Fool Me Twice

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Louis Menand, in a review of Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, makes a point about how intellectual legacies get formed:

All the stages of the [neoconservative] movement's development were based on the primitive psychology of the "break"—the felt need, as one ages, to demonize the exact position one formerly occupied. The enemy is always the person still clinging to the delusions you just outgrew. So—going all the way back to the omphalos, Alcove 1 in the City College cafeteria, where Kristol and his friends fought with the Stalinists in Alcove 2—the Trotskyists hated the fellow-travellers they once had been; the Cold War liberals hated the Trotskyists they once had been; and the neoconservatives hated the liberals they once had been. Now the hardening is complete. Neoconservatism has merged with the politics that its founders, in their youth, held in greatest contempt: the jingoist and capitalist American right. We look from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it is impossible to say which is which.

This helps explain why Fukuyama, instead of writing a straightforward indictment of the war on terror, apparently felt it necessary to present his position in the form of a "break" with neoconservatism—why Krauthammer, an entirely epiphenomenal figure in the creation and implementation of American policy, was the initial target of his indictment, rather than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Krauthammer has ideas; Cheney and Rumsfeld—Fukuyama as much as says so—do not.

Whole article here.

I wouldn't limit the error of the hard break to the neocons. This is what I've always loathed most about born-again seers ranging from Michael Lind and David Horowitz to David Brock to Bill W. and Dr. Bob to Saint Paul. It seems simple enough: Having erred in the past shouldn't necessarily destroy your intellectual credibility, but it definitely shouldn't enhance it. Why should I, who have never been a gutter drunk or a communist or a persecutor of Christians, be impressed by the folly of your youth? Shouldn't that be an incentive to ignore your current nostrums rather than taking them more seriously?

Julian Sanchez burnished the legacy of Fukuyama in a Reason article about his turning away.

NEXT: Down the Memory Hole?

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  1. Having been one of “them” in the past may possibly give you a certain insider’s insight into “them’s” way of thinking, but it certainly doesn’t by itself lend any greater weight to your new way of thinking.

  2. Neoconservatism has merged with … the jingoist and capitalist American right.

    Huh? In what way does the neocon support of capitalism manifest itself exactly? Is it in unrestrained deficit spending? Military adventurism? Perhaps it’s the favored government contractors and earmarked pork projects. Or maybe it can be found in state sponsored religion. I know, it must be the free market policies of warrantless searches and unsupervised domestic spying.

  3. >In what way does the neocon support of
    >capitalism manifest itself exactly?

    You forget that for most people, ‘capitalism’ == ‘mercantilism’

  4. Why do people even bother to worry about the opinion of someone who could write something as asinine as “The End of History”? This has puzzled me for years.

  5. Why do people even bother to worry about the opinion of someone who could write something as asinine as “The End of History”? This has puzzled me for years.

  6. Something that’s been bugging me for a long time, tangentially related to this topic:

    Anyone got a link to a succinct, readable explanation of what the hell neoconservatism has to do with Trotsky? (And we are talking about the Trotsky who was one of Stalin’s communist rivals, right?) Everytime I see that referenced without understanding it, I feel a little bit stupider.

  7. Anony,
    Here’s my explanation. It’s succinct and readable, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court.

    Trotsky was Stalin’s rival. He disagreed with the way Uncle Joe was running things and said so. Naturally he couldn’t be allowed to do that kind of thing in Asia. He continued to preach the word, and wound up somewhere south of Texas. He had some followers. His name has come to mean “splitters of some ‘ism’ that think the other guys are doing it wrong”.

  8. My understanding is the neocon/Trotsky link is Irving Kristol. He was a Troskyist in the 40s who gradually moved rightward. (It isn’t fair to conservatism to say he became a conservative). You may recognize his son, Bill, who played a big role in humping the whole Iraq thing, inter alia.

    Trotsky gives neocons their peculiar utopian flavor, and explains why these alleged conservatives have no problem with Big Government. They like to call it “National Greatness” conservatism. Despite all the griping about Oooiil! Iraq was essentially a utopian endevor. And because neocons are utopians they are incredibly dangerous. Nothing in the world has killed more people than utopians.

  9. Props for recognizing the fulfillment of this impulse in the Apostle Paul. I don’t go in for that Pollyanna bullshit that Jesus quoth, but Paul’s writings (and some cherry-picked provisions from the code of the wandering, bellicose Hebrews) inform the religious philosophical cudgeol of both Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.

    Love thy neighbor, Papa Ratzi? Turn the other cheek, Pat Robertson?

  10. The Trotsky/neocon connection does indeed involve the Kristols. If you wiki them, you’ll see Irving’s pride in his involvement with American Communists in the ’40s. But more than that, you can see the genesis for many neocon ideas in communist ideology. Just as a starter, think about the communist goal of spreading revolution throughout the world to create peace and prosperity for all. Sound like any current U.S. policies?

  11. Having erred in the past shouldn’t necessarily destroy your intellectual credibility, but it definitely shouldn’t enhance it.

    Agreed, but human nature being what it is, many people will always put a premium on the beliefs of “converts” as compared with those who have always believed. The convert’s repudiation of his prior doubts never fails to act as a psychic balm for the current doubts of others.

    Or to put it another way, if Fukuyama was to pen an essay next week titled “After Anti-Libertarianism”, I’m willing to bet that it would generate more talk in libertarian circles than anything that Richard Posner might put out at the same time, no matter how insightful or eloquent.

  12. The string attached to all these “up from” books is that they tend to acknowledge that the former movement is waxing, not waning (Horowitz is the exception-the extreme left he’s always breaking with has been calcified for 30 years). I’ve often considered doing a formal public break with libertarianism as a career sellout, to try and score some kind of pundit slot as the guy who’s seen this extreme and dangerous movement from the inside! But I don’t bother because a) I would first have to develop a higher profile in movement libertarianism, and who needs the aggravation, and b) by the time libertarianism is prominent enough on the national stage to make a formal break payable, I’ll be nearing retirement anyway-at which point my divorce would seem like a cranky old man’s pecadillo rather than a crisis of conscience.

    Since I believe the basic idea of libertarianism is slowly growing in popularity, however, somebody a few decades younger than me might think about this as a future career move.

  13. “Why should I, who have never been a gutter drunk or a communist or a persecutor of Christians, be impressed by the folly of your youth?”

    This was well said. I find my reaction to speakers introduced as “former communist” or “former conservative” to be a resounding sneer. What bothers me is that the invocation of past beliefs are presented with the same gravity as something like “former POW”, which is an altogether different sort of label.

  14. Just to add to what Quasibill said, the theory of permanent (worldwide) revolution is often attributed to Trotsky himself. It was the theoretical underpinning behind his break with Stalin, who believed that the USSR could exist as a communist country on its own (though I’m sure their power struggle was more important to both of them).

  15. Tim-

    If we want to talk about the profit margins involved in selling out, I wonder what I could get as a “former Darwinist.” First I’d declare my newfound respect for creationism, write a book, and hit the lecture circuit. Mop up some cash from the creationists. Then, after duping them, declare that the whole thing was one big joke, I never believed any of the fallacious arguments I was making, and the whole thing was done to demonstrate how easy they are to dupe. Write another book, hit a different lecture circuit.

    Think it could work?

  16. Think it could work?

    Definitely – just make sure that you profit enough from the scheme to afford a decent bodyguard.

  17. Eric-

    Yeah, maybe I should put this off until I’ve written my screenplay and gotten tenure. Then I’ll attend a fundie church and write my book “God Didn’t Play Dice With Genes”. To be followed by “Creationists Are Suckers, But They Pay Well.”

  18. Thoreau, you’d be better off starting a phony religion. L. Ron Hubbard cleaned up on that shit.

    The lecture circuit will catch up with you eventually (and how many bad chicken dinners can you stomach, anyway?), but the religious never seem to be bothered by internal contradictions, do they?

  19. If you really want to clean up, run for President on the Libertarian Party ticket. Pay people at Party headquarters under the table, run a big fund raising campaign and pay yourself handsomely from the proceeds..

    Oh wait, that’s already been done hasn’t it? I guess that would have been the time to make a break. Nevermind.

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