The late Italian Communist and Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci was correct. Before any major social change can take place — such as the revolution he favored — those who seek it have to wage a fight for what he called cultural hegemony, via a war of position in which the intellectual and cultural issues that will decide the nation’s future are adopted by the people who desire a new path.
When he was a Marxist, the great historian Eugene D. Genovese, now a rock-ribbed conservative, wrote against what he called the “cult of perpetual adolescence,” in which would-be revolutionaries rebelled against society for its own sake, and did not want to “face the necessity of waging a long, hard struggle to reshape our national culture as well as our national politics.” That is what is meant by waging the war over culture — and just as Tea Party members and other conservatives have now adopted Alinsky’s tactics as a rule-book for organizing, so must conservatives adopt Gramsci’s insight and wage a war over cultural issues before they can be successful in changing our country’s politics.
Fortunately, there are a few major conservative intellectuals who understand this vital task. I wrote months ago about the journal National Affairs, which is carrying on this vital work. Today, I want to single out the equally important Claremont Review of Books, which is the preeminent intellectual journal of conservative ideas and books. It does for conservatism what the New York Review of Books has done for liberalism and leftism, and which has had a major impact on the mindset of the majority of academia.
The new issue arrived in my mail last weeks, and I urge all PJM readers to subscribe. The issue is filled with many gems — there are simply too many important articles in this one issue to cover them all.
The most outstanding article, to my mind, is by Denis Boyles, an author who lives and teaches in France. Called “Spineless Intellectuals,” [unfortunately not online] it deals with the vital arguments made by Paul Berman and Theodore Dalrymple against the capitulation of today’s liberals to Jihad and terrorism, one author coming from the left side of the spectrum and the other from the right, but both agreeing on the “failure of the culture…to synthesize and make useful the episodic insanity of our times.”
Boyles makes one of the most cogent observations about how liberal intellectuals think, and why despite so many facts that face them, they refuse to change their minds no matter how strong the evidence. I myself come across this all the time, particularly when writing about the importance of understanding the reality of what Soviet espionage meant to America in the 1940s and 50s, and how to this day, the guilt of people like the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss is not accepted by so many mainstream liberals.
My friends and colleagues Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes say they are simply “in denial,” but that does not go far enough. Boyles nails why they are. He writes:
In the end, most people- but especially contemporary intellectuals-believe what they believe because it’s too uncomfortable (or just too much work) to disrupt the seamless narrative of a carefully shaped worldview by trying to accommodate contrary evidence. The result is the kind of ignorance of obvious factors. … In fact, simply tracking the needed refutations to these intellectual narratives can make one tipsy with anger.
Or to paraphrase the famous statement of George Orwell, there are some things so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them. Orwell understood what he called “the shallow self-righteousness of the left-wing intelligentsia,” and were he alive today, he undoubtedly would have been rather shocked at how shallower their thought has become since his own time. Boyles comments on the clever attitude taken by the so-called moderate Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan, who knew he could win over the support of most liberal intellectuals because he understood “that they would believe what they needed to believe in any case,” and would ignore the kind of evidence the brave Paul Berman massed against him.
Now, on to William Voegeli’s important discussion of the impact of Rep. Paul Ryan’s detailed plans for how to deal with our current economic situation. Voegeli, a Claremont fellow, is author of the important book Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, one of the most cogent discussions of the failures of our nanny state. Ryan’s prominence, he writes, “derives from his ability, increasingly rare in Washington, to be serious about public policy without being strident about partisan politics.” When liberals complain that conservatives just say “no” to their wonderful schemes, they simply ignore that Ryan stands out for bringing to the discussion his own thorough and carefully thought out conservative alternative to statist liberalism.