After he wrote the post I discussed earlier, Ross Douthat wrote a response to his critics.
Why Is Reaction Taboo?Remember, Douthat is trying to bring back a racist, sexist, authoritarian era, with some fascism thrown in for variety. His problem here is separating the bad aspects of authoritarianism from the good. Unfortunately there are no good aspects of authoritarianism; anything done under its mantle can also be done without it, although force makes everything easier for the ruling class, of course. Therefore his anti-#NeverReform project is doomed to fail, just as his #NeverTrump project was doomed to fail.
My Sunday column on reactionary thought — its sins, its strengths, its notable absence from the upper reaches of our official intelligentsia — was an attempt to tackle a subject that doesn’t really lend itself it to adequate treatment in eight hundred words. So let me try to tease out some of the issues latent in the piece.Poor, dumb Ross.
His first mistake, the one that shapes all others, is considering himself as the intelligentsia. He and all his elite brethren are not the best and brightest, they are the most suitable and most servile. They make up or pass on theories developed to hide the fact that their only goal is maintaining and increasing their power and wealth or the power and wealth of their employers.
Ross Douthat is not a Big Thinker. Neither is David Brooks. Or Megan McArdle. Or Matthew Yglesias. Or fresh young thing Caroline Zelikow. They are marginal thinkers with rich relatives or patrons, but they always support the right people in their destructive causes.
First, more than a few readers interpreted the column as simply blaming a kind of academic-left conspiracy for the absence of serious reactionary thought in America. I can see why it read that way, and to clarify I don’t think that’s exactly the right way to think about it.In other words, readers correctly stated Douthat blamed liberals for conservatives' actions but Douthat doesn't want people to correct him.
Contemporary academic groupthink certainly illustrates the absence of the reactionary imagination, and it plays some causal role in keeping reactionary ideas taboo or marginal."Reactionary": Racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, fascist. By Douthat's own admission.
But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue here, because you could also argue that reaction effectively discredited itself between, say 1930 and 1965 — or between the Reichstag Fire and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, if you prefer — in a way that eviscerated its position morally and made its intellectual exile inevitable. (The Second Vatican Council has a place in that generational story as well, since it was widely seen as the last bastion of Western reaction giving up the ghost.)Nothing discredits anti-Semitism like the Reichstag. Fortunately Selma eradicated racism, however. So what's the big problem with a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, fascist party when all those nasty things ended long ago? What you have left is the right sort of reform: Authoritarianism without exploitation, racism, sexism, fascism, and anti-Semitism. In other words, nothing.
That's not what Douthat sees. He sees women willingly subservient to men and their gods. Poof! No more men holding down women because women hold themselves down. The same with African-Americans, the poor, and whoever else they scapegoat.
The fetus-humpers have their Roe v. Wade and the Jesus-humpers have their Vatican II, which opened 17 years before Douthat was born. And Douthat wasn't even raised Catholic! "“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man,” said Aristotle, but Douthat never had that formative experience in the Church. Douthat would very much like the Church to be all-powerful and infallible; his complaints about Pope Francis' words on modern families make that perfectly clear. But the Church would also have to be frozen in time like a bug in amber, to never change--and inevitably be left behind by most people as it became less and less relevant to peoples' lives. The Pope is wiser than Douthat and wishes his living Church to change and grow, not become a zombie husk.
So no, Western Civilization did not end with Vatican II, and Douthat only makes himself look weak and frightened when he says it does. Like Rod Dreher, civilization must be crumbling or tragedy will strike; nobody will buy their cures for fixing it. Although it is a little amusing to see Douthat basically blame the Church for his own racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.
If the Church is infallible, Ross is infallible because all he has to do is parrot the Church and he'll be right and an authority, a Leader. If the Church changes, especially if Ross doesn't like the change, where does that leave him? If the Church becomes less racist, sexist, or authoritarian, how does he gain? The pope is just not thinking this through.
It’s not a coincidence, in this reading of intellectual trends, that the one philosophical school within hailing distance of reaction that’s persisted in the modern university is the school of Leo Strauss, a German-Jewish emigre whose critique of liberalism was explicitly and very personally anti-fascist, whose favored pre-modern thinkers were pre-Catholic, and whose disciples have generally cast themselves as liberalism’s wise protectors rather than its subversive foes. (Not that this saved Strauss from being linked, via Carl Schmitt, to the Nazis during the anti-Straussian frenzy of the Bush era …) The Straussian experience suggests that deep critiques of modernity can claim some territory (though not that much) in the liberal academy; they just need to be sufficiently distanced from racism and anti-Semitism and unfortunately most reactionary ideas and traditions simply aren’t.And this is the corrupt heart of authoritarianism. It is nothing but the desire to have power over others. People who feel they have no power will do anything to alleviate that fear or desire. People who have power will do anything to maintain it. The only way to get people to submit (because death is always an alternative) is to persuade them to submit. The best way to do that is to tell people to raise their children from birth to submit to authority. It is very easy; the parent withholds love and approval in return for obedience instead of giving the child unconditional love. Their parents did it and it's the only way they know to raise a child. The child becomes an adult with the pattern of obedience to authority engraved in his or her mind and it becomes his gut response to fear and need.
Now of course you can turn this around and ask, well, if reaction was discredited by Hitler and Bull Connor, by race hatred and Jew hatred, why wasn’t left-wing radicalism discredited by Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot? If this is all about moral credibility and the company you keep, why did so many prominent historians and literary critics get to keep on calling themselves Marxists after every Marxist-Leninist regime committed mass murder on an epic scale? Why are Kipling’s politics or Eliot’s or Pound’s or even Heidegger’s considered so much more “problematic” and all-discrediting than the Stalinist strain in so much left-wing historiography and philosophy and criticism and art?I know you are but what am I?
Douthat repeats his plea from his earlier post; if liberal academics can be Marxists, why can't conservative academics be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and fascist? The question reveals a lot about Douthat and it's all ugly.
The New York Times. Power, prestige, privilege. And it's not nearly enough for Douthat. He wants to be able to hate and control and punish as well.
Nice job, Elite. Your front man is a petty little nebbish who whines about being unable to publically force people to submit to his authority without everyone calling him a hateful bigot.