|From an Italian-language production of the Leben des Galilei at the Teatro Della Pergola, Florence, October-December 2015.|
Mr. Bret Stephens discussing "Fights Worth Having", on the heroic opposition to Donald Trump inside the Republican Party or hanging out on the porch:
NeverTrumpers haunt the conservative movement the way Polish or Czech dissident intellectuals such as Czeslaw Milosz and Vaclav Havel haunted that segment of Central European intelligentsia that made its peace with Stalinism after World War II.I'd say more like Bertolt Brecht and György Lukács, on a number of counts. Mainly, Miłosz and Havel were ideologically opposed to the Communist system installed in their countries, and fled it (in the case of Miłosz, who escaped to the West in 1951) or fought it (in the case of Havel, a paramount leader in the struggle that overturned it almost 40 years later), whereas Brecht and Lukács, in their different ways, remained loyal to the idea that Communism can never fail, only be failed, and devoted their post-revolutionary lives to trying obliquely to encourage the system to be less stupid and embarrassing—and fought with each other, of course—in a way that might remind you of the movement conservatives trying to cope with the embarrassment of having acquired a vulgar and unpleasant Emperor.
Your anti-Trump "intellectuals", by which I guess Stephens means primarily a couple of retiring Senators and a couple of writers mostly for the Weekly Standard and the National Review, notably Mona Charen, whose rude treatment by the TrumpZombies' CPAC meeting last week is the diving board he's leaping from, and of course his own brave and charismatic self, don't disagree fundamentally with any of the Trumpy policy prescriptions: as Stephens himself remarks when the zombies booed Charen off the stage and out of the hall,
MAGA Republicans — whether of the fully or merely semi-Trumpified varieties — detest NeverTrumpers with an animus they can scarcely extend to liberals or progressives. Reacting to Charen’s CPAC appearance, one right-wing writer for Red State called her “a new voice in the wilderness of insignificance” — and then devoted 1,000 words to underscoring that insignificance. This is not, atThey don't follow Miłosz in objecting to the Trumpian project; like Lukács, they're complaining that the people in power are doing the right thing the wrong way (and continually finding little things to like everywhere they turn in the policy arena, especially domestic).
root, ideological critique. It’s the sign of a bad conscience.
root, ideological critique. It’s the sign of a bad conscience.
In fact comparing the dissident conservatives to Lukács and Brecht is still far too generous, in the sense that they don't face anything like the same kind of peril; they don't lose anything by being more outspoken than Brecht. Their dissidence poses no danger in body or in career (granting that Charen really wasn't without courage in showing up with that hostile audience the other day). It's not as if they were getting arrested or thrown out of work or missing a meal.
Some more or less anti-Trump writers, from relatively talented writers like David Frum to clowns like Jonah Goldberg, not to mention Mr. Bret Stephens's own brave and charismatic self, are achieving a reach and respectability you'd never have dreamed possible, thanks to their defiance of Trump (Charen has never been reviewed in the Times before, even when she's had books on the Best-Seller list, to say nothing of getting published on its op-ed page; the only time she was discussed in her own right was in a publisher gossip item about the cover design of her Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us) in 2004), and it's not clear to me they deserve it. While Lukács, whatever horrible compromises he may have made to hold on to his position, did some work that is still important decades later and Brecht produced extraordinary masterpieces, including the exploration of his own cowardice in Galileo.
Almost as offensive as comparing himself to Václav Havel is Stephens's trotting out of a bothsiderist picture of the Democrats as being in a mirror-image situation:
I write this as a parallel contest is taking shape within the Democratic Party, most visibly in the rift between traditional liberals and the social-justice warriors of what used to be the far left. Dianne Feinstein’s failure this week to claim her party’s nomination for the Senate seat she’s held since 1992 is another depressing indication that the rift is widening.
One side believes in the power of reason, the possibility of persuasion, and the values of the Enlightenment. It champions social solidarity for the sake of empowering the individual, rather than creating a society of conformists. It doesn’t see compromise as a dirty word. Its belief in the benefits of civility and diversity does not override its commitment to free speech and independent thought.The spectacle of what is currently going on in the Democratic Party, in which a large number of mostly younger people are trying with some success to get some recognition for a very wide range of ideas, ranging from the sweet old Harringtonian socialism of the Sanders faction to the ferocious pluralism of all sorts of intersectional groupings, is not very well described there; it is hardly aimed at "creating a society of conformists", though lots of people have not gotten really good at compromise yet, and not all of their ideas are necessarily really good. It is what is best described as normal, messy generational change.
They can hardly be compared to the spectacle of the Republican Party turning itself over to a crime family in order to realize its long-cherished dreams of getting rid of the inheritance, capital gains, and corporate taxes and taking away health care and retirement security from the indigent. Mr. Bret Stephens can object all he wants to to the déclassé character of the people in power, but they aren't forcing any new ideas on him.
Steve M was working on this piece of dreck at the same time as I was, and pointing out, among other important things, that Senator Feinstein is really not about to be taken out and guillotined, so you could check that out too if you haven't already done so.