Thursday, March 31, 2005

In Defense of Hillary 

Tennessee Whiskey speaks up in defense of Hillary.

One critique. Leave them alone? Not the first thing that comes to mind.

[D.J. photo from Misshapes. Much more, uhm, relevant photo on M90, via Chris DeClerico via TW.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Suits Are Okay! 

I used to say things like "Just becuase you wear a suit doesn't mean you are one."

But what the hell does that mean? Is it any better than saying, "Just because you look like an inked up, pierced, unemployable junkie doesn't mean you are one"?
The wisdom of Brooklyn's own Tennessee Whiskey.

Monday, March 28, 2005

All My Friendsters Are Murderers 

Today's theme song is Drain the Blood.



This Weekend Was Brought To You By The Letter F 

Food: Went to two new restaurants. New to me anyhow, if not the world. Jane, on Houston, and O'Neil's, on Broome. Neither was spectacular. Jane was far more of a scene than I had expected but the skate special was too dry for my taste. Early on Saturday evening (it was a very late brunch that had become dinner) the bar of O'Neil's was full of people drinking the same drink, perhaps a cosmopolitan, so I was convinced I had walked into a private party. Turns out that the place is on some sort of Sex & the City tour and during the early evening hours entertains at least five different tour groups. Thankfully the restaurant was free of tourists. They seated us at the best seat in the place.

Frivolous: On the way to O'Neil's, I stopped in a store I had never seen before called Ted Baker. Ridiculous English striped shirts, suits with gaudy lining and the feel that this is probably where Austin Powers shops. Ended up walking out with two new suits, three ties and a pair of shoes. Ridiculous. Need to pay a visit to my tailor now.

Film: Old Boy is a strikingly violent and stylish Korean import now playing at the Angelica. The less you know about it the better. Do not read the reviews. Just go see it. But be warned. I had to turn away from the screen at least three times to avoid disgust or horror.

Fun: On Saturday we went to going away party for a Cellar barfly who is moving to San Francisco this week. Afterwards my lads and I went to a birthday party for a girl at a bar called Black Door. I had been drunk there once before and had good memories. This must have been one of those false recollection things because the place was miserable. Made a few quick adjustments and discovered a party at the Upright Citizens Brigade. We met up with the other part of our gang in a midtown karaoke bar, where I sang We Built This City, and then everyone went to UCB. Wandered back to my local at 5 am, where they unlocked the doors and served us whiskey. Home by 7 a.m.

Family & Faith: Up by 10 a.m. on Sunday for eleven o'clock Mass at the Church of Our Savior, and then 12:37 train to the Manhattan Transfer Family Compound for Easter.

Fitness: The new regime includes murderous interval training, alternating running very fast and then slightly less fast for fifty minutes or so. You know you are done when you throw up in the bathroom of the gym. Nice.

Finale: Sunday night at home, organizing bookshelves and drinking Potato Barn Red. Fell to sleep reading The Impartial Recorder by Ian Sansom.

More or less the perfect weekend.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Don't Cage Jesus

The Middle Class As A Social Pathology 

"Meanwhile, the city is moving ahead with other changes in gifted instruction. More schools will get self-contained gifted classes. And in mid-February, Carmen Fariña, the Department of Education’s head of instruction, outlined a noncontroversial, admirable reform: She’s establishing “schoolwide enrichment programs” in every public-school region. Instead of separating the gifted kids from the rest of the school population, this model creates accelerated instructional units—in, say, math or music or science—that advanced students attend for part of the day.

Still, the schoolwide enrichment program is a slow launch whose benefits to students are long-term. And Bloomberg has only seven months to make his case. Perhaps the gifted-and-talented think tank overestimated its power to set policy. But when the Department of Education stopped short of bold, immediate changes, it left Bloomberg open to accusations of pandering to the white middle class. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t good politics."
Speaking of which, why are white middle class parents still allowed to vote?

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Inspired by Eliot Shepard's show at Jen Beckman's gallery, I decided to post some of my own photographs, starting with the one below. Be forewarned: I'm no Eliot.

A Lock

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Save the Date: April 6 

Someone has decided they want me to hold up the "Let's Not" side of a debate on whether America Should Invade the World. It takes place Wednesday, April 6th, at Lolita Bar. Everyone is invited.

My "Yeah, Lets" counterpart is apparently a reasonable and sober neoconservative. Expect mayhem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Brilliance and Mystery That Was FYPM 

Is no more.

Adios GKB. We'll miss you. Don't forget to write.

The Geography of the Arab Mind 

It was the day after Saint Patrick’s Day and there was nothing to do but drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and exchange accounts of our previous evening’s intoxicated exploits. A flask was passed surreptitiously, and the coffee spiked with enough hair to chase away the canine’s bite. Voices moved from slow and slurred to rapid and still slurred. After the last laughs about last night’s liquored lechery, the talk turned to politics.

A young man from Virginia who had spent the previous night pursuing the attentions of a young woman from Michigan mentioned an article he had read in The American Scholar in which Lawrence Rosen explored the “Arab Personality” to shed light on the Arab’s world resistance to “Western-style reform.” Rosen focuses on three “deeper cultural factors” to explain Arab culture—the concept of the undivided self, the equation of skepticism on fundamental matters with chaos and disorder, and the tendency not to separate political institutions from the individuals running them.

The problem with Lawrence's article is that it is written in the style of spectulative or popular anthropology. He might have studies to back-up his claims but I've been looking for exactly that sort of thing for some time without success. I would like to know more about the geography of the Arab mind. Certainly, I think it would have been a good idea to know more before we took over an Arab country. But now that we are running an Arab country, I hope someone is doing the kind of research Richard Nisbett did for his book “The Geography of Thought.” Wouldn't this kind of study be infinitely more profitable than time spent arguing about whether or not Islam is a religion of peace?

Arms Control for Sports 

Ben McGrath unleashes his wrath at Congress for scheduling the steroids hearing on Saint Patrick's Day.

The great thing about Congressional hearings is how effectively they disabuse us of the notion that politicians can be divided into two classes, and that one of those classes is made up of good ones. The only good to come from watching the committee abuse those who played in our national pastime was the certain knowledge that for once the scoundrels were not engaged in their preferred pastimes of plunder and destruction.

It would be a shame, however, if the taint of politics poisoned public discussion of steroids. Let us grant that this really isn't the proper business of Congress, that the government's war on drugs is a colossal failure and that reasonable adults should be free to pick their poisons. These libertarian arguments are almost as persuasive as they are irrelevant to the topic of steroids in sports. I might be willing to accept the right of every ordinary citizen of the Republic to steroids but I'd still deny them to professional athletes.

The argument that individuals shouldn't have their liberty restricted by public judgment about steroids is simply unavailable to ballplayers. Sports are rife with rules intended to prevent players from gaining certain sorts of advantages over others. Pitchers cannot grease the baseball; batters may not cork their bats. Steroid use is similarly about gaining a comparative advantage over other players.

Why have these rules at all? The reason is that we don't want our professional sports to deteriorate into arms-races of various sorts--contests between the best baseball greasers, bat-corkers and steroid users. Since the name of the game in steroids is comparative advantage, as use becomes more common, more players will tend to use more steroids. An individuals choice about whether to use steroids gets annihilated in the competitive pressure to keep up or get run over. The ban on steroids is simply arms-control for sports.

Attempting to resolve every public dilemma through individual choice is simply a lazy habit of mind.

[Lots more from Steve Sailer on the subject in his sports archives.]

Friday, March 18, 2005

Do I Even Need To Say It? 

Okay. Fine.

Never. Drinking. Again.

Good Lord. I need someone to take me to brunch this weekend and tell me I'm wonderful even though we all know I'm awful.

Update: I also need someone to buy me a drink afterwork. Hair of the dog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dlefsmur Dlanod 

In the latest issue of the American Conservative, Greg Cochran speculates about what's wrong with Donald Rumsfeld:

"Most likely he's from some other dimension. If Only we could get him to say his name backwards.

Saint Patrick's Day 

Right. It's panic time. The bar where my pride of miscreants has spent the last three Saint Patrick's Days has closed. As the Head Drunk in Charge, I'm responsible for determining the substitute. What's everyone doing? Where should we go for trouble on Thursday?

International Power 

My first reaction to seeing Samantha Power's comment in the New Yorker on John Bolton's appointment as ambassador to the United Nations was to recall that she was pretty cute when we were in college together. She wasn't much of a drinker and seemed entirely immune to my many charms but she had a great smile, eyes that sparkled and an impressive figure.

My second reaction was to remember how annoying her politics were. She was always saying that what the world needed was another government with weapons, fighting men, and the power to tax, jail and destroy. She seemed entirely immune to any evidence about the dangers of global governance.

A typical conversation with Samantha would go something like this.

Samantha: "The lack of an international enforcement mechanism is a terrible weakness for international law that needs to be remedied through creating new institutions and stregthening existing ones."

ManhattanTransfer: "It's pretty when you push your hair back like that and get excited."

Samantha: "Can you take your hand off my knee? Did you know you're spilling whiskey on your shirt?"

ManhattanTransfer: "Let's find some place quieter to talk."

What I should have told her was that she needed to learn more more about how laws are made, adjudicated, and enforced, how institutions are subject to popular accountability or captured by special interests, and how liberty can be protected or eroded through the structure of government. International law as conceived by Power lacks any effective mechanisms for constraining arbitrary authority, preventing manipulation by private agenda and safeguarding liberty.

I'm of two minds on John Bolton. One the one hand, he's expressed a healthy skepticism of nation building and humanitarian warfare. It's to to be a good thing to have someone in the Bush Administration foreign policy aparatus who things that "the idea that we can national build for somebody else is just unrealistic." Great. Can we bring the lads and lasses home from Iraq now?

On the other, he's been a reliable ally of the neoconservatives who got us into Iraq and seem to be sharpening their knives for battle with Iran, Syria, Korea and China.

Samantha, however, doesn't suffer from multiple-mindedness on the subject of Bolton. Or rather, she's dead against him, even if she has to have it both ways. On the one hand, she describes coming confirmation as a failure of "independent judgment" on the part of the Senate. On the other, she points out that Bolton is "a longtime skeptic of tools that are increasingly part of the Bush Administration's arsenal." So is the problem that Bolton is a tool of the Bush Administration's "Democracy Project" or an opponent of it?

It's a trick question. The right answer is that Samantha's real objection is that Bolton doesn't like "humanitarian intervention" and the International Criminal Court, which are Samantha's pet projects. The core of Bolton's argument--that the creation of unaccountable sovereign entities is simply unacceptable to free people--is entirely sound. Why should Americans ever agree to subject themselves to a foreign court? There's really no more concise statement of the American concept of free government than John Steinbeck's Tom Joad declaring, "throw out the cops that aint our people." Samantha, however, wants a world policed by cops that aint no-one's people.

Samantha also objects to Bolton's appointment to the UN on the grounds that it is "an institution he openly disdains." Now it's not immediately obvious why people who are critics of government institutions shouldn't be appointed to head them. I understand why shareholders wouldn't want a CEO who disdains their company, but that's because the shareholders interest lies in the success and expansion of the company. When it comes to government, the interest of citizens often lies in constricting institutions. This is one reason the founding fathers provided for a system of checks and balances. The "disdain" objection is only persuasive to those who have internalized the perspective of the government (or, in this case, international) agency.

If only Samantha had accepted my invitation. Maybe I could have taught her a bit about whiskey, love and human liberty.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Wisdom From The Bottom of the Bottle 

The key to a philosophical existence is cheap Mexican wine.

That's Fred Reed, who has moved himself south of the border permanently. I fully support his new project:

Instead of working, I’m going to cultivate a talent for quietly disliking a great many people and things. To hell with Marcus Aurelius, Churchill, Pericles, Popsicles, what have you. I’m going to pattern myself on Eeyore, a great thinker and less of an ass than most.

Except maybe the "quietly" part. Instead of working, I'm cultivating a talent for open and notorious dislike for many people and things.

The Interwebs Are Closed Today 

I actually made it through the bar crawl to the various parties Saturday night, and somehow ended up in Cellar. After that it's just a metaphysical smear that disproved any tendency toward solipsism I might have had. Apparently, I can complete annihilate myself and the world stubbornly keeps on keeping on.

We're still in a bit of a state here, so the interwebs will be closed for the rest of the day. Get some work done or something.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Now Only 30% Cheese 

Lindsay Robertson has put up a list of 85 types of Blogger Cheese. Surprisingly Manhattan Transfer only qualifies for 26 types. And I'm pretty sure at least two were directed at me in particular.

I can think of a number of times to add to the list but will offer just this one:

* Writing About Your Collection of Out of Print Magazines (Spy, Might, The American Mercury)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Get Drunk with Manhattan Transfer, Help the Hungry 

Come join me and Miss Anna, Sully and the whole MT crew on Saturday. Get drunk for charity. Horrah.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun 

Enough with this maudlin shit about the decline of the American Republic, dreadful Sunday nights and broken hearts. Sometimes you just need to rock-out with your friends, a couple bottles of wine and costumes. Go check out MyMixedTapes for the whole series of pictures from last night's party.

Memories of Grace in Winter 

A winter night in early March. The wind shakes the glass of the shops on Franklin Street. The cobra-headed street lights make little cones of cold yellow light in the darkness. You walk west into the wind toward Broadway, and turn right up a short flight of uneven steps at a place where the columns of an old Tribeca textile building are wrapped in white Christmas lights.

Inside is a long tall room with a bar on the left. J.J. behind the bar sees you come in and reaches for the bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The place is called Grace. You’ve been here before. You used to be a regular but something changed. A new crowd ran in newer bars and you stopped coming to Grace. Even you are surprised you are back in Grace again.

You push aside one of the tall stools in front of the bar, and lean up against the bar on your elbow. J.J. puts the glass in front of you. Two ice-cubes float in the amber whiskey. You watch them melt for a moment before you take a hit. The water cuts the alcohol a bit and lets the flavors of the whiskey flourish. The small portion of ice makes the drink cool but not cold. After your first drink you lick your lips and smile at the taste of whiskey. The muscles in your neck loosen and your eyes relax.

“Been awhile,” J.J. says as he shifts around some glasses beneath the bar.

“Yeah. Awhile. I didn’t know I was coming here,” you say. “I had other plans. But I found myself in the neighborhood and then in front of the bar.”

This was true. You had other plans for the night. Those were gone now.

You try to remember the last time you were here. It was in November. You were alone. You were alone a lot last November. A good friend had died. Another friend had given up the drink. Your brothers had all moved away.

Of course, there had been trouble with a girl. You know the moment the trouble started. It was just before dessert in a restaurant in Chicago where you and girl had gone for a weekend. She stopped talking, and put her fork down. This wasn’t what she wanted. When she said “this” she meant everything that had to do with you. She meant she wanted to leave you. You were to tell your mother not to expect her for the holidays.

Thinking about it now you realize that the trouble hadn’t started then. It had its start in a hundred smaller conversations that were tucked into everyday the rhythm of life. This one stood out because it was a disruption in the rhythm. The conversation that stopped everything else. You imagined it as a doorway in time which would forever divide what had come before you crossed the threshold and what had come after.

Afterwards, it was easy not to think about the girl and the dinner and the doorway during the day. Why was it so hard to avoid looking back through that doorway at night? You spent your nights pretending not to look but the only way you could stop yourself was with whiskey. So you drank too much.

You are drinking again tonight. Trying not to think about how cold it was outside. Somehow you had managed in a few short months to march yourself down another corridor that led directly toward another doorway, through which you had stepped tonight. Another conversation that brought stillness to life. Another mark between before and after. Another girl with tears in her eyes, saying goodbye.

J.J. hands you another whiskey. How many has that been? You’ve already lost count. You take a pen out of your pocket and start to write on a bar napkin. What you write is meant to be a joke, a twelve step program for people who seem to be addicted to broken hearts. But you can’t laugh at it tonight. You hope tomorrow it will be funny. Tonight you just wish you could cry but that’s the other part, that you cannot even, ever cry.

The whiskey helps though. It really does.

[About a year ago on Manhattan Transfer I wrote How To Preserve Your Heart. After that the blog went silent for ten days.]

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Sunday Night Blues 

I spent the entire nineties avoiding anything like a real job. I traveled a lot. I hitchhiked through Eastern Europe and around Ireland. I went to seven different colleges and two professional schools. I edited student magazines and overthrew student governments. When I had to or wanted to, I worked for newspapers and politicians. This wasn't like taking a real job because I always knew that eventually I would quit and return to the aristocratic life of doing whatever I felt wherever I wanted to.

One disadvantage of this was that I missed the post-collegiate rush back to New York City. My friend came back with degrees in hand and promptly piled up together in tiny apartments. Some people had jobs. Others spent months searching. No one was making much money but at least they weren't getting any poorer. Twenty-five grand a year was more than anyone had made during college.

There was a mad sexual energy at that time. The lad who had gone down to Duke met the roommate of the lass who had gone up to Bennington, and pretty soon the roommate arrangements started shifting. Whenever I would return to the city for a holiday I was struck by how fast and furious my newly-returned-to-the-city friends were engaged in the pursuit of dating, mating and recreating (although not yet procreating).

The upside was that I spent years without the anxiety that comes with working for a living. I heard my friends complain about being unable to sleep, the feeling of depression that would capture them, particularly on Sunday evenings. I assumed this was just a very bad hangover but they assured me it was something more. The anticipation of the week ahead (so much that must get done!)combined with the feeling of loss for the week that had just been left behind (so much that was left undone!) produced a lown-hanging dread.

I started to learn this when I the nineties ended and I was tricked into entering the workforce. Too many people had become fabulously wealthy while I was learning how to tell Polish girls that I was a photographer for Rolling Stone. I decided to enter the work-force quick, make my fortune and return to the aristocracy of slack. Obviously I got here after they had shut off the money machines, and have now been working for four and half years. It's almost embarrassing.

What's worse, I've started to fall into the bad habits of all those people who work for a living, including feeling down on Sunday night. I think the only way I know to counter this is to get out of the apartment on a Sunday night. It's hard to convince others that this is the correct move--they've grown used to being curled up on the couch trying to blunt the dread with television. Especially the girls. First it was Sex & the City and now the Dreaded Housewives show. But I'm convinced I'm right. Get out on Sunday night. Staying in will hurt your soul.

All this was inspired by the Famous Filmmaker Mitch McCabe, who has a great piece up today about her Sunday night dreads causing Monday night insomnia and shopping sprees. Click through the links to the amazing pictures. Those are her legs above. I should have called her last night because I was awake until after three in the morning. My one question for her is: how did you get addicted to this work thing? It's half-past one and I still cannot make myself do any work. I'm going for lunch.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Neoconservatives: What Went Wrong, Take II 

When I was in Costa Rica two weeks ago, it was summer time. The sun was so intense that I discovered that I could get sunburnt even hiding in the shade of a beachside tree. I envied the iguanas who would perch themselves on a rock and sit for hours in the sun. I had to ration my exposure, which was unfortunate since I knew it would be winter when I got back to New York.

It was winter on Saturday night. The wind cracked around the corners of the old brownstone buildings and through the labyrinth streets of the west village, chilling us as we made our way across the two blocks from misshapes to the Village Tavern. January and February are typically the slowest months in the bar business, and the crowd at the Tavern was still thin in the first week in March. Despite the cold outside, however, there was a perceptible warmness of spirit among the patrons and the staff. We knew the worst of winter was behind us, and that was a reason to celebrate.

I recognized an old acquaintance, Robert, hunched over a class of whiskey the bar. I said hello he remarked on my new coat. I had recently picked it up from a retailer who was pushing his winter wear out the door at heavily discounted prices. The coat reminded him of an English hunting coat, which I’ll have to take his word on since I have no experience in such matters. He told me that there was a connection between English clothiers and the phrase “in the pink.” I’d heard all sorts of explanations for the origin of this phrase but I was willing to entertain another.

According to Robert, the phrase originates from the tailor Thomas Pink, who was said to make the best hunting coats. A man was doing well in life if he could afford a Thomas Pink coat, if he was “in the Pink.” I have no idea if this is true—indeed it sounds as if something the Thomas Pink marketing department might have concocted—but it was interesting enough that I decided to write it down in my moleskin. Also, I had been drinking enough that night that I wasn’t confident I would remember the story the next morning.

As I was writing a girl in a pleated skirt that came down to mid-calf (apparently we are going to be burdened with long skirts this spring) set her hand on my book. She was smiling and had bright blue eyes. “I’m in that book,” she said. “Near the front.”

Her hair was pulled back from her face and tied in some sort of knot on the back of her head. She was very pretty—so pretty that I was sure I would remember her if I had put her in my book. Searching my memory, however, I couldn’t remember her. The whiskey was making an honest man out of me, and so I told her I this.

She was undeterred. “Let me have a look,” she said. I handed her the moleskin and she flipped through it’s early pages. “Here. See.”

There it was. Her name. Her phone number. Her email address. A brief description—blonde, fashion student, attractive—and some notes on things she had said. “I remember you because I’ve never met a man in bar who was so interested in what I had to say that he wanted to write it down,” she said. I smiled and resisted the whiskey inspired impulse to tell her that I compulsively write down things that even the truly repulsive say to me. Especially the truly repulsive.

She remembered that I did some writing and wanted to know what I was working on. I produced a copy of Peter Steinfel’s book the neoconservatives and told her I was working on an essay about how a group of social science oriented policy skeptics had become the biggest enthusiasts for the policy of re-making the middle east. Surprisingly she did not walk away. I bought us each a drink and explained my theory.

“Not very long ago there were a group of liberals who realized something had gone wrong with liberalism,” I said. “It had become resistant to analysis and evidence—refusing to accept unorthodox conclusions that challenged liberal positions on social change, welfare policy and communism. The neoconservatives kept coming up with the evidence, and found themselves under attack by liberals who transformed what should have been a policy debate into a debate over the motives of the participants. In fact, the label ‘neoconservative’ was originally intended as a smear word to rule the critique of liberalism outside the pale of decent discussion.”

I think I had her willing participation up until the point. Her attention was starting to wane—I saw her eyes shift over my shoulders looking for someone who might be less enthusiastic about discussing politics and drinking whiskey. But I was on a roll and drinking and talking very fast at that point.

“They figured out that the reason they weren’t getting anywhere is that their arguments threatened the class interests of the liberal intellectuals. They called them the New Class,” I said.

“Their class interests? What does that mean?” she asked. I think she was starting to suspect I was some sort of Marxist.

“Well, hold on. I’ll have another whiskey, and another vodka-soda for the lady,” I said. “Basically, the intellectuals of the period were attached to the program of expanding the public sphere because it increased their power and prestige. It gave them an important role in society. At the same time, they wanted to break down other sphere’s of public authority, competing sources of power and prestige. They wanted a monopoly on social authority, and the neocons were saying that this monopoly was having bad effects.”

“Mmm. Okay. Thanks for the drink,” she said. I had purchased her attention for at least a few more moments.

“So the mystery is how had these hard-headed social science types gone from being skeptics about the ability of government to transform life for the better to being enthusiasts for the Bush administration’s policy of remaking the middle east?”

“Isn’t it because they want oil?” she said.

“Well, here’s what I think it is. I think that they won the battle against big government. Communism fell. Civilization survived the sixties and the seventies. The neocons found themselves without a project—without something to give them the power and prestige they desired.”

“It’s cute the way you say 'powerandprestige.' As if it’s one word,” she said. “You’re drinking that whiskey awfully fast though.”

“Yeah. Try not to watch too closely. So basically, they got behind the project to remake the world as a new project. And like the New Class before them they’ve become attached to project in a way that makes them resistant to evidence and arguments against it.”

“So history is repeating itself, with the ones who were once history’s tragedians now histories comedians—expecting everything to end happily every after,” she said. She had a strand of her hair twirling in her fingers, and was smiling again.

“Fucking brilliant,” I told her. It’s probably not quite right to call someone brilliant simply because they understand your own theory so well. “Look, do you remember that show Star Trek? Well, Bill Kauffman once wrote that it reminded him of the Kennedy administration in space—lots of talk about universal brotherhood, and hey get the colored lady to answer the phone. The project to remake the middle east is simply the Great Society for the Persian Gulf—lots of talk about moral aspirations and no one paying attention while everything goes to shit.”

“I don’t think you can say ‘colored’ anymore,” she said.

“I know. It was a historical allusion. What they would have said, then. You know? Never mind. Want to go outside for a smoke?”

“I thought you’d never ask. Can I wear that coat?”

Neoconservative Parents, Imperialist Children 

Steve Sailer offers a good observation about the cross-generational shift of neoconservative concern from sociological examination of urban crisis to ideogical embrace of American empire, pointing out that the now dominant generation of neoconservatives do not know the plight of the poor in the American cities in the way their forebearers did, and so they lack what Gertrude Himmelfarb would call "the pathos of genuine involvement" with the fate of our cities.

After reading this, I was struck by how much my analysis of the cross-generational progress of neoconservatism resembled Midge Decter's analysis of liberalism's transformation into radicalism, Liberal Parents, Radical Children. Her description of the childhood circumstances--protection from responsibility, imbued with immense senses of entitlement and self-regard, membership in a status seeking leisure class--that psychologically prepared the way for youthful radicalism could very well be a description of second generation neoconservatives.

The Neoconservatives: What Went Wrong? 

In the middle of the nineteen-sixties, a time of explosive growth of government activity at home and abroad, a group of intellectuals founded a policy journal called The Public Interest. The articles of the journal were not unique because of the pathos of their involvement or their infallibility but because of the fineness of their perceptions, the precision of their analysis and the cogency of their argument. It was a journal dedicated from the very start to figuring out how things—government, the economy, education, the family—worked in the then-emerging post-industrial age.

The writers and editors who were associated with The Public Interest, many of whom were formerly associated with left or liberal politics, came to be known as “neoconservatives” in light of their criticisms of certain aspects of the welfare state and the adversarial culture. Neoconservatives at first resisted the idea that they were conservatives at all. From the perspective of the early neoconservatives, they were simply offering a friendly corrective to liberalism. Gradually, however, they came to accept that they had left the main path of liberals to become critics of it, and their criticism did in fact bear a family resemblance to the traditional conversative critiques of Burke, Tocqueville and Henry Adams.

This initial resistance and eventual surrender to the neoconservative label deserves a bit more explanation. The reason why the intellectuals around The Public Interest and similar publications resisted being associated with conservatism is that they associated it with anti-intellectualism. While acknowledging that conservatism had a long tradition and played an often useful in the United States, they did not believe that it exercised any more than a marginal influence in the world of ideas. Conservatism was blend of the politics of habit, a mood of fear and anxiety, regional prejudice and the class interest of capitalists rather than a thoughtful approach to politics. The intellectual current in America, from this perspective, was entirely liberal, and since The Public Interest was an intellectual journal it had to also be a liberal journal.

Let me take this a step further. The resistance to conservatism was not just a result of the perceived absence of a conservative intellectual tradition or movement. It had deep roots in the liberal critique of conservatism’s frank appeal to prejudice over reason. Conservatism, its occasional historical usefulness aside, was profoundly disturbing to the neoconservatives-to-be because seemed to them to rest ultimately on a fear that the free use of man’s intelligence would undermine society. In her article “The Prophets of the New Conservatism” which appeared in a magazine edited by future neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, historian Getrude Himmelfarb complained that the poet Peter Viereck’s book Conservatism Revisited propounded a conservatism based upon “moral absolutes of the spirit” which he admitted were non-existent, and then identified these with established traditions rather than abstract moral law. In short, the deep problem with conservatism was that it was attached to prejudice as prejudice, to tradition as tradition, while the duty of an intellectual was the pursuit of truth. Conservatism struck the budding neoconservatives as cynical and hostile to free inquiry and rationalism, and ultimately to democracy.

Enter the New Class
The neoconservative attachment to liberalism, however, was shaken by the social upheaveals of the 1960s and the coincident failure of liberal social welfare policies. These twin phenomenon seemed to confirm the traditional conservative sense that society was indeed brittle, and that well-intentioned reforms could endanger the structure of society. Proto-neoconservative analysis showed that the reductive planning and unreflective embrace of social engineering could have disastrous unintended consequences results because it failed to take into true complexity of human nature. To the neoconservatives surprise, liberal intellectuals seemed to be able to offer little in the way of a corrective to the apparent dissolution of social authority and welfare failures. Indeed, the liberals remained stubbornly attached to their program of social change despite the neoconservative analysis showing how things had gone badly wrong.

It was this resistance to neoconservative analysis that led to the discovery of what the neoconservatives called the New Class. Modern liberalism was no longer an intellectual tradition that sought the application of unvarnished truth to social problems. It had hardened into the ideology of a new class in American society, and the ideology was strongly adversarial to existing social institutions in a way that was very photographic negative of the cynical conservatism the neoconservatives had resisted. If reason argued against accelerated social change, so much for reason.

The phenomenon of the New Class required some explanation—how had the intellectual tradition hardened into an adversarial ideology—and the neoconservatives offered at least two. The first was structural. Intellectuals are interested in novel ideas and when messy reality is compared with a new idea, reality always comes up short. The argument for social change is thus always more appealing than the argument against.

The second was psychological and political. The intellectuals suffered from status anxiety in a world that seemed to unjustly reward more pragmatic activities, and thus sought to create a society in which their activities would be more highly valued. They sought to increase their power and status by creating a large public sector and undermining competing sources of social authority.

Of course, intellectual in many ages have felt alienated, and this has not always resulted in an adversarial culture. Why had the New Class gone down this particular path? One explanation may be the lack of alternatives. In nineteenth century Britain, the project of imperialism had had engaged the intellectuals. Earlier in the twentieth century, the problems of the Great Depression and World War had served to satisfy the intellectual impulse. Without such outward projects, the intellectuals had turned inward. Like the intellectuals who mounted a campaign against Athenian democracy after the failures of Athenian Empire, the New Class sought to accumulate power and status through restructuring their domestic political and social arrangements.

The neoconservatives styled themselves counter-intellectuals, bringing the culture of critique to bear on the culture of critique. There’s was not a rejection of the intellectual tradition but a deepening of it, a self-reflective version that acknowledged the limitations of the intellectual’s ability accomplish social reform.

Meet Leo Strauss
If the discovery of the New Class accomplished the divorce of intellectualism from liberalism for the neoconservatives, it was not enough to land them squarely in camp of the conservatives. Before this could be accomplished, the neoconservatives had to find a conservatism which was neither anti-intellectual nor cynically attached to tradition. This is where Leo Strauss comes in.

Leo Strauss was a political theorist born in Germany at the turn of the century who had settled in the United States in the nineteen thirties. He had offered more than a dozen books, most of which were commentaries on what would become to be known as “Great Books”—such as the works of Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon, Machiavelli and Hobbes. His books defended a notion of timeless truths rooted in an unchanging human nature. His was not a defense of tradition per se but a defense of natural right which, as it turned out, happened to confirm many of the habits and social institutions that had been supported by prejudice. Strauss marshaled free inquiry and democracy in defense of the nation-state, the family and Western civilization. The neoconservatives recognized in Strauss an intellectual conservatism they could live with.

(I offer here an aside on foreign policy: the neoconservatives also found that the adversarial class had adopted a position which, if not outrightly sympathetic to communism, was soft-headed about how communists needed to be dealt with. Unlike some commentators, I do not think the essence of neoconservatism was anti-communism--although they were certainly against the anti-anti-communism of the adversarial class--and so I am going to give it short shrift).

Neoconservatives At Last
Armed with the critique of New Class liberalism and the new conservatism of Leo Strauss (as well as anti-anti-anti-communism), the neoconservatives found themselves able to ride alongside the traditional conservatives. Contemporaneously with this phenomenon, the traditional conservatives were joined by Catholic and Protestant religious conservatives. The neoconservatives recognized that all of these were their objective allies in the struggle against the social dissolution wrought by the New Class. What’s more, they had learned from Leo Strauss they what were once perceived as ‘cynicism’ and ‘nihilism’—that is the use of prejudice and religion to support society—were more accurately understood the timeless virtues of tolerance and prudence. Tolerance because it was unduly rigid to expect everyone to accept the same reasons for supporting the underlying truth about the value of traditional social arrangements; prudence because the defense against dissolution was too important to risk on intramural squabbling.

Neoconservatives helped their allies by modifying conservative rhetoric to offer a broader and more inclusive politics, applying their devastating critical style to the opponents of conservatism and supporting conservative positions with findings from the disciplines of social sciences.

The Neoconservative Moment...and Its Passing
For something like a quarter of a century the neoconservatives persisted in this role as counter-intellectuals. If it was sometimes pointed out that the neoconservatives themselves bore a strong family resemblance to the New Class they critiqued, this was also occasionally admitted. The Neoconservative Wing of the New Class, however, sought to increase their status by offering a critique of liberalism and garnered prestige and power through the counter-institutions that became increasingly visible on the right—think tanks, policy groups, and even Republican officials. They found psychological satisfaction in the fact that they were engaged in a great project—saving their society from the dissolution promoted (and sometimes actively sought) by the left.

Sometime in the nineties, however, this neoconservatism suffered from two setbacks. The first was that many neoconservatives began to suspect that the culture was not quite (or no longer) as brittle as it had seemed. America had withered the storm of the social upheavals of the sixties and remained largely intact, if radically altered. Several indicators of societal breakdown—most notably crime—reversed, in direct contrast to neoconservative predictions. Other indicators seemed not as serious in hindsight. American culture had shown a surprising ability to absorb feminism, sexual liberation and gay rights. Even the breakdown of the family no longer seemed as deleterious as the neoconservatives had feared. America had been radically transformed in the last quarter of twentieth the century but it had not crumbled.

Perhaps a more cheerful way to look at this would be to say that the neoconservatives and their allies had triumphed in their struggle to temper the worst elements of the adversarial culture. They had “tamed” (to use a word popular with neoconservative theorists) its radicalism. They had, in short, accomplished the conservative task of preserving the culture while adapting it to new circumstances. Of course, the work of taming the adversarial culture had to be continued indefinitely, but Western civilization was no longer on Orange Alert.

The second was the neoconservative triumph over liberal policy. The neoconservative projects of welfare reform and other revisions to the programs of the Great Society were essentially accomplished during the neoconservative moment. Not even the liberals clamored for great projects of social engineering. Democratic President Bill Clinton declared that the era of big government had come to an end.

(Perhaps a a third setback was the loss of the Cold War enemy but, again, this was more generally felt on the right and not particular to the neoconservatives.)

Why describe these accomplishments as setbacks? While they were arguably political victories—or rather, certainly in the case of policy reform and perhaps in the case of taming the adversary culture—they left the neoconservative intellectuals without psychologically satisfying cause. The objects of the neoconservative critique had in various ways entered into the dustbin of history. The dislocation was something like the reverse of the British colonial aristocracy after the dissolution of the Empire—they were a band with highly developed skills but without a forum for their display or a market for their sale.

National Greatness Conservatism
Several prominent neoconservatives began to lobby for a new form of conservatism, what they termed National Greatness Conservatism. The idea was the America needed a new national project after the Cold War. To many, this looked like nothing more than a way for neoconservatives to pursue their class interests or perhaps a bit of psychological projection. This program was cut-short by the events of September 11 and subsequent the War Against Terrorism.

The Adversarial Culture Against the World
In a recent column noting that The Public Interest will soon be publishing it’s last issue, columnist David Brooks noted that the core neoconservative insight was this: “Human beings, or governments, are not black boxes engaged in a competition of interests. What matters most is the character of the individual, the character of the community and the character of government.”

He then goes on to pretend as if the complexity he notes didn’t exist at all by saying: “When designing policies, it's most important to get them to complement, not undermine, people's permanent moral aspirations - the longing for freedom, faith and family happiness.” Here Brooks is just replacing the reduction of life to the "competition of interests" with the reduction of life to a few nice sounding "aspirations"--as if important policy questions could be solved by merely asking "does this complement our permanent moral aspiration of the longing for freedom"? This is not the voice of the neoconservative counter-intellectual policy skeptic but the woolly-headed New Class liberal who seeks to set people free of their chains. In the space of three sentences Brooks goes from the neoconservatism of the last century to the neoconservatism of this century.

Faced with a terrorist threat from aborad, the neoconservatives have given in to the New Class temptation toward critique of existing social structures in favor of ideal social structures and applied this to the realm of international politics. What is surprising is that they seem to have forgotten the insights that led to the neoconservative critique of New Class ideology in the first place. Out are the concerns for moderating change, precise sociological analysis and cogent argument. In is talk of universal human aspiration for improvement.

What happened? One explanation might be found in the neoconservative analysis of the psychological and political sources of the New Class attachment to the adversarial culture. Like their New Class forebearers (and the British imperialists before them), neoconservatives needed a project. For the Neo-New Class, power and status are now sought through the expansion and management of empire rather than a large public sector at home. The War on Terror is the Great Society for the Neo-New Class.

I suspect it also might be generational. Many of the original neoconservatives are dead. Others are very old indeed. The newer generation lacks the education of watching their best and brightest minds waste their talents and energies on impossible and dangerously idealistic projects.

Unfortunately for America, it seems that the next generation of counter-intellectuals is likely to get this education from the Bush Administration’s adventures abroad.

Friday, March 04, 2005

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor 

Nice to see they're doing their best to keep the spirit of the Village Idiot alive down at the Patriot.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

It was nearly 4, and clearly I should not have been near people 

Girl We Picked Up In The Last Bar: Guess what's in my massive bag!
Miss Anna: Bacon!
Manhattan Transfer: Whiskey?
MA: Bacon!
The Bartender: A rabbit?
MA: Bacon?
Southern Gent: A computer?
GWPUITLB: (mildly annoyed) Miss Anna! Stop.
MA: (bacon?)
GWPUITLB: How did you know it was my banking?
Miss Anna: Taxi please.

posted by Miss Anna

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

MissAnna: Hey there, hero. You manage to pull yourself together today?
ManhattanBlog: Uhm. What the fuck happened to my lower lip?
MissAnna: I think you lost a fight with the sidewalk.
ManhattanBlog: Ruined that shirt too.
MissAnna: The price we pay for our glamour lifestyle.
ManhattanBlog: Never. Drinking. Again.
MissAnna: That's the spirit. Keep telling yourself that, maybe it will come true. I'm only kidding. You're drinking tonight. We've got that Jinx magazine debate tonight.
ManhattanBlog: What are you talking about? I cannot set foot in another bar.
MissAnna: Nonsense. Lolita Bar. Eight o'clock.
ManhattanBlog: What's the topic?
MissAnna: "Is a Woman's Place Naturally In the Home?"
ManhattanBlog: That's terrible. Women in the home is unnatural. Away games only. Keep the home 100% women free.
MissAnna: You should have seen what went on in your place while you were in Costa Rica.
ManhattanBlog: I've been meaning to ask you how those stockings got shoved into my CD player.
MissAnna: Oh wonderful! You found them. Bring them with you tonight. Now go rest up.

Unhappy Ending 

MT had planned a long post today dealing with some recent books and articles on Arabs, Islam and terrorism but that will have to wait for another day. Last night someone stole his soul and replaced it with Jameson's Irish Whiskey. Managed to get himself thrown out of Happy Ending, which is a pretty impressive feat. Nothing like that has happened since, well, Friday.

Actually, MT usually gets along very well with bartenders, bouncers and the coat check girls. Especially the coat check girls. He's got a certain kind of charm that people who work in bars really appreciate it. There's a word for it, but I cannot think of it right now. Oh, no wait. It's call "Money."

So instead of global politics, here's something I found while hunting through Craig's List.

Reply to: anon-61891184@craigslist.org
Date: 2005-03-01, 7:45PM EST

Enjoy your VERY OWN floor space in a stunning **junior sub-studio**!

We are looking for a fourth to share an amazing, sun-drenched, 7th-floor walkup, recently renovated, pet-friendly (we have three dogs!), cozy apartment. Room dimensions= 8' x 14', divided four ways; each person's share = 3'x 6'!! (Center of room reserved for doggy business. ;-) We supply your sleeping bag!!! Close to 3 subway lines, great restaurants and bars, very safe neighborhood.

All utilities included!!! We pay for your cable and high-speed Internet!!! Shared bathroom conveniently located on third floor!!!! Hotplates and microwaves welcome!!!! YOU WILL NOT FIND A BETTER DEAL ANYWHERE IN NYC!!!!!!!

posted by Miss Anna

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tuesday Contest: Happy Birthday? 

What world famous writer who is also friends with a black working class woman celebrates his birthday today?

Proof That You Can Do Lots of Drugs and Still Not Be Awesome 

Save Lindsay Lohan 

Seven Months Ago