| Republicans for Revolution|
by Mark Lilla
[ I like NYRB, but don't look at it too often, your link lead me back there. Leaving aside Steve Jobs, who I find interesting but off topic (except maybe in the astonishing contrast between the apparent greatest US company of the early 21st century, by market cap anyway, outsourcing all its manufacturing to China and workers who could never afford Apple products, and maybe the greatest of the early 20th century, Ford, whose founder is credited with the insight that it makes sense to pay your workers enough to buy your product), this one is maybe a little more relevant here.. A bit abstract, and I don't quite agree with the analysis, but interesting. Personally, I think the central dogma of the current Republican party is starve the beast / tax cuts for rich people, stemming from a myopic identification of business interests as defined by Wall St. with the national interest. The other stuff is all polemics to get enough votes from people whose interests aren't the same as the business/financial elite (aka the 1%) to get elected. But I admit my analysis is a bit shallow. The author's analysis here, on the other hand, might be a bit too deep, but it's interesting anyway. And I like the theoconservative neologism. A long clip from the end, with a bit of bolding that I normally wouldn't do. ]
Sometime in the Eighties, though, neoconservative thinking took on a darker hue. The big question was no longer how to adapt liberal aspirations to the limits of politics, but how to undo the cultural revolution of the Sixties that, in their eyes, had destabilized the family, popularized drug use, made pornography widely available, and encouraged public incivility. In other words, how to undo history. 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” against the “adversary culture of intellectuals,” and to that end promoted “family values” and religious beliefs they did not necessarily share, but thought socially useful. Yet by the Nineties, when it became apparent that lots of ordinary Americans had adjusted to the cultural changes, neoconservatives began predicting the End Times, and once-sober writers like Gertrude Himmelfarb and Robert Bork started publishing books with titles like On Looking into the Abyssand Slouching Towards Gomorrah.
The new apocalypticism reached a fever pitch in a symposium published in 1996 in the widely read theoconservative journal First Things, edited by the late Richard John Neuhaus. The special issue bore the title “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics,” and was provoked by a court decision on physician-assisted suicide. The opening editorial put the following question before readers: Given that “law, as it is presently made by the judiciary, has declared its independence from morality,” and that, due to judicial activism, “the government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed,” have we “reached or are [we] reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime,” and therefore must consider responses “ranging from noncompliance to resistance to civil disobedience to morally justified revolution”? To raise such a question, the editors insisted, “is in no way hyperbolic.” 2
This is the voice of high-brow reaction, and it was present on the right a good decade before Glenn Beck and his fellow prophets of populist doom began ringing alarm bells about educated elites in media, government, and the universities leading a velvet socialist revolution that only “ordinary Americans” could forestall. Apocalypticism trickled down, not up, and is now what binds Republican Party elites to their hard-core base. They all agree that the country must be “taken back” from the usurpers by any means necessary, and are willing to support any candidate, no matter how unworldly or unqualified or fanatical, who shares their picture of the crisis of our time.In the early Sixties, the patrician William F. Buckley joked that he would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston phonebook than by the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT. In 2010, former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama.” This from a former student of Lionel Trilling. And he wasn’t joking.
Seen in this context, the current deadlock in Washington does not look so surprising. During the 2010 congressional election campaign, Republican candidates (and some Democrats) were put under enormous pressure to sign the Americans for Tax Reform “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which obliges them to oppose any increase in the marginal personal or corporate tax rate, and any limits on deductions or tax credits that aren’t offset by other tax cuts. To date, all but six Republican representatives and seven senators have signed this collective suicide note, making the group’s president, Grover Norquist, nearly as successful as Reverend Jim Jones. That’s how the apocalyptic mind works, though. It convinces people that if they bring everything down around them, a phoenix will inevitably be born.
The same faith has been expressed in the Republican presidential candidate debates, where the contenders compete to demonstrate how many agencies they would abolish when in office (if they remember their names), how many programs they would cut or starve, and how much faith they have in the ingenuity of the American people to figure it out for themselves once they’re finished. What’s so disturbing is that they don’t feel compelled to explain how even a reduced government should meet the challenges of the new global economy, how our educational system should respond to them, what the geopolitical implications might be, or anything of the sort. They deliver their lines with the insouciant “what, me worry?” of Alfred E. Neuman.
All this is new—and it has little to do with the principles of conservatism, or with the aristocratic prejudice that “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others,” which Corey Robin sees at the root of everything on the right. No, there is something darker and dystopic at work here. People who know what kind of new world they want to create through revolution are trouble enough; those who only know what they want to destroy are a curse. When I read the new reactionaries or hear them speak I’m reminded of Leo Naphta, the consumptive furloughed Jesuit in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, who prowls the corridors of a Swiss sanatorium, raging against the modern Enlightenment and looking for disciples. What infuriates Naphta is that history cannot be reversed, so he dreams of revenge against it. He speaks of a coming apocalypse, a period of cruelty and cleansing, after which man’s original ignorance will return and new forms of authority will be established. Mann did not model Naphta on Edmund Burke or Chateaubriand or Bismarck or any other figure on the traditional European right. He modeled him on George Lukács, the Hungarian Communist philosopher and onetime commissar who loathed liberals and conservatives alike. A man for our time.
[ OK, one more comment from your humble poster - it always seemed extremely counterintuitive to me to elect people who claimed to hate the government and expect them to do a reasonable job running it. Which would take me back to my personal pet rePublican peeve - the summer 2011 debt fiasco, where the Tea Party faction seemed to think that saying default wouldn't be so bad constituted good goverment, and managed to way the House leadership dog in the process. Lord help us if those people really take over. ]