What the Neocons Got Right:
A Review of Arguing the World
Spanish translation here
Joseph Dorman’s documentary Arguing the World (1998) and its companion book (Arguing the World: The New York Intellectuals in their Own Words, 2000) tells the story of four New York Jewish intellectuals — Daniel Bell (1919–2011), Nathan Glazer (b. 1923), Irving Kristol (1920–2009), and Irving Howe (1920–1993) — who went on to have a tremendous and enduring impact not just on academia, but on political policy and the culture at large.
All four began as Trotskyites debating politics in Alcove 1 of the City College of New York cafeteria and evolved into anti-Communist Cold War liberals. Then, in the cases of Bell, Glazer, and Kristol, into neoconservatives. Howe remained a man of the Left and an advocate of democratic socialism. Bell and Glazer were less conservatives than centrist Democrats who were skeptical of ideological utopianism and moralism — in the film, Bell characterizes himself as a “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture” — and who provided many useful ideas to Republicans without actually joining them. Kristol, however, became a Republican with the 1972 Nixon vs. McGovern campaign and went on to exert a mostly baleful influence on Republican policy in the Reagan and Bush (I and II) administrations.
One of the discomfiting things about middle age is picking up a book and realizing that one first read it 20 years ago. I first watched Arguing the World on VHS shortly after its release, right around the time I became a White Nationalist. Up until that time, was a conservative ex-libertarian, and as an intellectual, I of course read a lot of neoconservative writers (broadly defined), chief among them Leo Strauss and his school, Daniel Bell (by far the most brilliant and likable of the four subjects of this documentary), Christopher Lasch (not really a neocon, but he would have been given time), and Philip Rieff. I also subscribed to Commentary and The New Criterion, as well as David Horowitz’s Culture Wars, for the laughs.
But I had a broader frame of reference than the neocons. I also regularly read paleoconservatives like Patrick Buchanan, Sam Francis, and Joseph Sobran; the Southern Agrarians; and conservative philosophers like Oswald Spengler, Eric Voegelin, Michael Oakeshott, and Roger Scruton. I especially valued these writers because not only did they match the neocons in brilliance, they were also actual conservatives.
At the time, I was aware of the overwhelmingly and parochially Jewish nature of neoconservatism, which manifested itself in the form of ardent Zionism. I was also aware of the overwhelmingly Jewish nature of Communism and the Left in general. And I was acutely aware of the taboos about noticing Jewish power, even to praise it. But I did not really disagree with neoconservative foreign policy at the time, although I found them very weak on domestic policy, since I wanted to roll back liberalism. Still, I regarded them as interesting and intelligent writers who provided me with an arsenal of arguments and analyses that I could use for my own purposes.
Even though today, I take a much dimmer view of the New York Intellectuals and the neocons, I found re-watching Arguing the World to be an inspiring experience. Marxism never had any appeal for me, much less Trotskyism. (I guess it would have helped to be Jewish.) But I admire Bell, Glazer, Kristol, and Howe’s intense commitment to intellectual debate, which allowed them to reject Stalinism and then break with Communism altogether, and then later from liberal moralism and utopianism as well.
I also admire their commitment to metapolitics. They recognized that publishing little magazines presenting their outlook on the whole range of history and culture could shape politics from afar, by changing people’s values and perceptions of the world. Glazer and Bell both admit to a bit of arrogance and chutzpah in their willingness to comment on everything from contemporary political events to sociology, art, and literature. But their intellectual risks brought intellectual rewards, including such classics as Bell’s The End of Ideology and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism and Glazer’s The Lonely Crowd (with David Riesman), as well as professorships at Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, and Berkeley.
The first journal that attracted them was Partisan Review (1934–2003), which was the heart of the largely Communist and Jewish New York intellectual scene. Partisan Review took a turn toward Trotskyism and literary and artistic modernism in 1937. After the Second World War, it was covertly funded by the CIA, which was happy to subsidize Trotskyites and Abstract Expressionism just to stick it to Stalin.
Then there was the American Jewish Committee’s Commentary, for which Bell, Howe, Kristol, and Glazer all wrote. Founded in 1945 as a platform for the anti-Communist Left, it is still going strong as the flagship of the neoconservative Right.
After that came Irving Howe’s democratic socialist review Dissent (founded in 1954 and still publishing today).
Then Bell and Kristol founded The Public Interest (1965–2005), for which Glazer also wrote. The goal of the journal was to shape policy by subjecting liberal ideology and moralism to the criticism of history and the social sciences. One of the best lines of the film is when Kristol describes The Public Interest as having a few hundred subscribers, then adding that you can change the world by publishing a magazine with a few hundred subscribers.
Or a website with tens of thousands of regular readers, for that matter.
Another highlight of the film is the treatment of the so-called New Left of the 1960s. Glazer clashed with the New Left at Berkeley; Bell clashed with them at Columbia; and Howe crossed swords with them in literary salons in New York. All four thinkers clearly regarded the New Left as nothing new at all. It had sprung from the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, both of which were ultimately controlled by the Old Left Communist Party.
In terms of tactics, the New Left employed “non-violence,” which was a new wrinkle for the people who brought us the gulag and the KGB, but some splinter groups quickly reverted to type and took up terrorism.
The student Left was ideological but also deeply dogmatic, authoritarian, and anti-intellectual. When Irving Howe met Tom Hayden, he saw the soul of a commissar. Glazer doubted the good faith of the protesters, because their anger was clearly disproportionate to their objectively privileged existence.
As for the student radicals interviewed, all are Jews but Hayden. All of them appear to be university professors, still railing against the repressive Right-wing authoritarianism of the university system in their book-lined offices. Frankly, they still seem infantile. The only vaguely insightful remark comes from Hayden, who dryly notes that unlike Howe and the Dissent set, he did not grow up in a family in which everyone screamed at one another. Obviously a dig at their overwhelming Jewishness.
Unsurprisingly, Bell and company’s disdain for student Left is virtually identical to another set of Jewish dissident Marxists, the Frankfurt School. Although Herbert Marcuse embraced the student radicals, Theodor Adorno regarded them as anti-intellectual thugs. Like Howe and the neocons, Adorno no longer believed that positive change could come through revolutionary action. Sit-ins, graffiti, and terrorism were impotent in the face of a system armed with atomic bombs.
Like Glazer et al., Adorno and his school were committed to metapolitics. By publishing obscure tomes and little magazines, they would influence educators and artists, who would in turn alter values, tastes, and worldviews, and finally public policy would shift in alignment with the new consensus. Metapolitics is about soft power, remote control, or “hegemony.”
In terms of the distinctions I lay out in “New Right vs. Old Right,” the student radicals of the 1960s may have been called the New Left, but they were really Old Leftists, whereas the Frankfurt School and allied metapolitical movements are the true New Left. The essential characteristic of both the New Left and the New Right is a commitment to metapolitics.
Clearly, both the necons and the Frankfurt School pursued the correct path. The student Leftists eventually burned out. Or they “sold out,” which in practice just meant adopting metapolitics and marching through the institutions. Indeed, the metapolitical approach worked for both the neoconservatives and the Frankfurt School, for both schools of thought have helped define the present system, which Jonathan Bowden characterized as Left-wing ultra-capitalism, a hyper-stratified oligarchy — with Jews massively over-represented among the elites — committed to both Leftist values and Zionism.
Indeed, both the neoconservatives and the Frankfurt School — along with many other Jewish intellectual movements — must be viewed as part of a wider drive for hegemony on the part of the Jewish community, which has now colonized both the Left and the Right, so no matter which tendency is dominant, Jewish values and interests are always privileged.
But Jewish hegemony can be broken down the same way it was built up, which is why Arguing the World is inspiring viewing for White Nationalists as well. It depicts both the intellectual tools and traits of character we need. Just as one takes a knife to a knife fight, and a gun to a gun fight, one must take ideas to a battle of ideas — better and truer ideas. This is the purpose of the New Right: to deconstruct Jewish hegemony and construct a new, pro-white hegemony, so that no matter which political party gains power, white interests are always sacrosanct.
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