Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Tanenhaus Republicans and the Architecture of Intellectual Prestige

Should you wish to develop a critique of the conservative movement, yet are incapable of genuinely original thought, try to avoid borrowing your second-hand ideas from an avowed enemy of conservatism like Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times. (Y'all reckon his Buckley bio will get a good review?)

The brilliant Dan Riehl observes Rachel Maddow's MSNBC guest host Ana Marie Cox (speaking of "sworn enemies") interviewing Tanenhaus "discussing how WND is the equivalent of the Birchers today? Detailing how the Birchers were shut down." Dan continues:
Going on about the lack of intellectuals in conservatism today? Questioning where the Republican leadership is?
Damn! Almost seems to me I heard precisely all that just recently.
Then going on to pull in NRO, claiming that NRO (wink wink) only pretended to reject, while bringing forth new evidence, in the Birther conspiracy? Calling today's conservative "mouthpieces" pseudo-intellectuals? Do they mean Talk Radio? I'd bet they do.
No point in reading The Next Right anymore, perhaps. I can just wait to catch the latest young conservative wisdom on MSNBC. . . .
Ouch. Here's the MSNBC video, so the reader may appreciate the extent to which the liberal Tanenhaus has influenced this species of "conservatism":

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

What astonishes me is that these Young Turks, who conceive of themselves as infinitely superior to their elders in terms of intellectual sophistication, fail to recognize that they are being played as suckers in a very familiar sort of hustle. I explained this four months ago in "The Republicans Who Really Matter":
The Republicans Who Really Matter can be relied on to reinforce liberal stereotypes of the GOP, and to pen op-ed columns offering "helpful" advice to the Republican Party which, if followed, would lead to certain electoral disaster. . . .
No Republican pundit is ever going to become influential by buddying up to Wayne LaPierre or right-to-lifers; make favorable mention of environmentalism, however, and MSNBC producers will flood your inbox with e-mail invitations to a 10-minute guest segment on "Hardball."
One reliable method for advancing to the pinnacle as a Republican commentator is to argue that the party is badly divided, and to blame this fragmentation on some constituency universally loathed by liberals. . . .
The inarguable fact that liberals dominate the publishing industry, academia and other such institutions of intellect means that liberalism and its advocates possess a prestige that no out-and-out conservative can ever enjoy.

The Monopolization of Prestige
Neither Joseph Farah nor Dan Riehl will ever be published by the New York Times, will they? If Michelle Malkin, Mark Levin or Ann Coulter wrote biographies of William F. Buckley Jr., would their books be praised in a feature NYT book review? Would they be excerpted by The New Republic?

Of course not. Liberals would never lend the prestige of their institutions to such avowed enemies of liberalism. And anyone who desires to research the career of Buckley may easily discover the vehemence with which he was once denounced by liberals -- up until such time as liberals discerned that they might use him as a weapon to attack other conservative targets.

To be the sort of conservative intellectual acceptable to liberals, one must never make a criticism of liberalism that is genuinely effective, an argument that undermines the prestige of liberal ideas and liberal heroes. Why? Because once an intelligent person comes to suspect that liberalism does not deserve its prestigious reputation -- well, the emperor has no clothes, you see? Therefore, Pinch Sulzberger hires a neurasthenic weakling like David Brooks, and not a vigorous, forthright and courageous advocate of conservative ideas.

At some level, the shrewd and ambitious young Republican-leaning writer perceives all this. He understands that he can gain an especial distinction by courting the praise of liberals, in quite the same way a junior varsity cheerleader can become "popular" by dating the defensive line of the varsity football team. And the analogy is all the more apt in that the JV cheerleader who seeks the easiest way to "popularity" so often condemns as ill-motivated hypocrites those more virtuous girls who eschew her ways.

'Boring' or Burkean?
When, in a symposium on Tanenhaus, Austin Bramwell declares that conservatism is "intellectually boring," he is in one sense quite correct. The basic principles of American conservatism -- the defense of constitutionally limited government, opposition to the welfare state, sympathy for tradition, foreign policy based on strength, sovereignty and national interest -- are so well-known that they offer no attraction to those who crave novelty in political thought.

The upstart who desires to gain a reputation as an "innovative" thinker is welcome to seek employment outside conservative politics, if he is not content to find new ways to celebrate old verities or new arguments with which to eviscerate liberals.

Instead, what we see over and over -- see Brooks' disastrously influential "National Greatness" as a textbook example -- is an enthusiastic race to get ahead of the Zeitgeist, to become the Promethean author of a new Welltanschauung, to establish one's place as the founder of Some Other Conservatism.

Wise men are not deceived by these pretentious intellectual hustlers. When a self-described conservative begins slinging around words like "creativity" and "progress" in political discourse, it is not generally taken as evidence of doughty resolve. Rather, it is wise to suspect such a person of being what the Brits would call a trimmer.

The Cruelty of Ambition
Conservatism is a philosophy of opposition. Excuse me for repeating myself, but some of our Young Turks do not seem to be paying attention to the lessons.

They invite chastisement, lest they become still more impudent (if such a thing were possible). I call them "Young Turks," but they rather remind me of certain Young Hegelians of yore, unwisely eager to hasten the historical synthesis. Their conceited trust in their own superiority is dangerous, perhaps more to them than to the hoary elders of the "movement" whom they seek to supplant, and I suspect there would be far less tolerance of dissent if these ambitious youngsters were mounted in the saddle and empowered to wield the whip.

We need no Nietzschean ubermensch nor Platonic archons to rule over us, to enlighten our supposed benightedness and soothe us with their tendentious myths about Olympian idols. This dishonest campaign to employ the aid of Tanenhaus to enlist the departed Buckley as a ghostly advocate of Pragmatism deserves to be rejected with extreme prejudice. And any Young Turks who desire to keep pursuing this approach will do so at peril to their own ambitions.

Whatever the Zeitgeist amongst the intelligentsia, the balance of power within the conservative movement does not favor "Pragmatism," which means that would-be leaders of Some Other Conservatism will suffer from a shortage of followers, and will find themselves isolated and ignored.

Even while I was writing this little essay, the brilliant Dan Riehl was busy discovering what sort of advice Sam Tanenhaus offered to his own party in 2003. The liberal Democrat urged Democrats to embrace their own radicals, while the same liberal Democrat's arguments are now being used to urge Republicans to purge Joseph Farah and WND.

"Maximize the contradictions," as Abby Hoffman said.


  1. With these marvelous people being considered the new Right, it means that we have to keep kicking them, and Rachel Maddow, in the balls even harder.

    That said, Ana Marie has big titties.

  2. This is excellent, Stacy, one of the best things I've read recently.

  3. Well, if it's the only way they can get a date... more power to 'em.

  4. I'd offer a couple of points, based upon sheer practicality:
    (a) "...opposition to the welfare state..." There is a Federalist position that a conservative can take, whereby we need only support the Constitution explicitly, and not waste word one on the W.S. Let it play out and bear its fruit or wither on a per-state basis.

    (b) "Conservatism is a philosophy of opposition." Taking position (a) above means we can stop at Alinsky Rule #4 , and tell these propeller-heads with the swell ideas to make it Constitutional or pack sand. We only seek to do the correct, simple, proper thing. They have no game, but trying to oppose their un-game winds up arming them too much of the time.

  5. Great post- I just 86'd "the Next Right" from my blogroll recently due to unpalatable squishy-ness.

    And myriad "conservatives" with dubious credentials have come out of the woodwork this year telling us to do exactly what Obama needs us to do... things that make you go hmmm.

    Reagan lost in 1976 in the primaries to a moderate... who lost the election. But Reagan believed formed his platform over 20 years, steeped in reality as he saw it... and wasn't about to water it down for '80. Rather, he came back with an even sharper message, supported by the liberal incompetence of the God forsaken Carter era.

    We will find ourselves -after losing with a RINO in '08- facing the same circumstance in 2012. Small wonder then the Dems are trying to keep any Reagans from arising...especially charismatic, capable, and clever ones in heels.

    And Alinsky would have admired the DNC and WH's efforts to isolate and demonize strong opponents such as Rush Limbaugh- after they neutralize him and all like him, we would be left with an un-electable RINO-laded GOP pushing the Obama-lite that Colin Powell was advocating... back before the Obama ether began to wear off, anyway.

    What would Next Right propose, anyway- Voinovich/Snowe 2012? (projectile-puking sounds here)

  6. Austin Bramwell, Sam Tanenhaus ?!~!! You have got to be joking. Bluebloods, countryclubbers. Screw them. They sound like Rick Moran followers.

  7. Ehhh . . . Tanenhaus looks like one of those tortured pre-suicide Scandinavian types who can't bear to roll out of bed before 10:30 a.m. - I really doubt he's one of us.

    In fact, I'm inclined to believe that the "Conservatism is Dead" jollystomping is wishful thinking on his part, if not an invitation to the Douthats of the world to join them in making the GOP the new Washington Generals - affable chaps and fine sportsmen, all.

  8. Even if Buckley agreed with these contemptible squishes, or if Limbaugh turned on us, or even if Reagan himself through some bizarre twist had ever said something to support their ridiculous ideas, I don't give a flying flap! This (meaning conservatism) isn't about charismatic leaders. The squishes turn on Reagan, on Rush, on Glenn Beck, hoping that if they can discredit the leaders as they see them they can destroy us. But like the Jews with Jesus Christ, and as with many martyrs, they will find that those martyrs and leaders taught us true principles and that we will hold to those principles whether the leaders be alive or dead. Throw all the mud you want, you miserable, self-important castrati. You don't even understand the target; the dirt you dig is your (metaphorical) grave. Oyster out.

  9. I don't know why any true conservative pays a damn bit of attention to anything that comes out of the New York Times or anyone associated with it, except to find fresh targets for mockery and scorn.

  10. It might be the Jack talking, but anyone else feel the urge to Gay Marry that saucy little red-headed fellow in the black jacket in the video Stacy posted?

  11. Buckley's growing favour on the Left directly corresponded with his cessation of breath. Indeed, for the Left nothing so becomes a conservative as death, rendering the conservative mute and thus a cudgel with which to flail living conservatives.

    The next best thing, of course, is a "Republican Who Desires To Really Matter" (colloquially known as "useful idiots") and Turncoat Republicans (aka David Brock) who acquire immense credibility and gravitas in exchange for their soul.

  12. Alec wrote: It might be the Jack talking, but anyone else feel the urge to Gay Marry that saucy little red-headed fellow in the black jacket in the video Stacy posted?

    Alec, why do I get the feeling you're a frequent commenter on AOSHQ? But, yeah, he is kind of saucy, eh?