The Sound of One Hand Clapping
The right’s problems have a long history, but they aren’t unique. They’re American problems.
Yesterday, Matt Continetti’s invaluable history of the American conservative movement finally went on sale. For those interested in this topic, I highly recommend it.
I wanted to open with that statement for two reasons. First, because I mean it. Second, because I want to pick up where I left off in my friendly disagreement with Matt at the end of our conversation on The Remnant.
I’m reluctant to call what follows a criticism, because one of the most annoying gripes for any author is to get grief about the book you didn’t write. On its own terms, The Right is very, very good and Matt accomplishes what he set out to do. He wanted to provide a richer political context for the history of the conservative movement. George Nash’s essential The Conservative Intellectual Movement In America Since 1945 is a very academic book (though it’s very well-written for an academic book). According to Matt, what was missing in Nash’s landmark book was a broader consideration of the interplay between the GOP and the conservative movement and he set out to provide it. And whatever my quibbles may be, he succeeds at doing that.
But here’s my problem. By focusing so exclusively on the right, many of the problems, dysfunctions, challenges, and moral failures of the conservative movement are (unintentionally) cast as uniquely right-wing phenomena. The ironic and, again, unintended upshot of this approach is that it actually tends to reinforce rather than rebut the liberal version of conservative history. It’s like being honest about your own shortcomings and misdeeds at an intervention: It’s worth doing, but it doesn’t—or shouldn’t—imply that everybody attending the intervention is without their own baggage.