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    Perhaps the absolutely fundamental neoconservative idea was the need to reassert American
    nationalism or patriotism or "Americanism" or "American exceptionalism": the idea that American
    society, however flawed, is not only essentially good but somehow morally superior to other

    [This idea] is especially associated with immigration.  The future neoconservatives mostly came
    from relatively recent immigrant stock.  It is arguable, though certainly unproven, that such people
    in America feel a stronger need  than those of longer American lineage to display their credentials
    as Americans; or rather, that those whose families came over on the Mayflower feel that there is
    nothing incompatible between deep patriotism and a propensity to shout about what needs to be
            -The World Turned Right Side Up : A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America (1996)  (Godfrey Hodgson)

Boy, Godfrey Hodgson really hits the nail on the head there.  Norman Podhoretz's book, My Love Affair With America, is basically a protracted attempt to suggest that he loves America more than any of his former rivals on the Left, or current rivals on the Right.  Podhoretz famously broke ranks with the intellectual New York set in the 1970's, having determined that their anti-Americanism, most ostentatiously displayed during the Vietnam War, neither jibed with his own life experiences--the meteoric rise of a poor Jewish child of immigrants to respected writer status--nor was compatible with the need to maintain a militarily strong and assertive America, to stand as a final guarantor of an embattled Israel's continued existence.  He has an easy time rewinning his old battle with the radical counterculture (though he's unable to resist the compulsion to claim credit for having created that counterculture in the first place).  Their anti-Americanism is a result of their genuine opposition to freedom, which is America's organizing principle.  They do not wish to perfect America, but to destroy it and remake it in an image of their utopian (or dystopian) fantasies.  Podhoretz gives them yet another well-deserved drubbing.

But then he takes on the modern Right, and here he founders badly :

    In the mid-1990s there unexpectedly came an outburst of anti-Americanism even among some of
    the very conservatives I thought had been permanently immunized against itÖI was already pushing
    seventy, and it made me a little tired to think of going back into combat over a phenomenon that I
    had fondly imagined I would never have to deal with again, and certainly not on the Right

The anti-Americanism he's talking about is the harsh, but loving, cultural criticism of Bill Bennett and Robert Bork, and the tentative suggestions on the Religious Right that the Supreme Court may have so far departed from the Constitution in its decisions on social issues, specifically abortion and Church/State issues, that it is no longer a legitimate institution.  Podhoretz is horrified by these trends and seeks to read them out of the Conservative movement, but they were there long before him and will remain long after.

The problem for Podhoretz, and for neoconservatism in general, is the absence of a core political philosophy.  The Left believes that the central duty of government is to guarantee equality of outcomes among the citizenry and that government is capable of solving social problems and effectively running the economy.  Classic Conservatism is structured around a countervailing belief in freedom, which necessitates a very limited government, but strong social institutions, and, though it requires equality of opportunity, accepts that the resulting outcomes will be very different.  Neoconservatism is really only interested in supporting Israel and opposing quotas, it's largely agnostic on the other issues and has no firm view of the proper role of government generally.  On social issues, a natural distrust of Christian conservatism and the fact that neoconservatism arose in the urban milieu, combine to create a willingness to countenance big government, and the need for a massive military requires big government. On the other hand, if equality is enforced by the state, it will work to the detriment of groups, like Jews, who are disproportionately successful, so there's a reluctance to trust government too far.  This naked self-interest is certainly legitimate, but it's hardly a coherent political philosophy.

That Podhoretz is only marginally conservative becomes clear from the fact that he almost completely ignores the question of the size and role of government, from his dismissal of objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, from his failure to discuss, except in passing, the free market economic philosophy of folks like Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek, and from his failure to comprehend why abortion is such a salient issue on the Right.  Even more revealing is his thinly disguised contempt for the conservative intellectuals of the first half of the century, who either go unmentioned (Albert Jay Nock, for example) or are dismissed as cranks (like the Agrarians--Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, etc.).   He seems to think that conservatism was born in the 1950s, only became a significant political movement in the post Vietnam era (not coincidentally, just after he joined it) and consists of little more than nationalism.

Were that true, were conservatism nothing more than a blind patriotism, of recent vintage, then he would be right to criticize cultural conservatives for questioning the moral climate of the country and the direction in which it is heading.  But conservatism, even American conservatism, antedates America.  And conservatism has endured precisely because it offers such a powerful critique of America.  In Albert Jay Nock's great book, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, he says the following :

    Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase.  'For us to love our country,' he
    said, 'our country ought to be lovely.'  I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on
    which Western civilization will finally shatter itself.  Economism can build a society which is rich,
    prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being.  It
    can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the
    irresistible attraction that loveliness wields.  Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the
    society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly
    consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

By economism, Nock means a kind of unfettered materialism or consumerism.  These lines, prophetic anyway, seem even more prescient in light of the events of September 11th.  There is a palpable sense in America's continuing discussion of the events that the America that died on September 11th deserved to die (though the victims certainly did not), that it was too self-centered, too trivial, too degenerate.  People have now judged the America of the 1990s, which Podhoretz is here defending against conservative critics, and, as W. H. Auden said of an earlier time, they have determined it to be "a low dishonest decade."

In the final pages of the book Podhoretz offers a dayyenu, a list of each of the things that would have been sufficient for us to owe America a debt of gratitude.  After a brief, and platitudinous, generic list, including such things as "domestic tranquillity" (which one is tempted to point out that China too enjoys), he gets to his real reasons for feeling patriotic, and they are all about the success he's made of himself : "...America...sent me to a great university..."; "...America handed me a magazine of my own to run..."; "...America saw to it that I would live in an apartment in Manhattan...";  "...America arranged for me to build a country house...".  It's utterly vacuous and truly appalling.

Freedom is vital to everything that America stands for.  It makes possible the kind of rags to riches story that Podhoretz has lived.  But it is not enough.  Conservatives demand freedom, but also believe that our country "ought to be lovely."  This loveliness consists mostly of an adherence to the eternal values of the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which, as Nock says, we are unworthy inheritors.  And right there is another key element, humility.  Conservatives realize that our inheritance is too precious to experiment with willy-nilly and so seek to conserve as much as can possibly be conserved of that tradition.  Paraphrasing Nock (one last time, I promise), who borrowed a phrase from Lord Falkland :

    What it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

It is this very basic premise of conservatism--that it actually seeks to conserve something--that Podhoretz seemingly can not comprehend.  More's the pity.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Norman Podhoretz Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Norman Podhoretz

Proclaiming Our Principles (Gertrude Himmelfarb, February 17, 2003, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Victorians by A.N. Wilson (Gertrude Himmelfarb, Atlantic Monthly)

-ESSAY: The New York Intellectuals Werre a Boys Club (Sam Adler-Bell, 4/11/24, Chronicle Review)
    THE DESPAIR OF THE NEOCONSERVATIVES (Thomas Fleming, December 24, 2002, Chronicles)
    -ESSAY: The Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth (ROBERT J. LIEBER, May 2, 2003, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    The Bush Doctrine: The moral vision that launched the Iraq war has been quietly growing in the President's inner circle. (Tony Carnes, 04/25/2003, Christianity Today)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Norman Podhoretz : Senior Fellow (Hudson Institute)
    -Commentary Magazine
    -Partisan Review
    -Featured Author: Norman Podhoretz : With News and Reviews From the  Archives of The New York Times
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Norman Podhoretz Title: Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt and Norman Mailer Air Date: March 28, 1999 (C-SPAN)
    -AUDIO : Breaking Ranks by Norman Podhoretz (YAF)
    -AUDIO : The Bloody Crossroads by Norman Podhoretz (YAF)
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of My Love Affair With America : The  Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Ex-Friends Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian  Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer
    -EXCERPT : How to Lose Influential Friends, from 'Ex-Friends'
    -ESSAY : Syria Yes, Israel No! : Our anti-terror coalition doesn't distinguish friend from foe (Norman Podhoretz, November 3, 2001, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Israel Isn't the Issue Islamic fanatics hate America in its own right. (NORMAN PODHORETZ, September 20, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : America the Beautiful (Norman Podhoretz, Winter 2001, City  Journal)
    -ESSAY : Patriotism and Its Enemies (Norman Podhoretz, July 3, 2000, Wall Street Journal)
     -ESSAY : Was Bach Jewish? : In his strict adherence to the musical  laws of his time, Johann Sebastian Bach was quintessentially Jewish.  (Norman Podhoretz, December 1999, Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Learning from Isaiah. (Norman Podhoretz, 05/01/00,  Commentary)
    -ESSAY : Buchanan and Anti-Semitism (Norman Podhoretz, Wall Street  Journal | October 25, 1999)
    -ESSAY : What Happened to Ralph Ellison.(Norman Podhoretz, July 1999,  Commentary)
    -ESSAY : Life of His Party : How Bill Clinton saved the Democrats.  (Norman Podhoretz, September 1999, National Review)
    -ESSAY : HAS ISRAEL LOST ITS NERVE? (Norman Podhoretz, Wall Street  Journal-Op-Ed September 10, 1999)
    -ESSAY : The adventure of Philip Roth.(Commentary Magazine, April 07 2000 by Norman Podhoretz)
    -ESSAY : The "Loyalty Trap": Glenn Loury, once a neoconservative  luminary, reverses course. (Norman Podhoretz, Jan 25, 1999, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Heroism in a Politically Correct Age (Norman Podhoretz, January 1998, National Review)
    -ESSAY : My war with Allen Ginsberg. (08/01/97, Commentary)
    -ESSAY : Allen Ginsberg's Secret : What he did with Norman Podhoretz  at Columbia. (Paul Berman, June 4, 1997, Slate)
    -ESSAY : Military Intervention in Central America?  (Norman Podhoretz, July 24, 1983, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : The Cold War Again?  (Norman Podhoretz,  June 11, 1978, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Now, Instant Zionism (Norman Podhoretz, February 3, 1974, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : New Names on the Dust Jackets (Norman Podhoretz, June 15, 1958, NY Times)
    -LECTURE : Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Norman Podhoretz, October 12, 2000, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research : The 2000 Wriston Lecture)
    -DISCUSSION : ìTwo Faces of Realityî (Robert Jastrow and Norman Podhoretz, George C. Marshall Institute Roundtable discussion December 12, 2000)
    -ARCHIVES : Norman Podhoretz (NY Review of Books)
    -INTERVIEW : with Norman Podhoretz (Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley)
    -ARCHIVES : Norman Podhoretz (Think Tank, PBS)
    -ARTICLE : Podhoretz on 25 Years at Commentary (Walter Goodman, January 31, 1985, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE : Critic of the Left Ready to Step Aside (DEIRDRE CARMODY, January 19, 1995, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Norman's Conquest: A Commentary on the Podhoretz Legacy (Mark Gerson, Fall 1995, Policy Review)
    -ESSAY : Right Is Still Right (The Conformist [Scott McConnell], NY Press)
    -ESSAY : Poison-pen Pals (Joseph Epstein, March 1999, Commentary)
    -ESSAY : NORMAN'S NARCISSISM: PODHORETZ IN LOVE (Justin Raimondo, October 16, 2000, Anti-War)
    -ESSAY : "Response to Norman Podhoretz," (Peter W. Rodman, Commentary,  January 2000)
    -DIALOGUE : When Is It OK To Betray a Friend? (Michael Sandel and Christopher Buckley, March 11, 1999, Slate)
    -ESSAY : George Orwell and the Big Cannibal Critics. (Jonah Raskin. Monthly Review, May 1983)
    -ESSAY : THE PUNCH LINES : Feuding Writers Get Nasty (SUSAN SHAPIRO, Voice Literary Supplement)
Raimondo, AntiWar, October 27, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Breaking up with the Beats : Kerouac and company were my first literary loves -- but I had to get off their road. (David Gates, April 12, 1999, Salon)
    -Norman Podhoretz (1930- )(American Literature on the Web)
    -Neoconservatism Online
    -ARCHIVES : "norman podhoretz" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "norman podhoretz" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Joseph Dorman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Seth Lipsky, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (William F. Buckley, Jr.)
    -REVIEW: of My Love Affair With America by Norman Podhoretz Yankee Doodle Dandy   Celebrating America While Breaking Ranks and Settling Scores  (JIM SLEEPER, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Ronald Radosh, Front Page)
    -RESPONSE : Row Over Radosh (Jim Sleeper, Front Page)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (James R. Whelan, Human Events)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Thomas Sowell)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (AntiWar)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Myles Kantor, Lew
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (BERNARD BASKIN, Canadian Jewish News)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Balint Vazsonyi, American Outlook)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (David Mutch, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Ellen Willis, dissent)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Rick Richman, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles)
    -REVIEW : of My Love Affair (Arch T. Allen, Metro NC)
    -REVIEW : of 'Doings and Undoings' (1964) (David Daiches, NY TImes)
    -REVIEW : of 'Making It' (1968)(Frederic Raphael, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of 'Breaking Ranks' (1979)(Joseph Epstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of 'The Present Danger' (1980)(Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of 'Why We Were in Vietnam' (1982)(James Fallows, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Why We Were in Vietnam (Conservative Perspectives on Vietnam)
    -REVIEW : of The Bloody Crossroads (Cynthia Ozick, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt)
    -REVIEW : of 'Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer' (1999) (Richard Brookhiser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (William F. Buckley, Jr., Sacramento Bee)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Carl Rollyson, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends and Making It, by Norman Podhoretz  (Christopher Hitchens, Harper's)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Arnold Beichman, Policy Review)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Nicholas Lemann, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends : Podhoretz: the man who killed his father--twice (Robert Fulford, Globe and Mail)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (PETER WORTHINGTON -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (A.O. Scott, Lingua Franca)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Culture Vulture)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (ROGER BISHOP, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Mona Charen)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Jordan Hoffman, Leisure Suit)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (WALTER KIRN, New York)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (JOHN LEONARD, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of Ex-Friends (Nathan Abrams, Faculty of Continuing Education, Birkbeck College, University of London .Published by H-Ideas)
    -REVIEW : of Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology Edited by Jules Chametzky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum, and Kathryn Hellerstein (Ruth R. Wisse, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals, by David Laskin (Kanchan Limaye, National Review)

    -ARCHIVES : John Podhoretz, National Review
    -ESSAY : A RECKONING FOR THE NOISEMAKERS (John Podhoretz, 9/13/01, NY
    -ESSAY : Jeers to You, Mrs. Robinson : Whoís the weakest link now? (John Podhoretz, June 9-10, 2001, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of How We Got Here: The 70ís: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (For Better or Worse), by David Frum (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of A. I. : Brave New Idiocy : A.I. morphs into a clinical depiction of the Oedipus complex. (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Atlantis : Disneyís New Ride : How Disney lost its magic. (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : Ladies Who Punch : Reviewing Tomb Raider (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Animal : The Animal Attraction : Bursting the bubble of cultural correctness (John Podhoretz, National Review)
    -PROFILE : Oedipus & Podhoretz : His father fought Stalinists. But for Post edit-page chief John Podhoretz, sitcoms are the battleground of freedom. (HANNA ROSIN, New York)
    -ESSAY : Poor taste pundits  : The outbursts against the Kennedy family last week by Rush Limbaugh and John Podhoretz were a disgrace to the conservative movement. (Joe Conason, July 27, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Media Circus: Doing the right-wing shuffle : John Podhoretz and other right-wing journalists are the playthings of the big-money conservatives who bankroll newspapers and magazines in order to further their political agendas (Eric Alterman, Salon)

    -REVIEW : of Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe (Commentary Magazine,  Midge Decter)
    -ARCHIVES : "midge decter" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of AN OLD WIFE'S TALE My Seven Decades in Love and War. By Midge Decter (Dorothy Gallagher, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of An Old Wife's Tale by Midge Decter Ý(Commentary Magazine,  David Gelernter)
    -REVIEW : of An Old Wife's Tale by Midge Decter (Tish Durkin, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of An Old Wife's Tale (Bella Stander, Washington Post)

    -Neoconservatism Online
    -The American Enterprise
    -City Journal
    -Front Page
    -Jewish World Review
    -The National Interest
    -The Public Interest
    -The Weekly Standard
    -Arguing the World (PBS)
    -American Enterprise Institute
    -Center for the Study of the Popular Culture
    -Empower America
    -Ethics and Public Policy Center
    -Hudson Institute
    -Manhattan Institute
    -ESSAY : The Voice of Neoconservatism : "We in America fought a culture war, and we lost" (Ronald Bailey, Reason, October 2001)
    -ESSAY : Against the Neo-Conservative Empire (Derek Copold, Texas Mercury, October 2001)
    -ESSAY : All in the Family : the Kristol Clan's Neocon Dynasty (David Greenburg, FEED)
    -ESSAY : Who Won the Cold War? (Jacob Heilbrunn, October 1996, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Great Escape : HOW BILL KRISTOL DITCHED CONSERVATISM  (Franklin Foer, May 2001, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Arguing the GOP : The neocons wake up. (FRANKLIN FOER, 03.20.00, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Stop, Thief! (Eric Alterman, October 2000, The Nation)
    -ESSAY : Neo-Con Invasion (Samuel Francis, The New American : John Birch Society)
    -ESSAY : The Connection Man : The mourners at the funeral of New York Post editorial-page editor Eric Breindel ran the gamut from Bobby Kennedy Jr. to David Dinkins to Rudy Giuliani to Rupert Murdoch to Norman Podhoretz. How did a right-wing ideologue (with a heroin bust on his résumé) become the power elite's favorite journalist?  (CRAIG HOROWITZ, New York)
    -ESSAY : There's more to a conservative than meets the eye (Michael Taube, Calgary Herald [Alberta, Canada], August 26, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Those Savvy Neo-Cons: Hardly Conservative (Carlo DiNota, Chalcedon Report)
    -ESSAY : The Ex-Cons : Right-Wing Thinkers Go Left! (Corey Robin, February 2001, Lingua Franca)
    -ARCHIVES : neoconservatism (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : neoconservatism (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of The Neoconservative Mind: Politics, Culture, and the War of Ideology. By Gary Dorrien (Mark Gerson, First Things)

    -Freeman Center for Strategic Studies : attempts to aid Israel in her quest to survive in a hostile world, commissions extensive research into the military and strategic issues related to the Arab-Israeli
conflict and disseminates pertinent information to the Jewish community and worldwide
    -ARCHIVES : Religious Liberty & the Courts (First Things)
    -SYMPOSIUM : The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics (First Things)
    -ESSAY : Judges Delayed, Justice Denied : The Right Wing Attack on the Independent Judiciary (People for the American Way)
    -ESSAY : Uncivil disobedience : Has the religious right taken leave of America ó or just its senses? (DAVID FUTRELLE, November 1996, Salon)
    -LECTURE : Whither the Old Conservatism? (An Accuracy in Academia Address by Paul Gottfried, Delivered at AIAís 1999 Conservative University at Georgetown University)
    -ESSAY : Fall Guys : GUESS WHO HATES AMERICA? CONSERVATIVES. (Lawrence F. Kaplan, 06.15.00, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : LEFT AND RIGHT : Big Government's Proper Calling (Noemie Emery, October 14 2001, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and  Mary McCarthy 1949-1975 (R.Z. SHEPPARD, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism: From  Criticism to Cultural Studies
James Seaton (Henry Gonshak, MT Tech.-University of Montana)
    -ESSAY: Neoconservatism and Capitalism: Irving Kristol was a renegade liberal in 1978—and wrong about markets (Robert M. Crunden, June 19, 2024, Modern Age)