The neocons’ love affair with the neocons
(I realize this article is rather biting for the Christmas season, when one feels the whole world become like the field where the shepherds were abiding, keeping watch over their flock by night, and a peacefulness and stillness descended on the world in anticipation of the coming into the world of Jesus Christ. I tend to write up things for the website as they come to me. However, this will be my last polemic, at least on political matters, until after Christmas.)
Salim Mansur, a moderate Muslim columnist in the Toronto Sun, writes:
Mark Steyn is Canada’s leading public intellectual who makes his home in the world’s greatest republic—south of this country’s border. Steyn is Canada’s gift to the world, though like so many other gifts this Dominion has made he has gone unnoticed by the bland Canadian mainstream media obsessed with its own mediocrity.Before we go further, we have to note a certain ambiguity in the first sentence. Is Mansur saying that Steyn is Canada’s leading public intellectual and that he also makes his home in the United States? Or is he saying that of all of Canada’s public intellectuals who live in the United States, Steyn is the best? I presume it’s the first, and that Mansur unintentionally left out a comma after “intellectual,” which would have eliminated the ambiguity.
Now that we have decided, at least provisionally, what Mansur meant, we still have to understand the significance of this amazing statement. It seems to me there are three possible ways to interpret it. First, we could take it as an accurate picture of reality, namely that Canada is indeed so intellectually mediocre that the pied piper Mark Steyn is its most significant thinker and writer. Or we could take it as an unwitting confession that Mansur himself is such an intellectual mediocrity that he considers an entertaining trickster like Steyn, not only a public intellectual, but the leading public intellectual of the whole country. Or we could take it as an expression of the sheer hype, self-love, and sucking-up that marks the precincts of the neocons.
The sucking-up goes from weird and offensive to positively gross when foreigners friendly to America and to the neocons discuss their feelings about … America and the neocons. Consider Daniel Johnson’s column in the December 21 New York Sun about the award ceremony at the White House at which Johnson’s father, the British author Paul Johnson, the Israeli politician Natan Sharansky, and eight Americans including Bush’s former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. First, notice how, in the fashion of a true neocon acolyte, Johnson praises America for giving its highest civilian honor to foreigners while he puts down his own country for still having a national institution limited to its own people:
Not every country is so generous to foreigners. My own, for instance, certainly is not. The queen normally reserves Britain’s highest honor, the Order of Merit, for her own subjects. The sole living exception, Nelson Mandela, is only an “honorary” member of the order. I leave it to others to decide whether the notion of an honorary honor is coherent or not.As Johnson’s graceless comments about Britain indicate, once universalism is established as the ideal, anything that is less than universal, anything that is specific to a given country, is no good and must be despised. Isn’t that a wonderful legacy that America and the neocons are giving to the world?
Johnson then proceeds to expand on the theme of America’s universalism:
Mr. Bush was honoring individual contributions, sometimes from remote quarters, to an ideal that evokes the special vocation of the American republic. It is this unconditional commitment to liberty wherever it may be that prevents America from ever succumbing to isolationism. [Emphasis added.]So the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor, has nothing in particular to do with America. It’s about America’s unconditional obligation to spread freedom everywhere. In other words, it’s about the neoconservative redefinition of America from an actual country and people into a global ideological project.
There are those who claim that since September 11 Americans have become more wary of foreigners. It may be so, but I have yet to experience it.But where did this modern Toqueville go in America to find the evidence that Americans are not, as some people say, suspicious of foreigners, but gracious and hospitable? He went (this is beyond parody) to the White House,—yes, it’s really remarkable that this neocon Englishman was treated not suspiciously but kindly at a White House dinner where his father was receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom—as well as to the homes of various well-off neocon honchos, as Johnson explains in a paragraph in which he attains the very acme of sycophancy:
Whenever I visit America, I come back aglow with the munificent hospitality and friendly curiosity I encounter everywhere. It began at the entrance to the White House, where we were reacquainted with the Aquinas of our day, Michael Novak. Bob Tyrrell, editor in chief of the American Spectator, gave me a royal—sorry, presidential—welcome at his fine old Alexandria house, replete with ante-bellum artifacts and courtesy to match. Charles Krauthammer, peerless polemicist of the Washington Post, invited me to celebrate my first-ever Chanukah with his family and guests, including the great Irving and Bea Kristol. Finally, I was entertained by my old college friend Myron Ebell, fearless campaigner against environmental hysteria at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and his family, who reminded me of how civilized America still is compared to Europe.A friend commented that even the New York Times would have enough sense of restraint not to publish a column by a liberal sucking up to other liberals to this degree. But the neocons are beyond shame. This is particularly true of the editors of the New York Sun, who parade with parade their sycophancy toward the neocon higher-ups.
NOTE: A couple of months ago we discussed what effect the shattering of the neoconservative ideology in Iraq would have on the neoconservatives’ reputation and influence. I think I said that it unfortunately would not change things much, at least in the immediate future, because the neocons have a substantial establishment of funding organizations, think tanks, publications, and so on, and they would be able to carry on as before despite the fact that their ideas have lost their luster. Certainly from Johnson’s article you don’t get any sense that the neocons are embarrassed in the slightest by the hideous disaster their ideas have caused in Iraq. I think this is due in large part to a factor I mentioned the other day: the continuing absence in mainstream politics of a politically viable alternative way of thinking that can challenge the neocon view. The left has no ideas connected with reality and are out to lunch. And the liberals and the “Realists” recently joined forces in the Iraq Study Group and totally discredited themselves by proposing the most abject and absurd surrender scheme in U.S. history. So, given the absence of any alternative visions, the necons and Bush, who still have their idea of freedom and their narrative of America using its power to save the world, will be able to carry on essentially as before, with the neocons still in the ideological saddle, even though their ideology has been discredited, simply because there appear to be no alternatives.
The only way this situation can change is through the arising of a new intellectual elite with an ideology that can both attack the neocon ideology and offer a better path for America. I think traditionalism—or, if you like, a paleoconservatism cleansed of its toxic elements, its bio-reductionism,* its relativism, and its reflexive isolationism (since it’s the Muslims we need to isolate, not ourselves)—is what America needs and what America is already moving towards. (As an example of a paleoconservatism that sounds reasonable and not toxic see William Calhoun’s article on the basics of paleoconservatism.) Traditionalist or paleo conservatism is at present not remotely near to possessing the numbers, the intellectual heft, and the institutional structure that would make it into a viable counter-ideology that could plausibly challenge the dominant neocon ideology for mainstream influence. But if traditionalism is true, which it is, eventually it will gain the internal and external strength that will enable it to do so.
*Not that bio-reductionism is the dominant paleocon view, but the paleocon movement has uncritically welcomed prominent bio-reductionist writers in its ranks in recent years.