Conservatives question capitalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jan 11 08:08:46 MST 2001

Lingua Franca, Volume 11, No. 1-February 2001

The Ex-Cons
Right-Wing Thinkers Go Left!
by Corey Robin

ACCORDING TO POPULAR MYTH it was Winston Churchill who said, "any man under
thirty who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over thirty who is
not a conservative has no brains." He didn't say it, but his imprimatur
turned a clever quip of uncertain provenance into an axiom of political
biography: Radicalism is a privilege of youth, conservatism a
responsibility of age, and every thinking person eventually surrenders the
first for the second. From Max Eastman to Eugene Genovese, Whittaker
Chambers to Ronald Radosh, intellectuals migrate from left to right almost
as if obeying a law of nature.

Or do they? After all, John Stuart Mill published his feminist classic The
Subjection of Women when he was sixty-three. In the last ten years of his
life, Diderot blasted France as the reincarnation of imperial Rome and
hailed the American Revolution as a repudiation of European tyranny. And
when George Bernard Shaw addressed the question of politics and aging, he
suggested just the opposite of what Churchill is supposed to have said.
"The most distinguished persons," Shaw wrote in 1903, "become more
revolutionary as they grow older."

SINCE THE end of the Cold War, several prominent conservatives have
followed Shaw's prescription and turned left. Michael Lind, once a top
editor at Irving Kristol's The National Interest, has denounced his
previous allies for prosecuting a "class war against wage-earning
Americans"; their market-driven theories, he writes, are "unconvincing,"
their economic policies "appalling." Arianna Huffington, erstwhile
confederate of Newt Gingrich, now inveighs against a United States where
the great majority is "left choking on the dust of Wall Street's galloping
bulls." Glenn Loury, an economist and former neoconservative darling,
sports the signature emblem of left membership: He has become one of Norman
Podhoretz's ex-friends. But today's most flamboyant expatriates are an
Englishman, John Gray, and a Jewish émigré from Transylvania, Edward Luttwak.

In the 1970s, John Gray was a rising star of the British New Right. An
Oxford-trained political philosopher, he penned prose poems to the free
market, crisscrossed the Atlantic to fuel up on the high-octane
libertarianism of American right-wing think tanks, and, says a longtime
friend, enthralled his comrades late into the night with visions of the
coming "anarcho-capitalist" utopia. But after the Berlin Wall collapsed,
Gray defected. First he criticized the Cold War triumphalism of Francis
Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis and counseled against scrapping
Britain's National Health Service. And then in 1998, from his newly
established position as professor of European thought at the London School
of Economics (LSE), he handed down False Dawn, a ferocious denunciation of
economic globalization. Assailing the "shock troops of the free market,"
Gray warned that global capitalism could "come to rival" the former Soviet
Union "in the suffering that it inflicts." Now he is a regular contributor
to The Guardian and New Statesman, Britain's principal left venues. So
profound is his conversion that no less a figure than Margaret Thatcher has
reportedly wondered, "Whatever became of John Gray? He used to be one of us."

And what of Edward Luttwak? He was one of Ronald Reagan's premier court
intellectuals, a brilliant military hawk who mercilessly criticized liberal
defense policies and provided the philosophical rationale for the American
military buildup of the 1980s. Liberal critics called him Crazy Eddie, but
cutting a figure that was part Dr. Strangelove and part Dr. Zhivago,
Luttwak effortlessly parried their arguments, pressing the Cold War toward
its conclusion. Today, he is disillusioned by victory. He finds the United
States a capitalist nightmare, "a grim warning" to leaders seeking to
unleash free-market forces in their own countries. Deploying the same
acerbic wit he once lofted against liberal peaceniks, he mocks the
"Napoleonic pretensions" of American business leaders, challenges the
conventional wisdom that capitalism and democracy are inevitable bedfellows
("free markets and less free societies go hand in hand"), and decries the
savage inequalities produced by "turbo-capitalism." He excoriates European
center-leftists like British prime minister Tony Blair for abandoning their
socialist roots and for their unwillingness "to risk any innovative action"
on behalf of "ordinary workers." With their "disdain for the poor and other
losers" and "contempt for the broad masses of working people," Luttwak
writes, Clintonesque New Democrats and European Third Wayers "can yield
only right-wing policies."

In their original incarnations, Gray and Luttwak thrilled to two of
conservatism's galvanizing passions-anticommunism and the free market. But
since the fall of the Soviet Union, they have been posing questions about
the market they once would never have dared ask.

Full article at:

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list