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Monday, February 19, 2007

Irving Kristol: haters strike again

Ralph Fiennes recently had a mile-high tryst (or at least attempted one) with a flight attendant, and now she's in trouble. Why? Because humorless coworkers tattled on her. Here's the one thing Ayn Rand and I would agree on: this sort of schadenfreude is despicable.

Neoconservatives like Irving Kristol--who I'm reading a book of essays by--position themselves in the Nietzshe/Rand camp of people not afraid to declare that there are great men and great books, and that we're better off revering the great than harping on them to defend what Kristol calls "joyless equality" (when describing Denmark). But would Ralph and Lisa Robertson, emerging from the bathroom, elicit a wink from Kristol, or a formal complaint? It's clear from his anger towards hippies that it would be the latter. It's similar to Kristol's hostility towards multiculturalism: if people are enjoying themselves and it's not in his traditional ways, he can't stand it. You don't need to be black to see the universal value of studying Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, but you do need to not be Irving Kristol.

I like to think that liberalism has, at its core, an uncertainty that does not die; a faith that there's always a perspective that we do not yet have, always a new world to be discovered by wading into the plurality of languages and cultures. Liberal autobiography seems marked by events that break down certainty; in Kristol's autobiographical writing, a pillar of certainty (like Kristol's early Trotskyism) is only destroyed if a castle can be built in its place (like his later anti-communism, so strong it allows suspension of constitutional protections). On balance, I prize the unpredictable over the traditional, and I love the side of liberalism that does the same. Kristol very much does the opposite.

In the recent New Yorker profile of Christopher Hitchens, someone comments that while Hitchens rightly denounced Mother Theresa's hypocrisy, there is little doubt as to which person you would be wise to come to if you were cold and hungry. Kristol and co. are right about some things, including the ills of socialism. But if you were an embarassed flight attendant who'd just been--I'll split the difference between the various accounts of what happened--making out in a bathroom with The English Patient, would you rather that the witness be Kristol or Rosa Luxemburg?

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Blogger Ben on Tue Feb 20, 12:27:00 AM:
Looking this over, I realize how incomprehensible and scatterbrained writing it is. Apologies. Reading Irving Kristol has scrambled my mind.