I was wondering yesterday whether there was anything worth saying about the appointment of a new editor at The New Republic, but when I attempted to plod through the self-important announcement exchange I was naturally put off to the proposition. Then I discovered that Ron Radosh saw fit to mark the occasion with a long disquisition on the role of intellectuals in combating the Islamofascist conspiracy against our precious bodily fluids.
All the reasons I shouldn’t take any of this the least bit seriously are exactly the point. For one as depressingly middlebrow as Ron Radosh, perhaps the saddest case in the entire history of American public intellectuals, to take to such high dudgeon is almost comical. I still assume he wrote his recent book on Truman and the founding of Israel for the money, but the lengths to which this lifelong non-practicing Jew is going on this new kick are increasingly disturbing, adopting an apocalyptic view one part John Hagee and two parts James Burnham.
Which brings us to the real story here, which is how unoriginal and uninspired all this really is. That it is just warmed-over neoconservatism of the early vintage is made clear by Radosh anchoring his remonstrations toward TNR in this bizarre essay even for the always-silly Walter Russell Mead, channeling nothing so much as the polemics against lack of manliness by Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge and assuring us that the answer is Tea Party economics. Radosh takes it the extra mile by making an appeal along these lines directly to the new editor of TNR himself.
Radosh informs us that the new editor, Richard Just, was in fact an early architect and booster of the Euston Manifesto, the 2006 document calling for support of the Bush-Blair global democratic revolution expressly in the name of “democratic socialism”, but which read rather more like an Israeli attempt to refound the World Peace Council. I guess TNR just can’t give up its liberal charade even if it wanted to, now that everyone has stopped believing it. Jamie Kirchick, long known as Marty Peretz’s mini-me, I guess was out of the running for pulling off the most improbable feat of becoming a gay man embraced by Commentary. Even such second-fiddle young Eustonites as Michael Weiss are now with the Weekly Standard.
I have argued previously that our impeccable “democrats of the left” around the Euston Manifesto and TNR are acting out pathologies strait out of The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and that these lead directly to the belief expressed most frankly by David Gelernter in “Americanism” as “the fourth great western religion” behind the entire anti-Muslim backlash gripping America. It is plainly self-evident that this ideology – be it called Americanism, neoconservatism, democratic socialism, Shachtmanism, or any other name – is the militant world-redemptive creed whose pathologies its adherents project on to the Islamic faith.
TAC‘s publishing schedule, and the long moribundity of this blog, did not allow for a timely obituary for Tony Judt last August, so I shall pay him his due tribute here and now. I had the privilege of meeting him twice, the first time being after his brilliant debate performance alongside John Mearsheimer at Cooper Union in the fall of 2006, at which he was delighted to hear that I looked forward to taking consortium courses from him at NYU through the New School. Alas, it was not to be – I left graduate school, and he was now famously felled by Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The very week of the Cooper Union debate, Judt had the lead essay in the London Review of Books which single-handedly confirmed his greatness, his brilliant polemic against the Eustonites “Bush’s Useful Idiots”:
For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance. They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism. Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age. Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today’s liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with ‘Islamo-fascism’.
It is particularly ironic that the ‘Clinton generation’ of American liberal intellectuals take special pride in their ‘tough-mindedness’, in their success in casting aside the illusions and myths of the old left, for these same ‘tough’ new liberals reproduce some of that old left’s worst characteristics. They may see themselves as having migrated to the opposite shore; but they display precisely the same mixture of dogmatic faith and cultural provincialism, not to mention the exuberant enthusiasm for violent political transformation at other people’s expense, that marked their fellow-travelling predecessors across the Cold War ideological divide. The use value of such persons to ambitious, radical regimes is an old story. Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America’s liberal armchair warriors are the ‘useful idiots’ of the War on Terror.
The comparison to Orwell may seem overwrought, but I will stand my ground that it is appropriate, especially considering the horrific and unbearable claim to Orwell by the neocons. For Tony Judt stood courageously alone in recognizing that it is neoconservatism, not Islam, that is the heir and successor to 20th century totalitarianism. Like Orwell, he was tragically taken from us at the very moment of realizing his greatness and indispensability. Yet if mediocrities like Radosh, Mead, and the hangers on at TNR are any indication, the second time around shall indeed prove to be farce.