Original piece here (updated).
Gray reviews Daniel Oppenheimer’s ‘Exit Right: The People Who Left The Left And Reshaped The American Century’
From the Amazon blurb on the book:
‘By going deep into the minds of six apostates Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens, Oppenheimer offers an unusually intimate history of the American left, and the right’s reaction.’
Gray highlights something I certainly find attractive about conservatism:
‘Ever since it emerged in the late 18th century as a distinct tradition of modern thought, conservatism has been defined by a suspicion of grand schemes of world improvement. Whether their thinking was grounded in a religious belief in original sin (as in the cases of Edmund Burke and the American conservative Russell Kirk) or a sceptical view of the power of human reason (as in David Hume and Michael Oakeshott), conservatives distrusted any attempt to remake the world according to the dictates of high-minded ideals and abstract models.’
Neo-conservatism comes in for criticism as having a hand in all of modern American politics.
‘George W Bush’s crazed pursuit of regime change and its continuation in some policies of the Obama administration, particularly when acting under the direction of Hillary Clinton, were the result.’
A few humble observations about the second Iraq invasion:
–There was a reassertion of many Americans’ nationalism, pride, and fear, especially after 9/11, and the desire for revenge against that rather awful blow against civilians and innocents at home, in a business setting no less (3,000 lives lost and a lot of terror). Strategically, Iraq could be convincingly argued to be a serious misstep.
–George W. Bush’s inherited guilt at leaving the Iraqi Kurds to their fate under Saddam on his father’s watch seems to have played a part (for which I have no evidence, but I’ve long thought…which is a product of deeper American life and politics).
Let me know if/how wrong I might be.
Perhaps one of Gray’s main takeaways, a la Oppenheimer, is the almost religious-type experience some people have had within Communist ideals, an experience which drastically shaped this past century, and our lives.
He finishes with:
‘Except for Chambers and Horowitz, Oppenheimer’s apostates learned very little from their journey across the political spectrum. Those who banged the drum for war were as ignorant of the countries whose governments they wanted to overthrow as they been had of the workers they had claimed to be fighting for in the past. In both cases they used people of whom they knew nothing to satisfy their own need for significance. Believing they had left behind the mistakes of the radical left, they helped create a new right that repeated the same follies. Along the way, an older and more civilised conservatism was consigned to the memory hole.’
Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.
People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more:
Related On This Site: Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’
Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’