The Corner

My Two Cents: Ditto

I think Ramesh and Rich have done much better job than I could responding to Sullivan. I’d just like to add two points of agreement with Ramesh.

First, on the neocon thing. I know I’ve gotten too deep into this before, but Ramesh is exactly right. There’s a double-spin on the history of conservative foreign policy which has been orchestrated in tandem by the leading neocons and by their liberal admirers. The idea that the mainstream conservative movement after 1945 was first and foremost “realist” or even isolationist in its orientation is largely myth. Many neocons, legend has it, had an annoying habit in the 1960s and 1970s of acting as if they “discovered” anti-Communism and that their ideological arguments were needed to provide the Right with backbone. This is nonsense. The neocons were more often less ideologically hawkish and more “realist” than the folks at National Review — who were championing rollback, not containment. The real realists on the Right were in the Republican Party, not the conservative movement: Eisenhower, Nixon, Kissinger et al. The Goldwater-Reagan crowd criticized detente more passionately than even those idealistic neocons did. It was Reagan who re-moralized American foreign policy after years of Nixonian detent and it’s simply not accurate to say that Reagan did so solely or even primarily as a mouthpiece for the neocons. The difference was and is that liberals tend to listen to the neocons more and hence conferred upon them a significance and aura of originality they did not deserve. This is just part of a long, long story of liberals trying — and largely successfully — to decide which conservatives are “legitimate” or “serious.”

Second: “Fisking.” I know the word began as something of a mode of criticism based upon critiques of Robert Fisk. But it has come to mean something else. I think Ramesh nailed this perfectly when he defined it as “criticizing with an unjustified air of having crushed the other side.” In this sense, I don’t mind “fisking” as a process or an adjective. What I detest is when it is self-declared. If fisking now means to humiliate through criticism and fact-checking or some such, fine. But it is in the minds of the audience to decide whether someone has been “fisked.” This should be abundantly clear if you replace the word with its synonyms. I would sound fairly presumptuous if I declared “I’ve crushed Glenn Reynolds argument today.”

I get emails from bloggers telling me they’ve “fisked me” all the time and, putting aside the fact this sounds like something unpleasant in a prison shower, when I read what they wrote I usually just think they’ve criticized me in fairly unimpressive ways. Leave it to the readers to decide who’s been “fisked.” None of this is particularly directed at Sullivan, but he may not fully appreciate the degree to which the meaning of the word has changed.


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