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01/27/2013

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It is so very unlike the manner in which he has usually presented arguments that I would conclude the following:

1. The report is a hoax;

2. Age has taken its toll.

Here is an interesting take:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/01/18/wendell-berrys-changed-mind-on-marriage/

There is something very wrong here. It is not merely that his current remarks are incongruent with previous remarks. The man is 78. He is of an age to have lived through several dispensations of how homosexuality is treated by the larger society. It is bizarre that he is fazed by people adhering to a view that would have been modal among educated people when he was well into middle age. Also, you should at that age have fairly settled views on most questions. You get people like Berry (or Jeffrey Hart or Paul Craig Roberts) who begin to speak erratically you have to figure something is very amiss.

If the report is correct, then perhaps poor Berry is actually losing his marbles. I have seen, at alarmingly close range, the (temporary) effects of mental instability upon the world view of a previously very committed Christian. I suspect both mental/psychological impairment and demonic oppression.

We must pray for poor Berry.

(Of course, his "arguments" are all hogwash).

The intellectual shoddiness of this is self-demonstrating to any honest observer of the marriage debate. And it's a moral failing as well; if not consciously malicious, it's culpably ignorant in one who sets himself up as a wise observer of society. This slandering of the Christian community in retribution for its refusal to revise its principles on command is not blameless.

I'm so sick of this kind of thing.

Y'all may very well be right about age being a factor. Or maybe *the* factor. Something like Art's 2-item list occurred to me, with the additional possibility of intoxication.

I heard him speak back in May, albeit on sustainable forestry. He was a tad slow at times, but coherent.

"The only explanation I can come up with for this aberration--or so I would like to consider it--is connected to what I said about Berry perhaps lacking a fully coherent philosophy. His seems to be essentially an aesthetic sensibility, certainly very insightful in most instances but susceptible to the occasional dramatic mistake which a more analytical mind might avoid."

This is my take on it as well, although I will also grant the age factor. WB has often admitted to not being a philosopher, in fact not even having read much philosophy. This does not excuse his inconsistency although it does help explain it.

"in spite of his striking insights into the nature of our modern problems, I've never seen him as being quite the sage which many similarly-minded people--agrarians, distributists, traditionalists--seem to think him."

I think that a lot of his appeal lies in the fact is that he is one of the few people offering a critique of consumerism, modernity, etc., who is held in a fair amount of esteem by both left and right. He falls outside the normal tired left/right binary and thus is "safe" for both sides to read. There are few cultural critics that fall into that category who have his visibility.

I meant to say when I wrote you that I almost wondered if it wasn't something like that business with Fr. Groeschel, because he is 78.

I've never done much more than scan through his essays. What I love is his fiction, and this is so very different from the feeling of his novels.

AMDG

Indeed. His (aesthetic and philisophical) objections to artificial birth control in the 1970's (published by the Sierra Club!) were always something I considered pointing out when talking to liberals about Catholic teaching on the subject.

I wonder if he would still accept the opinions he seemed to hold then on the complementarity of men and women as a basic fact of social life?

The article Art linked to above has some lengthy and very striking quotes along the lines you describe, Jeff. Comparing them to the stuff about gay marriage, I found myself thinking of what somebody (Laertes? Ophelia?) says about Hamlet when he's feigning madness: "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown."

Janet, those passages are much more (MUCH more) in keeping with the spirit of the novels.

As you know, Rob, I agree with you about his appeal. He seems to fascinate a certain type of conservative, because so much of what he says is so much more genuinely conservative than the all-too-common uncritical right-wing cheering for capitalism, purely reactionary stance on environmental issues (if the environmentalists are for it, we're against it) etc.

Right. Conservatives of the neo-con sort don't like him at all.

Well, those are some really beautiful passages. This sort of writing from Berry was what caused me to be so astounded by his recent statements. I wonder about the context of those latter remarks, but I haven't had time to read further.

AMDG

I've never read Berry. I think I was put off because of the association of his name with the whole organic farming thing, whose products have always seemed only affordable for the well-to-do. And thus has always had the taint of elitism, at least for me.

In this regard, there's this in a 2011 interview with him at The Guardian :

EB: How do you get consumers to give more thought to what they're buying in the supermarket? At the end of a long day, that can be a tough sell.

WB: They think the way they breathe: they just take in whatever's handiest.

I really don't like that "they think the way they breathe."

I'm not sure he's gone gaga. I read somewhere that around 2006 he came out in favor of domestic partnerships for both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Maybe he's simply been overwhelmed by the sentiments of those around him. Who knows, maybe everyone in his family is very socially liberal -- he has five grandchildren, who, after all, are being heavily influenced by the wider culture. Anyway, this kind of thing can weigh on one.

I also found this interesting passage in an interview he gave Sojourners magazine in 2004:

People are always talking about the first church. The real first church was that gaggle of people who followed Jesus around. We don't know anything about them. But he apparently didn't ask them what creed they subscribed to, or what their sexual preference was, or any of that. He fed them. He healed them. He forgave them. He is clear about sin, but he was also for forgiveness.

Doesn't seem all that far from an acceptance of gay marriage to me.

Conservatives of the neo-con sort don't like him at all.

Come again? When did Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Seymour Martin Lipset, Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz, Kenneth Lynn, Joseph Epstein, or Elliot Abrams ever write a word on Wendell Berry or anything in which he took much of an interest?

Berry's grandchildren, or at least some of them attended Highlands Latin School, which is not exactly a hotbed of popular culture.

AMDG

I think you're writing off Berry too soon, Marianne. He has a lot to say that's excellent. Give Hannah Coulter a try if you don't think you would like his socio-political commentary.

Also, I don't think support for some sort of civil union compromise represents acquiescence in the marriage debate. As Timothy Dalyrmple says in that piece I linked to (maybe it's in the comments) there are a fair number of evangelicals who think it's a reasonable middle ground. Probably a fair number of Catholics, too. So that alone wouldn't put me off him. However, attacking opponents in that irrational way certainly does.

The Soujourners thing is full of the usual non-sequiturs one hears from liberal Christians, especially those in the Anabaptist tradition.

I do think a response to shall we say peer pressure could be part of it. It's awfully uncomfortable to take any position that isn't approved by the taste-makers, and my guess is that he has more and more visible fans on the left than on the right. It's no fun to be cast in the role of the crank who wants to spoil other people's fun.

I don't know about any of those you name, Art, but I've certainly heard Berry criticized in, for instance, National Review, which is more in the neo-ish direction than, say, The American Conservative, where if I'm not mistaken he's been praised pretty highly. Beyond a few very broad brush-strokes and distinct examples (e.g. Podhoretz is certainly a neo-con), though, I find arguing conservative movement taxonomy to be pretty tiresome, so I certainly wouldn't press the neo part of that. Suffice to say that Berry has his detractors on the right. The libertarian component is probably even more a factor there than the neo.

http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Membership---memory-4642

Here is a critical review of some of his work current at that time in The New Criterion in 1992.

Maclin,

The man is 78. You get to that age, you shouldn't give a rip what 'taste-makers' think. What is his excuse? He lives in Kentucky, not Los Angeles. Maureen Mullarkey is a decade younger than Berry, lives in New York, and works in the art world. She has also had to put up with harrassment from newspaper reporters over her political contributions. Next to her, Berry is a poltroon and an ass.

I think you can also find neutral appreciations of Berry in National Review. Book reviews are not something associated with an editorial line.

A note on terminology: National Review is the opinion magazine that tends to reflect conventional thinking within the Republican Party. "Neo-conservative" refers specifically to a coterie of editors and journalists and academics which formed around Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz ca. 1975. They have not formed a distinct strain of starboard thought in 20 years or more. They are an object for other people's free-floating aggression and incomprehension.

I've argued with self-described neo-con bloggers and writers, some of whose names you might recognize, who really can't stand WB, largely because of his critique of corporate capitalism.

"National Review is the opinion magazine that tends to reflect conventional thinking within the Republican Party."

Yes, and that thinking has been neo-conservative driven since their ascendancy in the GOP during the Reagan administration. Limbaugh, Hannity, et al., may have never read them, but they are their heirs sure as shootin'. Mainstream conservatism has morphed into something like "neo-conservatism lite."


That TNC piece seems a decent appraisal of his thought and work. I agree with this: "Berry’s ideas about man and earth under- lie all his fiction, most notably the series of books set in and around the imaginary hamlet of Port William, Kentucky, and the nearby town of Hargrave. Yet the value of these books lies not in his communication of those ideas, but in his sensitive evocation of his characters’ lives, his alertness to the nuances of human feelings and relationships."

I admit I've had thoughts similar to this: "Yet Berry is so determined to drive home the decency and quiet diligence of Port Williamites that he seems loath to make them human, to show us their dark side; at times this book’s scenes from rural life come across like so many Grant Wood paintings." I will say that my experience of rural life in the South (if Kentucky counts as southern) has considerably more of a dark side, and a merely shabby side, than I see in Berry.

Re NR, neocons, etc.: the word "neoconservative" is really pretty hazily defined when applied to anyone apart from the original group. I think it's become pretty well blended into the American right at large, with maybe the sole distinguishing feature being a hawkish foreign policy. And a relatively lower interest in social conservatism. I think you're both right in your view of NR, in that it is the voice of orthodox mainstream conservatism, and the latter is somewhat neo-ized. But then NR was always hawkish, and always capitalist. Well, at least since I started reading it in the late '70s.

I mean, in part, that mainstream "conservatism" has always (since Buckley) had a strong element of something that wasn't really conservative in a fundamental sense. I don't think the neo strain introduced something that wasn't there before.

"The man is 78. You get to that age, you shouldn't give a rip what 'taste-makers' think."

"Shouldn't," yes. But haven't you ever known a formerly somewhat conservative person who in his late years suddenly got greatly "liberalized" and a bit strident? It wouldn't surprise me if Berry cared more for the opinion of the literary left than for that of conservative Christians.

I've read all Berry's fiction -- some of it twice -- except for the most recent collection of short stories. I think that his portrayal of rural life is idealized, but idealized in the same sense that Andrew Lytle idealized it in "The Hind Tit" from I'll Take My Stand. It's portrayed that way by a person who loves farming and feels called to it about mostly those same sorts of people. Lytle knew that farm life wasn't as idyllic as he made it out to be in that essay, and I'm sure WB knows that no rural community functions like Port William. But the point isn't realism, so much as it is the putting forth of a sort of fictional ideal. Grant Wood, perhaps, but not Thomas Kinkade! Berry believes that the rural life, centered around farming, really is a calling, and thus writes about it that way.

"I don't think the neo strain introduced something that wasn't there before."

I agree -- I think that what it did was to increase its potency, so to speak.

"the point isn't realism, so much as it is the putting forth of a sort of fictional ideal."

I was going to use the word "visionary." It's not a 100% naturalistic approach, but an attempt to draw out what he sees as its essential nature.

"Shouldn't," yes. But haven't you ever known a formerly somewhat conservative person who in his late years suddenly got greatly "liberalized" and a bit strident? It wouldn't surprise me if Berry cared more for the opinion of the literary left than for that of conservative Christians.

No. However,

I would refer you to the Current Biography entry for Esther Friedman Lederer (a.k.a. "Ann Landers") issued in 1957. It has in it the following phrase, "she has no respect for women who cannot make their marriages 'work'...". I cannot say what the policy was in 1957, but the editors of Current Biography have over the years made a practice of submitting draft biographies to subjects for their correction. I doubt they were misrepresenting Mrs. Lederer.

That particular disposition of hers was not exactly current at the time of her death in 2002. One thing that I think accounted for her enduring popularity was that she was a conventional thinker and manifested the mores of any given year. Most people are other-directed and, I think, the overwhelming majority of women have a viewpoint that is, in some measure, protean. That is a personal fault and should not be regarded indulgently.

Please keep in mind that the remarks attributed to Berry are not merely in accord with fashion, they are aggressive. Not much excuse for that.

Yes, 'visionary' is a good way to describe it.

I've argued with self-described neo-con bloggers and writers, some of whose names you might recognize, who really can't stand WB, largely because of his critique of corporate capitalism.

Who? Kristol, Podhoretz, et al. had a half-dozen subjects in which they had a particular interest: social policy, higher education, Israel, the Cold War, &c. Organic farming was not one of them. Podhoretz has a history of being antagonistic to 20th century Southern literature and indifferent to the Civil War as a historical subject. The man has not written literary criticism in an age, however. Berry's fiction and non-fiction is outside the realm of things for which that crew got out of bed in the morning.


Yes, and that thinking has been neo-conservative driven since their ascendancy in the GOP during the Reagan administration. Limbaugh, Hannity, et al., may have never read them, but they are their heirs sure as shootin'. Mainstream conservatism has morphed into something like "neo-conservatism lite."

Rubbish.

Kristol as editor of The Public Interest was a promoter of skeptical assessments of the regnant orthodoxies and practice of social policy; Podhoretz after 1974 was a propagator of critiques both of the functional pacifism of the Democratic Party but also of the Kissingerian strain within the Republican Party. Joseph Epstein and Hilton Kramer concerned themselves largely with academic and cultural life. None of this was incongruent with National Review's editorial mission.

Republican politicians like Ronald Reagan tended to have two different levels of discourse. One articulated a schematic and ultimate set of goals and one addressed banal disputes over questions of policy. You could see that in a publication like National Review, but not Commentary. That was the notable difference between them. Someone like Jeane Kirkpatrick differed from Buckley in the range of things in which she took an interest. She also differed in that she did not see the political economy of 1928 as some sort of lodestar. It made little difference in 1979. The practical program of a man like Reagan involved incremental pruning in the realm of social policy and resistance to new initiatives bruited about within the Democratic Party. Attempting to dismantle Social Security would have opened a fissure between Kirkpatrick and Reagan, but that was never on the table.

As for Buckley's successors, they have lived their lives in a world which had a large social services apparat. Buckley or Bozell writing in 1957 were critiquing something under construction. Anyone writing after 1974 or thereabouts was concerned with questions of what to do with this edifice now that it had been constructed. Different questions, not necessarily a different set of principles.

Joseph Sobran, M.E. Bradford and sundry others propagated a potted history of starboard journalism which had Norman Podhoretz et al. suborning William F. Buckley. It is nonsense. The sort of things which distinguished Bradford throughout his public career and which distinguished Sobran after 1986 were a set of viewpoints Buckley and his associates either never promoted or merely tolerated: anti-semitism, white supremacy, and isolationism.

Yeah, well I guess that's one reading of it.

Aside from one novel I've only read Berry's essays. He writes extremely well, but is basically a sentimentalist.

What do you do with Russell Kirk? Not a racist, an anti-Semite, or an isolationist, but still strongly critical of the neo-cons?

"...is basically a sentimentalist."

Would strongly disagree with that, unless all agrarians are sentimentalists.


"That is a personal fault and should not be regarded indulgently...the remarks attributed to Berry are not merely in accord with fashion, they are aggressive. Not much excuse for that."

No, and I wasn't making an excuse, or indulging him, merely trying to figure out what might be going on. I think the post we're commenting on is quite sufficiently non-indulgent and non-excusing.

However, the Ann Landers (and her sister) parallel is at least somewhat apropos, in that they were "conservative" in the 1950s and grew more permissive as they grew older. Berry is certainly not in their class as far as mutating with the times is concerned, but I don't think anyone is 100% insensible to those pressures. It's only to be expected that they would have more power over someone whose core principles are not entirely fixed, which gets back to my original speculation about Berry.

"Hurrah for tobacco farmers (and let's just bracket our awareness that they're growing mass-marketed poison for mega-corporations)."

Is that a fair summary of many agrarians? It's not far off what Berry has written.

No, I don't think it's really a fair summary even of Berry, much less agrarians at large. It's focused only on tobacco. If there's an agrarian principle, it might be something like "Working the land is a healthy and humane way of life and we are the worse for its eclipse." That idea is often defended sentimentally, but I don't think it's intrinsically so.

That said, I do accuse many agrarian/distributist types of having a sentimental streak, Chesterton being a chief culprit in that line. But I wouldn't reduce him to being "a sentimentalist."

I'll say something about the neocon business later, on my lunch break.

I did not think you were excusing anyone.

---

What do you do with Russell Kirk? Not a racist, an anti-Semite, or an isolationist, but still strongly critical of the neo-cons?

1. Russell Kirk cast a ballot for Norman Thomas in 1940. He had a long history of isolationist sympathies. It is just that there were some countervailing vectors during the period running from 195? to about 1990.

2. Kirk was first and last a literature maven. He was also the founder of Modern Age, a quasi-academic journal concerned with political theory, intellectual history, and literary criticism. The sensibility of Modern Age was and is quite distinct from that of The Public Interest or Commentary. Quantitative social research, controversial articles on topical questions, and discussions of public policy were quite alien to Russell Kirk's observable sense of what one spends one's time considering. (Joseph Sobran's remark that he could never bring himself to care about tax policy would be instructive here).

3. An extension of that would be an objection to the functional relationship between intellectuals and politicians. Stephen Tonsor, who has been erroneously identified with palaeo circles (he has called them "flaky cranks") has been so because he shared the palaeo critique of 'courtesan intellectuals' who neglected teaching and research in favor of journalism and the manufacture of position papers. Please note, Kirk spent his adult life in a small town in Michigan and was self-employed from 1955 until his death.

4. If you read George Nash's (rather incomplete) history of conservative journalism as practiced between 1944 and 1976, you get the definite impression that the strain of which Kirk was the foremost exemplar was the most ethereal. The other exemplar was Richard Weaver, who died in 1963. Kirk was Kirk, and there were not too many like him.

Bradford and others have complained that the 'neo-conservatives' were carriers of intellectual viruses. Sometimes this is stated in the stupidest terms. Irving Kristol and Seymour Martin Lipset were members of a Trotskyist discussion circle at City College of New York ca. 1939; Commentary and others promoted the work of Allan Bloom who was in turn a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago; and a line administrator in the Defense Department named Paul Wolfowitz once took a couple of courses from Leo Strauss and then was associated with the Kristol circle later. You hang around in comboxes too much you see a mess of odd throwaway accusations which originate in these biographical odds and ends.

Another level of weird entirely would be Robert Gotcher's insistence that this crew of publicists were promoters of 'materialist earthly utopianism'.

There is a tendency of modern conservatives to equate "isolationist" and "noninterventionist." The two terms are not interchangeable.

Kirk was sui generis, but he had stated affinities with agrarians and Southern conservatives. Criticism of neo-conservatism need not stem from racism, anti-Semitism or isolationism. It can come from such things as a critique of corporate capitalism, a dissatisfaction with activist/expansionist foreign policy, a suspicion of globalism and concomitant centralism, etc.

That the critique may be more "ethereal" rests in the fact that it is not the nuts-and-bolts of the thing that are primarily being criticized but the underlying philosophy, namely the peace made with Enlightenment modernity.

I must say, Art, that I think your attempt to structure or circumscribe the idea of neo-conservatism is doomed, unless you want to restrict its use entirely to its founders. There being no explicit neo-conservative creed which we can say that X signed and Y did not, we're pretty much reduced, now that it has been diffused pretty thoroughly into the broader world of the right, to observing its presence as part of a mix.

I think "neo-conservative" and similar terms are at best merely helpful, not rigorous, and in that respect are like "romantic" and "classical" in art: the definitions are imprecise, especially after you move past the moment when the terms were first used. That doesn't mean they aren't useful, but there's a limited benefit in extensive efforts in trying to pin them down too precisely.

Whether we want to use the term "neo-conservativsm" or not, I recognize what Rob is describing as being a prominent element in the right as a whole now.

The word "isolationist" strikes me as being of little use. It's been abused too much by hawks (a more straightforward description than "neo-con") attacking anyone who questions any military intervention favored by the hawks.

This kind of intra-movement debate about terminology and ideas is one of the reasons I've never been fully on board with the conservative movement, or identified myself too strongly with it. There's a point, which Rob gets to in his 12:02 comment, where you get into a realm of ideas in which the question isn't "neo or paloe?" or "liberal or conservative?", or "modernity or tradition?" but "true or false?"

Maclin,

Starboard discourse in this country takes about three forms:

1. Conventional right

2. Libertarian

3. Alternative right


There is a spectrum of opinion within these broad categories and some subtypes, but that is about all. William Kristol has a particular cultural background and certain interests and emphases, but so does anyone else who publishes opinion. There are people who publish opinion who are disaffected leftist or are 1st degree relatives of disaffected leftists. They have a certain history. They do not propagate a distinct body of social thought.

However, the 'neo-con' discourse is a locus of deep stupidity. There is the blah blah about Trotskyists taking over the right, the blah blah about votaries of Leo Strauss taking over the right, the blah blah about votaries of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter taking over the right, the blah blah about bellicose agents of Israel displacing the heirs of Robert Taft, the blah blah about William Kristol and the Project for a New American Century tricking the country into a war with Iraq, and so on. I am not caricaturing. People actually utter this nonsense.

Pace Joseph Sobran, the machinations of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz did not generate any notable discontinuities in starboard thought. Sobran himself (and the Rockford Institute and Pat Buchanan) were attempting to revive a strain of political thought which had disappeared around about 1959 and bitching that a bunch of pushy Jews had swindled them out of their business.

This kind of intra-movement debate about terminology and ideas is one of the reasons I've never been fully on board with the conservative movement, or identified myself too strongly with it.

Not my doing. "Rob G" flipped the 'neo-con' switch. Talk to him.

All I said was that conservatives of the neo-con sort don't tend to like Berry. This is a fact since, as I've said, I've argued with people over him who describe themselves as neo-conservative. Get it? I'm not saying they're neo-cons, they are.

"...conservatives of the neo-con sort don't tend to like Berry. This is a fact..."

Yes, I agree. However, if someone asks me to specify exactly what I mean by "neo-con sort", I'll probably just shrug. Most people who are interested in the conservative movement would have a broad sense of the sort being referred to.

'"Rob G" flipped the 'neo-con' switch.'

Well, he mentioned the term. Your reaction seems to indicate that you have taken him to be involved in that "locus of deep stupidity," which is not the case. You're right that all sorts of paranoid ideas about the neo-cons have been in circulation for some time, but wrong that Rob's original statement is implicated in that.

Speaking of Sobran, I regard him as a very sad story. Reading NR in the late '70s and till sometime in the '80s I thought he was one of the most consistently sharp writers there.

Most people who are interested in the conservative movement would have a broad sense of the sort being referred to.

Look here is the most recent set of remarks in the online edition of the

American Spectator

http://spectator.org/archives/2012/05/03/the-affections-of-wendell-berr

Here is National Review

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/312500/jeremiah-everyone-john-j-miller?pg=1

Weekly Standard and City Journal appear not to have ever reviewed one of his books. Policy Review has no searchable archives. Commentary has mentioned him in passing on a few occasions but never reviewed one of his books.

Who Rob G actually is referring to is random people in comboxes:

All I said was that conservatives of the neo-con sort don't tend to like Berry. This is a fact since, as I've said, I've argued with people over him who describe themselves as neo-conservative. Get it? I'm not saying they're neo-cons, they are.

And I am Marie of Roumania. You can tell people I have enjoyed Berry's essay collections in the past.

Well, he mentioned the term. Your reaction seems to indicate that you have taken him to be involved in that "locus of deep stupidity," which is not the case. .

My remarks on that subject have twice been eaten by your spam filter, so here is a third (even more abridged) attempt:

1. Joseph Sobran and others contended that Norman Podhoretz and others had hijacked conservative discourse and ruined it.

2. Sobran was actually engaged in a project of attempting to revive strains of thought which had largely evaporated from common-and-garden political journalism more than 30 years earlier.

3. There is no "authentic" conservatism that runs from Robert Taft to the Rockford Institute and Patrick Buchanan and vDare, corrupted by the wire-pulling Mr. Podhoretz. Sobran, Fleming, et al are dissidents. Their deal is their deal. There is nothing that requires them to impugn other peoples motives or intelligence or invent fanciful histories.

4. Rob G says "Mainstream conservatism has morphed into something like "neo-conservatism lite." Which is a nonsensical statement (which he certainly subscribes to).

Ok, now, that looks like you're saying Rob's lying, and that's not acceptable. If he says he has heard self-described neo-conservatives say they don't like Wendell Berry, he did. You can argue that they're not the real thing, or that they're not representative, but you don't in fact know which individuals he was referring to, since he didn't say.

My last comment was to your "Marie of Roumania" gibe.

Re your last (4:13): I agree with your #1 and #3, don't know about your #2. I disagree with your #4. I think it's a fairly accurate statement, given a very loose interpretation of "neo-conservatism." Personally I don't think that's the best term, but I think I know what he means, and I don't offhand know of a single word or phrase that really does the job, which is part of why this one has been assigned that duty.

I could very easily name the names, but don't feel it's proper to do that. These are people with their own blogs, or who are contributors on group blogs. You may recognize their names -- one of them writes for the Weekly Standard every once in a while.

I have the same take on 1,2,3 & 4 as Mac. "Contemporary Mainstream Conservatism" or "Actually Existing Conservavism" -- neither roll off the tongue, although the latter is accurate and can be easily abbreviated to AEC.

There seems to me to be little doubt that AEC has been influenced greatly by neo-conservatism proper. A majority of modern conservatives in fact would say that anything other than AEC isn't really conservatism. The AEC collective memory goes back to Reagan and no further. Mention Kirk and these folks think you're talking about the Captain of the Enterprise. So yes, AEC is "neo-conservatism lite," and the claim is in no way nonsensical (although neocons will undoubtedly say it is.)

I think I agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one:

'Neocon] is an epithet. It is nothing more. It once had a meaning, when Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz sort of changed their political ideology and made a great case for it in the ‘70s. Today it’s usually meant as a silent synonym for ‘Jewish conservative.’

Ok, now, that looks like you're saying Rob's lying, and that's not acceptable. If he says he has heard self-described neo-conservatives say they don't like Wendell Berry, he did. You can argue that they're not the real thing, or that they're not representative, but you don't in fact know which individuals he was referring to, since he didn't say.

Nope. I am saying you can put any appellation on yourself you care to in these sorts of fora. However, if political terminology is to be useful short-hand for communication, it needs to have some understood boundary conditions. To say 'neo-conservatives do not care for Wendell Berry's writing' when the bloc of starboard political and literary publications either have not reviewed it or had some critical appreciation of it is to mislead yourself or mislead others (or, perhaps, to confound others).

There seems to me to be little doubt that AEC has been influenced greatly by neo-conservatism proper. A majority of modern conservatives in fact would say that anything other than AEC isn't really conservatism. The AEC collective memory goes back to Reagan and no further. Mention Kirk and these folks think you're talking about the Captain of the Enterprise. So yes, AEC is "neo-conservatism lite," and the claim is in no way nonsensical (although neocons will undoubtedly say it is.)

Here we go again, and with two different staples of what you read in Chronicles or The American Conservative.

1. That Kristol and Podhoretz had an editorial project which altered the trajectory of thought within the Republican Party and publications earlier to the party like National Review.

2. That common-and-garden conservatives are ignorant (and by implication the alt-right is sophisticated).

To which the answers are as follows:

1. Lawrence Mead and Edward Banfield and Robert W. Tucker had a sort of sophistication about policy not common in National Review's pages (though not exceeding Milton Friedman). They buttressed existing dispositions among Buckley's readership and provided examples and arguments. So did the work product of AEI and Heritage, but neither AEI nor Heritage were founded or run by Jews from Manhattan.

2. Only a minority of people in any political tendency are particularly conversant with mid-20th century intellectual history. The conceit among the contributors and commenters at Chronicles and The American Conservative that they manifest a sophistication lacking elsewhere is nothing more than that. Richard Lowry has his stable of academic contributors and so does John Podhoretz.

--

Develop your arguments and quit salving yourself with the the fiction that other people stole from you and other people are dolts. Neither is true.

I read George Nash's history of modern conservativism, and it's good, as Art Deco says it is good, and everyone in this discussion could benefit from reading it. It's very readable.

I actually have a copy of that book. It's been sitting unread on the shelf for several years now, never reaching the top of my list.

Art, it's time for you either to be more civil or drop this conversation. The latter is a better idea, because what you're saying is only tenuously connected to Rob's original remark, and your response is off-base and overly hostile. You quote Rob's perfectly sensible "There seems to me to be little doubt..." paragraph and then associate him with Chronicles and The American Conservative, which he didn't mention, for a theory of neoconservative perfidy which he didn't suggest.

The anti-neo-conservative paranoia and conspiracy-mindedness that you refer to certainly exist, but Rob has not said anything at all along those lines. Nor have I. One can maintain that neo-conservative ideas have spread widely in the conservative movement at large without in any way accusing Kristol and Podhoretz or anyone else of anything sinister. (For the record, I never read Chronicles and only very rarely read TAC.)

"Understood boundary conditions" on the word "neo-conservative" would certainly be nice, but it's too late for that, as the Charles Krauthammer remark indicates. General usage always wins, however frustrating it may be to those who would like to retain precision. Rob and I used the term in a far looser sense than you would like. Sorry, but that's the way language often goes. This reminds me of that tiresome complaint one hears about the way "liberal," "conservative," "right," and "left" are used in everyday political debate. Yes, they're all muddled up. No, you can't force everyone to stop using the word "liberal" for anything except classical John Stuart Mill liberalism.

Maclin,

I am neither off base nor hostile. It does not matter what character strings he put in his posts. He is trafficking in familiar memes you can see in any issue you care to of the above named publications. He does not even amend or qualify those memes in any interesting way.

Ok, well, end of discussion. I'll close by saying that your rundown of the specifics of conservative intellectual history are interesting in themselves, apart from the application you're making of them in this context.

For the record, I've never subscribed to TAC and don't read it, and I gave up my subs. to Chronicles several years ago. The crotchety bitterness grated, and there were only a couple of their regular writers that I cared to read anyways.

"One can maintain that neo-conservative ideas have spread widely in the conservative movement at large without in any way accusing Kristol and Podhoretz or anyone else of anything sinister."

Exactly. I have no truck with any paleo conspiracy theories.

I have read Nash's history. In fact, I met him at an ISI conference a few years ago and sat at his table for dinner one evening. He's a charming, intelligent man.

I haven't had much time to comment here, or even to read everything in the combox, but I get a bit nervous when we start ascribe motives to Berry's change of position. We just don't know what has caused the change.

AMDG

I think it goes without saying that anything along those lines is just speculation. One can't help wondering.

Well, I'm saying that I think it should go without saying. ;-)

AMDG

It may be speculative, but I'm not sure it's entirely unprofitable to consider possible reasons for it.

I have had good reason recently to examine possible causes of the weird behaviours I've seen in people close to me and then one sees parallels in the lives of others. Such knowledge, imo, is important and in my case, after much examination and reading and prayer, my "diagnosis" was proved right - to the very great happiness of all concerned.

Ultimately, all deviation from the truth of the Faith is spiritual in origin, but there may be physical and mental considerations that need attention too.

I had to laugh when I opened my mailbox today and read this: "If you're a conservative who watches Fox News, listens to talk radio, and reads The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal, you should add [wait for it...] Commentary to your anti-liberal toolbox."

As Hercule Poirot might say, "Ze case, she is clos-ed."

If this were Facebook, I would click "like" on that, Rob. It's a handy way to sort of applaud something when you don't have anything to add.

Though actually I do have something to add: I also got an ad for Commentary in the mail today, though I haven't opened it. And it strikes me that one of those things is not like the other: "listens to talk radio" and "reads Commentary" are not quite on the same plane, unless Commentary has lowered its intellectual level over the years--I haven't seen it for a while.

It's a little different when it's someone in your personal circle, Louise. I can't honestly say my speculation about Berry's motives isn't pretty idle. And it's not as if I could be of any assistance to him. It's pretty much just curiosity.

Today it’s usually meant as a silent synonym for ‘Jewish conservative.’

I don't believe this for a moment.

~~one of those things is not like the other: "listens to talk radio" and "reads Commentary" are not quite on the same plane~~

True, but I think the point being made is that if you listen to talk radio you'll feel at home with the sort of conservatism espoused in Commentary. It may be considerably more advanced intellectually but the ideological views held would still resonate.

On the other hand give the average Rush-listener or Fox-watcher a copy of TAC, or refer them to Front Porch Republic, and I can almost guarantee that they'd question its conservative bona fides, at least when it came to economics, which seems to be the noli me tangere of contemporary conservatism.

"I don't believe this for a moment."

Me neither. Almost all of the folks that I know who describe themselves as neocons, or at least say they lean that way are Catholics.

If this were Facebook, I would click "like" on that, Rob. It's a handy way to sort of applaud something when you don't have anything to add.

The publishers of Commentary buy mailing lists from other publications and think their readers have an affinity for other publications and therefore what? That does not establish some sort of grand discontinuity between common-and-garden conservative discourse in 1975 and today.

There is a reason the publishers of Commentary are not going to buy mailing lists from the Rockford Institute or The American Conservative. The editors of those publications have contempt for common-and-garden conservative discourse, and, in the case of The American Conservative, have little else to say beyond that. (Chronicles has a mess of accomplished and engaging contributors (Phillip Jenkins, Chilton Williamson, &c). The American Conservative serves its readers Rod Dreher and Austin Bramwell).

As for the Front Porch Republic, they have upgraded recently by adding Anthony Esolen to their list of contributors, but most of their mess is either crankish or twee.

I don't believe this for a moment.

OK, Paul, what does it mean, then?

"most of their mess is either crankish or twee."

In the immortal words of The Dude, "Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

I applaud the occasional crankishness, as they are usually cranky about the right things. As for twee, I simply don't see that, although to the heavy metal lover Beethoven probably sounds twee. YMMV.

As for Commentary, my point was that the average modern conservative would recognize it as "conservative," whereas he'd scratch his head over TAC or FPR, and probably think that a source that questioned U.S. foreign policy or criticized corporate capitalism was "liberal."

Art, do you seriously think most people who use the word neo-conservative are using it as a code-word for Jewish conservative? Do you think 98% of the people who use the word have even heard it suggested that this is what it "really" means?

A bit of a different take on all this.

When I first read Berry's remarks, my first thought--well, I guess after I thought What is the matter with his brain?--was real sadness. Here was this person who had blessed me so much--and I don't usually use the word "blessed" like this, but it's exactly what I mean--and whose beautiful description of married love I had written about here, and who now seems so far away from his earlier understanding. I don't really care about analyzing what's going on in his head because I have absolutely no way of knowing. And I don't want to join in the kind of criticism either. I just want, as Louise mentioned earlier, to pray for him, because it seems to me that as Christians that is the only profitable thing you can do with this sort of thing.

AMDG

Art, do you seriously think most people who use the word neo-conservative are using it as a code-word for Jewish conservative? Do you think 98% of the people who use the word have even heard it suggested that this is what it "really" means?

I do and they do.

People use the term the following ways:

1. As a a reference to a small crew of opinion journalists and policy wonks they despise (or regard superciliously, see Sailer). Sometimes the Jewish aspect of this crew is a source of this contempt, sometimes it is not. Gilberals and leftoids, 'palaeo-conservatives', eugenicits (Sailer), and Catholic 'peace-and-justice' shnooks all use the term in this sense. Please note, this crew does not have common features which distinguish them in terms of social ideology; they have common features which distinguish them in terms of cultural background and personal interests.

2. As a reference to a crew of publicists they fancy undertook an invasion-of-the-body snatchers raid on the organs of 'genuine' conservatism during the years running from 1972 to 1989, corrupting and ruining it. The Jewish affiliation of this crew is always salient in this discourse.

--Today it’s usually meant as a silent synonym for ‘Jewish conservative.’

--I don't believe this for a moment.

--OK, Paul, what does it mean, then?

Well, that's just the problem. It doesn't have a widely agreed-upon meaning. It's pretty much become useless. If I were the language czar I would forbid its use in any context except what has now become historical: the original cadre of Kristol & Co., plus the similarly-minded Christians (Nogelhaus).

That it's always meant as "Jewish conservative" and slyly anti-semitic is absurd. There's been a very long loud debate between Catholic neo-cons and their intra-confessional critics which has taken place entirely without reference to Jewish neos. That it's sometimes meant that way is undeniable. That it's usually meant that way is more debatable, but I think still a great exaggeration. In some circles it's probably true, in others not.

I even heard more than one liberal, at the height of Bush-hatred, use the term to refer to the Christian right. It was at that point that I decided it was irredeemably muddled.

I think some on the left seized upon it because they know that most Americans think "conservative" is a good thing. But "neoconservative" had/has very different connotations, so it helped their propaganda effort if they could tar plain-old-conservatives with the "neo" label.

I don't disagree with you, Janet, certainly not about praying for him. We may differ on whether it's right or advisable to criticize him publicly. Personally I think it is both right and advisable, because if he holds these views it's well that people know it. That's part of being a public figure. Obviously it should be done with charity and without malice, which I may or may not have succeeded in doing.

As for Commentary, my point was that the average modern conservative would recognize it as "conservative," whereas he'd scratch his head over TAC or FPR, and probably think that a source that questioned U.S. foreign policy or criticized corporate capitalism was "liberal."

1. People sometimes use political terminology in odd and idiosyncratic ways.

2. Someone who listens to talk radio is civically engaged above and beyond about 75% of the general public. In other words, that person is more likely to use political terminology consistently and to have followed the Paul campaign, for instance.

3. Critiques of American foreign policy courtesy the crew at FPR do make use some of the same scaffolding as that of the pinko intelligentsia dissected by Paul Hollander and Thomas Sowell. The substance of their conceits differs, but still a great deal of conceit. I will wage Mr. Limbaugh's listeners will spot that right away.

I wasn't criticizing what you wrote, Maclin.

AMDG

Art, you're asserting your points 1 and 2 dogmatically, so I will assert just as dogmatically that they do not exhaust the ways the term is commonly used. They are are true of a great many people but not at all true of another great many. Cf. the intra-Catholic debate I mentioned above. I was involved in one such for years on end and can state from experience that in the circles in which I moved neither Jewishness nor the individual Jewish neos ever came into it.

I think you're simply wrong about this. However, there is no way to settle it.

And I think it's fine to criticize what he said. I see people (not you) kind of rejoicing in his fall from grace.

AMDG

"make use some of the same scaffolding"

Use of the same scaffolding does not automatically result in similar structures. Blogger Jeffrey Martin has made this exact point:

"Symptomatic of the contemporary Right, is that past generations of conservatives, even once-lauded philosophers and intellectuals, are now written out of the Right, on the grounds that 'their analyses are homologous with those of some leftists'. One could demonstrate homologies between the following thinkers, not complete, but partial, and significant: Weaver, Chambers, Voegelin, Strauss, Southern Agrarians, Sheldon Wolin (a leftist), Patrick Deneen, Terry Eagleton (Marxist), John Milbank (Radical Orthodoxy, somewhat left), and others. So, what the Right is now saying is that, for example, a Voegelin-esque critique of Lockeanism and capitalism is verboten, because Wolin's critique is 75% similar. Of course, this is not said literally; it's all much cruder than that: anything that sounds leftist, by questioning Actually-Existing Conservatism and its power structures and ideological formations, is banished."

This would obviously apply to foreign policy as well. AEC has a template; if a given view doesn't jibe with that template the view is declared "liberal" and attacked or ignored. Hence, I've heard Ron Paul's foreign policy called "radically liberal" on Fox News. Why? Because it has certain things in common with Chomsky's "scaffolding"? Give me a break. And I don't even like Paul.

"Symptomatic of the contemporary Right, is that past generations of conservatives, even once-lauded philosophers and intellectuals, are now written out of the Right, on the grounds that 'their analyses are homologous with those of some leftists'.

Let go of my leg.

I am a lapsed student of political science and I have never seen the term 'homologous' used in any discussion of political theory or, in fact, in any context other than discussion of evolutionary biology (and not that in 30 years or more).

Very few people talk like professors. Even professors do not talk like professors when not composing university press books or articles for academic journals. You will not find 37 undergraduate College Republicans in the entire country debating the virtues of Eric Voegelin over their cream-cheese sandwhiches while playing ping-pong. The only thing that man is referencing is his own imagination.

AEC has a template; if a given view doesn't jibe with that template the view is declared "liberal" and attacked or ignored. Hence, I've heard Ron Paul's foreign policy called "radically liberal" on Fox News. Why? Because it has certain things in common with Chomsky's "scaffolding"? Give me a break. And I don't even like Paul.

There actually are boundary conditions to sets of political views, and, again, political terminology has to have some common meanings or it ceases to function as short-hand. It pleases you to call Ron Paul's foreign policy 'conservative'. It pleases someone else to call it something else. The thing is, what Paul says has little or nothing in common with the bulk of Republican politicians. The Paul vote is about 11% of the GOP electorate. Someone else gets the trademark.

You're responding to the examples instead of the point being made.

I'm about to be offline for at least the rest of the day, and won't be around very much for the next few days. Hope y'all can keep it civil.

Janet, I didn't think you were, just being clear.:-)

My 10:52 was responding to Art's 10:29.

See ya.

You're responding to the examples instead of the point being made.

What point?

I typed it. You'll have to do your own exegesis, I'm afraid.

Nice little evasion.

Nah, just tedium.

It's a little different when it's someone in your personal circle, Louise. I can't honestly say my speculation about Berry's motives isn't pretty idle. And it's not as if I could be of any assistance to him. It's pretty much just curiosity.

Fair point.

When I first read Berry's remarks, my first thought--well, I guess after I thought What is the matter with his brain?--was real sadness. Here was this person who had blessed me so much--and I don't usually use the word "blessed" like this, but it's exactly what I mean--and whose beautiful description of married love I had written about here, and who now seems so far away from his earlier understanding.

I empathise totally, Janet.

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