Who You Calling 'Wild-Eyed Witch Doctor'?

Damon Linker and Jonah Goldberg duke it out over the meaning of conservatism

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The New Republic and the National Review aren't famous for getting along. In the past twenty-four hours, however, two staffers have come to virtual blows over a book review. Oddly enough, both basically agree the book is wrong.

The contretemps began with a review of Sam Tanenhaus's The Death of Conservatism by The New Republic's Damon Linker. Linker's premise  was that Tanenhaus is wrong--conservatism isn't likely to go away anytime soon. In the midst of discussing Tanenhaus's heterodox version of conservatism, Linker took some passing shots at neoconservatives; objecting to what he viewed as conservatives' refusal to countenance dissent, Linker attacked such writers as the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. Would Goldberg let this pass? Er, no. Here's the he-said-he-said:

  • Linker on conservative reaction to Tanenhaus:
Tanenhaus concludes that too many conservative intellectuals "recognize no distinction between analysis and advocacy, or between the competition of ideas and the naked struggle for power." Quite so, as one can see from the response (or non-response) of the right to Tanenhaus’s own book ... An intellectually serious conservatism would jump at the chance to engage with an author who uses its leading lights to argue that the movement has gone seriously astray. But that’s not what contemporary conservatives are doing. When they aren’t ignoring Tanenhaus’s book, they’re doing what they do best: policing orthodoxy.
  • Goldberg on conservative reaction to Tanenhaus:
Linker gets a great deal entirely wrong. If anything, conservatives have lavished more attention on--and been more deferential to--Tanenhaus's book than they would if it were written by almost anyone else. Tanenhaus was invited to make his case at the American Enterprise Institute--twice!--and each time he was given a very respectful hearing ... But here's the thing: The Death of Conservatism is simply, irrefutably, a wildly unpersuasive piece of work ... Here's how I put it in the latest issue: ... like a wild-eyed witch-doctor ooga-boogaing about why he should be allowed to remove your spleen
  • Linker on the Tanenhaus thesis:
Now to some of those problems. To begin with, Tanenhaus’s aversion to ideology is so complete that he comes close to rejecting the very distinction between left and right ... Is (ideological) conservatism really dead? I submit that it’s supremely unconservative (in Tanenhaus’s temperamental sense) to presume that it is ... [R]esist the temptation to engage in wishful thinking. Ideological conservatism remains very much alive on cable news and talk radio, and among significant numbers of citizens in the South, Midwest, and Intermountain West.
  • Goldberg on Linker: "[F]inger-wagging notwithstanding, it's clear from the second half of his post that even Linker basically agrees. Heck, even Tanenhaus understands that no one except the liberal[s] blurbing his book ... find his argument plausible."
  • Linker on Goldberg: "A handful of liberals stupidly describe conservatives as fascists, so Jonah Goldberg responds by writing several hundred pages about the threat of liberal fascism. (Get it?) Liberal Jews frequently congratulate themselves for their secularism, so Norman Podhoretz produces a book in which he claims that Jews treat liberalism as a religion. (Clever!)"
  • Goldberg on Goldberg (and liberals)
Something in the water over at TNR virtually guarantees that those folks treat my book unfairly or ignorantly (or both!) and Linker's no exception. For the record, I do not object to a "handful" of liberals calling conservatives fascists as Linker crudely snorts (talk about policing orthodoxy!). .. American liberalism ... has convinced itself that American conservatism is a close relative of fascism ... This idea suffuses our popular culture, academia, and a great deal of the liberal journalistic establishment.
  • Goldberg's parting shot: "Linker is intent on telling conservatives what we would do if we were 'intellectually serious.' He should try harder to lead by example."


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