A good line about Sam Tanenhaus’s The Death of Conservatism
Tanenhaus likes his American conservatism pessimistic and cosmopolitan, world-weary and laden with a sense of its own fundamental incapacity to prevent liberalism’s ultimate triumph.As I said, it’s a good line. But neither John Podhoretz nor any neoconservative has the right to say it. This is because Tanenhaus’s description of conservatism as a way of moderating liberal excesses while accommodating oneself to liberalism is in fact a correct description of neoconservatism itself, as shown in Irving Kristol’s remark in his 2003 article, “The Neoconservative Persuasion”:
Viewed in this way, one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.In other words, the purpose of neoconservatism is to bring to an end the traditional conservative opposition to the advance of liberalism and thus get conservatives to surrender to liberalism’s ultimate triumph. John Podhoretz doesn’t realize that while Tanenhaus’s view is incorrect insofar as it applies to traditional conservatism, it is correct insofar as it applies to Podhoretzs’s own neoconservatism.
Update: As a further indication that neoconservatism is about ultimate surrender to liberalism, see my entry, “Irving Shrugged,” in which I quote Irving Kristol’s remark at a 1994 National Review conference in which he said that our civilization was finished, but it was “going slowly. So enjoy it while you can.” Then see his unserious response to a concerned audience member.
And John Podhoretz himself after the 9/11 attack in his New York Post column said in his crass manner, “Good riddance” to the culture war, because now we could focus on a foreign enemy. But of course 9/11 didn’t mean that the left wasn’t continuing to radicalize our culture. Podhoretz made it plain that he wanted to stop fighting the cultural left—i.e., to surrender to it.