By Barry Rubin
It’s time for a revival of interest in the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the last American politicians with serious intellectual credentials as well. (Compare Moynihan to Obama to see how shallow and mythical are the latter’s intellectual attainments.) Moynihan was one of the first people to try to deal with the lurch leftward of the liberal and Democratic streams that is now so dangerously dominant in America.
In 1970, Moynihan wrote
“A post-liberal critique is necessary and we are trying to evolve one: not because we don’t know enough, but because we know too much to be content with the wisdom of the 1940s.”
He was writing in response to three developments. First, the New Left challenge of the 1960s that seems to be furnishing the ideas and personnel running America today.
Second, he refers to the failures and problems arising from an ever larger, more powerful government. Moynihan was particularly interested in how well-intentioned welfare policies had disastrous effects on their victims (I mean, “beneficiaries.”)
And third he was worried by the undermining of the very elite institutions, in particular the universities, that were supposed to be the watchdogs to provide a reality check and keep politicians from straying into dangerous territory. Moynihan wrote, over-optimistically as it would turn out:
“In the best universities the best men are increasingly appalled by the authoritarian tendencies of the left. The inadequacies of traditional liberalism are equally unmistakable, while, no less important, the credulity, even the vulgarity of the supposed intellectual and social elite of the country has led increasing numbers of men and women of no especial political persuasion to realize that something is wrong somewhere. These persons are [our] natural allies.”
Unfortunately, nowadays, these people are relatively rare in academic institutions swamped with ideologues who are proud to be indoctrinators.
Moynihan noticed the increasingly deep divisions in America that have now widened into chasms of conflict:
“America has developed, in Lionel Trilling’s phrase, `an adversary culture’….The `culture’ is more in opposition now than perhaps at any time in history….As Richard Hofstadter recently observed, some really surprising event…is going to have to happen to change the minds of the present generation.”
One might have thought that this event would have been September 11, 2001, but it didn’t turn out that way. Perhaps that event will be the Obama Administration’s follies and failures.
All quotes from Steven R. Weisman (editor), Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait In Letters Of An American Visionary, Public Affairs (New York: 2010).
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.