What’s Wrong with the World

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The Selfie Post

I am glad to say that until lately, I had never heard the cloyingly adolescent slang word, "selfie." Now that I have, though, there seems not much point in piling on to all the indignant commentary on the President's disgraceful conduct at the Mandela memorial. After all, we should expect nothing more from our chief executive, who has always been an eyelash (or a Washingtonian cover) away from becoming--speaking in strictly legal terms for a moment--a Kardashian. Having achieved a depressing kind of epistemic closure on the matter of Western decline, I am more interested in meta-commentary.

Readers of What's Wrong with the World may judge this Michael Goodwin column at the New York Post for themselves: "How the West was Lost by the Selfie President." It is good enough, if predictable. Predictable, that is, in its characteristically neoconservative refusal to get the point, grousing about some vaguery that is the decline of the West while straining to connect the whole affair to the administration's insufficient hawkishness in foreign affairs. We are supposed to nod gravely at his (inarguable) observation that such men as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill would have held in contempt men and women like Barack Obama and Helle Thorning Schmidt, whom Laura Wood aptly numbers among The Teenagers Who Rule Us.

Scroll down, if you dare, dear reader. Remind yourself that this column which, again, is good enough as far as it goes, appears in the digital pages of the New York Post. Ask yourself what Churchill would have had to say about a publication that referred its readership to such ennobling items as "21 Hot Pictures of Kate Upton in Honor of Her 21st Birthday," and "What Happened to Lady Gaga?" Ask yourself how seriously we are to take complaints about the decline of the West, and the childishness of its leadership, in the pages of a magazine that exhorts its readers to click over to a photo gallery of "Things You Can Get Away With When You're Drunk, but Not When You're Sober," which helpfully includes a sample image of a young woman passed out in the bathroom. (If that doesn't arouse your interest, simply refresh the page for more such links.) Finally, ask yourself what self-respecting conservative would permit his own work to float along in such a sea of refuse.

This particular episode of hypocrisy on the part of American Conservatism, Inc. is worth more than the usual dose of bitterness, since everyone involved, from our foolishly over-biting President to the professional conservatives who sell their outrage, is so eager to share the contents of his looking glass with the world that he cannot see the total nothingness that is reflected there. Some day I should compile such laughable contradictions--in which ostensibly conservative columnists and publications serve up red meat griping about the decline of the West, whilst simultaneously participating in it without any discernible pang of conscience--into a single post.

I think I have a title already: How the West Was Lost by the Selfie-Cons.

Comments (53)

Because I'm fortunate enough to have Ad Block Plus on Google Chrome (this is a personal plug for both pieces of software), I am lucky enough to be able to give a miss to much of the trash surrounding news stories such as the "stories" you mention, Sage. Not to all, unfortunately. I find that more junk is blocked on some news sites than on others. But I have a nice amount of white space around the particular New York Post column by Goodwin.

I entirely agree that such vile rubbish is part of the decline of the West. But I do wonder whether perhaps you're being a bit hard on Goodwin in blaming him for the other things published by the venue that employs him. Is it really true that a columnist is "participating in" the bad things being done or published by the entity that publishes his column? Is it really true that you cannot, without hypocrisy, talk about the decline of the West if your article is likely to be posted, through no other choice of your own besides a willingness to work for a particular organization, on the same page with trash that exemplifies the decline of the West? This would seem to argue that, in order not to be a "selfie con," a hollow man who leaves a big blank in the mirror, a person who sells his political pundit-style writing is obliged to do so only in publications or at sites that publish no trash.

I'm not going to treat that thesis as obviously false, but it's certainly not obviously true, either.

It's difficult enough to be part of an entirely voluntary enterprise like a blog without worrying that one is to be held responsible for what other members of the blog post, or even for the comments one "allows" to stand. But I would think it is harder still when one's livelihood is at stake and when pretty much all of the big journalistic entities are also publishing junk over which its serious columnists have no control.

Then, too, I can't help wondering whether the issue of the _content_ of Goodwin's post is being mixed, to some extent, with the surrounding glitzy garbage. What if the column had been not merely "good enough" but rather utterly marvelous, a true jeremiad against cultural decline, a near-profound meditation on the implications of the President's behavior as part of said decline? And what if it either contained no reference to world events or foreign policy or contained only statements on those topics with which you heartily agreed? I should _think_, but perhaps I am wrong, that in that case the reaction would not be, "Look at this hypocrite Goodwin" but rather "Wow, I feel kind of sorry for Goodwin; I wonder how he got stuck publishing such great columns at a news outlet that puts such smut on the same page with his columns. Sure hope he can find a venue that fits his style better."

So, I'm a little hesitant here about the neo-con bashing. It's unclear to me that Goodwin is participating in the decline of the West.

In answer to your question, if his column had been spectacular in the way you describe, it would make the contrast only more jarring, subjectively speaking, and it would make his decision to publish at a place like the NY Post all the more hypocritical, objectively speaking. That's how I see it.

As for the content of his column, if there seems to be some kind of irrelevant admixture going on here, it's probably because I was not clear enough, lucid enough, or maybe just long-winded enough. Neoconservatism is, as I've come to see it, a noxious scam. A big part of that scam is either excessive identification of the decline of Western Civilization with America's decline as a great power, or aimless griping about some vague "cultural decline" that contains no real, explicit rejection of the social revolution that is driving it. This is what drives me batty about such pieces, and the willingness of putative conservatives to appear in such places as the wholly degenerate, tabloid-style NY Post.

And on that subject, I'd say that for myself, it would be simply a matter of principle that I would not permit my work to appear alongside smut. If I were famous, like Rush Limbaugh, I would not give interviews in places like Playboy, and if I were a successful columnist (fat chance), I would under no circumstances permit my byline to hover alongside semi-denuded images of young women. Again, this is a matter of basic principle, and if for some reason I felt constrained to have something published in a place like that--maybe if I thought my message was worth the trade-off, or what have you--I hope I would be self-aware enough not to go on about the decline of the West even as I did so.

Maybe I should sympathize more with pundits like Goodwin. I would love nothing more than to be paid to write about current affairs, and the trade-off must look like a minor one to many people. It's not comparable to a blog in any case, since I'm not suggesting that just to appear in some publication is to endorse everything you might might in it. I'm not saying I'd demand an advance sample of all the products being advertised in a magazine in which one of my articles appeared, just to be sure I could endorse them all in good conscience. And obviously, I don't agree with every jot and tittle of what is written at WWWtW (except Paul's work, with which there can be no rational disagreement, on any particular). But we aren't talking about a stray banner ad that somehow slipped through the cracks, either.

Again, maybe I'm too harsh, but my immediate reaction on reading something like that is, "This guy isn't serious, and he's really no help."

I wonder how much any of us can manage to present ourselves only in sewage-free contexts. Though it seems important to keep that ideal alive....

Is the New York Post comparable to Playboy? I mean, everybody knows what makes Playboy sell, right? Speaking for myself, in the highly unlikely event that the New York Post asked to reprint some column of mine, it wouldn't even have previously crossed my mind to ask first what other, possibly vile and trashy, articles they publish and whether thumbnails for those articles would appear in the margins alongside my piece. Maybe that's just because I was previously too naive even to think of it and knew little about the other tabloidal contents of the New York Post. Maybe it's because I installed software long ago that blocks much of that stuff around the edges of articles, so I'm oblivious. Maybe it's because I have *some* sympathy for the perspective that one is responsible in the main only for what one writes oneself, though when it comes to publishing in or being interviewed by a notoriously pornographic publication like Playboy or Cosmopolitan, that obviously becomes much more dubious. Probably a mix of all three.

Goodwin himself may indeed be an utter lightweight who has no concern for the moral decline of the West. I don't read him except for this column, so I have no idea. I would just say that I couldn't tell that from his publishing a piece mostly focused on the intersection of Obama's unseriousness and foreign policy, which happens to use the phrase "western decline," on the New York Post's site.

As for whether "neo-conservatism" is to be identified generally with obliviousness to moral decline, or even endorsement thereof, and a near-exclusive focus on hawkish foreign policy, that also seems a bit too strongly stated. There are, after all, quite a number of Christian neoconservatives in the First Things gang, chief among them the late Fr. Neuhaus. I suppose Michelle Malkin counts as a neocon, and she writes about abortion news. I would say that Wesley J. Smith is a neocon. Heck, in some ways he's still a liberal, still speaks reverently of Ralph Nader, for example! Yet his entire shtick is the moral decline of the West, over and over and over again with extremely serious examples and discussion.

I've heard conservatives (I seem to recall one of our former contributors to this very site) make a classically neo-con statement to the effect that they are conservatives because now the conservatives are those who "truly stand up for the little guy" and the powerless and hence fulfill what they were previously attracted to in the liberal ideal. It really doesn't seem to get much more "neo-con" than that, but some of these are our strongest pro-life warriors, writing extremely seriously and carefully on the topic and fighting in the trenches.

Another thing is that we should distinguish Goodwin's foreign policy prescriptions, some of which one can infer from his article, from his broader point about the world's dangerousness and our President's shallowness. Since I do have pretty strong isolationist sympathies (and I use that word "isolationist" on myself quite deliberately), I can tell that I would disagree with some of what Goodwin actually wants us to do in terms of foreign policy. But his broader point is apt. Obama's narcissism and shallowness are relevant to so much, because, like it or not (and I don't like it), the presidency is an extremely powerful position. Ironically, our presidents behaved more like statesmen rather than goofy teenagers at a time when both the United States and the Presidency were less powerful. In any event, to see the President of the U.S. acting this way while there is, one must admit, a lot of very weird and alarming saber rattling going on from all-too-serious and unsavory powers all around the globe, is scarcely reassuring. The phrase "we are not serious" comes to mind. I agree with a column that points that out.

Lydia, it must be possible to speak in generalities about neoconservatism, what it is, what it promotes, and what it really accomplishes from a traditionalist standpoint, without having to caveat those statements with comments to the effect that Wesley J. Smith is very good on abortion and bioethics. George W. Bush was good on abortion, or at least did no harm that I can see, but he was a neoconservative who did tremendous damage to the country, not least through his radically liberal stances on immigration, "the home ownership gap," etc. And I would say that to the extent that neoconservative publications welcome with open arms men like Michael "I favor extremely liberal divorce laws" Potemra and Jonah "the Animal House Conservative" Goldberg, they are not really organs of conservatism at all, and do more harm than good. That they are the best the mainstream has to offer is sadly true, but that redounds not so much to the credit of those publications as to the discredit of mainstream conservatism.

Re: your second comment, when I said that his column was good enough as far as it went, I meant pretty much just what you said. It wasn't untrue , and maybe somebody needed to hear it. Far be it from me to deny that the world is far too dangerous a place for a sheltered liberal nincompoop and his gaggle of fanboys to handle in a sober and responsible way. But in the end it is just so much aimless griping, because as far as I can see there's not very much neoconservatives, broadly speaking, would do actually to reverse the cultural forces that produce juvenile men like Barack Obama and elevate them to the Presidency. When you say, "We are not serious," I of course agree, and I suppose where we differ is that I take the appearance of (loosely speaking) conservative commentary in trashy places like the Post as evidence that we really, really aren't serious, even while we're complaing about our lack of seriousness.

This introduces the financial angle: Are conservatives obliged to divest their portfolio of News Corp stock, or of bond funds holding their debt? (Given lefty agitations, that probably wouldn't be all that hard; probably they've beavered away capital in the Progressive Media Diversified Long Fund or something.) In any case, agents of the shareholders, in the end, decide News Corp advertising and journalistic standards.

Speaking of decline, consider this article: http://www.nationaljournal.com/features/restoration-calls/in-nothing-we-trust-20120419

I tend to think that, in terms of political coalitions, we have minimal room for maneuver and cannot afford to be picky with our allies. There are victories against Leviathan still available to us, or at least successful delay actions, supposing a skillful marshaling of forces.

The Johnny-Come-Lately doomsayer crowd certainly leaves a bad tastes in one's mouth. Men who, a decade ago, uttered some rather bold and reckless claims for massive projects of government-led transformation and liberation, by a confident and mighty nation, now lament our feebleness. Their excitability misled them in both cases: we were never so strong, and we are not now so feeble, as they suppose.

Sage, I certainly agree that we shouldn't throw around the conservative label and bestow it on publications that are unserious and culturally clueless or worse than clueless. I've had gripes like that about National Review for a long time. And I get annoyed when people bestow the label "conservative" on, e.g., the Wall Street Journal, which has been urging the non-humannness of embryos for a long time, just to give one example.

But I nonetheless think that even neo-conservatism falls into _camps_, and that the things you are talking about, the teeny-con stuff or, even worse, the South Park "conservatism," describes only one camp. So far from thinking that pro-life neocons constitute some kind of scattered and nigh-invisible minority that we can't be asked to mention when making generalizations, I think that in the last decades of the 20th century a pretty strong culturally conservative camp of neoconservatism emerged with a bang, and it hasn't disappeared yet, even though Fr. Neuhaus is dead. The Human Life Review and its writers are a good example thereof. Frank Beckwith (sorry to have to be so explicit) is a good example. The Life Training Institute invokes (somewhat to my cringing) Martin Luther King, which is definitely a neo-con trope, but they are doing extremely good work and are by no means selfie-cons. There are just a lot of examples, not just of isolated individuals.

Heck, for that matter, nearly the entire foot soldiery of the pro-life movement and the anti-homosexual rights movement is composed of ordinary, mainstream conservative people who have to a large extent bought the neocon perspective on foreign policy and on several other things. But where would we be without them? Precisely nowhere.

So that's why I object to generalizations that are quite so sweeping.

"as far as I can see there's not very much neoconservatives, broadly speaking, would do actually to reverse the cultural forces that produce juvenile men like Barack Obama and elevate them to the Presidency."

Consumerism looms large among the cultural forces that contribute to societal decline and help produce perpetual adolescents . This is a sticky wicket for mainstream conservatives, however, as a close look at consumerism might entail rethinking their rather unqualified support for corporate capitalism. It's no leap from criticizing the media, entertainment, and advertising industries (culprits all) to beginning to wonder about the corporate system that lies behind them, but that's a place most conservatives don't want to go.

About George W. Bush: I yield to none in criticizing him. In many ways I think he was a disastrous President, especially because he taught American conservatives to settle and compromise, and they've been doing it worse and worse ever since. Many other reasons, too. When it comes to voting for candidates, I'm actually something of a purist, and I didn't vote for Bush in 2004 or for McCain or Romney after him.

I would call Bush ideologically confused and a compromiser and, as a result, a poor leader, especially as a leader of the conservatives in the country. However, I would not call him a "selfie con" or a man who leaves a big blank spot in the mirror! In part what I'm responding to here is the sheer harshness of the critique of, apparently, "neocons" generally.

Which leads to another point: I think it's pretty important that we avoid bitterness against *actual* fellow conservatives who are more mainstream than we are. One of my closest friends is not just a tepid but a committed pro-lifer, committed opponent of the homosexual rights movement, would do I'm sure all kinds of things to reverse cultural decay (including reversing, e.g., homosexual rights ordinances), but I still remember his giving me the "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" line, just as if it came out of some neocon talking points bulletin.

People are a mix and a mess. We should certainly sound the alarm and tell our fellow social cons that they are being taken for a ride by the Republican party, that x or y publication should not be referred to as conservative, and that they need to stop compromising so much in their willingness to vote for any candidate with an R on his shirt. All that and more I will heartily join in doing. But isolating ourselves from "the neocons" in some sweeping fashion is isolating ourselves indeed, especially given the extent to which that label is going to catch some of our staunchest social con friends.


Your characteristic insight and wisdom have missed the mark on this post. It is almost as if you are channeling the ghost of Larry Auster.

First of all, pot meet kettle (from "The Thinking Housewife"):

JORGE BERGOGLIO, the man whose credentials for the papal throne do not include being a Catholic, has done it again.

Let me note up front that of course I think it is perfectly appropriate to criticize the Pope and the Bishops when necessary -- but to do so in this hysterical manner is not fitting of a conservative or a serious Catholic. Period. So be careful who you are willing to throw under the metaphorical bus around here.

I don't have much to add to Lydia's points (and Paul's worthy addition) except the following:

1) calling Bush a neoconservative is just weird -- was he ever a liberal to begin with? I suppose he was swayed by certain neo-con foreign policy ideas, ideas which I too shared to a certain extent back in the oughts (and like the neo-cons of old, was mugged back into reality by events!) -- but I find it hard to attribute any of his compassionate conservative domestic policy ideas (especially his promotion of homeownership) to specific neocon writers or policy journals);

2) I think you unfairly malign Jonah Goldberg -- yes, he can be silly and unserious but he can also be very smart and probing about conservative and liberal political thought as he was in his excellent book Liberal Fascism (and in the response to his critics) -- anyone who takes Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn seriously deserves our respect;

3) Thanks to Lydia for the ad-blocking software suggestion -- I already use an internet filter for searches at home but was not aware of the ability to block ad content. In a perfect conservative world, we would of course ban the creation of such ads (note to NM -- yes, I support restrictions on the advertising industry!), but until such day we can use technology to our benefit.

The other thing to add to the mix here is the somewhat shameful record of the anti-neo-cons on social issues. At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, I would say that we here at W4 are extremely unusual in being _both_ not-entirely-mainstream in our conservatism _and_ extremely passionate about the social issues that mainstream conservatives are passionate about. Does anyone remember the incident in the 90's where First Things, that bastion of Catholic neo-conservatism, published a symposium on the Roe v. Wade regime and Chronicles reacted with snarling fury? I remember it well. And I would just say, dryly, that the commitment of the writers at Chronicles to the right to life of the unborn child was pretty conspicuous by its absence in that exchange, because God forbid they should appear to agree with Richard John Neuhaus, their nemesis. I have documented elsewhere other instances of Fleming's tepid approach to the abortion issue. He's far too busy excoriating and sneering at people for being mainstream conservatives to join hands with them to oppose the slaughter of the innocent. Nor is he the only example.

The "crunchy" types positively fall all over themselves over Wendell Berry--oh, yes, that would be the Wendell Berry who thinks homosexual "marriage" is fine.

Not to mention all the bitter anti-neo-cons who are so busy telling us that marriage really died long ago so we might as well not bother opposing the homosexual agenda.

Suffice it to say that a somewhat blinkered focus on foreign policy and "American greatness" is by no means the only pitfall for conservatives to avoid when it comes to being unserious on issues of domestic urgency, issues which truly represent the Decline of the West.

In fact, while we're generalizing, I would go so far as to say that, in my time as a politically aware being, the fusionists and/or the neocons have been the shock troops of the pro-life and anti-homosexual battles, while the anti-neocons have been *mostly* missing in action. Again, present company very much excluded from that generalization, but again, again, we're not typical.

Also, in that context, let's not forget that it was Neuhaus the neocon, not his anti-neocon antagonists, who really did ring the bell of revolt against the Court and its lawless embrace of abortion. Neuhaus made more noise for the proposition that off at the end the republic that embraces abortion enjoins treason by patriots than any 20th century American. That's a proposition than every Christian traditionalist must confront.

That said, Sage (having paid his amusing ironic comment) should be aware that Paul doesn't even always agree with Paul on every particular, which on principle demonstrates that disagreement must be rationally grounded.

It's half-true that conservatives aren't serious. They vacillate between unbearable triviality (selfies!, Obama shook hands with Castro!, Obama bows!) and apocalyptic fervor. The whole movement is gripped by mass delusions about their own failures. Either "People would naturally agree with us if the media/schools didn't brainwash them!" or "We would have won if not for those backstabbing RINOs!", or my personal favorite "They're content now, but wait until everything comes crashing down; then they'll be sorry!". I don't know how much we can really blame the neocons, since they are mostly foreign policy and most people don't care about foreign policy. Even Republicans wouldn't care about the next Hitler if they weren't stuck in the right-wing media ghetto where they are bombarded daily with such nonsense.

Get out of the ghetto. Turn talk radio off and go talk to some liberals. Actually listen to them instead of just looking for a fight. If nothing else it will make you less stressed out.

Actually, Matt, I am never _remotely_ reassured by talking to liberals. If anything, I discover that it's worse than I thought. Sorry.


As someone who has two daughters in a relatively sane public school (I do the best that I can), I can assure you that the schools do indeed brainwash our young. It's not even subtle. And if you were remotely familiar with the mainstream media of today, you'd know that with only a few exceptions, they too are involved in one big liberal brainwashing project (and to be fair, most reporters/writers don't even realize what they are doing -- they are just too deep in their own liberal assumptions, i.e. "diversity is good", to ever stop and question them from time to time).

If nothing else it will make you less stressed out.

Try not to project and refer to the final quote in this blog's statement of purpose: http://whatswrongwrongwiththeworld.net/about.html

Lydia, the only thing it should reassure you of is that liberals aren't ghouls hell bent on the destruction of Western Civilization. I'm sure the disagreements are real and in some cases intractable. Keep in mind that many liberals, especially on the internet, are just reciting from a script the same way conservatives do. You often have to dig a little to get past the canned responses.

Jeff, I'm not saying there is no bias. There obviously is. But that's not why people aren't conservative. Regular people aren't as stupid, nor are liberals as competent and prescient, as this narrative presumes. Liberals often try a variant of this by claiming that e.g. the Koch brothers are just buying everyone off. It's every bit as silly coming from them.

Jeffery S., I'm afraid I will have to deepen your disappointment by saying that I miss Larry very much, in spite of the distance between us at the end, and would like to channel his ghost now and again. Still, I think I understand what you mean, and you're probably not far off. This was an Austeresque post, for sure.

To your other points:

- I perhaps don't construe the word "neoconservative" as narrowly as you do, and we're definitely speaking past each other with respect to labeling, since your statement that George W. Bush "was never a liberal" makes my head swim. I'm willing to concede for present purposes that he is a bad example of per se neoconservatism.

- As far as Jonah Goldberg, I am beginning to feel as though I'm walking on eggshells here. It is not clear to me, given what has been said already by others in this thread, what general condemnation of neoconservatism would be allowed to stand. None, evidently, or at least not without lengthy and detailed caveat. But on Jonah Goldberg, I am apparently not to refer to him negatively at all, even using a ridiculous phrase he concocted to describe himself, lest I be "unfair" to him.

Let me state the matter plainly: He just is not a conservative as I understand the word, and his prominence as editor of NRO dramatically lowers the philosophical bar for conservatism in general. Whatever the case, I'm on record giving Goldberg credit where it is due--he is a smart guy possessed of excellent wit and humor, who often makes valuable contributions on specific matters of debate. He has often made arguments that I would like to have made myself, but have struggled to put into words. But I have to call it as I see it in spite of his merits.


Your reference to talk radio, as well as your touching belief that anybody around here has been sheltered from contact with liberals, indicates that your understanding of conservatives, and particularly of the kind you're dealing with at WWWtW, is nowhere near as subtle as you believe it to be.


Lydia, the only thing it should reassure you of is that liberals aren't ghouls hell bent on the destruction of Western Civilization.

Some are the human equivalent, actually. Think queer theory professors and Dan Savage. Or that sex education teacher I wrote about last week. But beyond that, don't forget that I actually believe in real ghouls of hell--that is, I believe that there are literal demons. And so I would say that the majority of liberals are "nice guys" who are quietly and dependably doing the work of real ghouls of hell who are bent on the destruction of Western Civilization.


Don't worry about "walking on eggshells." If I disagree or Jeff disagrees or anybody disagrees, we'll just call 'em like we see 'em and go on being friends. It's not a problem actually. So it isn't a matter of being "allowed" to do anything. Condemn neoconservatives sweepingly if you like, but, yeah, given my own background information, I'm probably going to disagree with any really sweeping and really strong condemnation, for the reasons I've already given. And that's not because I don't have my own disagreements with them. It is, however, because I have a pretty strong sense of how many neocons and Bush-cons and what-not are actually not even _remotely_ selfie-cons or hollow men and are indispensable to a lot of good and important work, despite my disagreements with them. (Sometimes very strong disagreements, especially about various compromises on candidates.) But you're more than free to disagree. I would simply ask you to reconsider being quite so strong or quite so sweeping, in light of the kinds of considerations I've brought up.

As for Jonah Goldberg, I myself definitely agree with this statement:

[H]is prominence as editor of NRO dramatically lowers the philosophical bar for conservatism in general.


First I want to endorse this comment from Lydia:

"Don't worry about "walking on eggshells." If I disagree or Jeff disagrees or anybody disagrees, we'll just call 'em like we see 'em and go on being friends."

If we can't show liberals how to (vigorously) disagree, without being disagreeable, then what can we show them?

Secondly, I admit that I too miss Larry -- how many deceased bloggers do you find yourself returning to regularly? But what always drove me crazy about Larry was the scorn and venom he reserved for those on the right who weren't conservative enough for his idiosyncratic standards.

Finally, I'll just have to agree to disagree with both you and Lydia about Mr. Goldberg -- if anything I think he is one of the folks over at NRO who would love nothing more than to write seriously about political philosophy. You and I and Lydia might not always agree with his conclusions, but he loves nothing more than to explain to his readers the historical philosophical roots of the Progressive movement and how Crowley, Dewey, James, etc. have their hooks in the modern liberal mind.

Jeffery, when I talk about "the philosophical bar," I do not mean his willingness to engage with political philosophy, but precisely his philosophical conclusions. He is basically a libertarian, an American "right liberal," not a conservative in any reasonable sense. So that's where I was coming from with that remark, and I take it that Lydia agrees, though maybe I've sown some confusion there.

As for whether he writes seriously about political philosophy, that's true in one respect but not another. He certainly is a committed historian of intellectual currents and ideas on the left, and of course we've all probably noticed that he's much more interested in left-wing intellectual history than practically any leftist you'll come across. As nearly as I can discern, though, he is not much of a political philosopher himself (no crime, that--few of us have the time, talent, or inclination).

A final word on Larry: Nobody knows better than I how cantankerous and how damnably exacting he could be at times, especially when dealing with other conservatives, having found myself in the middle of such disputes on not less than three separate occasions. For better or worse, it's something he and I share in common, and I don't mind saying that I've always believed it's got something to do with our Jewishness. My goodness, did he ever remind me of my grandmother at times.

Well, if it's any comfort, Sage, (and it probably isn't) I liked your post and thought it pretty well balanced and mostly correct, including your responses in this thread. I took its main point to be a complaint about a general corruption of conservatism, so many of whose adherents seem quite comfortable with the pornographic culture and largely unmoved by any determination to do something about it.

Re the Bushes: do you remember the speech Laura gave at (I think) the Washington correspondent's dinner in 2005? Most conservatives laughed it off. Wlady Pleszczynski didn't: "It simply is amazing how complacently accepting the princely Bush first couple is of all the cheapness and rot in our culture." Maybe that's one example of the kind of thing you mean.

I do think "neoconservatism" is too narrow a term for the broader phenomenon that animates you. A lot of those neos are resolutely pro-life, and if we can make alliance with them at certain rallying points, we should. It is in determining when an alliance will cost us our souls that the hard work of line-drawing comes in. Your main complaint seems to be with what our old friend Zippy used to call (still does, probably) "right liberalism," which is his appellation for most of modern conservativism.

Well, I wish I had simply omitted the word "neoconservative," because it's one of those words that manages to devour a conversation pretty quickly, and it wasn't really my point to argue about the merits of neoconservatives in particular (as distinct from mainstream conservatism in general, which was my real target). My general point got lost entirely in that rabbit hole, though, so the error is mine.

Your reference to talk radio, as well as your touching belief that anybody around here has been sheltered from contact with liberals, indicates that your understanding of conservatives, and particularly of the kind you're dealing with at WWWtW, is nowhere near as subtle as you believe it to be.

Funny how an ideology ostensibly devoted to tolerance can doggedly insist on hoary stereotypes from twenty years ago.

I stopped reading Jonah Goldberg long ago so probably can't speak to some of his better stuff, but I remember one extremely shallow post he did in which he literally extolled all the good things that were brought to us by the sexual revolution. I'm remembering that from a long time ago, though, and it's possible I'm not remembering it entirely correctly. My recollection, though, is that that was when I wrote him off.

Btw, I would have responded very much the same way if the term used had been "mainstream conservatism" rather than "neoconservatism," because if anything the former term is more unequivocally broad than the latter and therefore unequivocally includes even more good people.

It's been a theme of mine repeatedly--I can think of two posts of mine that pre-date this one and that just happen to be relevant--that those of us who are _not_ entirely mainstream conservatives need to be _extremely_ careful not to develop bitterness against mainstream conservatives, because we need them and because they and their children, being so much more numerous than we, are the future. Also because in many cases they really _are_ conservatives, and hard-working and excellent conservatives at that, and because their faults are, I'm sorry to say, exaggerated too often by the non-mainstream. And we need to be careful not to develop a bitter or dismissive attitude even when we have our disagreements with more mainstream conservatives. We need to be careful to set those disagreements in a just light.

And I say that as someone who has argued passionately with mainstream conservatives, especially about voting.

For example (I use this example deliberately because it _wasn't_ used in the main post and hence, hopefully, won't look like picking on Sage), we really IMO should not get het up about the fact that mainstream conservatives talk about "rights" in the context of the pro-life issue. That doesn't mean that they are shallow. Non-mainstream conservatives, IMO, get way too het up about anybody who uses a phrase they regard as anathema like "right to life" (it contains the word "right"), because they think they have this big, complex, profound story to tell about how that ties us back to Enlightenment thinking and this, that, and the other. Myself, I think that drives wedges where none should be and encourages arrogance.

Bill, I was as disgusted as anyone about Laura Bush's "humor." I was also impatient with mainstream conservatives who either didn't know about it (and I think a lot of them, like my in-laws for example, really just didn't hear about it) or who wanted not to believe it or not to think about it, or who didn't allow it to weigh as much as I thought it should weigh. But impatience shouldn't turn into contempt and bitterness.

"I took its main point to be a complaint about a general corruption of conservatism, so many of whose adherents seem quite comfortable with the pornographic culture and largely unmoved by any determination to do something about it."

FOX being the primo example -- their news is supposed to be "conservative" but their mainstream programming is anything but, and atrocious to boot.

Mainstream conservatism has been thoroughly influenced by what Justin Vaisse calls "third age" neoconservatism. And while the two things aren't coterminous, there isn't much doubt that contemporary mainstream American conservatism is largely neocon in its general lineaments, if not in all specifics.

Contemporary American culture is pornographic, but also materialistic and narcissistic. All three are related (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life). But if mainstream conservatism is often "comfortable" with the former, how can it possibly find anything within itself to combat the latter? The answer is that it can't; it is even more comfortable with those latter two qualities than it is with our pornocracy.

Yes, NM, I'm afraid that the American conservative movement has its "Democracy, whiskey, sexy!" where its "Liberté, égalité, fraternité!" might be. I've absolutely no use for either formula.

The thing is that there are, I would say, millions of mainstream conservatives who haven't even heard of us and who _definitely_ have nothing to do with "whiskey" or "sexy" and who are _not_ comfortable with pornographic culture. They are doubtless "neocon" in most of their foreign policy beliefs (I mentioned that in a comment above about my friend using the "fighting them over there" line). Their economics are ones that I would applaud and Nice Marmot would hate. They tend to vote reflexively Republican even when the Republicans are snubbing them. (That's the part I find most unfortunate, because it makes it difficult-to-impossible to launch a credible third-party challenge to make the Republican leadership take the social conservatives more seriously.) They like to listen to El Rushbo and Glenn Beck, and they pass around Facebook memes bashing Barack Obama.

I mean, you guys must surely know _tons_ of people like this, if you have Christian conservative friends at all. These are not "animal house conservatives." They're salt-of-the-earth fundamentalist types, or, I suppose, traditionalist Catholic types, who sometimes just don't want to think about the extent to which organizations and/or the party that some call "conservative" aren't really conservative and don't really represent them.

It's a good idea sometimes to be a voice crying in the wilderness and pointing out those things. I've played Cassandra myself on many occasions. But it needs to be done while regarding this bulk of so-con-cum-neo-con--in other words, mainstream con--people as our friends and allies. Not as...something else. Remember, these aren't the people who are producing or excusing the pornographic culture. They're just the people trying their best to raise their kids while deploring all of that, and sometimes, yes, being consumers for news outlets or what-not that do produce trash but that have some stories they find useful and at least allow the conservative voice, sometimes, to be heard.

I found this old post of mine last night. I'm sorry if it looks like "piling on" or something. I hesitated about linking it after I found the link last night. But since I wrote it in 2010 it cannot possibly have been "aimed at" this post. (I haven't invented time travel yet.) It seems highly relevant:


And then there is this one, which I wrote back in July of this year:


My beef isn't with the rank-and-file mainstream conservatives but with the mouthpieces and talking heads.

I don't think I've ever made ordinary, ever day, self-described conservatives--a group that encompasses most of my friends and family after all--objects of scorn. It's precisely because of their innocence that I hold frivolous mainstream conservative commentators in such contempt. How much more could be accomplished were they not being "Hannitized" three hours a day, baptized in the unseemly worship of Mandela and MLK, and inured to the kind of garbage that you find at the Post? I don't blame them, but yes, I sure do blame the people responsible, and yes, I'm often pretty bitter about it.

"It's precisely because of their innocence that I hold frivolous mainstream conservative commentators in such contempt."


Do you really think that most ordinary, everyday, Christian conservatives are inured to garbage of the kind found at the post? I think myself that that is why people like to have things like ad blocking software. Moreover, I think that when they can't avoid they try to _ignore_ it, not that they think it's just hunky dory or are, in Bill Luse's words, comfortable with it. Now, maybe it depends on how "intensional," to use a bit of jargon, the people we're talking about are about their Christianity. If they are merely nominal Christians, it's plausible that they will be more blown about by every wind of culture and eventually be comfortable with pornographic culture. But if they are very explicitly Christian, then much less so. In fact, they will often set up "goodsearch" and various other means of avoiding it. Nor, in my opinion, are they especially more likely to accept trashy cultural phenomena because they see them at the New York Post, as though they reason "The New York Post has been dubbed conservative. The New York Post has this article. Therefore, this phenomenon must not really be all that bad." I think one's cultural and social conservatism would have to have pretty shallow roots for it to be that easily compromised, and that just doesn't fit what I've observed.

I suppose it's also, at the risk of being overly unyielding, worth asking whether Goodwin is really being frivolous and actively encouraging conservatives to be comfortable with pornographic culture. I suspect we will just have to agree to disagree on that one. I don't listen to Hannity, so I can't say what he is doing or isn't doing, but everyone has their own niche. Is Hannity frivolous, or is he just doing something different from what one of us would be doing in his place, something which maybe has its own place in the scheme of things? A column or talk show about, say, foreign affairs isn't a column about Western cultural decay. Granted. But every column doesn't have to be about Western cultural decay, *even if* it uses a phrase like "Western decline" to refer to something else.

I understand that we would like to have some meaty talk shows or commentary that directly addresses these cultural issues. Maybe y'all should listen to fundamentalist radio. I can, in one sense of "recommend," recommend an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Protestant talk show called "Cross Talk" on Rejoice Radio, put out by Pensacola Christian College in Florida. They have satellite stations and on-line radio. Crosstalk hits everything from cultural issues to the federal Agenda 21 to Obama's birth certificate. You'd probably hate some of it and love some of it, but I can pretty much guarantee it wouldn't seem merely frivolous.

I'm just not sure that Hannity deserves contempt because he isn't Ingrid Schlueter of Crosstalk. :-) Maybe I'd think differently if I listened to Hannity more, though.

Fine, but I'm not particularly worried about really committed Christians who are already in a state of reasonably high vigilance, though. Such people are, in my experience, not representative of the great mass of what we call "conservatives" in America. Even among explicitly Christian conservatives, though, I've noticed a sometimes distressing level of insouciance about such things, and I daresay your mileage might vary greatly depending on the people you're around.

But in any case, I'm obviously not concerned about exactly those people I have no reason to be concerned about. I'm concerned about the standards that conservatives uphold across the board, and the kinds of things that are permitted to pass as "conservative" in the first place. If I say that I find the ugly, noisy aesthetic of talk radio to be noxious and that I think it has an extremely deleterious effect on conservatives' credibility, will you then ask whether I'm really worried that people who already hate those aspects of talk radio are going to be influenced by them? Clearly, they're not the object of my concern, but they're also not representative of conservatives generally (as demonstrated by the depressing popularity of such stuff) and it's well worth denouncing that junk precisely because most conservatives are bred to expect nothing better.

and the kinds of things that are permitted to pass as "conservative" in the first place

I've always been rather curious about how this happens. For example, doesn't Fox get called "conservative" because a) they do have more coverage of conservative issues and perspectives in their news and b) the left foams at the mouth about Fox and demonizes it?

Similar questions arise about other news organs. I gather from this that the New York Post is called "conservative." Well, who decided that, who agrees with it, and how much influence does the name carry?

I'm perfectly happy to join with you in heaping anathemas upon the head of any news agency that knowingly profits from the "conservative" label while promoting garbage. Let's by all means try to strip them of that label.

But I'm not prepared to heap the same anathemas on the head of every columnist or pundit that publishes with them.

I guess I also have to say that if your best argument for advising a grass-roots conservative not to listen to Hannity in the car on the way home from work (or whatever), because Hannity is no true conservative, is just frivolous, and will have a bad effect upon your conservative friend or relative, is that the show has an ugly, noisy aesthetic, you're unlikely to get very far. That's partly a strategic matter and partly an argumentative matter. It seems a strong conclusion to draw on that basis. Now, if you can actually show that he treats x issue in a way that no true conservative would do, that would, and I have to confess I think should, carry a lot more weight.

Even if ordinary grass-roots conservatives, regarded as innocents, are (correctly) excluded from some sort of generalized criticism of mainstream conservatism as full of "selfie-cons," there is another reason why that doesn't really leave us with a very defensible generalization. The reason for that is that it's not possible defensibly to divide the conservative world into

--grass-roots innocents led astray by their shallow, selfie-con leaders who care nothing for cultural decay,

--said leaders, and

--a few reactionaries whom no one listens to.

Nor even close. There is an entire swathe of articulate, serious, hard-working, non-trivial conservative pundits, professors, leaders, etc., who are left out of any such categorization and who would just *disagree* with the reactionaries on a number of points. I've already instanced Neuhaus and those like him. (Robert P. George, Gilbert Meilaender, Michael Novak.) There are also those who lead things like "world-view camps"--Summit Ministries, Life Training Institute. There are academics and legal theorists like Beckwith. There is the entire Home School Legal Defense Association, which uses, without apology, existent constitutional jurisprudence and "rights talk" to defend the family in court. There are less well-known mainstream conservatives like a professor friend of mine who teaches world-view classes in the local home school co-op to supplement his income. He was the one to whom I referred in my old post who brushed off concerns about using MLK as a role model.

These are all very mainstream conservative intellectuals. They are usually sensitive on race issues. They often use rights talk freely. They probably all voted for Bush twice. They would beyond all doubt consider me too much of a purist on voting issues. Etc., etc. They are _neither_ shallow and trivial _nor_ innocent conservative masses _nor_ reactionaries challenging the entire "right-liberal" establishment. In fact, I have no doubt many trads and reactionaries would consider them "right liberals," and, given the definitions used, that might be accurate.

But I'm certainly not going to get bitter about their existence. In fact, I'm pretty glad they're around, even though I disagree with them about some things, even some important things.

Like it or not, the prime spokesmen for mainstream conservatism are Fox and the Limbaughs and Hannitys, not the Robbie Georges and Gilbert Meilanders (if only!)

The mainstream conservative movement is by default a sort of "neo-con lite" that seems to think that American conservatism started with Reagan. It's not hard to be a "Reagan conservative" when that's the only type of conservative that you think exists. Nothing against RR, by the way, but he's not the be-all and end-all of conservatism. My sister, who's a fairly well-read mainstream conservative, once asked me if "this Kirk guy you always talk about is really that important. I've never heard Laura Ingram mention him." Par for the course, and a perfect example of the problem. Rather like a Protestant asking, "Who is this Martin Luther you speak of?"

Bill, I was as disgusted as anyone about Laura Bush's "humor." I was also impatient with mainstream conservatives who either didn't know about it, etc...But impatience shouldn't turn into contempt and bitterness.

Impatience? If you actually saw the speech or read the transcript, contempt is the only possible reaction from a 'mainstream conservative.' Except that it wasn't. I wrote it about it here (if you're interested), taking Pleszczynski's column as a starting point. (Mrs. Bush, btw, is not a right-to-lifer, a phrase I have no problem with.)

You and Sage are talking about different sets of people. As he says:

Such people are, in my experience, not representative of the great mass of what we call "conservatives" in America. Even among explicitly Christian conservatives, though, I've noticed a sometimes distressing level of insouciance about such things...

Mostly he's talking about mainstream conservatism as it manifests itself in the public square. You're talking about the salt of the earth who are just as outraged as you are about social issues but have no one to represent them. That's proof of the problem with mainstream conservatism right there. The last public person I recall trying to draw a connection between the culture of lust and the contraceptive/abortion culture was Rick Santorum; he had to back off pretty quickly, and I don't recall any mainstreamers coming to his defense. Maybe someone did, but it got lost in the bedlam of condemnation. Lust Inc. is legit now. No candidate of Santorum's persuasion can survive it. Such a man will not be one of your options in the next election. And yes, millions of Americans who describe themselves as conservative, who vote "reflexively Republican," are "comfortable" with our trash culture and patronize it with gusto. It's a rot in the conservative soul, and until the next Great Awakening, its effects will be with us.

I do agree with you about Goldberg, though.

For a while I had to listen to Hannity on the radio about once a month, because I was in a car pool where the driver (who chose the station) would put him on. I have to say that I would consider Hannity just a bit of a lightweight overall, but really quite a ways off from frivolous. Now the radio doesn't show image advertising, so I have no way of knowing whether on TV (where I have never watched him) he joins with the usual Fox level of trashy stuff, or whether he sets himself apart from that - I just wouldn't know. I suspect (but it is only a suspicion) that he is more comfortable with trashy advertising and shows than I would want in a committed conservative. But in my opinion that mostly makes a man not completely sound as Christian, which is different from not being a conservative. Preferably a true conservative will see the interconnection between sexual mores and other aspects of traditional culture, but failing to notice that in SOME ways (like modesty) while seeing in other ways (like how divorce is evil) is not really a completely disqualifying mark against being a conservative.

But impatience shouldn't turn into contempt and bitterness.

I'm sorry if I was unclear, Bill. When I spoke of "impatience," I meant with conservatives who were unaware of or preferred not to think about Laura Bush's dirty routine. I didn't mean impatience with her. Disgust and lots of righteous anger are what we should be looking at there.

Mostly he's talking about mainstream conservatism as it manifests itself in the public square.

Do you mean the most well-known public square? Or do you include all those groups of "right liberals" I listed above who are in the public square as well and leading in the van?

I'm afraid there's probably just going to be an ineliminable disagreement here, which should be fruitful rather than acrimonious. I certainly don't intend it to be the latter. My position is that there is no *really scathing* generalization concerning even leaders and public figures among mainstream conservatism that is going to stand up to much scrutiny. By "really scathing" I mean something like

"Mainstream conservative leaders in America are trivial and unconcerned about cultural decay."

"Mainstream conservative leaders in America are selfie cons and leave a hole in the mirror."

"Mainstream conservative leaders in America are doing more harm than good."

Part of what I disagree with here is a sort of tacit idea I'm sensing that, in order to be a really _serious_ conservative and to do anything of real value for the Good, True, and Beautiful in the U.S., one has to endorse some set of distinctively non-mainstream political/cultural/historical views. These might include, e.g., dislike or suspicion of democracy, race realism, opposition to unrestricted immigration based on race realism (as opposed to other prudential considerations), a dislike of Martin Luther King, a sympathy for the South in the Civil War, a suspicion of everything that came out of the Enlightenment, a concomitant suspicion of the American Founding, a deep discomfort with the language of the Declaration of Independence, a rejection of a "propositional" definition of American patriotism.

You get the picture. I'm not attributing all of those views to any one person on this thread, and I hold a few of them myself. But the point I'm making is that it is simply false that the only really deep, serious, or valuable conservative thinkers or leaders or public figures are the ones who aren't "right liberals." Naturally, I realize that that is a pejorative term, but I think I know what it means, and based on that understanding, thank God for whole slew of the right liberals, sez me.

I'm afraid there's probably just going to be an ineliminable disagreement here

I'm afraid so.

thank God for whole slew of the right liberals, sez me.

I'm not so uncharitable as to hope that you get more of what you wish for, but I suspect you will. And I don't think God has much to do with it.

Thanks, Tony, for the info. on Hannity--one of the most high-profile and easily nameable of the conservative mainstream pundits. I think it's interesting that someone who listens to his show on the radio for a while apparently still doesn't have solid evidence that he is promoting or indifferent to sexual debauchery in the culture. Also, "lightweight but really quite a way off from frivolous" is about what I would have guessed based on the years long ago when I listened to conservative talk radio (Limbaugh at that time).

I listened to Hannity almost daily over several years -- from about 2007 until around election time 2010. He's a sock puppet for the GOP brand of kneejerk faux conservatism, a rightist equivalent to the dimbulb liberal women on The View. He epitomizes neocon lite.

In the leadup to the 2008 primary I heard one of the two, Limbaugh or Hannity, state that although they liked Mike Huckabee, and he was a nice guy, etc., they couldn't vote for him because "he isn't a conservative."


Pot. Kettle. Black.

One does wonder how much criticism of neoconservatism or mainstream conservatism is simply criticism of trimming. Folks are in tight spots, with regard to employment, social rank, popularity, etc.; not every one of them is prepared to exchange a Bloomberg terminal for a pitchfork. Folks on the outside attribute it to cowardice, and sometimes they may be right.

A related, but perhaps deeper question, concerns the biblical injunctions to Christians to live peaceable lives. St. Paul is not actually wanting in clarity about submission to positive law. It is difficult to wring a tradition of political radicalism out of Christian doctrine. We are strangers in strange lands. "Seek the welfare of the city into which I have sent you in exile."

Sage (and Lydia),

Maybe I spoke too soon -- today's Goldberg column about "Duck Dynasty" was particularly lame, in a way that shows off Goldberg's shallow thinking:


1) Goldberg has to make sure his readers know he doesn't agree with Phil Robertson's opinions on homosexuality (and he doesn't even like duck hunting -- ha, ha);

2) He also gets the actual show totally wrong, which is particularly grievous given that pop culture is supposed to be his "beat" -- he lumps "Duck Dynasty" in with all these other reality TV shows but doesn't realize that its success (and yes, I'm proud to watch it with my girls) is that it honest and real in a way those other shows are not. As views we laugh with the Robertson family, not at them (with the exception of Uncle Si, who everyone laughs at). And we cheer them on because we admire the way the family prays together at the end of each episode, helps one another out, has fun with each other (and their employees), etc.

This article gets it:


All of this is to say, when Goldberg is off the mark, he misses by a mile :-)

~~millions of Americans who describe themselves as conservative, who vote "reflexively Republican," are "comfortable" with our trash culture and patronize it with gusto. It's a rot in the conservative soul, and until the next Great Awakening, its effects will be with us.~~

Any thoughtful conservative should be able to see that the consumerization of sex and the sexualization of the consumer culture are flip sides of one another. The "trash culture" has both pornographic and consumerist aspects and the two can't be separated. When autonomous liberty is preached in one area it will inevitably leak into others.

Any thoughtful conservative should be able to see that the consumerization of sex and the sexualization of the consumer culture are flip sides of one another.

NM, could you draw out why you think that these observations are specifically conservative in nature, rather than, say, Christian?

I do not think it takes a Christian orientation to see the problems inherent in both materialism/consumerism and the sexualization of culture, and the relationship between the two. Any person of a conservative stripe of any religion should find this quite evident, given that even some thoughtful non-religious people see it. If being a conservative involves, as Kirk says, both a belief in a transcendent reality and an understanding of the frailty of human nature, one should see that these things are part of a larger cultural matrix that rejects both of Kirk's principles.

This is what Lasch tried to get the Left to see: you cannot consistently rail against financial "libertarianism" while actively advocating personal "libertarianism." The mainstream Right, of course, does the exact opposite, and critics of the same get about as much hearing as Lasch did by the Left.

Robert Murdoch has built his multi-billion dollar empire on selling sex & war wrapped in red, white and blue bikinis and Sean Hannity sermons.

If Kate Upton is coachable, she will soon have her own gig on Fox News to guide us through the next fiscal cliff through the prism of her cleavage. Are we really surprised there is a market for shallow polemics served up with titilation? And who better to tap into it than an advocate of free markets and imperialism?

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