Some of my readers are distressed by the addition of Noah Millman to our blog stable here at TAC, because Millman isn’t a conservative. On his new TAC blog, Noah writes, of his hiring:
Their other point was that they were not aiming for a magazine that spoke with one voice; they preferred, frankly, a cacophony if that is what a lively a spirited debate produced. And while I suspect I will often – perhaps usually – disagree with my interlocutors here, I have tried to make a habit of engaging with those with whom I disagree, even with those whose premises or conclusions I find strongly abhorrent. Indeed, I feel like an enormous amount is gained merely by coming to agreement on what those premises and conclusions really are. In my politics these days, I am functionally a liberal, and I may wind up as TAC’s house liberal, but I hope if that turns out to be the case that it turns out to be a good thing to have a liberal in the house.
Finally, I should say something about how my own history relates to my presence here. I spent the bulk of my adult life as a functional neoconservative. I also spent the bulk of my adult life working in the more rarefied regions of the financial sector. In the wake of the Iraq War and the financial crisis and subsequent recession, I have come to have serious qualms about both associations. I am now extremely critical both of the foreign policy views I used to hold and of the industry in which I used to work. I’m fairly aware of the critical arguments from the left. This magazine is the natural home of critical arguments from the right on these two issues. If those arguments are good, I want to lend my support to them. If those arguments are lousy, I want to make them better. Either way, that’s a reason for me to be involved in this magazine’s project.
A few things. First, I wasn’t involved in Noah’s hiring, but I’m glad he’s aboard. I’ve read him for years, and he’s a marvelous writer. Secondly, it should be news to TAC readers that the magazine will publicize the arguments of liberals when we think liberals have a good argument. Glenn Greenwald’s stuff has appeared here, even though he’s a hardcore liberal. But if he’s making sense on civil liberties, from a conservative point of view, then why shouldn’t we give him a platform? One of the most frustrating things about the dead end contemporary conservatism finds itself in is that it has become more about tribalism and identity politics than re-examining first principles in light of changing circumstances. In other words, it has too often become about militant assertion, not deliberation. That Noah is more or less a liberal who feels comfortable around conservatives, and who can articulate his arguments in terms conservatives can relate to, makes him not only a useful sparring partner — I expect to spar with him on issues related to social and religious conservatism — but also a writer through which some open-minded liberals can approach conservative ideas.
Noah has said that he’s for gay marriage and “not an immigration restrictionist.” Those are two points of contention he has with me, and with many of our readers. So what? I’m far more pro-Israel than most TAC writers, but you wouldn’t know it because I don’t often write about foreign policy. The point is, nobody at TAC has set any restrictions on what I can or can’t write about, or the line I’m supposed to take. I think that makes us stronger. As a matter of editorial sensibility, TAC resists the idea of a party line. It might appear to some as an absence of principle, but I think rather it reflects a real interest in debate and discussion, and a frustration with the quality of that discussion in so many quarters on the right. Noah says that he worked in high finance on Wall Street and was a fervent Iraq War supporter, but the Iraq disaster and the economic crash made him a strong opponent of Wall Street and the foreign policy views he used to hold. I too was a big Iraq war supporter, and the main reason I didn’t take antiwar arguments — even those made by this magazine — seriously was because I was in thrall to the epistemic closure common to conservatives. One lesson I’ve learned from having seen my error on Iraq was the folly of not listening to arguments that my side doesn’t want to take seriously. Though he is a social liberal, those are two very serious points of agreement between TAC’s general conservatism and Millman’s liberalism, and suggest avenues of productive exchange between right and left.
Why is this bad? When I wrote “Crunchy Cons,” a number of its harshest critics objected that I gave aid and comfort to liberals by saying good things about environmentalism and criticizing some aspects of capitalism. Of all the reasons to object to the content of that book, those were the stupidest ones, reflecting a mindless attitude in which the only principle worth defending was pissing off liberals. That kind of conservatism is pretty common today, and, in my view, it’s a big problem for conservatives. To the extent that in Noah, we have a thoughtful critic of conservatism, one who understands and respects conservatism, even though he doesn’t share all our values, it can only make us more thoughtful and, ultimately, more persuasive.
Besides which, as much as it distresses a traditionalist like me, the younger generation is heavily on Noah’s side on the gay marriage issue. I look forward to friendly arguments with Noah about religious liberty, gay marriage, and related topics, because we social conservatives are going to have to get used to defending ourselves and our views in a culture growing increasingly intolerant of our stance. It’s hard to have this discussion with many liberals, who think we’re a bunch of bigots who don’t deserve anything but defeat. I doubt very much Noah is that kind of social liberal; we social conservatives should be grateful to have him as an interlocutor.
Anyway, when it comes to blog-reading, I’m more interested in a thoughtful, challenging discussion than I am with marching in lockstep with the tribe. So, welcome, Noah!