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Bruce S. Thornton
Before the Culture Fades « Back to Story

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"Such wisdom is desperately needed these days, given the expansion of state power that has attended President Obama’s policies, with their explicit aim to institute radical-egalitarian 'fairness' and to 'spread the wealth around.'”

Isn't that a bit tendentious to just throw out without support? What policies in particular are being referred to? If they include the ACA, it would be worth recalling that that law is an Act of Congress, not a presidential order (not to mention only debatably "egalitarian").

I don't know whether Kimball's book argues so explicitly or weakly against the President, but I doubt that it does, and it would be marred (and sadly ephemeral) if it did.

The decline of Mr. Kimball and the New Criterion have so disappointed me that I've no choice but to add my two cents.

In the early 1980s, with the pungent input of Hilton Kramer and Samuel Lipton, the New Criterion was a delightful conservative voice to be reckoned with. It represented everything a truly intellectually engaged conservatism ought be -- dynamic, resourceful, respectful of the past but self-assuredly discriminating about the new.

But the New Criterion has in the past five years degenerated into what it once justifiably abhorred: shallow politicized cant. It's become a ham-fisted burlesque of knee-jerk political correctness.

Whereas it was once a publication that could simultaneously champion high modernism and precision in literary diction, description, and exposition, what we've now on our hands is an utterly and drearily predictable exercise in non-stop middle-brow Obama-bashing decorated with rote hysteria about perceived insults to the American commonweal.

Mr. Kimball is clearly in the business of garnering funds from elements who support him, vaguely, in spirit, but literally not in letter(s).

And, as a result, he's reduced conservatism to a handful of manageable cliches, and his writing has become nothing more than a demonstration of the various ways he can manipulate these cliches to reach entirely foreseeable conclusions.

It's always dispiriting to watch an interesting mind surrender to self-parody.







Robert L. Thornton August 14, 2012 at 10:14 AM
The President is a "radical-egalitarian" who wants to "spread the wealth around"? Academics who spout the Tea Party line are truly villainous because they should know better. At the very least, they should have the honesty to promote a "New Fascism" that combines the government and corporate power of America to promote "freedom from freedom" or some sort of nonsense like that.
Kimball endorses the "new revolt of the masses", obviously referring to the 'Tea Party' as offering some hope for the future he desires. They are the folks who, after attending some rally or other, hop into their campers and drive to Memphis to visit the grave site of Elvis. Reductio ad absurdum!
You just have to laugh and shake your head at the total lack of self-awareness displayed by the reviewer. Fulminating against the supposed politicization of the humanities by the demonized Left, he rushes to heap uncritical praise on a writer whose whole shtick relies on a cheap and easily diagnosed conservative ressentiment. Indeed, the entire value of Kimball's work for Thornton and others is that it confirms their bilious, poorly informed view of the world. That he can suggest that the '12 election is a episode in the 80's culture war is as clear a sign as any of the total degeneracy of conservative thought in 21st century America.
It's good to have Kimball and Thornton reminding us of "the enduring importance of tradition," so that we can have a reliable sleep aid to counter our insomnia. Yes, bring on the full panoply of conservative grouses: the "pansexual carnival"; the shallowness of the Internet; the failure of education to inculcate "the deep wisdom of tradition and time-sanctioned answers to the human predicament." (Snore.) But can I just mention that during a run of several millennia when Tradition reigned supreme, we had gotten no further than the Thirty Years War as an exemplary product of human "civilization"? Is Plato's Republic part of the tradition, with it's fascist superstructure and censorship of the arts? Good thing the Enlightenment, so dismaying to conservatives today, finally got us to Question Authority.

Every conservative celebrates the progress created by liberals up until the year he turned ten: since then, he thinks, all subsequent liberalism has been radical dementia. But you have to be aggressively perverse to see in Obama an exponent of "the expansion of state power"and the proponent of a radical egalitarian agenda. Bless my soul, Obama is a 1980s mainstream Republican whose health-care "reform" was invented by the Heritage Foundation, enacted by Governor Romney, and written by the insurance industry to benefit itself. Like Reagan and both Bushes, he's spent money like a drunken sailor, but none of it to push a progressive agenda. The Pentagon budget grows apace, and Obama on national security issues is indistinguishable from Dick Cheney. You right-wingers are living in a fictional universe featuring a fantasized showdown between a supposed persecuted minority of cultured Christians and a vast but entirely imaginary horde of socialists and anarchists. Lighten up: the corporatocracy has nothing to fear from the iPad generation. The oligarchy is safe for another generation at least, at the end of which there may not be much left worth saving if any revolutionaries are tempted to try.
This is an interesting article and looks like an interesting book. However, I just want to raise two points. First, benevolence was not only an idea championed by Godwin. Adam Smith, famous author of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS,also discusses the importance of an innate benevolence in the human spirit, particularly in his book A THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. In that same book Smith argues that people are deceived by the belief that wealth will make them happy. Smith is glad that they are so deceived because such deception keeps the economic system running.

Finally, I hope that the new Republican VP candidate is as much a traditionalist as Roger Kimball. However, I fear that he is not. Rather than Dostoyevsky's THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, or Augustine's CONFESSIONS, his favorite author is Ayn Rand. Oh well, I guess not all conservatives are traditionalists.
How sad! Kimball and Thornton are as Karl Kraus said of Freud, the disease they purport to cure. In reading the classics, they, like the Bourbon, have forgotten nothing and learned nothing!
Might be useful disclaimer to know that Kimball's Encounter Books publishes Thornton, (including his latest unfortunately timed work - published in 3/11 - that links the President who successfully targeted Bin Laden to the appeasement of Hitler!)
Sounds like a thrilling read. As George W. Bush would put it, "Pass the freedom fries!"
Andrea Ostrov Letania August 13, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Roger Kimball is a total hack. NEW CRITERION has some interesting writers, but Kimball is its ideological hammer, the Stalinist of the Right. My problem isn't with Kimball's politics or ideology but with his criticism of culture.

One can loathe the politics of an artist but still give credit where it's due. Petty and small-minded, Kimball can never make himself rise to that level.
He totally trashed DEATH OF A SALESMAN because Miller was a leftist and the play is critical of the capitalist mentality. Miller's play may not be perfect, but it's a powerful piece of work. But Kimball just reduces and dumps it as an anti-capitalist screed.

And he has nothing good to say about Gore Vidal. True, Vidal was a deeply flawed man, even a jerk, but he was a great writer, certainly many times more interesting than Bill Buckley who, for all his charm, was a vapid and shallow thinker and writer. Vidal wrote books on history; Buckley wrote silly spy novels and books on sailing.
Kimball also willfully misread Susan Sontag, twisting her words to render her ideas meaningless. Sontag was the sort of intellectual one had to engage with in order to fully appreciate, but Kimball has no patience or empathy to understand anything outside his ideological cocoon.

Btw, Kimball had no use for David Mamet when Mamet was on the Left. I wonder if Kimball changed his mind since Mamet moved to the Right. If so, what does that tell us about Kimball? He judges culture based on ideology. He's no better than the politically correct goons who run the universities and reduce all of culture into 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia', and other nonsense.
George Balanchine August 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I have some agreement for SOME of what Kimball, Kramer and the New Criterion believe, most importantly, their belief that some art is better than other art and that it is right and proper to make judgements on the value of painting, poetry, etc.
HOWEVER, what is not understood by critics from both the "right" and "left" is that art is NOT political. As Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus, aesthetics and ethics are outside the world(everything that is the case) and cannot really be talked about.
Connecting artistic issues with the politics of the moment is a blunder of the first order.
Oh yes, and attacking an artist's work because you don't like their politics is extremely misguided and a not very useful way to think about art.
This happened on a number of occasions in the New Criterion, with, for example, Kimball(I believe) having the breathtaking arrogance to criticize Van Gogh's work simply because Kimball doesn't like the way Van Gogh has become a secular saint to certain types of art critics.



Kimball's a bright man, but he relishes his role as "cultural garbage collector" too much. Sometimes, one needs to step back from one's assumptions and self-image and chosen role and look at things afresh. Certainly there's something ghoulish about some of his obituary cum hit pieces -- a little too much cleverness and presumption.
A few years ago I removed my oldest child from a public school in New Jersey because his first-grade teacher rightly understood that to achieve equality of outcome in America she needed to destroy the curiosity and restrain the creativity of those students who were, from luck, preparation, or inclination, quickest to learn.

America needs neighborhood schools and the involvement of parents in the education of their much loved children. American needs to go back and build its schools from scratch--or unbuild them altogether. America needs something very similar to that in its effort to build its culture and economy. America needs to be rid of its Marxist schoolmarms.
I was in favor of gay marriage until an Anglican bishop called it "cultural vandalism", and then it hit me. Gay marriage is yet another manifestation of Gramsci's "march through the institutions" . One by one, the Left iconoclasts are systematically destroy the pillars of Western civilization. I don't oppose gay marriage because of my religion, I oppose it because it is acid poured onto our culture.