ALAS, THINGS TAKE A VERY BAD TURN FOR THE NEOCON SAGES
Last time we discussed the origins of “neoconservatism” in its intellectual wing -- largely made up of bright nerds who gathered at the feet of Leo Strauss and other grouchy, platonist philosophers, nursing visions of someday being recognized and rewarded for their brilliance as inherent “philosopher kings.” Absorbing, also, the essential platonist addiction to self-indulgent incantation, the notion of romantically exaggerated “sides,” rejection of empirical science or pragmatic negotiation, and the belief that “good guys have a perfect right to lie.”
These fellows did valuable work for the Rovean Revolution and for Culture War, by laboring hard - across decades - to create an edifice of intellectual mantras. Mantras that would provide cover for normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians to join the party under Rove’s Big Tent, in a coalition capable of seizing and then holding onto total political power. Forever.
Given that normal, sincere American conservatives and libertarians felt some discomfort with others under the tent -- fundamentalist would-be theocrats and monopolist kleptocrats, know-nothing science-haters and spoils system thieves -- this would take some really fancy verbal legerdemain. Some razzle-dazzle and song’n’dance that fellows like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Richard Adelman and so many others were happy to concoct within the campus-like shelter of places like the American Enterprise Institute.
Indeed, they rode high for a while... and were rewarded accordingly. That is, until a rising stench began to fill the Big Tent
In fact, very recently... perhaps in time to save their souls... a few paladins of the neo-right, like Richard Perle, have taken small steps to recant. Acknowledging that things have gone very badly for America, under leadership of the far right, they claim that it is because their “good ideas” -- e.g. about aggressively pursuing an all-stakes-in wager on utopian nation-building in Iraq -- were incompetently executed.
Perle went on to whine that JUST when a correction back on-course is badly needed -- presumably a course-correction that’s neocon-designed -- nobody in the upper tiers of today’s GOP will talk to them, anymore.
A cynic might taunt, in return:
“You poor saps. You actually thought that those WASP-aristocratic frat boys, who hazed you and gave you wedgies in school, and took your lunch money while taunting ethnic slurs, had changed their minds and decided that they actually liked you?
“Just because (years later) they slapped your back and invited you to some (political) parties and gave you a few deputy-secretary appointments? (Where you could keep on doing their homework.)
“And now you’re disappointed that they aren’t answering your calls, or seeking your advice anymore, after they have the power and the klepto cash flow and the exaggerated super-tax-cuts (that you helped to rationalize, during time of war) and high oil prices... and now they snub you because they find all your moralistic rationalizations tiresome?
“Aw, gee whiz.”
All right, that chiding taunt sounds playground-immature in its own right. But can anyone disprove the relevance of deep psychology, when it comes to such a blatantly stereotypical bunch of overcompensating nerds? Utterly brilliant, but deeply misguided and profoundly ignorant of history, they fell right into one of the classic niches, as the guys who, in feudal days, wore spangled cloaks and ranted to distract the populace while they are being robbed. New priests and bards, providing priestly song-and-dance for our New Lords...
...until they found themselves elbowed aside by another band of priestly chanters. A larger bunch and with better racial pedigrees and bigger churches, singing far more compatible incantations about the Plain of Meggido.
Sorry guys. One priesthood at a time. Prepare yourselves for auto da fe.
THERE IS PLENTY OF BLAME FOR ALL
Colorful enough? Well, I now want to add an insight that is even more cynical... yet possibly on target.
For you see the left is just as much at-fault for this phenomenon as the right is.
It should be obvious, if only you pause to ask the right questions. Especially one that nobody ever bothers to put forward.
“Why did so many of the original neocons gather together at non-university “institutes” like the Heritage Foundation, where they called each other “fellows” and imitated all the rituals and relationships of an academe they had left behind? “
Why did these professor types leave academia behind?
Simple. Because life had become unbearable for the intelligencia of the right, at colleges across America. Especially during the radical reform era -- a time when conservative arguments against civil rights laws, and modern economics and feminism and state-supported science all proved simply wrong, wrong and wrong. Definitely and decisively and diametrically wrong.
So wrong that the adult thing to do would have been to redefine conservatism, cut away the bad stuff (like defending bigotry) and refine the good. And move on. The way liberalism re invented itself several times....
...and the way Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham seemed willing to adjust and redefine and move on to a newer, better conservatism. And others seemed willing to try, as well! Putting pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls and sponsoring bright female grad students and adjusting their economic theories.
But alas, for many, it was too little, too late.
For by then, campus leftists had begun adopting a filthy habit of their own. Drenched in the drug of self-righteous indignation, university activists who were too lazy to actually help make a better world (say, by joining the Peace Corps) derived local satisfaction (while blithely ignoring the global cost) by waging fierce and immature warfare against conservative professors, making university grounds unfriendly territory for any intelligencia who disagreed with the precise, politically correct party line.
Sometimes, this was achieved using shamefully repressive tactics. Methods that not only rationalized a double standard toward free speech, but also backfired over the log run.
Because, in response, as I said, conservative thinkers simply transferred off-campus to private institutes, like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, where -- lacking formal tenure -- these scholars of the right became increasingly beholden to large-scale private donors.
Moreover, far from the moderating give-and-take of campus life, the questioning “citokate” of students and peers, these leading inventors of neoconservatism took every single wrong turn that Barry Goldwater warned them against.
Indeed, nurturing imaturity, side-ism, and a cult of vengefulness for the defeats of 1964 and 1974, these latter-day Machiavellis commenced down paths of ivory tower self-reference that would make even the Harvard English Department look positively eclectic and broad-minded, by comparison.
A campfire circle-jerk, yanking away to polysyllabic rhythms and hyponotically mantric self-indulgence.
Erudite and at times almost talmudic. Certainly with some cogent points - mixed amid the details.
But a circle-jerk, nonetheless.
NEXT TIME: REVENGE OF THE NERDS
==or return to Part 1 of this series