February 22, 2005


The unmaking of the neo-con mind: The neo-conservatives are not malign but irrelevant. They play at faith rather than live it, and a world dominated by faith politics has passed them by. Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb's fascination with the High Modernist apostle T S Eliot sheds light on the neo-conservative state of mind. (Spengler, 2/23/05, Asia Times)

When US president Ronald Reagan called actor John Wayne a "great American", a critic offered that Wayne merely played great Americans, or rather, one might add, the sort of people Reagan thought were great Americans. A solecism of the same kind is Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb's praise for the late Lionel Trilling as "the most eminent intellectual figure of his time" in the February 14 Weekly Standard. Trilling merely wrote about great intellects, or rather, one might add, the sort of people Himmelfarb thinks were great intellects. John Wayne played Davy Crockett, the Tennessee adventurer, while Trilling wrote about T S Eliot, the Anglo-Catholic modernist.

By chance, the Weekly Standard website posted Himmelfarb's souvenir, "The Trilling Imagination", just as my excoriation of T S Eliot (Dead Peoples Society) appeared on February 14. She is married to Irving Kristol, the "godfather" of neo-conservatism; their son is Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. I had dismissed Eliot as the junkyard dog of 20th-century Catholic culture, a syncretist who looked through High Church forms to the paganism underneath.

In the paranoid imagination of left-wing critics, the neo-conservatives form a network of Leo Strauss acolytes infiltrating the United States' seat of power, and guide the world's only superpower into imperialist adventures. On the contrary, they are fighting political and cultural battles of a past generation which neither were won nor lost, but merely became irrelevant. Like T S Eliot, the neo-conservatives play at faith rather than live in the world of faith, a stance that eliminates their relevance to a world in which faith politics dominate.

It was fascinating to watch the neocons realize this a few years, when George W. Bush waxed their man John McCain, prompting a flurry of socially conservative writings from their best and brightest: Francis Fukuyama on bioengineering; Charles Krauthammer on cloning and embryonic stem cells; and William Kristol on cloning. It all represented a canny recognition that unless they could tie themselves to the moral issues that move the Religious Right they risked being completely marginalized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2005 7:33 AM

Nixon's Silent Majority boomers putting their comrades to bed???

Posted by: Sandy P at February 22, 2005 10:39 AM

Actually, neocons are on probation; they don't get to vote.

Posted by: Luciferous at February 22, 2005 2:30 PM