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July 15, 2002

The Right's Intellectual Crackup

The problems of the Right are not just the short-term financial scandals of Enron and WorldCom. Intellectually, there is a rising defection from their own ranks of writers and intellectuals denouncing their former collegues as intellectual lightweights and cynical manipulators of ideas. Eric Alterman highlights the refusal of a number of right scholars to attend a conference merely because they did not want to share a stage at an academic conference with leftist academic Cornell West. Alterman notes that Mark Lilla, a former editor of the neoconservative journal The Public Interest has become disgusted with the intellectual shallowness of his former colleagues. In this, Lilla joins the defection of another Public Interest editor, Michael Lind, who chronicled the intellectual prostitution of his then comrades in his Up From Conservatism. More recently David Brock detailed his disillusionment with conservative intellectual duplicity in his Blinded by the Right.

There is deep rot on the starboard of intellectual thought. While there are some legitimate intellectual stars on the Right (Richard Posner on law and economics is a prime example), that intellectual energy seems to have largely disipated itself in favor of simplistic punditry favoring their own controlled venues of corporate-sponsored seminars and talk radio. The fear of the neocon academics in facing Cornell West on equal terms just reflects a broader breakdown of intellectual courage on the Right.

Posted by Nathan at July 15, 2002 04:27 PM

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Remembering this incident a little more completely, I really don't think it was so much a fear of confronting a lightweight circular thinker and erstwhile rapmaster like Cornell West that caused certain 'neocons' to rethink their appearances at this conference as it was an objection to being apparently lumped in with so overblown and uselessly trivial a thinker as West.

Posted by: Laura Winkler at August 4, 2002 03:07 PM

Have you read West's THE AMERICAN EVASION OF PHILSOPHY? In what way are his insights on Sidney Hook's pragmatism any less scholarly than propagandists like Himmelfarb and Kristol?

I tend to read comments like the above and have the strong suspicion that if it was a white guy writing spy novels (say Bill Buckley), diversionary pursuits like rap albums would not be used to impugn West's credibility.

Posted by: Nathan at August 4, 2002 06:12 PM

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