alien & sedition.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
  Keep Your Eye on the Dolchstosslegende

William Kristol is an intellectually bankrupt thug. It's a point that hardly needs elaboration, but Jon Chait elaborates quite satisfyingly on it anyway, coming to a nice summation of the state of the Dolchstosslegende:
The theme of traitorous liberals is becoming a Standard trope. Last week's cover depicted an American soldier seen from behind and inside a circular lens--as if caught in the sights of a hostile sniper--beneath the headline, "does washington have his back?" The Weimar-era German right adopted the metaphor of liberals stabbing soldiers in the back. Kristol is embracing the metaphor of liberals shooting soldiers in the back. I suppose this is progress, of sorts.

There was a time when neoconservatives sought to hold the moral and intellectual high ground. There was some- thing inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower--a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self-interest. As the Iraq war has curdled, the idealism and liberalism have drained out of the neoconservative vision. What remains is a noxious residue of bullying militarism. Kristol's arguments are merely the same pro-war arguments that have been used historically by right-wing parties throughout the world: Complexity is weakness, dissent is treason, willpower determines all.
Ross Douthat objects to Chait's piece -- not on the merits, but because Chait's magazine, the New Republic, has never taken a coherent stance on the war.

This, to me, seems entirely beside the point. Matt Freeney agrees, pointing out the structural reasons why TNR hosts a range of opinions on the issue. He also invites Douthat to offer his own opinions on whether Kristol's buffoonish rants should be taken at face value, or seen as something a little more performative.

To my mind, authentic or not, the Dolchstoss discourse has the same effects. And what's peculiar is that Douthat himself has denounced it in the past:
Myself, I think that liberals should be praying that the Right embraces the "stabbed in the back" theory of what went wrong in Iraq (and possibly Iran as well), because it will push conservatives toward political irrelevance. Yes, many conservatives have long nursed the belief that we could have won in Vietnam if liberals hadn't turned gutless and anti-American, but this belief hasn't won the Right any elections ...

So when Dinesh D'Souza tells conservative cruisegoers that "it's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'? ... The left won by demanding America's humiliation," he isn't broadening conservatism's base - he's shrinking it. Which is what a post-Bush conservatism that obsesses over how the liberal media undid the Iraq Occupation by failing to "report the good news" would do as well.
This is a pragmatic argument, not a principled one, though there's no reason to believe that Douthat has any sympathy for Dolchstoss talk on any level. Maybe he was simply using Chait's piece as an opportunity to grind an axe over TNR's editorial policy. But it sure would be nice if he, as a conservative, would also take the opportunity to denounce the thuggery of his ideological cousin.

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