Don’t worry, I won’t be droning on about neoconservatives all day. But Andrew Sullivan’s “Quote of the Day” leaves me a bit flummoxed. Here’s the whole post:
“Neoconservatives used to give two cheers for capitalism; now four or five seem hardly sufficient. They once promoted a hard realism in foreign policy, to counteract the pacifist idealism they saw among Democrats in the Seventies; now they flirt with an eschatological faith in America’s mission civilisatrice, to be fulfilled by military means. They once offered a complex view of bourgeois culture in its relation to economic and political life; now they are in the grip of an apocalyptic vision of post-Sixties America that prevents them from contributing anything constructive to our culture. How these eschatological and apocalyptic ideas about America can exist in the same breast, without some effort at reconciliation, remains a mystery to every outsider who glances at a neoconservative magazine today. They appeal, though, to political Straussians, whose hearts beat arhythmically to both Sousa’s [Stars and Stripes Forever] and Wagner’s [Gotterdammerung].” – Mark Lilla, in the second of two brilliant essays in the New York Review of Books. Lilla is a big defender of Leo Strauss’ life and thought, which makes his critique of what has become of “Straussianism,” especially in its current Washington life-form, all the more damning.
ME: Lilla’s a smart guy and all that. And since I don’t subscribe to the New York Review of Books I can’t get through to the whole article. But this strikes me as a honeycomb of non-sequiturs and stolen bases. Since when has neoconservatism ever been synonymous with Straussianism? Maybe Lilla defines his terms better in the full article, but this quote makes it sound like that’s what he’s saying and if it is, that’s just dumb. And it’s unfortunate for Sullivan to offer tacit approval of that sentiment by offering this quote as a stand-alone statement.
Also, if some neoconservatives — like Irving Kristol — once practiced a “hard realism” in foreign policy others, like Norman Podhoretz and Ben Wattenberg, were also profoundly idealistic. Sure, they were hawks, but idealistic hawks. Speaking of Irving Kristol, one gets the sense that Lilla is saying that Irving Kristolism, Straussianism and neoconservatism are all the same thing. Given Lilla’s history with the Kristol family, that’s interesting but it’s not exactly persuasive.