Martin Peretz notes in his publication The New Republic that liberalism is “bookless and dying.” He’s right, of course. A political movement with no guides in sight other than consultants, careerists and cranks isn’t going to go anywhere. The problem is that the lack of thought and vision isn’t peculiar to the Left. Kerry didn’t have much to say that made sense but neither does Bush. Open borders, world empire, endless deficits and America as a religion don’t seem that great a program to me. They look more like the manic phase of some bipolar disorder.
Basically, the problem seems to be that the Left has won in principle, even though the mopping up is endless because of the absurdity of the project. That means intellectual collapse, because its project of destroying everything of value we have inherited—on the grounds that success and particularity are the same as injustice—has secured the commanding heights of institutional, cultural and moral authority. Nobody in respectable public life questions its fundamental principles, so there’s nothing significant left to think about.
The victory of the Left also means the Right has collapsed intellectually, because it no longer has any principles to defend against further Leftist advances. Fighting for “civil unions” instead of “gay marriage,” which seems to be Mr. Bush’s position, doesn’t seem that much of a rallying point to me. The result is that in active public life we have careerists, mujahed global Jacobins, and fans of the Washington Conservatives (apparently a sports team), but not so many actual principled conservatives who are able to bring their views to bear on actual events and policy.
The net effect is that we have to start from the beginning, think through basic issues, and start to rebuild as best we can. That, after all, is the point of Turnabout. The day-to-day political battles should of course be prosecuted, I admire those who can keep at them, but I can’t help but think of them as ancillary to more fundamental philosophical and spiritual struggles.