Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger devoted his Impromptus to a new book by Michael Walsh: The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West. For that column, go here. As Mr. Nordlinger explained, he was not reviewing the book but jotting some notes, spurred by it. He continues that today, in this second and final installment.
One of Michael’s bêtes noires is Theodor Adorno, the Frankfurt School member and critical theorist. One of my favorite stories, of all time, involves Adorno.
The Salzburg Festival was honoring composers tarred as “degenerate.” Composers such as Zemlinsky, Schreker, and Korngold. The Nazis forbade them, when they came to power.
So, at the festival, you heard nothing but “The Nazis. The bad, bad Nazis, who did this terrible thing to these fine composers.”
I was hosting a lecture series, and one of our lecturers was an expert on this subject of the “degenerate composers.” In his prepared remarks, he talked about the Nazis and their mistreatment of these guys and their music.
When he finished, I said (something like), “You know, the Nazis were in power for twelve years: 1933 to 1945. Fewer years in Austria. The Nazis have not controlled concert halls or opera houses for well over half a century. And yet these composers have still not been performed very often. They have essentially been kept off stages. Why is that?”
And the expert, to his eternal credit, said (something like), “That’s right. These composers faced a second dictatorship,” meaning, the modernists. Meaning the panjandrums of Darmstadt and Frankfurt. “In fact,” he continued, “Theodor Adorno denounced these composers in language indistinguishable from the Nazis’.”
There you go. I was so grateful for the expert’s remarks, I can’t tell you. And I will never forget that phrase, “a second dictatorship.”
‐Michael speaks of leftist intellectuals and their hatred of America. I remember something Norman Podhoretz said, in one of his memoirs. He said that, even when he was at his leftest, he could not hate America. He always admired it — indeed, loved it — and thought it was a force for good in the world. He thought that the American Founding had been a blessing in the world.
I thought that too, even when I was at my leftest (which, frankly, wasn’t very left). (This period was pretty short-lived in any case.)
‐Michael writes of “self-styled revolutionaries” who constantly relive “the glory days of their youth” and profess fealty to “ideas a century older than they are.” He says, “The government programs they cherish date from the Roosevelt administration; never mind that schemes such as Social Security and Medicare, fraudulently conceived at the outset, are careening toward auto-destruction.”
I remember what I said over and over, when Senator Barack Obama was running in 2007 and ’08: “He’s so young, relatively, but he seems so old. He’s selling warmed-over McGovernism. It’s like the 1980s and ’90s passed him by entirely.”
‐I was about to write, “Michael and I share a pet peeve.” Actually, we share about a thousand pet peeves. Which one am I talking about now?
There are people who speak and write admiringly about Communist countries, totalitarian countries, “non-consensual countries,” as Robert Conquest sometimes said. But they don’t go live in those countries, do they? They admire them — and defend them, and excuse them — from the safety and comfort of free countries.
‐Reaching for a term to describe a certain blob, Michael says “Academic-Media Complex.” I tend to say “media-academia-entertainment complex.” We’re on to the same thing . . .
‐Michael writes the following: “Like Satan, the Left must always have something to ‘fight,’ lest it be rendered impotent, because its driving force . . . stems not from philosophy but emotion — hatred, resentment, envy, and malcontentment.”
Last summer, Mona Charen and I recorded a podcast with Roger Scruton. He said this:
I think that, in the end, there is something that unites all conservatives, which is that they are pursuing something they love. My view is that the Left is united by hatred, but we are united by love: love of our country, love of institutions, love of the law, love of family, and so on. And what makes us conservatives is the desire to protect those things, and we’re up against people who want to destroy them, and it’s very simple.
Yes. In fact, that’s the theme of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. (I’m talking about Michael Walsh’s book, not Schubert’s opera, but I don’t really know the opera, while I know the book.)
True, there is hatred on the right. Flaming hatred. But we can address that issue, again, some other time . . .
(Isn’t that a popular song?) (Echoes of On the Town.)
‐Get ready for some bracing Walsh. Actually, there’s little Walsh that’s not bracing, right? Here we go:
We are engaged, as Lincoln noted, in a great civil war, this one not yet fought with weapons [“yet”!], but with ideas. In the Left’s attempt to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America, it has used every other weapon in its arsenal, from indoctrination to fabrication, from “moral” suasion based on no morality at all to an unapologetic celebration of hedonism and sybaritism . . . To its everlasting shame, it has convinced women to murder their own babies in the name of “rights” . . .
There’s more, lots more. A Niagara of bracingness.
‐The media, says Michael, “subscribe, however consciously or unconsciously, to the following beliefs, which drive how they select or ignore stories: The U.S. is incorrigibly racist; racism is often hard to detect but always present; racism plays a role in nearly every news story, especially when it’s not at all clear that it does. Call it the Holy Ghost theory of racism, explained by the secular version of Original Sin.”
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Bravo, maestro.
‐Writes Michael (in disapproval), “The idea that crime is a function of poverty or the legacy of slavery (which ended in 1865), or that it results from some combination of other social ailments, is axiomatic.”
One of the reasons I appreciated Ed Koch, when he was mayor of New York, is that he said: There is no link between poverty and crime. Period. In the teeth of the Depression, when men were throwing themselves off buildings in desperation, you could sleep in Central Park. Get over this nonsense. Drop it.
And this phrase “the legacy of slavery”? It is one of the most mischievous, misguided, ill-working phrases in our vocabulary. Thomas Sowell addressed it in a recent podcast with me, here.
‐You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Listen to Michael:
When the returns on women as mascots began diminishing, gays became the cause du jour; and with little other than same-sex marriage in the cards for gays, “trans” people have now become the new object of pity society must be coerced to love. Once they’ve had their day, some yet smaller, more outré group — polygamists? pedophiles? animal fanciers? — will be picked out and their hurt feelings at the larger society’s considering their lusts bizarre will be engraved on the cudgel with which the institution of the family will continue to be beaten bloody.
Whoa. Let me catch my breath for a second.
Polygamists are the low-hanging fruit — who can argue against consent? — but I would not rule the pedophiles out, not by a long shot. The animal fanciers, I’m not so sure about. Clash of pieties? On one hand, “If it feels good, do it.” On the other, what will PETA say?
‐Michael thinks that conservatives have a powerful weapon at their disposal, namely heroism. “Fear is what they sell,” he says, “fear of the unknown.” By “they,” he means the Left.
Heroism is what we should be selling, heroism in the face of the unknown. No matter how they may try to reframe the heroes of myth and legend, it is impossible for them to hammer heroes from Ulysses to Dirty Harry into a Marxist cosmology. Our heroes are too individualistic, too contrarian; they don’t care what the world thinks of them, they only want to do what is right.
‐In a passage about the civil rights movement, Michael made me smile — because what he says is so true, and so rarely said.
The civil rights movement — their one ostensible triumph [the Left’s] — was largely a story of the center of American politics: The old liberals for whom the New Left had nothing but contempt united with boring Republicans to defang racist Southern Democrats. But that matters not a whit to them. If it was good, it was a deed of the Left; if it was a deed of the Left, it was good.
‐Here is a truth that’s fundamental, but, again — I don’t hear it that often: “Young men are dangerous, because they are young men. They are soldiers and criminals, inventive artists and moral monsters, capable of astounding heroism and utter brutality.”
‐Brace yourselves: “We once saw children as part of a family’s storehouse of wealth, a protection against old age and an investment in the future of the bloodline and the species, not burdens or biological inconveniences to be terminated on a whim.”
‐Some readers may remember this from the ’80s — Michael certainly does: The hard-line Communists in the Kremlin were the “conservatives”; and the Reaganites, of course, were conservatives too. So all the bad guys, in the media narrative, were conservatives!
‐Of the Frankfurt Schoolers, Michael says this: “Having seized academia, they left a legacy in the cancerous growth of ‘studies’ departments (gender, race, queer, whatever) that infest the modern university at the expense of classical learning.”
This put me in mind of Jeb Bush. I taped an interview with him a few years ago. I noted that, at Texas, he had majored in Latin American studies. Wasn’t this field dominated by lefties? “Well, most ‘studies’ are dominated by lefties, when you think about it,” he said. True, true.
‐I have headed my series on Michael Walsh “Beat the Devil.” That was the title of a Claud Cockburn novel. Which became a movie. It was also used by Cockburn’s son Alexander as the heading of his regular column for The Nation. The Cockburns, of course, were leftists.
Never mind: That’s Michael’s mission, to beat the devil.
‐Bill Casey’s funeral featured a eulogy by Jeane Kirkpatrick. Casey, she said, was not “afraid of the devil.” Neither is Michael, thank heaven.