At Cato Unbound, C. Bradley Thompson is in the middle of an unfair fight. He is defending the thesis of his book, “Neoconservatism: An Obituary” against multiple opponents, in a series of essays — and encountering no actual intellectual opposition (if “actuality” here is measured by reference to “dealing with ideas”) from the defender of neoconservatism. I can almost see Thompson wandering the intellectual battlefield wielding his book like Connor McLeod with his sword, asking “Why won’t they fight me?”
His opening salvo: Neoconservatism Unmasked
The attempted rebuttal by Patrick Deneen: The American Roots of Neoconservatism
C.B.T. responds to Deneen with a tripartite response:
What prompted me to post about this, however, was this post and this one by Patrick Lawler, at one of the more intellectual-seeming conservatives sites, First Things. In it, Lawler doth protest too much, shrilly insisting that Leftists, neo-cons etc. are not FASCISTS (just like that, caps and all.) With it juxtaposed against Deneen’s essay, I was struck by two things:
1. Deneen’s and Lawler’s posts are differentiated by length, and little else. Both avoid taking ideas seriously, let alone Thompson’s — while expending considerable energy on topics of their own injection or invention.
They confirm my claim that when the discussion is about ideas, conservatives are simply out of their league. With rare exceptions, they can’t handle philosophy at all, and that’s when they are emotionally on an even keel – and they never are when faced with the threat posed by Ayn Rand’s ideas.
Hell, even historical Americanism freaks them out enough to make it worth their time to bury it by way of misrepresentation-by-nonessentials, as Deneen does. But when push comes to shove, all they have is “localism” and the pining for the “return” of a movement of individuals motivated by “something greater than themselves” (in all willful ignorance of the last century’s ideological history).
Seriously, is this the best they can do? They absolutely, positively cannot avoid straw men, emotionally loaded language and other assorted intellectual malfeasance when faced with ideas. Even the Left outclasses them at this level. The only question is whether there even exists a conservative who could give CBT a good scare. I am growing more and more convinced that conservatives per se are not serious intellectual adversaries, so much as merely being in the way.
2. It’s worth reading all the above material with my “Road to Hell” analogy in mind. Lawler in particular is freaked out by the idea that Thompson supposedly equated neoconservatism and fascism. However, note what Thompson actually wrote in his book:
“The neocons are not fascists, but I do argue they share some common features with fascism.
In sum, I worry that the neocons are paving the road to a kind of soft despotism that might even lead one day to a type of fascism.”
(CBT quote via Alfred Centauri in a comment on the first Lawler post.)
While neoconservatism and the literal fascists may be travelling different roads, their ultimate destination (as determined by their common root premise) is the same. All that differs is the scenery — and as the destination is approached, not even that. (That, by the way, is why the arguments over whether such as Jared Loughner or the Texas IRS plane crasher were “left” or “right” wing, are such a joke; the “scenery” of their writings would have been unremarkable in any of the following: Free Republic, Democratic Underground, the commenters at Zero Hedge, or the groupies of Lyndon Larouche and Ron Paul.)
Lawler and Deneen, who ultimately do not give ideas the respect they deserve, refuse to grasp this — and for good reason: they don’t want to discover that they could have known what would result from their ideas, for such knowledge would make them morally responsible for their own ideas — eliminating the moral cover of their professed intentions. (That, of course, doesn’t stop them from making grandiose, unsubstantiated claims about where Objectivist/Enlightenment ideas will supposedly lead, but let them — I want people exposed to the concept.)
They also fear the reverse: that looking back up the road would reveal that Americanism, far from being compatible with conservatism of any -eo prefix, was indeed the result of the Enlightenment they and the Left so loathe – while conservatism traces its origins to America’s original enemies: monarchy and the brutal religious feudalism of the pre-Enlightenment.
(Originally found via Diana Hsieh.)