision instead.
As for ObamaCare and gay marriage, I think the absurdity of the comparison should be largely self-evident. A vast new federal program running roughshod over the Constitutional order is not quite the same thing as various states reaffirming the longstanding definition of marriage. But here’s a different way to think about it. As Ryan Anderson put it in the Corner the other day, gays are free to call their relationships anything they want. They can say they’re married right now if they want. What the gay marriage movement wants is to compel everybody else, starting with the government and taxpayers, to recognize that relationship as a marriage too. Ryan writes:
What’s at issue is whether the government will recognize such unions as marriages — and then force every citizen and business to do so as well. This isn’t the legalization of something, this is the coercion and compulsion of others to recognize and affirm same-sex unions as marriages.
Now, again, I think there are good arguments on both sides of the issue. But the notion that keeping the longstanding definition of marriage in place is indistinguishable from ObamaCare is nuts. And it doesn’t become less nuts just because young people believe it.