The most cunning, odious and successful of Gore Vidal’s provocations was surely a mid-career contribution to a special issue of The Nation in 1986, marking the magazine’s one-hundred-twentieth anniversary. The essay was called “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” and is best read today in conjunction with a previous Nation essay from the same year, “The American Empire Ran Out of Gas,” and a clarifying subsequent commentary in The Sunday Telegraph in 1993 called “Race Against Time,” all of which he went on to reprint in his essay collections, perhaps under different titles.
I just realized that I never wrote about Frank Foer's review essay about Irving Kristol, which is every bit as good as you'd expect it to be (not just because the author is Frank, but because Frank was born to write this piece.) Aside from a general endorsement, I want to flag one really fascinating tidbit about Kristol's view of Israel, which was shared by Norman Podhoretz: Israel’s socialistic ethos alienated Kristol. “Truth to tell,” he later recalled, “I found Israeli society, on the whole, quite exasperating.” He was not alone.
The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 By Irving Kristol (Basic Books, 390 pp., $29.95) Daniel Bell, now of blessed memory, used to enjoy recounting a piece of lore from the 1930s, back when New York was said to be the most interesting part of the Soviet Union. It was about the travails of a young member of the Revolutionary Workers League named Karl Mienov. When Mienov’s doctrinal differences with that small party became too great to bear, he split and formed his own cell, the Marxist Workers League. His party even launched a theoretical organ, called Spark.
Yes, I know: Max Boot is a neo-con journalist. After all, he writes—amongst others—for Commentary. Commentary used to be edited by Norman Podhoretz. Right now, in fact, it is edited by John Podhoretz who is Norman P. and Midge Dector's son. I have my differences with them. Moreover, they have their differences with me. But they are more sensible than the editors of The Nation who, after all, don't like our country very much. And they certainly don't love it. Nor do many of its readers. Alright, that is another question. Anyway, Boot is a very good journalist, a provocative journalist.
Damon Linker's excellent New York Times review about Commentary and Norman Podhoretz has one especially sharp passage: How could a once thoughtful man spend the past 40 years transforming himself into a commissar? In his 1979 memoir, “Breaking Ranks,” Podhoretz himself described his initial lurch to the right as a perfectly sensible reaction to the excesses of the counterculture, the rise of a black power movement tainted by anti-Semitism, the descent of the antiwar movement into nihilistic violence and the Democratic Party’s embrace of left-wing isolationism in 1972.
Neoconservatism long ago ceased to have any meaningful ideological difference with just plain old conservatism. Perhaps the one remaining vestigial trait of the ideological tendency is a mania for forming committees and stuffing them with progenies (of both the ideological and the literal sort). The glory days of neoconservatism in the 1970s revolved around such committees as the Committee on the Present Danger and the Coalition for a Democratic Majority.
Norman Podhoretz has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, "In Defense Of Sarah Palin," and it's every bit as entertaining as one might hope. The heart of Podhoretz's argument rests upon eliding the distinction between a necessary and a sufficient condition: True, she seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership.
Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush By John Yoo (Kaplan, 544 pp., $29.95) Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State By Garry Wills (Penguin, 288 pp., $27.95) I. In December 2008, Chris Wallace asked Vice President Cheney, “If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer included a reference to a military authority that President Bush did not exercise.
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.
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.