The inadequacy of Second Thoughts

“Second Thoughts” (a phrase made famous a few decades ago by neoconservatives who were in the process of rejecting their previous liberalism) are not enough. If conservatives are to think their way all the way out of the liberalism that spells our civilizational doom, they also need to have Third Thoughts, and Fourth Thoughts, and Fifth Thoughts.

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Jim Kalb writes:

Very true. Second thoughts are honorable, but where there is a basic problem you can’t stop there. You have to arrive at something better than a modification of your previous view.

The usual way to preserve second thoughts as second thoughts is to say something like, “Well of course no one would want to go back to the ’50s, I’m glad all that’s behind us, but the advance of liberalism has been causing problems so we have to bring in some limitations while preserving what was valid in the ’60s.” A grander way of saying the same thing among Deep Thinkers is to talk about preserving the insights of modernity.

It’s a weird sort of conservatism. People don’t want to give up what they were educated to view as a huge advance over everything that preceded it, even though the advance involved rejecting the authority of the past. If they want to reject the authority of the past, why don’t they reject the recent past (e.g., the ’60s or modernity itself) as well as the more distant past?

June 26

Karl J. writes:

The phrase ” Second Thoughts” (about the Sixties) is the subtitle of Destructive Generation by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, published in 1989, and the full title of a book they edited, out of a conference of other former ’60s radicals. This is quite distinct from the phenomenon of neoconservatism, exemplified by Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who were New Deal/Cold War liberals reacting against the radicalism that Collier, Horowitz, & Co. formerly exemplified. These distinctions have been lost in the mental mush that is contemporary conservatism, but careful consideration demands them.

LA replies:

I exemplify the “mental mush” of contemporary conservatism because of that minor mistake, if mistake it is?

So, first, reconsider the way you talk to me.

Second, I am aware of the Second Thoughts conference. It’s what I was thinking of—and Horowitz was the person I was specifically thinking of—when I said that Second Thoughts are not enough. But the phrase Second Thoughts has been used in a wider sense to take in liberals who became neoconservatives. Indeed there is no real difference between the two phenomena of which you speak. Horowitz was a radical who became a neoconservative. (Though he didn’t often call himself one, he was one, as he himself acknowledged a year ago when, in an article entitled “Why I Am Not a Neo-Conservative,” he renounced the neoconservative spread-democracy policy which for the previous ten years he had with backed with insane fervor. As for Norman Podhoretz, in the Sixties as editor of Commentary he aligned himself with the radical Sixties left for several years, then he had second thoughts about the nature of the left and became a neoconservative.

So the two phenomena, which you claim are utterly distinct (and you call me mentally mushy for not knowing they’re distinct) are in fact two parts of the same phenomenon, which is, people who had aligned themselves with various forms of liberalism/leftism who then renounced their former position and moved in a rightward direction.

So not only are you rude, but in your supposed correct and superior knowledge you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Karl J. writes:

Please forgive my unclarity. I meant that these influences have merged into mainstream conservatism, which is woefully deficient intellectually, as I’m sure you’d agree, from your own perspective. This is exemplified by the younger Kristol and Podhoretz, whose forenames escape me at the moment, and of course the nitwits at the once-great National Review.

Now, Norman Podhoretz (unlike Kristol) did flirt with the New Left early on, but quickly rejected it as its anti-American and anti-Zionist character became obvious. Collier and Horowitz started out from a radical Left perspective and clung to it much longer. I suppose Horowitz is a “neoconservative” if by that you mean contemporary mainstream conservative. But I respectfully disagree with that usage, mainly because it is so redolent of the paleocons’ narrow, conspiratorial view of the decline of conservatism.

LA replies:

I repeat that Horowitz by renouncing his long-time passionate support for the democracy project under the title, “Why I am not a neoconservative,” was clearly stating that he had been a neoconservative.

Yes, he was never a full member of the neocon movement per se; in fact he once complained to me in an e-mail that the neocons didn’t seem to want to include him in their circles (though it wasn’t clear why). Nevertheless, in his basic beliefs, Horowitz certainly was (and in essentials still is, even if not with regard to the democracy project) an adherent of neoconservatism. Meaning a “conservatism” that consists of the belief in an abstract universal individualism in which the highest principles are freedom, tolerance, and non-discrimination. In short, a “conservatism” that is really liberalism.

When trying to identify various political tendencies, it is necessary to think in terms of their fundamental underlying principles, not in terms of mere names and secondary and biographical factors. In your criticism of me, you missed the forest for the trees.

D. Edward writes:

I respectfully disagree with you in labeling someone like David Horowitz a neoconservative. I believe that his proper location on the political spectrum would be classical liberal to libertarian. I think “classical liberal” works better for Horowitz because of his interest in national defense as opposed to the libertarian views on national defense as exhibited by Ron Paul’s isolationism. To me the term neoconservative has been deformed by leftist/communists to mean a Jew who has left the leftist/communists plantation: an uncle Tom if you will.

LA replies:

I disagree. I’ve discussed this many times. Neoconservative is a term with an objective and established meaning. People may differ on details and interpretations, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a certain tendency, or range of tendencies, which goes by the name neoconservative. The neoconservatives themselves call themselves neoconservatives. As I pointed out, Horowitz indicated that he had been a neoconservative but now no longer considered himself one.

The idea that it only means a certain kind of Jew is simply silly. Yes, of course, some people have used the word neoconservative to mean Jew. But, once again, since the neocons call themselves neocons, and since they obviously don’t mean simply “Jew,” therefore the word has a different meaning from “Jew.”

I regard the exchange with Karl J., and now with D. Edwards, as a distraction from the point of this entry, which was this: Various conservatives began somewhere on the liberal-left, and then, as a result of re-thinking, moved somewhat to the right. This move to the right was for them the most important event in their political and intellectual lives. But it is insufficient. They became neoconservatives, and that was the end of their journey. Like a Southern liberal forever congratulating himself for having moved beyond his original racism, these neoconservatives spend the rest of their lives congratulating themselves for their big move to the right. The problem is that they are still liberals. If they are to become real conservatives and thus become able to resist and reject liberalism as such, they must have Third, and Fourth, and Fifth Thoughts. This blog is largely about those Third, Fourth, and Fifth Thoughts.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 25, 2012 04:05 PM | Send

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