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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The New New York Intellectuals

Last week I went to a conference entitled Libertarian Hawks or Cultural Communitarians?: Neoconservatism and the Legacy of the New York Intellectuals. It was striking that around half the panelists had little to say directly about the conference's titular themes, apart from acknowledging a passing familiarity with the ideas of Daniel Bell. It seems that a close intellectual proximity to Nathan Glazer and his 'middle generation' of NYIs has become a rhetorical device for distancing oneself from the New Labour project. Hence the contributions of Geoff Mulgan, mumbling 'progressive nationalist' David Goodhart and demographic consciousness merchant Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College. Scholars who've studied the New York 'family' exhaustively, such as Nathan Abrams, were left making contributions from the floor.

Least convincing was Michael Lind, now calling himself a neo-paleo-neocon [sic], which he says makes him a supporter of New Deal politics in the present day. To Lind, the problem with neo-cons is their foreign policy preoccupation, whereas what's needed is some truly neo-con domestic policy. His well-publicised claim that Trotskyists are running the Pentagon no longer features in his explanation of world events. On hearing him speak it's clear that much of his argument is about some kind of personal journey through politics; he's about eight years older than me and started off as an intern for Jeanne Kirkpatrick, gradually drifting towards the centre ground.

A correspondent writes: 'I have the impression that the "moment" when it seemed like a good marketing strategy for self-promoters to explain the neo-conservative "coup" as somehow "Trotskyist" has now passed. But the need to find some clever new label will always be with us. In this case, "neo-paleo-neocon" doesn't make much sense to me (as a cultural historian) since the New Deal was the founding moment of the new (social democratic) liberalism in the U.S., leaving the traditional liberalism to the libertarians. Oh, well, they will probably change the label again before we can figure it out.'



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