Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cynical design

Andrew Sullivan chose a poor line of attack on William Kristol when the latter criticised the now famous Obama remarks --

A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity [Kristol] is calling a Christian [Obama] a liar about his own faith. That's where they've gone to already. And it's only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?

Risky given that Kristol is Jewish, and Sully's former colleague Leon Wieseltier called him on it --

Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew.

Among Sully's mistakes was to zero in on specific faiths rather than look at the more general question of what neocons like Kristol think about any faith. Now a political operative like William Kristol is careful enough not to leave much of a trail in this regard but his father Irving had a longer intellectual career. It's especially worth reading this prescient 1997 Reason article by Ron Bailey analyzing the curious phenomenon of the neocon assault on Darwin, in which the Kristol parents play a key role.

The essence: the neocons hate Darwin because his theory undermines religion, and religion is necessary to keep the masses in order! --

[Irving Kristol] wrote in a 1991 essay, "If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded--or even if it suspects--that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe." ... "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he says in an interview. "There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

Bailey shows how the neocon intellectual lineage holds that there are bunch of things that ordinary people are better off not knowing; those people might be better advised to "cling", if you will, to religion.

Thus for the neocons the danger of Marx is how correct he was, albeit for the wrong reasons: for the neocons, the alternative to the opium of religion is not a proletarian paradise, but complete societal disorder. Given the awkwardness of the issues, they'd rather that Obama just shut up about it, since they thought they were done with Marx after the Cold War.

So anyway, the simpler response to William Kristol would have been to ask him whether he agrees with his father that religion is necessary for the maintenance of social order. Incidentally, Bailey's article has one essential reminder in it -- the remaining intellectual target of the neocons is the resilient Darwin. It's in that light how one should understand Jonah Goldberg deciding that it's worth debating ("I do think Darwinism led to Nazism, in a sense") the links between Darwin and Hitler.

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