As we all know, one of the results of the rise of social media is that people are able to communicate their political views more often, in fact continuously, to their friends and acquaintances. We can leave aside that most of this is utterly inane, most of this is virtue-signaling, and little of it is helpful in reaching common ground. My focus here is on a subset of such discussions—those among highly educated, intelligent and rational people who have personally known each other for a long time. We can call these people the “Rationals Known To Each Other,” or “RKTEOs.”
It is easy enough to know what the Right thinks, and why. Half a dozen recent books can easily be found explaining clearly libertarianism; or social conservatism; or “reform conservatism.” But no such thing exists for the Left. Yes, there are many books on what political ends the Left desires. I think those desires are mostly insane and fly in the face of reality. But it cannot be true that those on the Left view their desires, or what drives their desires, as either insane or senseless. And one must know one’s enemy. So why are those ends desired? I have always found that hard to say.
[This is a reaction requested from me regarding a Washington Post article, by Alex Nowrasteh, titled “The right has its own version of political correctness. It’s just as stifling.”] This is not convincing, because it posits a false analogy. (It is also extremely badly written.) The analogy is false because it falsely defines “political correctness.” Conservatives don’t regard PC as bad because it shows that people have strong feelings, or because those feelings are believed to be irrational. (A side note: PC has been around for 30 years, not 10. See my review of Thiel’s “The Diversity Myth,” which was written in 1996.) They regard PC as bad because in wide swathes of America, and disproportionately in elite occupations, it is used as both reason and mechanism to punish those who fail to toe the line on whatever today’s PC orthodoxy is. (That orthodoxy, and the weighting of its different tenets, as with any religion substitute ideology, shifts constantly—see, e.g., transgender rights.) That is, PC imports ideological concepts as a tool to punish and silence ideological opponents, …
“The Dragons of Expectation,” subtitled “Reality and Delusion in the Course of History,” is a strange book. Basically, it’s a series of musings by the Sovietologist Robert Conquest, made toward the end of his life. It ranges from the use of words, to the Cold War, to art and the humanities, all united by the general theme of human susceptibility to irrationality. The resonant title, taken from Norse myth, refers to how ideas (or ideologies, to use a more precise term) lead to radical visions which generate expectations that can never be fulfilled, but which create chaos and destruction as their adherents attempt to force reality into conforming to their vision. It’s an interesting, if meandering, ride, though one that largely covers topics about which Conquest had written before. But the book peaks with its title. After reading the book, I still can’t say what it was really about, and I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything at all.
“People’s Republic” is part satire, part warning and part what I would call “conservative military revenge fantasy.” It’s a well-written, gripping read (like everything Schlichter writes). And the combination is successful, if the goal is to hold the reader’s interest and offer a frisson of conservative thrills.
Mary Eberstadt’s It’s Dangerous To Believe offers very clear analysis and very wrong recommendations. Eberstadt eloquently describes how the elite and powerful in today’s America have subscribed to a new religion, the religion of sexual autonomy without limit, and are increasingly using their immense power to punish heretics, in the form of traditional believers. But, because she misapprehends the historical processes at work, she fails to adequately address how the targets of oppression can, or should, respond, and her actual suggestions are harmful fantasies.
“Liberal Fascism” is really a history book, not the book of political analysis I expected it to be. I didn’t love this book (written in 2007—apparently a 2009 version is updated to include talk about Obama), even though it’s famous among conservatives. I’m not sure why I didn’t love this book. Maybe it’s because despite the book’s aggressive thesis, it is over-careful not to give offense. Maybe I think its thesis is overstated. Maybe it’s because the strain of combining a complete history, intellectual analysis, and polemic regarding the American Left for the past century shows, in lacunae in the book. Or maybe it’s because the style of writing, which I would call “unflashy expository,” just isn’t compelling to me. Nonetheless, I still think the book is very much worth reading, because the history it relates is valuable to know.
[Italics are my interlocutor; regular text is me.] Hi Charles, I’ve been pondering the Republican debacle that is Donald Trump and would love your view. I’m wondering what alternatives a Republican with coherent conservative principles is supposed to do in the coming election. Is the anti-Hillary vote a vote for Trump? Or is a conservative vote a Libertarian vote at the expense of the general election? It just doesn’t seem like there is any good option for a conservative with a sound mind. Do you lean toward Trump to stop Hillary and forego the dignity of the country, or do you vote your beliefs and vote Libertarian, preserving the dignity of the US but conceding four years of democratic leadership? Or is there another option I’m missing? ______, good to hear from you. First off, congratulations! And we’re glad you’re moving back to __________, too! This is a good question, of course, and one not frequently directly addressed, because most of the players have a particular ax to grind. That is, if you’re a conservative …
“The Fractured Republic” is a fantastically original book. It is very optimistic, yet clear-eyed, which is a rare combination. Most optimistic books about modern politics are also simplistic. They typically consist of vague and belligerent paeans demanding the recapture of America’s past. Yuval Levin’s book, on the other hand, is the very opposite. It is precise and even-handed. And far from demanding recapture of the past, Levin explicitly rejects any such attempt. At the same time, Levin believes that we as Americans, liberal and conservative, can jointly renew our society without retreading the past, and in this age, such optimism is no small thing.
I read this book because it seemed like it would be an interesting companion to James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West.” Burnham’s book explains and analyzes the ideology of American liberalism, circa 1960. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” in a sense continues that story; it explains how that liberalism discovered the Critical Theory leftism of the Frankfurt School, and like Gollum discovering the One Ring, did not benefit from the discovery. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” is, indeed, somewhat interesting. But it generally fails at explanation and analysis, instead being mostly a rambling diatribe preaching to the converted.