too strongly felt by all to be reasonably discussed at all

Elliot Abrams writes a mostly anodyne piece about neoconservatism bookended by references to a zombie that cannot be killed, and gets the predictable reply from Daniel Larison, who for his part does not seem to notice that with a few adjustments most of what Abrams has written could have been taken from some horripilating American Conservative column on that same zombie’s death-grip on the Republican Party. Larison, writing at a magazine co-founded by Pat Buchanan, perhaps wisely avoids going into Abrams’ discussion of “‘the Jewish Question,'” since Buchanan figures prominently in Abrams’ treatment of claim, counter-claim, counter-counter-claim, etc., on the role of putative Semitisms anti- and philo-, open or veiled or semi-veiled, in relation to the neocons and their zombie-work. Yet Larison re-tweets a summary from Matt Duss that goes there for him: [blackbirdpie url=”″] That a question – for instance, regarding the phenomenal forms of co-developing Americanist and Judaic concepts in and as world history – is easily polemicized is a sure sign that it is too deep for polemics, or for political discussion, or for polite discussion, or perhaps for discussion at all, and at the same time that the temptation to go ahead anyway will not be successfully resisted, including right here.

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11 comments on “too strongly felt by all to be reasonably discussed at all

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  1. If people mean “warmonger” by a phrase, I think it’d be more helpful & direct to just use “warmonger”. The arguments of the spread of people referred to as “neo-cons” when they try to get philosophical about it are too cluttered & contradictory for the most part anyway, so the coherent relevancy left over is merely knee-jerk support for war.

    • Seems obvious to me that the term “warmonger” and the idea of “knee-jerk support for war” are obviously as or more prejudicial than polemical generalizations about anti-neocons as pacifist, isolationist, utopian, knee-jerk anti-American, tyrant- or terrorist-coddling, etc., etc.: a pre-emption of discussion rather than a basis for discussion. The claims on both sides can even be true without being useful. Compared to you, virtually all neocons are warmongers, or the most warmongering members of a warmongering American mainstream. Compared to that mainstream, you’re a utopian America-hater. So what?

      • If “neo-conservatism” is to be treated as an actual philosophy, it should be defined beyond cheerful sloganeering. “Patriotism” smears disagreement as Un-American, “American exceptionalism” gives no indication of where the logic is headed unless one takes a cynical use of the second word, and “democracy promotion”…well, tell that to the populace of the countries the U.S. has friendly relations with that smack down dissent.

        I see it as cutting to the chase. They can say imposition of American will on the world is doing it a favor, but if they can’t explain why they think so with a straight face, what option do I have left but to assume it’s because they just enjoy the idea?

        • He Abrams summarizes neoconservatism as based on four elements: “American exceptionalism, American power, patriotism, freedom.” For him, they go together. There is a rather elaborate discourse explaining why neocons believe they or some roughly equivalent set of aims are interdependent.

          It goes without saying that everyone who believes each of these elements to be good in itself and all of them together to be interdependent believes that anyone supporting some other idea is offering a weaker form of “patriotism.” If you believe patriotism is good, and that you and your friends have the best idea of it, then it’s not a smear to say that other people’s ideas are weaker, and that the differences are morally important: That’s the whole point of the exercise on both sides.

          He mentions “democracy promotion” somewhat favorably, and as a typical objective of neocons, but he also seems to claim that it is not central to neoconservatism when he differentiates his views from Bolton’s, and neconservatism from liberal internationalism. :

          Those in both parties who argue for intervention in Syria (as I have for two years) do not do so primarily because we favour free elections there, but precisely because we thought it in America’s interests to bring down a key part of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s defence perimeter, and because we feared the growing arrival of jihadis in Syria to fight what they viewed as Sunni battles. That conclusion could be reached without the slightest reference to democracy in a future Syria or even to a humanitarian crisis so large that, by now, it threatens stability in Jordan — whose stability is an American “interest”.

          So what you see as a contradiction, he seems to view as realism or flexibility on important but secondary or dependent priorities.

          As for enjoying the idea of American power being imposed on the world, all of us can be said to “enjoy” our ideas more than the ideas we reject. It’s hard to say, assuming we even can finally say, where some rational or objective or simply true calculation takes over from emotional investments or other unstated real or imaginary interests or preferences.

  2. Well the support of the Arab Winter, has not helped their case, but it is important to understand neoconservative’s foreign impulses, as a reaction to the realist school that regarded Alawite and Sunni
    tribal Baathism, and Wahhabism in the Arabian Peninsula as the default school.

  3. Israel is not a perfect regime, by any means, but ‘compared to all the others’ as Churchill would say, it is a good bet better then most, Yet Saddam whose only service was really to harvest an army of martyrs from the Palestinians, that was considered a decent regime, Syria is much the same way, an oligarchy
    perched atop a committed sectarian majority, serving as a proxy for the Mullahs.

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  1. […] an explanation, since normally I don’t get into this kind of thing: In a post on his blog CK Macleod criticized Daniel Larison’s response to (finally) this post, a longform by Elliot Abrams in […]

  2. […] an explanation, since normally I don’t get into this kind of thing: In a post on his blog CK Macleod criticized Daniel Larison’s response to (finally) this post, a longform by Elliot Abrams in […]


Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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