Lilla v. Robin

by Henry on January 4, 2012

Since John wrote his post below, Mark Lilla has come out with a lengthy attempted rebuttal of Corey Robin’s argument. Even as New York Review of Books articles by creaky centrist-liberals go, it’s a terrible essay – see further Alex Gourevitch. Even as Mark Lilla essays on the American right (a category that includes a plenitude of incompetent arguments) go, it’s awful. Two things that I think are worth adding to Alex’s takedown.

First, the extraordinary degree of self-congratulation in Lilla’s alternative explanation of the rise of apocalyptic conservatism. It turns out, you see, that the unacknowledged legislators of American politics are New York intellectuals such as Mark Lilla.

The real news on the American right is the mainstreaming of political apocalypticism. … brewing among intellectuals since the Nineties, … a long story to tell, and central to it would be the remarkable transmutation of neoconservatism from intellectual movement to rabble-rousing Republican court ideology. The first neoconservatives were disappointed liberals like Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer … Sometime in the Eighties, though, neoconservative thinking took on a darker hue … At first, neoconservatives writing in publications like Commentary and The Public Interest (which I once helped to edit) portrayed themselves as standing with “ordinary Americans” … neoconservatives began predicting the End Time … the voice of high-brow reaction … was present on the right a good decade before Glenn Beck and his fellow prophets of populist doom … Apocalypticism trickled down, not up, and is now what binds Republican Party elites to their hard-core base.

No evidence is presented to support this claim beyond anecdotes and post hoc ergo propter hoc handwaving. Lilla professes himself to be allergic to the efforts of political scientists to ‘ape’ the hard sciences, instead advocating a `a certain art, a kind of dispassionate alertness and historical perspective, a sense of the moment, and a sense that this, too, shall pass.’ While he does not claim overtly that he, unlike Corey Robin, possesses this art and dispassionate alertness, he surely intends that the reader infer it. For my money, I find explicit attention to questions of causation and evidence more convincing than any number of ostentatious self-advertisements for one’s historical perspicacity.

Second, his suggestion that:

the turmoil in American politics recently is the result of changes in the clan structure of the right, with the decline of reality-based conservatives like William F. Buckley and George Will and the ascendancy of new populist reactionaries like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and other Tea Party favorites.

is quite a remarkable one. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has already said, it’s hard to reconcile the “sober-minded Buckley” with the “man who posited that the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church might lay at the feet of ‘a crazed Negro’ and basically worked as a press agent for apartheid in South Africa.” But it’s even more extraordinary if one tries to reconcile it with the discussion of Buckley in Robin’s book. Robin presents evidence (from repeated interviews) that Buckley was anything but reality-based – that he found the conservative emphasis on markets “boring,” and instead preferred to see politics as a Manichean struggle. Buckley indeed suggested that if he were a young aspiring intellectual in 2000 (when the interviews were conducted), he would likely have become a Communist, to stir things up.

All of which would seem to support Robin’s argument, that the right is genuinely reactionary, and that its ideologues are often more interested in the fight than the issues. Myself, when I review a book by an author whom I disagree with, I am inclined to present the evidence that the author presents in support of his arguments, so that readers can have some opportunity to judge it for themselves. Very likely, Mark Lilla does not feel burdened by the same obligation. Or perhaps he simply failed to notice the two points in the book where these comments by Buckley receive extensive discussion. Certainly, his review provides no great evidence of engagement with anything other than the book’s introductory chapter.

It’s a pity that Lilla was given this assignment, and that he turned in such a shoddy review. I’d have liked to have seen a good critical engagement with the book. I think the argument is very interesting, and deserves further attention. I also would have liked to have seen it better worked out – the book is as much a collection of essays as it is a cohesive work, with the result that some of the more provocative claims don’t get as much sustained attention as they deserve. What is most interesting about Corey Robin’s argument is its suggestion that conservatives are true reactionaries – they not only are defined by their struggle with the left, but have taken this struggle for an ethos.

Even when the conservative seeks to extricate himself from this dialogue with the left, he cannot, for his most lyrical motifs – organic change, tacit knowledge, ordered liberty, prudence and precedent – are barely audible without the call and response of the left. … As Karl Mannheim argued, what distinguishes conservatism from traditionalism – the universal “vegetative tendency to remain attached to things as they are … – is that conservatism is a deliberate, conscious effort to preserve or recall “those forms of experience which can no longer be had in an authentic way.” … Even if the theory is a paean to practice – as conservatism often is – it cannot escape becoming a polemic … To preserve the regime … the conservative must reconstruct the regime. This program … often … can require the conservative to take the most radical measures on the regime’s behalf. … Conservatism … offers a defense of rule, independent of its counterrevolutionary imperative, that is agonistic and dynamic and dispenses with the staid traditionalism and harmonic registers of hierarchies past … Unlike the feudal past, where power was presumed and privilege inherited, the conservative future envisions a world where power is demonstrated and privilege earned … in the arduous struggle for supremacy.

Al-Ghazali, as quoted by Ernest Gellner, puts Mannheim’s point more pithily – `the genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one.’ But what I don’t know (and can’t tell from the book) is how much of this agonism is unique to conservatism’s intersection with liberalism, and how much is a generic product of the competitive pressures of political conflict. The left and the right shape each other as they fight. Conservatives read Saul Alinsky. Markos Moulitsas, when he started trying to organize the netroots, was partly inspired by the Goldwater movement (as depicted in Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm). To really get at the questions that I think (perhaps I’m wrong) Robin is interested in, you would need an intellectual history not of the left, or the right, but of how they have shaped each other, and how each has separately been defined by the struggle between them. This would allow you better to figure out which parts of conservatism are uniquely reactionary, and which parts are simply reactive.

Perhaps a review essay that tried to make this case would have been annoying in its own way, being, after all, another version of ‘you didn’t write the book that I would have written if I’d written about this topic.’ But I think that it would have been far less annoying than Lilla’s, and surely more useful (if only because Lilla’s sets such a very low bar).

{ 43 comments }

1

Andrew Hartman 01.04.12 at 8:01 pm

Lilla deserves all the abuse he’s getting for his review of Robin. I heap some here: http://us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com/2012/01/mark-lillas-truly-awful-review-of-corey.html

2

Steve LaBonne 01.04.12 at 8:03 pm

I’m becoming increasingly underwhelmed by NYRB lately, and not just on politics (though what the excuse is for having the useless Lilla as one of their regulars, I can’t imagine). Nowadays, LRB outclasses it in every way.

Perhaps it’s time for the sainted Mr. Silvers to make way for new blood.

3

rea 01.04.12 at 8:04 pm

Mark Lilla and Rick Santorum may both think that the apocolypse is coming–but I suspect they don’t mean the same thing by “apocalypse,” something of which Lilla seems blissfully unaware.

4

LFC 01.04.12 at 8:38 pm

Lilla professes himself to be allergic to the efforts of political scientists to ‘ape’ the hard sciences, instead advocating `a certain art, a kind of dispassionate alertness and historical perspective, a sense of the moment, and a sense that this, too, shall pass.’ While he does not claim overtly that he, unlike Corey Robin, possesses this art and dispassionate alertness, he surely intends that the reader infer it. For my money, I find explicit attention to questions of causation and evidence more convincing than any number of ostentatious self-advertisements for one’s historical perspicacity.

I think this misses the most glaring aspect of why Lilla’s statements about the hard sciences and so forth are so out of place in this review. See here.

5

LFC 01.04.12 at 8:39 pm

Sorry, bad link.
Try again:
here

6

Anderson 01.04.12 at 8:41 pm

I suppose there is some backstory to Lilla that justifies all the antipathy, but I’ve found his NYRB items on the Tea Party to be informative.

If he did a hatchet job on Robin’s book, then shame on him; perhaps Robin’s book was too close to comfort for whatever book-length treatment Lilla is working up himself.

For anyone who missed it (and cares), Robin had an interesting back-and-forth with Daniel Larison.

7

Tim Worstall 01.04.12 at 8:43 pm

Off subject I know but:

“All of which would seem to support Robin’s argument, that the right is genuinely reactionary, and that its ideologues are often more interested in the fight than the issues.”

When combined with:

“Robin presents evidence (from repeated interviews) that Buckley was anything but reality-based – that he found the conservative emphasis on markets “boring,” and instead preferred to see politics as a Manichean struggle. “

I am painted as being of the right because I really do think that markets are important. More important people than I (Freidman for example) are painted as being of the right because they insist that markets really are important.

But this isn’t the same at all as the Buckley “let’s have an argument” thing. It is actually possible to believe and argue that markets are the best way to achieve desirable goals (like, you know, everyone getting richer and living happily ever after) without being either conservative or reactionary.

OK, back to your regularly scheduled comments section. It just annoys that market supporters are lumped in with those others. Given that there are some on hte left who regard markets like maiden aunts in long dresses regard mice I suppose it’s inevitable but it still grates.

8

Sad ebonspam 01.04.12 at 8:46 pm

A gleaming scimitar smote a heavy blow against the
renegade’s spiked helmet, bringing a heavy cloud over the
Ecordian’s misting brain. Shaking off the effects of the
pounding blow to his head, Grignr brought down his scarlet
streaked edge against the soldier’s crudely forged hauberk,
clanging harmlessly to the left side of his opponent.

9

Anderson 01.04.12 at 9:01 pm

The John Sides critique of Lilla fails to answer Sheri Berman’s question. Sides:

It is the outcome of a specific set of events: a deep recession and the government’s interventions to address that recession, an attendant financial crisis, and health care reform.

But why should those events have triggered a *right*-wing movement?

I think Sides and Lilla are both mistaken. You can’t take the Teavangelical out of Tea Party. These are people who perceive America becoming more diverse, more tolerant – who see government becoming more responsive to people’s needs – and who hate all of that. The kind of people for whom a black Democrat named Barack in the White House is the visual summation of what’s gone wrong with America. Nostalgia is always reactionary.

10

Saud etchingroom 01.04.12 at 9:09 pm

Grignr’s emerald green orbs glared lustfully at the
wallowing soldier struggling before his chestnut swirled mount.
His scowling voice reverberated over the dying form in a tone of
mocking mirth. “You city bred dogs should learn not to
antagonize your better.” Reining his weary mount ahead, grignr
resumed his journey to the Noregolian city of Gorzam, hoping to
discover wine, women, and adventure to boil the wild blood
coarsing through his savage veins.

11

RK 01.04.12 at 9:35 pm

As one of those conservative reactionaries, I found Lilla’s article every bit as annoying and original as Henry did. I haven’t read Robin’s book, but he comes off quite well in this extended back-and-forth with Daniel Larison. I’d put Robin’s thesis slightly differently: modern liberalism is characterized by concern for the putatively dominated. But, as I said, that’s just another way of stating Robin’s thesis. I wonder what it says about Lilla’s argument that what he sees as a caricature, many actual right-wingers see as self-description.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for disagreement, of course. As one of the commenters on Larison’s blog pointed out, Robin’s classification of pragmatic violence as left-wing and “redemptive” violence as right-wing has a hard time making sense of figures like Fanon. And saying conservatives favor “rule by excellence” simply shifts the discussion to the definition of excellence. (When people like T.S. Eliot or Christopher Lasch opposed the disruption of traditional social relations by the rise of striving meritocrats, they were defending rule by one flavor of “excellence” by opposing another.) But Lilla’s review doesn’t even gesture at these questions. Where does the NYRB find these people?

12

RK 01.04.12 at 9:38 pm

Oops, I see Anderson already linked the exchange with Larison. I guess it’s worth linking to twice.

13

John Quiggin 01.04.12 at 10:15 pm

A minor point, but in what alternative universe is George Will “reality-based”? He’s a leading peddler of delusionist lies about climate change, and generally fact-free on most topics AFAICT.

14

Anderson 01.04.12 at 10:19 pm

A minor point, but in what alternative universe is George Will “reality-based”? He’s a leading peddler of delusionist lies about climate change

Yah, that was my first thought too. Perhaps he was less crazy years ago, but I don’t envy anyone’s taking the time to find out.

15

Henry 01.04.12 at 10:21 pm

Jon Chait posted on just this topic after my own post went to press …

16

Meredith 01.04.12 at 10:26 pm

Will can be good on baseball. And fishing.

17

bianca steele 01.04.12 at 10:43 pm

I seem to remember in a NY Times op-ed in or around 2000 Will said someone or other wasn’t a Platonic Guardian; this was true.

18

Anderson 01.04.12 at 10:48 pm

I seem to remember in a NY Times op-ed in or around 2000 Will said someone or other wasn’t a Platonic Guardian; this was true.

Aaaaaaand Bianca wins the thread!

19

Corey Robin 01.04.12 at 10:53 pm

Henry 15: Chait’s piece is excellent, except for one line: “Of course, by Will’s theory, liberals could just as easily have decided to start claiming that wheat is scarce or that cotton is scarce and started a big campaign to pass laws restricting them.” That reference to wheat is unfortunate: Wickard v. Filburn, which still sends conservatives into apoplexy, upheld a New Deal law forbidding growing of wheat for personal consumption, effectively making it more scarce, in order to make force farmers to buy on the market. Will’s theory, albeit somewhat in reverse.

20

ezra abrams 01.04.12 at 11:42 pm

There is a very simple test one can apply to journals like NYRB, to see if they are, on average, intelligent and worth reading:
The Kissinger Test
H Kissinger was a mass murderer and war crimminal (1); any media outlet or person that in any way is approving of him can be disregarded.

1) You are a vietnamese farmer, sleeping in your hut with your spouse and children, including your new infant. a US plane decides to frag your village iwth some Napalm. As you may know, Napalm has the interesting property that it keeps burning on contact iwth human flesh.
so, when thinking of H Kissinger, what you should think is how he would respond to the following: Dear Dr Kissinger, if you were that vietnamese farmer, which is worse – the screams of your infant as napalm burns a hole thru its body, or the smell….

21

Vance Maverick 01.05.12 at 1:26 am

Ezra, that’s too black and white. Any periodical without a rigid ideological policy will from time to time publish something to trip a wire like that. And any periodical at all will sometimes publish bad articles. The question with the NYRB is whether the quality and tendency of the articles on the whole makes them worth reading, and lately, like Steve Labonne up top, I’ve been reading the LRB instead.

22

geo 01.05.12 at 2:25 am

Vance, you’re right in general: you can’t condemn a periodical wholesale for occasional lapses. But ezra is right in this case: anyone who mentions Henry Kissinger without insisting that he be tried for crimes against humanity fails to meet an elementary test of moral seriousness.

23

JakeB 01.05.12 at 2:53 am

No doubt it is a sign of my mental weakness that it hadn’t occurred to me that the NYRB was just getting less good than it used to be, rather than assuming it’s some cryptoAnglophilia I have, but I am gratified to see both Steve and Vance saying what I’ve been thinking for a while. Maybe I’ll dump my NYRB subscription . . . the LRB is a lot easier to carry around anyways.

24

Vance Maverick 01.05.12 at 3:43 am

geo, I think when you mentioned him just now, you failed to insist that he be tried (except by implication, which will hardly suffice at the rostrum of the Recording Angel).

JakeB, as long as you’re prepared to put up with an editorial policy that seems never to rein in prolixity, give the LRB a go.

25

Jon 01.05.12 at 5:12 am

“…Apocalypticism trickled down, not up, and is now what binds Republican Party elites to their hard-core base.”

No evidence is presented to support this claim beyond anecdotes and post hoc ergo propter hoc handwaving.

I think he’s talking about certain apocalyptic ex-Marxists who moved hard right and spouted an absurd amount of anti-technocratic anti-intellectualism, which gradually went mainstream.

See Sam Tanenhaus:
http://tinyurl.com/slate-tanenhaus (cliffs notes version)
http://www.aei.org/events/2007/11/05/george-w-bush-and-the-future-of-conservatism-event/ (this second one is well worth a listen 4 years later)

David Frum:
http://www.frumforum.com/is-conservatism-dead-no-its-resting

George Packer (now out of date):
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2009/04/full-circle.html
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2009/04/irving-kristols-long-strange-trip.html

Damian Cahill (wonky, but interesting):
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7043/is_16/ai_n28127660/

26

Jon 01.05.12 at 5:33 am

“…Apocalypticism trickled down, not up, and is now what binds Republican Party elites to their hard-core base. ” No evidence is presented to support this claim beyond anecdotes and post hoc ergo propter hoc handwaving.

I think he’s talking about certain apocalyptic ex-Marxists who moved hard right and spouted an absurd amount of anti-technocratic anti-intellectualism, which gradually went mainstream.

For the meme running around New York intellectual circles, see Sam Tanenhaus here (cliff’s notes version) and here (this second one is still worth a listen 4 years later).

27

Jon 01.05.12 at 5:42 am

More George Packer here (out of date since 2010). And Damian Cahill (not exactly about apocalypticism, but interesting background).

28

Jon 01.05.12 at 5:46 am

(Note to moderator: please delete my comments caught in moderation in 25 and 27 above.)

29

Alex 01.05.12 at 12:59 pm

a certain art, a kind of dispassionate alertness and historical perspective, a sense of the moment, and a sense that this, too, shall pass

and, y’know, stuff.

30

Jon 01.05.12 at 2:48 pm

Do you guys have robots moderating your threads? Could you delete 25 and 27 and 30? NOTE FROM EDITORS – NO, WE HAVE HUMAN BEINGS, WHO HAVE OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES, ARE NOT PAID TO CLEAN UP OTHER PEOPLE’S MESSES OVERNIGHT, AND AS A RULE LIKE TO SEE POLITENESS FROM NEW COMMENTERS WHO HAVE ANY INTENTION OF STICKING AROUND.

Anyway, it’s not “stuff,” it’s a style of rhetoric. How do you tell the story of how a certain style of rhetoric came into vogue? It can be complicated, perhaps too complicated to say in one newspaper column written about a different subject. It might involve political motivations and ideological groups, including, say, brainy ex-Trotskyists from New York. There can be a lot to parse.

31

Jon 01.05.12 at 3:30 pm

I can get banned for that? I guess I’m more used to rough and tumble in comment threads than you have here. OK, tucking in my shirt and getting out my clip on tie…

32

Anderson 01.05.12 at 4:19 pm

Another interview with Corey Robin, including his contention (presumably more developed in the book) that libertarianism isn’t an exteme form of liberalism, but fits into a conservative belief that inequality is beneficial to society.

33

Jon 01.05.12 at 4:20 pm

Alright. My apologies for the sarcasm. I didn’t mean to offend–I wasn’t sure anyone was even listening. I just wanted to get a difficult point across without it getting buried in later comments. The title of Lilla’s piece is *Republicans for Revolution.* The part about the Republicans becoming apocalyptic is a central point of his piece. It looks like he didn’t have time to go into details the way Sam Tanenhaus did in that 2007 AEI speech that I linked to above. But as I said above, I’ve seen versions of the argument kicking around NY intellectual circles quite a bit. I think Lilla’s argument involves the political tactics and rhetoric that neoconservatives used against intellectuals, especially technocrats, but that’s putting it too narrowly because Irving Kristol came to attack the professions even outside of government. When this style of rhetoric spread, lots of things became the target of anti-elitism–to the detriment of the intellectual health of the conservative movement. For instance see this early David Frum piece.

And Kristol was very influential. Don’t believe me? Ask Karl Rove (quoted in this WaPo piece). Anyway, I think this is what Lilla abridges in his column.

34

Christoph 01.05.12 at 9:29 pm

Since we are beating this Robin vs the world thing into the ground, I havent seen anyone mention this:

http://www.booktv.org/Program/12851/After+Words+Corey+Robin+The+Reactionary+Mind+Conservatism+from+Edmund+Burke+to+Sarah+Palin+hosted+by+SE+Cupp.aspx

A very interesting discussion with of all people SE Cupps (!!!) and Corey Robin. Its a fascinating interrogation of Mr. Robin by the conservative intellectual.

35

Anderson 01.05.12 at 10:15 pm

On the subtopic of “what is wrong with the NYRB these days?” — today their blog features a post by Lee Siegel. A pretty obnoxious one too. (Marilyn Monroe liked to fuck, and Hollywood doesn’t want you to know that! No, really, that’s his thesis.)

(They may “moderate” my comment drawing attention to his sock-puppetry. Or if they do post it, he may just make up an ID and laud himself to the skies.)

36

Jon 01.05.12 at 10:44 pm

BTW, I’m just a messenger on the meme between Tanenhaus, Packer, Frum, Lilla, et al. I think it’s an interesting argument with a lot of explanatory power, anyway. It could use some more empirical basis… (I first ran across it in this Jim Sleeper post at Josh Marshall’s blog.)

I look forward to reading Corey Robin’s book (I haven’t yet). And George Will is definitely not a reality based Republican, although he plays one on TV–the nerd glasses and bow tie are pretty good props.

37

LFC 01.06.12 at 12:09 am

Jon: You say, if I understand you rightly, that Lilla had Kristol on the ‘new class’ in mind w/r/t conservative ‘apocalypticism’, but Lilla doesn’t mention the ‘new class’ stuff at all, iirc, and if he wanted to he presumably would have. In fact, in the passage from Lilla’s review quoted by Henry in his post, Lilla says he sees apocalypticism “brewing among intellectuals since the Nineties” (my emphasis) — i.e., long after Kristol introduced the ‘new class’ stuff in the ’70s.

(By the way, Daniel Bell’s 1979 essay “The New Class: A Muddled Concept” (reprinted in his The Winding Passage) is dated in a lot of ways but still worth reading.)

38

dictateursanguinaire 01.06.12 at 12:28 am

@TW

well, that’s pretty much a spinoff of Lilla’s argument (the whole idea that he’s an ‘uber-lumper’; you’re not off-topic, just late.)

This is interpretation but I think Robin might agree with this setup: Have you ever seen the schema for libertarians, where there are basically the two reasons for believing in market liberalism? I’m hacking it but one is that it is a good for non-utilitarian reasons and the other is that it produces utilitarian outcomes. Robin, I think, is operating under this schema, implicitly, w/r/t economic liberalism. We can assume that no one would reasonably believe that utility-maximizing options come from pure market liberalism (a reasonable assumption.) So if you’re a utilitarian, you’re either making a significantly-qualified case for markets, which would really just make you a ‘progressive’ in today’s world (even though you probably don’t identify as such); or if you don’t want to qualify your market-love, you’re either just off-base economically or (knowingly or unknowingly) like non-utilitarian aspects of markets (the big one being, for Robin: repressive aspects.) If you’re a utilitarian and a market partisan, you can’t reasonably be a market extremist, so social liberal + market-lukewarm = not actually a conservative; or if you are a market extremist, you are probably not an actual utilitarian/meritocrat

39

dictateursanguinaire 01.06.12 at 12:30 am

i forgot the main point there, which was — I don’t know which you are (if I remember right from other comment threads, you are the ‘moderate libertarian’?) but I think either Robin would not call you a conservative or if you happen to hink ‘hey, the market also rewards the frugal and punishes the lazy’, then Robin would say ‘that’s where the conservatism comes in’

40

snood itchenumb 01.06.12 at 12:58 am

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive
barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust
forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers
vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his
saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust
with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

41

Vance Maverick 01.06.12 at 1:03 am

Given that chase scenes in movies are noisy distractions which, however entertaining, don’t advance our sense of the characters, “cut to the chase” seems quite apt.

42

ezra abrams 01.06.12 at 2:30 am

#22 thanks eom

43

Jon 01.06.12 at 2:49 am

Lilla doesn’t mention the ‘new class’ stuff at all, iirc, and if he wanted to he presumably would have… Lilla says he sees apocalypticism “brewing among intellectuals since the Nineties”

Usually Lilla mentions Trilling’s “adversary culture of intellectuals” instead of “new class”, I’m not quite sure why. I think Norman Podhoretz usually conflated the two ideas in any case. Maybe he sees Trilling as more of a direct influence than Milavan Djilas (who coined the term “New Class”). “Adversary culture of intellectuals” is mentioned in the Robin review, and also in this Lilla piece published after the 2008 election.

The 90′s is one inflection point, but he also mentions that “neoconservative thinking took on a darker hue” in the 80′s in the Corey review. In the 2008 piece I think he was more specific:

In 1976 Irving Kristol publicly worried that “populist paranoia” was “subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government.” But by the mid-’80s, he was telling readers of this newspaper that the “common sense” of ordinary Americans on matters like crime and education had been betrayed by “our disoriented elites,” which is why “so many people — and I include myself among them — who would ordinarily worry about a populist upsurge find themselves so sympathetic to this new populism.”

This last quote is also picked out by George Packer in his post that I linked to above, and Packer is talking about the New Class.

Tanenhaus says something like “you might say Mr. Kristol was in a different place in the 90′s than he was in the 70′s.” Also in that talk, Tanenhaus links Kristol to Burnham, who he calls “an apocalyptic writer.” At the time Kristol was actually in the audience hearing this, and I think Tanenhaus was implying in a kind of courtly way that maybe Kristol was that way too.

Now I don’t know exactly what the inflection points were in the 90′s, but the neoconservatives were up to some pretty strange things back then. I remember Mike Lind saying that the breaking point from neoconservatism for him was when they started cozying up to the religious right–for instance holding anti-Darwinist symposiums.

Anyway, Packer, Tanenhaus, Lilla, I think all three of these people are talking about the same thing.

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