Who Are These 'Hucksters' Jonah Goldberg Is Warning Us About?


He says the conservative movement has an "unhealthy share" of them. So why not call them out?

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When conservatives gather at the National Review Institute Summit in Washington, D.C., later this month to discuss "the challenges facing conservatism," I hope attendee Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism, repeats the characterization of the conservative movement from his most recent column.

"The movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted," he writes. "A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it's possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument. Many liberals lived in such an ideological cocoon for decades, which is one reason conservatives won so many arguments early on. Having the right emulate that echo chamber helps no one."

It's great that he wrote the column.

When I wrote that "the civil war the right needs is one waged against the hucksters," and penned an open letter to Jonah Goldberg insisting that "what brought down the right is a corrupt conservative movement, without sufficient capacity for constructive criticism, and beset by heretic hunters who denounced anyone engaged in critical thinking," it didn't reach readers of venues like Townhall, Jewish World Review, the American Enterprise Institute, and National Review. When Julian Sanchez wrote that conservatives have an epistemic closure problem, conservatives like Jonah Goldberg dismissed his concerns, unlike when a columnist like Jonah Goldberg observed that "telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation" and "it's possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument."

But there's one thing missing from Goldberg's column: examples. It's difficult to offer them at column length, so their absence here can be forgiven, but going back through Goldberg's archive of columns, and recalling all the coverage at National Review generally, I cannot find Goldberg or anyone else warning their readers about any particular "huckster." Why not? If there are an "unhealthy share" of hucksters in your midst shouldn't they be challenged?

That's what I'd like the movement intelligentsia to discuss at the National Review Institute gathering. Most of them know all about the problems that Goldberg laudably addresses in his column. But they're even less willing to acknowledge the problems, challenge the people responsible for them, or level with the rank and file about their opinions. For some, it offends their (misplaced) notions of loyalty. (What could justify loyalty to hucksters whose marks are your trusting, rank-and-file co-ideologues?) Others understand that calling out hucksters by name, however earnestly and accurately, can jeopardize one's ability to make a living within the movement. By speaking up, however belatedly, Goldberg has perhaps decreased the cost of  forthrightness.

Good for him -- it's a necessary but not sufficient step to stop the hucksters.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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