A Second Response to Mark Shea

I see Mark Shea has responded to me (“The Ratzinger Fan Club is Taking Me to Task” Catholic and Enjoying It August 17, 2006). Let me point out that this blog is hosted at the RatzingerFanClub — I do employ it as a means of posting the monthly Pope Benedict Roundups as has become a hobby since the time of the conclave. But as I clearly note in the margin, Against The Grain features “Occasional notes by the guy who maintains the RatzingerFanClub and the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club” — I don’t presume to speak for anybody but myself on this topic.

[Mark Shea:] First, the issue for me is not Lieberman as Senator but the Weekly Standard‘s dreamy hopes for Lieberman as a GOP Veep. If that’s not prostitution of the entire pro-life movement to the neocon agenda, I don’t know what is.

I hold no brief at all for Lamont as Senator. Sounds like another typical Sacrament of Abortion Dem to me.

The chief intent of my post (“Some Thoughts on Mark Shea, Joseph Leiberman and Ned Lamont” August 16, 2006) — was to explain why I think Kristol might have a legitimate motivation for reaching out to Leiberman, and perceiving the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the Senator to embrace the “Lamont/Sharpton/Jackson/Murtha/Soros/Sheehan/Moore/Kos” wing as something we should be concerned about.

Personally I hold no enthusiasm for bringing Leiberman aboard as VP on any kind of ticket — but at the same time, I think I know Kristol well enough through his other writings to find myself skeptical of your explicit agreement with Pat Buchanan’s caricature (and your own “Money and Power Firster”). As I believe I’ve demonstrated, rather than impute in Kristol the most Machiavellian of intentions, another (perhaps more charitable) reading is possible.

I don’t think “neocon” is a code word for “Jew”. . . .

Of course you don’t, Mark. I’m very much aware of your opposition to the antisemitism of the “Catholic” fringe. (Wish I could say the same for Pat Buchanan, but that’s another sad topic altogether). That said . . .

[Mark Shea:] I think [“neocon”] is a term that loosely defines a wide number of people from many backgrounds who have the Administration’s ear and who have had Big Dreams about making America a force for good in the world, even if some eggs have to be broken to make that geopolitical omelette. It’s not an ignoble dream, but it is one that has shown itself vulnerable to all the normal drawbacks associated with attempts to seize the One Ring and do good with it. The commonality I see between the contemptible power-worshipping ideas of guys like Michael Ledeen and the equally contemptible power-worshipping ideas of John Derbyshire (not Jewish, so far as I know) are an easy willingness to do evil that good may come of it. What irked me about the warm fantasizing over Lieberman at WS was the transparent disinterest in issues some of us still think are vital, so long as it afforded an opportunity for Gondor to continue the dream of remaking the world in this New American Century. . . .

Q: What makes a neocon? — Given the twists and turns in the interpretation of the term ‘neocon’ over the decades, I believe that when the ‘neocon’ label is liberally applied without proper clarification, it all to easily becomes an impediment to the discussion. This is as evident on your blog as it is on any other anti-war or conspiracy website.

When Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton are referred to as “neocons” (Is Neoconservatism Really Conservative?, by J.P. Hubert Jr. TCRNews.com); when the Houston Catholic Worker can assert that “Neoliberalism is known in the United States as neoconservatism”; when conspiracy-minded “end-times” quacks rave about The Prince of Darkness and Other [Jewish] Neocons Pulling Bush’s Strings . . . it’s more than enough to propose that the term neocon be banished from blogdom. And I daresay you’d agree with me here.

[Mark Shea:] I’m just sayin’ some of us think that it’s possible to have a conservative who supports the war on Terror *and* cares about human life. That the latter issue is so remote from Kristol’s mind as he gazes dreamily into the New American future says rather a lot about him, and Weekly Standard‘s editorial stance, and about some of the fault lines in American conservatism.

Just out of curiousity, Mark, how often do you read the Weekly Standard and how do you view its relation to neoconservatism? What is neoconservativism?

I admit I find myself confused by your mish-mash of terms. In one of your latest posts you exclaim

I find myself thinking that I’d rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes

But who are you referring to exactly in the above sentence? — It is often the case that you wildly tar the “neocons” and “conservatives” alike with broad, sweeping strokes, without bothering to clarify who or what you’re referring to.

Example — Neither Michael Ledeen nor John Derbyshire are affiliated with the Project for a New American Century or one of its principle documents, Rebuilding America’s Defenses [.pdf format]. Nor do they write regularly (if at all?) for the Weekly Standard (the locus of “neoconservative” thought these days) — their affiliation is rather with the National Review. But you refer to both Ledeen and Derbyshire in your explication to me of what you mean by “neocon.”

Likewise, the term “creative destruction” is properly attributed to Michael Ledeen. Can you tell me how Ledeen refers to the principle of “creative destruction” and where it appears in the proposal of PNAC? — “War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes” rolls easily enough off the tongue and makes for a good soundbyte . . . until you start to think about the origin of the terms and their relation to each other, and just who is being referred to here.

Likewise, I’m mystified by your present hostility to the Weekly Standard as a neoconservative publication — are you at all aware that, with respect to torture (a subject you’re undoubtedly familiar with), the Standard has, under the editorship of the same “Money and Power Firster” William Kristol, published articles adopting a moral stance more sympathetic with your own?

In May 2005 Reuel Marc Gerecht published Against Rendition: Why the CIA shouldn’t outsource interrogations to countries that torture (which I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way); and in One Code To Rule Them All (October 4, 2005), Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk charged that

FOOL ME ONCE, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. When it comes to detaining prisoners seized in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the other fronts of the terror war, the Pentagon’s “just-trust-us” mentality continues to undercut American strategy. Thankfully, Congress is at last on the verge of doing what the administration clearly cannot: set clear standards for the treatment of detainees.

And on a similar note, here’s the Hobbsian and “demi-pagan” (as you called him), professor Victor Davis Hanson, who asserted:

The United States can win this global war without employing torture. That we will not resort to what comes so naturally to Islamic terrorists also defines the nobility of our cause, reminding us that we need not and will not become anything like our enemies.

(The Truth about Torture Dec. 5, 2005).

I’m not sure whether you had linked to any of these articles while blogging the case against “The Torture Apologists” and “Rubber Hose Right.” I know each of us has a blogging ‘style’, but I think that we might have had a lot better discussion on these issues (which are controversial and inflammmatory enough as they are) if such generalizations could be abandoned in favor of seeking a
definition of terms and attribution of views (properly represented) to specific individuals rather than an amorphous group of “neocons.”

Last year, I found it refreshing that a number of individuals including Daniel Darling (Detainee abuse redux Winds of Change October 6, 2005) and Fr. Neuhaus could engage in a civil and intelligent discussion on so inflammatory a topic while foregoing this kind of rhetoric.

If you want to know what set me off with your citing of Buchanan, I caught a whiff of these same tactics — the misrepresentation, the generalization, the caricatures — in your treatment of William Kristol.

Perhaps if the ‘McCain-Lieberman ticket’ were a reality and Kristol had actually joined their campaign, I would readily share your concern (and would probably have some questions for Kristol of my own).

But what I see now in Kristol and a number of other writers (some of them Catholic, like William Bennett), is a concern of what the Connecticut Democrats have chosen to embrace by its ousting of Lieberman — and the necessity of reaching out across party lines to those like Lieberman who, for whatever their defects or disagreements on a host of other issues, nonetheless recognize the existential threat posed by the global jihad against the West.

* * *

To those not remotely interested in this issue or wondering what purpose it has on this blog, thanks for indulging. Another “Pope Benedict Roundup” is in the works and I’ll be returning to our usual fair shortly.

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