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2.0 out of 5 stars So that's why nobody visits those publicly-funded buildings, 30 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: NEOCONSERVATISM (100 Cases) (Hardcover)
This extraordinary book is a delicious example (I think it’s a delicious example, but as with everything about neoconservatism, and indeed neoliberalism too, one is almost by definition never certain) of the smoke-and-mirrors, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, once I was a commy, now I’m the world’s greatest standalone free-marketeer trail along which so many have trudged their rather predictable way between post-war consensus and rabid 1980s individualism, having seen the Platonic light. Had this extremely learned and very well-written book been penned by a moderate left-of-centre political theorist, it would have been a coherent and much-needed critique from someone whose political stance allowed us to judge their writing: I wholeheartedly agree with Thompson’s view (p 227) that ‘the neoconservatives are the advocates of a new managerial State – a State controlled and regulated by a new mandarin class of conservative virtucrats who think the American people are incapable of governing themselves without the help of [their] wisdom [and] who want to regulate virtually all areas of human thought and action’. (Naturally apart from bemoaning their very existence he has nothing to say on staying or reversing the neoconservative-neoliberal near-whole-world consensus.) The chilling creepiness one feels reading this book stems from the foggy nature of the political views of the authors, at least as expressed here. I say unknown, but it doesn’t take much digging to divine what’s really going on: although Clemson University (C Bradley Thompson’s current academic home) seems a standard vanilla US university of some repute, the home of the author of one ‘fabulous’ (according to his co-author) chapter (Yaron Brook) is executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. Therein lies the warning and the alert to scrutinise the text very carefully.

Thompson has ill-disguised contempt for the neoconservative’s pin-up boy Irving Kristol (I make no comment about the possible links between the publication of this Pauline volume and Kristol’s death the previous year): actually, like most extreme right-wingers he has ill-disguised contempt for pretty well all Enlightenment thinking, the problem of relativism and all the other evils of the modern world, like human rights and universal education having begun then, according to this extremist trope. Like Kristol, he began as an academic, and much of the book analyses Platonic and Straussian philosophy, in the same way as Kristol’s impenetrable early work leaned on academic literary criticism. After dealing in repetitious detail with Leo Strauss’ philosophy, he ditches him (I think) for flirting with fascism. Not surprisingly he concludes that pure Platonism is the only way to deal with the tawdry compromisers who have infected the world since the 18th century. He distances himself from the wimps who purported to be nation-building ‘neoconservatives’ under George Bush, and doesn’t mention the Tea Party, which I’m sure has nothing to do with their vulgarity and populism.

It’s only in an occasional passage that Thompson’s real views penetrate the thick veneer of pseudo-academic writing (and I like to think that his editor, who he says ‘saw the importance of this project without necessarily agreeing with its perspective’ not inadvertently let some of them through the editorial process). Try this interplanetary statement (p 245 – and I can’t quote the preceding rant on p 244, but do read it):

A great nation … does not have to tell itself or anyone else that it is great. … Nor does a great nation build monuments to itself. The skyline of any American city, built as they all are with private monies for private purposes, trumps any “public” palace and monument of Europe, Asia, or Washington, DC [sic]. The greatness of America is captured in a computer chip smaller than your baby-finger nail, in Amazon’s Kindle reader, or in an iPod – not in the behemoth Library of Congress. American genius is seen every day in the entrepreneurial genius of tens of thousands of ordinary Americans who improve the quality of our lives on a daily basis.

So now we know. In his dissimulation he is no better than the neoconservatives he despises, the neoliberals of whom he probably (though he never states it) disapproves for their Machiavellian manoeuvring to cavort with pitiable neoconservative governments in social programmes, and pretty well everyone else – apart from Objectivists (though he doesn’t mention them either). Having dealt with his demons he can now progress to the sunny uplands of his very own personalised individualism, while we pitiful non-entrepreneurs gratefully accept the physical and intellectual crumbs from his high-priestly table. Five stars for mendacity, 2 for the narcissism of believing he could get away with it. Fortunately, he tells us, unlike the neoconservatives he doesn’t ‘secretly sneer at America as low and vulgar’. You could have fooled me.
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