9-11: War May End the Primacy of Leftwing Culture

News at Home

Mr. Gold is the director of defense and aerospace studies at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank.

I spent the last week doing media, trying to help people make a little sense out of the military aspects of the current insanity. Maybe it did a little good. By academic training and first love, I’m an American cultural historian (Yale, Georgetown), and taught at Georgetown for fourteen years before moving to Seattle. Among my favorite courses there: “War and U.S. Society: 20th Century.” I’d like to share an approach from that course, then pose a question.

In that course, we never used the term “Home Front.” The subject was always “The Conduct of the American People.” Nor did we ever use the term, “War Hysteria.” Rather, to understand why people behaved as they did – perhaps why they’ll behave as they will – I offered four guidelines.

First, you rarely hear about the incidents and abuses that don’t happen. The people who don’t go out at night lynching neighbors and bombing buildings don’t make the news. Neither do the governmental depredations that never come to pass. I first became aware of this truth when studying for my doctoral comps. All the books cited the same outrages, usually quoting each other. How many outrages is too many? One. How many didn’t happen? Lots more.

Second, to quote an old Yiddish (or maybe it’s Chinese or Swahili) proverb, “There are more horses’ assess in the world than horses.” Peace or war, some people are jerks. Sometimes their jerkiness makes the news.

Third, it is impossible to understand why Americans behaved as they did (or will behave) without reference to prewar agendas. Sometimes these agendas are overtly political – the assault on the IWW during World War I, for example, conducted with the very non-hysterical blessing of ole Sammy Gompers. Sometimes they’re economic and cultural –- the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II as a means of “redistributing” their property. Sometimes the agendas are personal and psychological – the Bill Clinton style of draft-dodging, for example, constructing elaborate intellectual cathedrals to justify and evade the facts of physical and moral cowardice. If you’ve never read Jim Fallows’s “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” do look it up.

Finally, beware, always beware, the Professoriat, the Chattering Classes, the Intellectuals. Their agendas can be the most pernicious of all.

Sometimes they fall all over themselves to participate, as during the World Wars and (sadly) in recent months, some associated with the Weekly Standard, which seems determined to meet the same fate as the 1918 – 1919 “New Republic.”

Sometimes they fall all over themselves to oppose, as during Vietnam (its latter stages, anyway). Daniel Hallin’s The Uncensored War makes some dandy points here.

Sometimes they simply regard war as an opportunity to strut their intellectual stuff, to demonstrate their personal moral superiority, to sneer at their country and their less enlightened brethren. New York Review of Each Other’s Books, anyone?

But most of all, the academic and intellectual classes have witnessed, over and over again, the destruction of favored liberal and left agendas by war. World War I ended the Progressive Era. World War II finished the New Deal. Korea ended whatever Truman’s Fair Deal might have accomplished. The Great Society and Vietnam – nuff said. Desert Storm threatened (for a moment) the primacy of liberal and left culture as well as political agendas.

What next?

At issue here is the survival of what American culture has become: a rights-and-entitlements obsessed, victim-worshipping, psychologized affair in which anything goes and nothing matters . . . and in which discourse has been reduced to little more than the frantic pushing of accusation buttons: racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, whatever. And the politics and governance attendant thereon.

Could this world be ending, this world so favorable to the Intellectuals and the Pundits and the Professoriat? If so, how much of it will they try to salvage, and how?

To be continued, should anyone care to take me up on this.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

norman markowitz - 10/1/2001

Philip Gold must think that he is living in Sweden. In the United States on the planet earth, conservatives and ultra-conservatives have held political power over the last twenty years, deregulating the economy, privatizing social services, tripling the military budget under Reagan and Bush, and quadrupling the national debt. The world view of the New York review of books(I agree with Gold that it is a small clique reviewing each others books) has resembled thatt of the cultural organizations that the CIA used to found through the world in its rabid anti-Communist and anti-Soviet orientation for decades, with its serious scholarly reviewers as a sort of window dressing. Although its good that the CIA and the U.S. taxpayer don't have to fund such journals as the funded Encounter, the Partisan Review, and other journals in the past(a penny saved is a penny earned) no one outside of the late J. Edgar Hoover and his minions would consider the Review politically as a journal of the left or possibly even of the center
More importantly, the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush II governments have been governments of the right and center-right and the right again, pursuing anti-progressive, anti-New Deal, anti- Great society policies. Since we aren't dealing with Wilsonian progressivism, FDR, or for that matter LBJ(the last president who could, on domestic issues, be called a liberal in the American sense) it is much more likely that the electorate will react to this atrocity over time the way the British electorate reacted to World War II, by throwing out the Conservative party and its legion of anti-welfare politicians and
appeasers, who appeased Hitler to" quarentine" Communism, just as the conservative Republicans who largely created bin Laden and the Taliban did so to fight the Soviets.
Speaking about what Bismarck and later , of course, Hitler called the Kulterkampf(cultural war) our rightwing establishment has been fighting that for twenty years, mostly against strawmen and women, as they proclaimed the "death of Communism" and the triumph of laissez-faire capitalism, and a new, largely unstated Social Darwinism, with the same further that their former ally, bin Laden, drunk with his victory in Afghanistan, proclaimed a "revolution" in the name of his clerical fascist vision of islam.
Also, Mr. Gold, most of the "intellectuals" you mock as part of your Kulterkampf are more modern conservatives than you are. They fight with each other for rank and privelege in the academic work, built their own parallel establishments that are as likely to provide analysis for working class movements, oppressed minoirity movements, women's rights movements, peace movements, as you probably are. "Post-modernism" by both rejecting and analyzing everything, in more and more esoteric ways, is a much more effective way to run interference for conservative economic and politics than to raise the banners of Lynn Cheney and Bill Bennett, the Jihad for the Great Books, Edmund Burke, Aristotle, and Alexander Hamilton.
In any case, we may see a National Health Service, a national Industrial Policy rewarding firms for producing skilled high paying jobs rather than downsizing, a national policy to rebuild infrastructure and provide jobs for what I expect will be the burgeoning legion of unemployed, and even a post-Cold War military budget, which would be something like 150 billion, at most. If and when that happens, and scholars and intellectuals are participating in its development, Mr. Gold will have some reason to cheer on a conservative backlash(who knows, defense consulting might then be as lucrative as college teaching).
Norman Markowitz
Rutgers University.

Ronald Karr - 9/19/2001

Many historians would argue that although World War I dealt a near death blow to the radical left, the Progressives saw the war as a realization of much of what they had been trying to achieve: a powerful national government, greater efficiency and the elimination of wasteful competition (i.e., the nationalization of the railroads), and even the beginning of public housing. It was the Republican post-war reaction that ended these programs, although Herbert Hoover continued Progressive measures (i.e., zoning).

The same was true of WWII: for example, in Civil Rights Randolph's threat of a march on Washington led to civil rights gains. And even during wartime, FDR continued to champion labor (i.e., the musicians's strike). Again, it was the postwar reaction that ended extension of the New Deal (but even this did not prevent Truman's election on a Progressive/New Deal platform in 1948).

Ronald Dale Karr
University of Massachusetts Lowell

Lawrence W. Levine - 9/19/2001

To use an old Yiddish (definitely not Chinese or Swahili) expression: Oy Vey!