Sorry I’ve been silent (again) for so long. In addition to teaching two writing seminars at Penn, I’ve been busy with book revisions. Those are now done, so I should be back (again) to more regular blogging. Given the glacial pace of my contributions to TNR in recent months, perhaps it makes sense that I’d return with a post about . . . the pace of writing.
One of the best lines in Sam Tanenhaus’s wonderful little book on The Death of Conservatism comes in its opening chapter. Surveying intellectual life on the right in the opening months of the Obama administration, Tanenhaus concludes that too many conservative intellectuals “recognize no distinction between analysis and advocacy, or between the competition of ideas and the naked struggle for power.” Quite so, as one can see from the response (or non-response) of the right to Tanenhaus’s own book. Tanenhaus is a tough critic of the conservative movement, but he is also a deeply informed one.
Irving Kristol, who died on Friday at the age of 89, was often called the godfather of neoconservatism. And so he was, along with Norman Podhoretz, who has actually done far more to set the (foreign-policy focused) agenda and (insistently combative) tone of recent neocon thinking and writing. Kristol's impact was felt earlier, as he led a group of moderately liberal academics and intellectuals on a rightward migration across the political spectrum during the 1970 and '80s. It's an important story that's been told countless times.
Highly recommended: My old friend Mark Lilla’s essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education lamenting how academics neglect conservative and/or right-wing ideas. The occasion for Lilla’s article is the opening of a Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements at UC-Berkeley. Even if the center does its job well, Lilla’s point will remain valid for a very long time.
So Norman Podhoretz has written a book, briefly excerpted in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, in which he poses the age-old question (in the book’s title) Why Are Jews Liberals? Good question. And a deeply personal one for Podhoretz. You see, as one of the original neoconservatives, he moved right four decades ago and has grown rather lonely during his time hanging out with Gentile Republicans. He’s been waiting for the company of his fellow Jews—for vindication of his rightward lurch, for a sign that he was ahead of his time rather than a quirky anomaly.
It's been a while. A long while. Even longer than Andrew Sullivan's vacation. Hell, the last time I wrote a blogpost the website looked completely different. I feel a little like I overslept on the first day of school or something. But seriously, it was a very busy summer for me. My number one priority was going to be finishing a book, which I did. (You'll be hearing more about that in the coming months, I assure you.) But even the book ended up taking a back seat to some unanticipated personal issues in the family.
Subbing for Andrew Sullivan over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf poses an important and rarely raised question about abortion. The occasion for his remarks is a deeply disturbing article published by AlterNet last week in which the author describes attending an "abortion party," thrown in order to raise money to pay for Maggie, "a 22-year-old college senior with no intention of bringing a child into the world yet," to terminate her pregnancy.
Thirty years ago today, Jimmy Carter delivered the worst major speech of a modern president. The "Crisis of Confidence" speech (often described as the "Malaise" speech) was by turns mawkish, hectoring, self-pitying, maudlin, self-righteous, undisciplined (the address opened with a string of nineteen quotations from critics of his presidency).
Once an idea is unleashed upon the world, there's no telling where it will lead. That is one lesson to be drawn from studying the astonishing influence of John Calvin's theology on the subsequent history of the world. Born five hundred years ago today, Calvin deepened the Protestant Reformation by building on Martin Luther's break from Rome, formulating a sternly ascetic version of Christian piety that, as Max Weber powerfully argued more than a century ago, inadvertently laid the psychological groundwork for the development of capitalism.
This week's shooting at the Holocaust Museum has sparked some discussion about whether it's accurate to describe the raving anti-Semite who opened fire at the museum (James Von Brunn) as a "right-wing extremist." That discussion has now taken an odd turn by the news that Von Brunn may have also targeted the offices of The Weekly Standard, a magazine associated with the neoconservative movement. How could Von Brunn be a right-winger, extreme or otherwise, when the Weekly Standard is a magazine of the right?