Friday, April 24, 2009

The Asia Times Spengler moves to First Things

Asia Times pseudonymous columnist "Spengler" has self-identified as David P. Goldman. And he is First Things?

I'm afraid I can't approve of this development at all. Spengler was sometimes interesting to read, but he was never the sort of balanced thinker whose analysis I would feel comfortable taking to the bank. His metaphysics was materialistic, his historical outlook whiggish, his sociology crass, his foreign policy dubious, and his commitment to Israel fanatical. This is hardly the sort of person to be heading up a periodical "whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society." (link)

Whether or not this move injures the reputation of that magazine is not my concern. I am more disturbed by the tacit assumption that a man like Goldman somehow "belongs" in this guise, as if his were the views that the conservative and/or religiously-minded intelligentsia wants reflected back to them. Something rigid and ruthlessly urbane, some House of Usher-like morbidity, has crept into the minds of these self-styled guardians of culture. What exactly do they think they're guarding? The deteriorating remnants of bourgeois respectability? The lie of a necessary existence for them in the present, wrapped up in the lie of a happy past? Goldman mentions the friendship of George Weigel in his autobiographical piece. If he and the interminably monotone Mr. Weigel are the new voices of intellectual conservatism in this country, I can only say, in the words of Samuel Goldwyn, "Gentlemen, include me out!"

I have further reasons for mistrusting Goldman's bona fides. No one who has truly absorbed the soul of Western instrumental music could possibly settle into a career as an economist, basta finito; however, musically inclined sidemen like Alan Greenspan have been known to become great economy-wreckers, and I suspect something similar has happened in Goldman's case. We look in vain for any evidence that a swinging sense of melody has animated his public life. He lacks the gaiety, the rhythmic pulse and pound of the cavalry charge, retaining only the frozen syllogisms of game theory. He has probably read Godel Escher Bach. He probably agrees.

While we're on the subject, I'm not sure that a similar charge doesn't lay against the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. I'm not very familiar with the voluminous writings of Fr. Neuhaus; having been a Catholic for only a little over a year, I'm still picking up the threads of what passes for Catholic intellectual culture in this country, but what I've gleaned from him in summation (thanks in no small part to John Reilly's recent review) hasn't endeared him to me. Like Goldman, he seems to value the church primarily as a means of cultural preservation. The real religion playing before the inner eye of such men is the autonomous machinery of Whig history, not the heavenly city of St. Augustine.

Something entirely new is needed in conservatism, something that avoids both the curatorial neocon mandarins like Goldman and the First Things crew, and the snarky pharisaism and hypocrisy of Thomas Fleming & Co. over at Chronicles. There must be a truly innocent conservatism: unselfconsciously faithful, forgetful of self, eschewing all worldly compromises. Wall Street mavens, furrow-browed grumps, and "literary men" will have no inheritance therein. The future belongs only to those who come into the faith as little children, not to the worldly wise men who give the polite congé to God.


  1. his foreign policy dubious, and his commitment to Israel fanatical..OK, Matt, what exactly do you find dubious about his foreign policy and fanatical about his committment to Israel? From what I've read of his columns, I personally don't find his committment to Israel "fanatical" at all. OTOH, I find Mark Shea's committment to his opinions on torture "fanatical" (as I'm sure you'd agree) -- if "fanatical" means believing that his position cannot be challenged by moral people or demeaning those who disagree without examining their objections.

  2. Spengler has made many colorful assertions in the foreign policy arena throughout his storied career as a pseudonymous essayist, including calling for an air offensive against Iran with no supporting ground troops, criticizing the surge in Iraq (which later proved to have been a useful measure), and insisting that Chinese students will soon surpass their Western counterparts due to their study of classical piano. He's an interesting fellow, but his ideas often need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    When I described his commitment to Israel as fanatical, I was referring to the fact that he exemplified one of the basic tenents of Zionism, viz he drew no distinction between the "spiritual Israel" through which Christ has redeemed the world and into which each believer is baptized, and the modern polity that bears the same name. He frequently cited Franz Rosenzweig's dictum that "Israel's history is the history of the world," which is true in a metaphysical sense, but was often delivered with an undertone of politics as well.

    I am in no sense an antisemite, nor am I in any way opposed the modern polity of Israel. I am very concerned, however, to preserve doctrinal purity by not confusing the spiritual and temporal Israels.