Is the Tea Party a curse?

So argues Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books in a long, thoughtful, interesting – but ultimately wrongheaded – essay on the various strains in modern conservatism.

It starts well but at the end he loses it completely, I think, with a throw-the-toys-out-of-the-pram assault on what he calls the “apocalyptic” strain of modern conservatism – as represented by the likes of Glenn Beck, Norman Podhoretz, Grover Norquist, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. (Mind you, I don’t suppose you’re going to get review space in the NYRB if you take a more positive line on such things)

What’s so disturbing is that they don’t feel compelled to explain how even a reduced government should meet the challenges of the new global economy, how our educational system should respond to them, what the geopolitical implications might be, or anything of the sort. They deliver their lines with the insouciant “what, me worry?” of Alfred E. Neuman.All this is new—and it has little to do with the principles of conservatism, or with the aristocratic prejudice that “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others,” which Corey Robin sees at the root of everything on the right. No, there is something darker and dystopic at work here. People who know what kind of new world they want to create through revolution are trouble enough; those who only know what they want to destroy are a curse.

Lest we doubt how dangerous these apocalyptic conservatives really are, Lilla likens them at one point to Rev Jim Jones doling out the Kool Aid and then, right at the end, via a strained reference to Thomas Mann to an even more strained comparison with George Lukacs.

Eh?

Lukacs was the founding father of the Frankfurt School and by extension of Cultural Marxism. Cultural Marxism is perhaps, above all else, the reason the Tea Party was born: a frustration with the way all our institutions – political, educational, legislative, corporate, media have been infiltrated by the ideological left. Sure there are a lot of institutions the Tea Partiers would gleefully destroy (the EPA would be my number one candidate) but this is not the wanton destruction of Jones or Lukacs: this is pure, honest to goodness, Schumpeter style creative destruction.

Lilla’s article, incidentally, is pegged to a review of a very silly book by a leftist academic called Corey Robin – The Reactionary Mind.

If you’re in the mood for some high-grade snarkery, you might enjoy my take on it in the Spectator. You’ll soon gather I didn’t think much of it.

  1. John Russell

    Mind you, I don’t suppose you’re going to get review space in the NYRB if you take a more positive line on such things

  2. Percival

    The link is to the second page of the review.  I mention that because I read the second half of the review before reading the first, and couldn’t figure out who the cited Corey Robin might be.  Christopher’s younger brother, I assumed.

    The review improves a bit when one reads the first half, but only a bit.  I guess those of us who haven’t been to an Ivy League school are a curse to the educated elite.

  3. Larry3435

    “People who know what kind of new world they want to create through revolution are trouble enough; those who only know what they want to destroy are a curse.”

    As usual on the left, this is Freudian projection at work.  That is not a description of the Tea Party.  That is a description of Occupy Wall St.

  4. genferei
    Percival: The link is to the second page of the review.

    Here’s a link to the whole (short) thing on one page.

  5. Robert Lux

    Mark Lilla is a shallow thinker. His book The Reckless Mind had two good chapters (on Derrida and Foucault, which are actually the only things one need ever read to understand these two blights on the “house of intellect”; his chapter on Heidegger was a joke). His other book A Stillborn God is a 5th rate rip-off of Leo Strauss. Michale Gillespie, a serious scholar, wrote The Theological Origins of Modernity in part as a response to Lilla.

    He attributes to American conservatives the belief that “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others.” What a joke! Sheer projection!

    Modern liberalism has proved a kind of permutation of the medieval ecclesiastical polity: a squared circle of extreme elitism combined with extreme egalitarianism. It’s nothing more than a symbiotic relationship between a sneering, supercilious elite and a vast body of dependents as found in civil servants or in recipients of wealth transfer programs.

    And Leo Naphta was only partly inspired by Lukacs. Lilla might also have mentioned that Naphta was an atheist. Belief in God as both a ground and a limit on morality seems prevalent among many Tea Partiers. That ain’t radicalism.

  6. Fat Dave

    While I wholeheartedly support what the TEA Party has done at the Federal level, they are really damaging at the local.  In the Metro Richmond area, a number of Republican committees have been purged of their long-time, loyal members who have worked so hard in the past to keep Central Virginia red.  Now their extremism in the localities is setting us up for a wave of so-called “moderate” Democrats to crash into office over the next few years.  Their lack of discipline and political naivete are going to cost us heavily in county governance in the near future.

  7. Sisyphus

    If I am glancing about for apocalyptic visions, it is pretty clear that the entitlement state is in its death throes, Surtur is wailing the tar out of the whole fiat money print it til they drop ethic. Gordon Gecko’s greed is good meme has been replaced by Krugman’s secularly holy pursuit of debt. (Enron.) So, yes, if I were a violent overthrow of the status quo Marxist dominatrix aparatchik wannabe, I might be downright dower in my outlook.

    The Tea Party knows what it wants to restore, and that building empires of administrators to process federal paperwork make work exercises can in no way be confused for preparing our students for the challenges of the 21st Century. Or educating them.

    I always thought that, like Washington, the point of having a New York was to assure that “those people” did not foul the rest of the country. But then, I gave up on the New York Review of Books in 1979. 

  8. The Mugwump
     . . . and it has little to do with the principles of conservatism, or with the aristocratic prejudice that “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others,” which Corey Robin sees at the root of everything on the right.

    Can anyone detect a wee bit of projection in this statement?  The root of everything on the left is that, from Marx to Spengler to Obama, they have a distrust of, if not outright antipathy for, the middle class.  And that is the Tea Party.  A restoration of middle class values will redeem this country.  We’re talking about thrift, hard work, and self-reliance (aka “greed” in the leftist lexicon).  The ultimate triumph of leftism in this country will be based on the complete perversion of all that is good, true, and beautiful.  That’s why it’s not going to happen, not in the long run anyway.    

  9. genferei

    Most bitter-sweet part of the review:

    in the Republican presidential candidate debates … the contenders compete to demonstrate how many agencies they would abolish when in office…, how many programs they would cut or starve, and how much faith they have in the ingenuity of the American people to figure it out for themselves once they’re finished.

    If only!

  10. Mel Foil

    The face of revolution?

    Image20.jpg

  11. R. Craigen

    Grover Norquist scares me because of his role in bringing radical Islamists into the administration.  But, whatever one thinks of him, I don’t see that he belongs in that list.  Mark Lilla is perhaps focussing exclusively on fiscal matters.

  12. Joseph Eagar

    I’m confused.  At a time when social elites (outside of New York City, anyway) are increasingly admitting that the 60s cultural revolution was a mistake, Mark Lilla thinks conservatives are fighting a losing battle?  This is just another “Oh no!  People outside of New York City’s Upper West Side are right-wing bigots just waiting to kill blacks and Jews!” piece that the NYT elite writes from time to time.

  13. robberberen

    I see two things going on in Lilla’s argument: 1) His dim view of the Tea Party is based on his own assumption that the march of history will inevitably require new forms of government, since our traditional structures were designed by people who couldn’t foresee how society and technology would change. So he naturally concludes that Tea Partiers, who want to restore our Constitutional framework, are simply not thinking progressively and therefore have nothing useful or thoughtful to offer. This is the tired argument trotted out by all leftists trying to worm their way into power. It is most often employed today by EU federalists, who say that people who cling to the old idea of nation states in the face of the modern global economy are akin to “flat earthers”. There is, of course, no evidence to support that idea and much evidence against it, but all that matters is that the argument sounds forward-looking and will inspire people to hand these enlightened visionaries all the power to direct the lives of the grateful masses. 2) Pure projection based on the Occupy movement’s total lack of intellectual coherence or direction, as pointed out above by Larry3435.

  14. Paul Stinchfield
    James Delingpole: Lest we doubt how dangerous these apocalyptic conservatives really are, Lilla likens them at one point to Rev Jim Jones doling out the Kool Aid and then, right at the end, via a strained reference to Thomas Mann to an even more strained comparison with George Lukacs.

    Jim Jones was a radical leftist. He and his cult were strongly supported by the San Francisco liberal establishment until he started killing people–after which it became necessary to pretend that he was never part of the Left.

  15. Roberto

    If our political opponents feel the need to resort to hysteria I can only assume the Tea Party is on the right track.

  16. Garrett Petersen
    ~Paules

     . . . and it has little to do with the principles of conservatism, or with the aristocratic prejudice that “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others,” which Corey Robin sees at the root of everything on the right.

    Can anyone detect a wee bit of projection in this statement?

    I detect more than a wee bit.  The central tenet of conservatism is that human nature is fundamentally limited, and so no one can be entrusted with unlimited power.  He got it completely backwards.

  17. James Of England
    Joseph Eagar: I’m confused.  At a time when social elites (outside of New York City, anyway) are increasingly admitting that the 60s cultural revolution was a mistake, Mark Lilla thinks conservatives are fighting a losing battle?  This is just another “Oh no!  People outside of New York City’s Upper West Side are right-wing bigots just waiting to kill blacks and Jews!” piece that the NYT elite writes from time to time. · 4 hours ago

    He’s explicit about this:

    “I use the words conservative, reactionary, and counterrevolutionary interchangeably: not all counterrevolutionaries are conservative…but all conservatives are, in one way or another, counterrevolutionary. I seat philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table”

    He’s not clear if he thinks that Catholic socialists are not Catholics or simply denies their existence.

  18. Edward Dentzel

     . . . What’s so disturbing is that they don’t feel compelled to explain how even a reduced government should meet the challenges . . . 

    In that statement, we get excellent insight into the liberal mind: Only big government is capable of doing anything. It is the only force on this Earth which can guarantee a great future for all.

    Thus, we have Social Security because people can’t be expected to take care of their own parents. We have welfare and food stamp programs because people would never, ever freely give of their own money to help their poorer neighbors. We get quotas because minorities could never hope to gain equal footing through their own hard work. We get Obamacare because doctors could never treat their patients on their own.

    What liberals never mention is that, with this attitude, at some point somebody is going to be forced to do something. Somebody, in fact lots of people, will become a slave. The doctor will become a slave to his patient. The working become slaves to the non-working. The young people slaves to the old people. It’s inevitable when government decides it needs to “meet the challenges.”