Freedom from Blog

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Dude Is Weird

Ysterday's Douthat column is just plain weird. Douthat joins the merry band of eschatons who fear that "the end of history" has deprived (their) lives of meaning. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First he criticizes Obama for not making a trip to Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't," right? If Obama goes, he's too cosmopolitan. If he doesn't, he hates freedom. Douthat wins. But then he oddly suggests that the Ninth of November should be as big a worldwide deal as the Fourth of July. Here he is: "By rights, the Ninth of November should be a holiday across the Western world, celebrated with the kind of pomp and spectacle reserved for our own Independence Day." Now, color me parochial, but is it true that OUR holiday is celebrated "across the Western world," "with . . . pomp and spectacle"? If so, I didn't know that.

But on to the end. This is the end. My only friend.

Because Douthat thinks that "it may be that the only thing more frightening than the possibility of annihilation is the possibility that our society could coast on forever as it is — like a Rome without an Attila to sack its palaces, or a Nineveh without Yahweh to pass judgment on its crimes."

Um, no. Annihilation is worse. I'll set aside the Yahweh thing, because I guess divine vengeance, no matter how unsettling the idea, must be given its due. But trust me, the Romans (and others) who were raped, killed, raped and then killed, pillaged, etc., by Attila's happy band of historymakers would have preferred to "coast." Douthat's column leads one to speculate that he would have preferred nuclear annihilation to a world of "decadence." And yes, he uses that word--in the pages of the New York Times!

Douthat actually does here what I think he doesn't like about totalitarians. He makes the stuff of individual lives grist for his vision of the Good. Douthat needs others to live under the jackboot of totalitarianism to guarantee his vision of virtue, to underwrite the efforts of those, like him, opposed to the oppressors. Take a look.

Douthat's posture as a deep thinker is probably what grates most. I know I've said this before, but I don't feel the need to be moralized to by some twentysomething with a man crush on the Pope and a nostalgic longing for a Cold War that he doesn't even remember.


At 5:41 PM, Blogger fronesis said...

Agreed: annihilation is worse. Pillaging and raping perhaps worse still.

And thanks for reading this guy, because you make it possible for me to NEVER do so and to NEVER feel guilty about it.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Gina said...

I guess this fellow does not realize that Nov. 9 is also the anniversary of the start of Kristallnacht, huh?

At 12:07 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

You're dead on, of course. But here's the thing. Douthat is actually doing push back against Chicken Little conservatism, the usual pee in your pants at slightest provocation wingnut hysteria. When's the last time a winger admitted that we as a nation were NOT faced with an existential crisis!?

OK, so he turns the not-facing-an existential-threat into an existential threat (anomie, or something). There's a pretty old history of this sentiment, left and right. The Kojeve-Strauss letters show both the lefty end-of-history UN architect and the Plato-loving neo-con nationalist bemoaning the coming boredom. And don't forget Orwell. The whole second half of Road to Wigan Pier is filled with this stuff, and it's pretty prescient too, given that he wrote it in 1937 as a way of explaining why fascism was on the rise against the bloodless bourgeois rationality of liberal democracy.

What's changed is context. Douthat knows it, he's just not sure what to make of it. But he wouldn't be a conservative if he wasn't navel gazing over his deficient manhood relative to some ideal warrior past.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Number Three said...

I would Freud to the list, "Civilization and Its Discontents."


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