Yesterday I wrote critically of Eliot Cohen’s wrongheaded take on Ross Douthat’s so-called “Saruman conservatism”. The point I tried to make is that Douthat wasn’t rationalizing conservatives working with Trump, but rather was saying that political conservatism has substantially changed in America, and that those conservatives who want to have some effect on the country in the years to come need to recognize those changes, and work within them — not pine away for a restoration of the Reagan paradigm. That strikes me as common sense, but some readers missed the point.
Let me try again. Read Damon Linker’s mixed review of neocon apostate Max Boot’s memoir about how Trump drove him out of the GOP. Excerpt:
One wonders how the book would have turned out had Boot taken a few more steps back from the fray, to place his lifelong ideological commitments in a wider frame. In that case, he might have seen that the principles and assumptions that first drew him to the Republican Party were not especially “conservative” at all. They were, instead, the expression of a particularly bellicose strand of Cold War liberalism that migrated from the center-left to the center-right in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when a shellshocked Democratic Party temporarily abandoned it. By the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, this brand of muscular, centrist liberalism was back, dominating (with minor differences in emphasis) both parties.
Similar stories of centrist liberalism coming to dominate mainstream politics in the aftermath of the Cold War can be told throughout the countries of the West — just as most of these countries have now begun to experience populist insurgencies aimed at dethroning that consensus. (In the United States, the challenge to the liberal center is coming from both the right and the left.) The insurgencies are inspired by widely felt exhaustion with, and anger at, the unacknowledged failures of the ideas and policies that have defined the ideological center for more than a generation. That exhaustion and anger can’t be willed, wished or insulted away, no matter how unsavory the insurgents may be.
Boot’s book aims to tell the story of a journey, but it’s far more a portrait of stasis. If Boot and his ideological compatriots hope to exercise a meaningful influence in the years to come, they will need to subject their articles of faith to increased scrutiny and demonstrate a greater capacity to adapt to a world very much in the process of pivoting to something new.
Boom. There you go.