alien & sedition.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
  Wishing the Manicheanism Away

You may have seen the excellent pair of articles at the New Republic revisiting the work of two heroes of post-war conservatism. Sam Tanenhaus writes about Whitaker Chambers, while Alan Wolfe takes on Russell Kirk.

Over at Red State, Kevin Holtsberry has a lengthy rebuttal to Tanenhaus's piece. I'm not familiar enough with the history to comment with much authority on the merits of Holtsberry's arguments with regard to Chambers (I'm reading Witness and may write about it in a few weeks), but I can't resist commenting on Holtsberry's rhetorical strategy. Holtsberry finds Tanenhaus "infuriating" because, on the one hand, he seems to "poke" at certain "odd leftists," yet on the other hand he insists on criticizing conservatives -- or worse, using one conservative to criticize others:
In the liberal world there are only two kinds of good conservatives: those that attack other conservatives (see the New York Times editorial page) and those that are far enough removed from today’s troubles as to seem harmless and/or useful in carrying out the first point.
Holtsberry is not wrong, but he demonstrates an odd lack of reflection in failing to note that conservatives act the very same way with regard to liberals. It's simply one of the most common habits of political writing, even among those who strive to achieve balance; it's a product of believing in the validity of one's own set of views.

Beyond this Holtsberry launches into a tiresome defense of the indefensible, though, to him, it is the complaints themselves that are tiresome: war, torture, extra-constitutional detention, exploitation of terror for political ends, etc etc. He refuses to acknowledge that the Bush administration has been polarizing and fear-mongering since 9/11, and he considers it frightfully declasse ("the stuff of the Democratic Underground") to even allege such things. It's as though he was in a coma for the entire 2002 and 2004 elections.

Alan Wolfe once responded to Peter Berkowitz, who had said much the same kind of thing:
In the world according to Peter Berkowitz, there are no right-wing bloggers calling the president's critics traitors, no Swift-boating of Democratic candidates, no violations of civil liberty associated with our Republican president, no authorized leaks of the names of CIA agents, no dramatic increase in the use of presidential signing statements, no use of torture, no suspension of habeas corpus, no breaks with our historic allies over such methods, no biased editorial pages and networks, no Rush Limbaughs, no vigilantes patrolling our borders, no invented quotations from Abraham Lincoln, no manipulations of intelligence, no appeals to racial and religious bigotry.
I don't know whether the life of Whitaker Chambers is or is not an appropriate metaphor for, or critique of, the current conservative Manicheanism. But it's no use pretending that that Manicheanism is all a figment of fevered liberal imaginations.

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