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.


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.