The neoconservative ideologue Max Boot laments the Republican anti-intellectualism that has, he says, “culminated in the nomination of Donald J. Trump”. In recent years, he claims, “the Republicans’ relationship to the realm of ideas has become more and more attenuated as talk-radio hosts and television personalities have taken over the role of defining the conservative movement”.
I think the problem was less their abandonment of intellectuals than the quality of the thinkers they embraced. Neoconservatives were dominant, a fact proved by Boot’s own nostalgia for a party that “once belonged to thinkers like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and George F. Will”. Will was not as militant and monomaniacal an interventionist as the former pair but, still, what about Kirk? What about Buckley?
The neoconservatives were not just dominant, they were exclusionist, sidelining anyone deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about foreign conflict. David Frum’s attempt, in “Unpatriotic Conservatives”, to write everyone from Robert Novak to Pat Buchanan out of the conservative moment is just one example.
Having sealed their power, the neocons invested everything in overseas adventurism and failed spectacularly in the astonishing disaster that was the invasion of Iraq and the long, miserable war in Afghanistan. Boot and his comrades had few complaints about talk-radio hosts and television personalities when they were bellowing their jingoistic and triumphalist pro-war propaganda. It took dissident conservatives to observe that such demagogues were “catering to reflex rather than thought” and avoiding “deep social and economic problems”.
I have covered this before and have no wish to be repetitive but, still, I have to marvel at the sheer hypocrisy of Boot lamenting circumstances that the monomania, hubris and intolerance of he and his colleagues did a great deal to produce.
I get the impression that since the mid/late 1970s or so the US mainstream right’s been based on an alliance between Christian fundamentalists, free-market libertarians and Orthodox Jews – three mutually incompatible ideologies. I’m frankly surprised it’s lasted as long as it has, with the breaking point being Donald Trump dethroning that alliance by importing Continental European-style national conservatism to the US.