Friday, April 17, 2009

Annals Of Turncoatism

George Packer on Irving Kristol, the archetypal neoconservative:

As the years go by, Kristol’s prose becomes less supple, less complex, more combative, and less persuasive. His animus against the “new class”—essentially, do-gooding liberal “elites”—grows so malignant that it overwhelms his sense of proportion, as if the greatest force for evil in America is a seventh-grade social-studies teacher. A philosophical inquiry into the role of values in modern, liberal society gradually turns into a culture war, a crusade against liberals themselves—the true, internal “enemy” in what he calls “my cold war,” “the real cold war.” The successes of the Reagan revolution only intensify this narrowing and hardening of thought into ideology. Kristol converts to supply-side economics, turns against governmental reform altogether, and forgets the lessons of his close friend and colleague Daniel Bell’s great book “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”: that the most destructive threat to bourgeois morality is bourgeois capitalism. By the nineteen-nineties, Kristol’s neoconservatism has settled into ordinary conservatism, which allows no room for contradictions, cultural or otherwise.

Packer sees Kristol's descent into bitterness as the story of "intellectual conservatism" writ large, whereas I guess I see it as the story of turncoatism writ large. Kristol's prose lost its charm and wit when politics went from a noble competition of ideas to a petty competition of men (and mainly straw men at that). This is a phenomenon which runs deeper than conservatism; it is congenital to modern politics in general, and the politics of turncoats in particular.