- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: A READER, 1995-2005

Edited by William Kristol

HarperCollins, $27.95, 538 pages

REVIEWED BY A. G. GANCARSKI

Of late, there has been a belief on the right that as conservatism has expanded the move

ment has lost some of its intellectual rigor. From the blogosphere to the print world, people have argued that conservatism has lost much of its substance and that the best thinking of the movement is far beyond it.

Sometimes, it is easy to indulge such pessimism. But every movement has its mountebanks, its poseurs and its third-rate intellects. After all, for every Orwell the left has produced, there have been a dozen Michael Moores and a score of Cindy Sheehans. If one is to argue seriously that the right has lost its way, it seems like begging the question to focus on the more obviously mass-marketed and dumbed-down, or “populist,” permutations of nominally conservative thought, as many critics have thus far. Instead, it might be best for those able critics to turn their attentions to texts that are meant to have an enduring value, to last beyond a heated season of polemic and the inevitable sojourn to the remainder table.

One such text, almost certainly intended to take up space on library shelves for the next few decades, is the collection reviewed here. It comes out at an opportune time. Given that The Weekly Standard is perceived in many quarters as the “neocon Bible,” and that neoconservatives have become the scapegoats for everything from the Iraqi slog to sluggish hurricane relief, it is hard to imagine a better time to release a book combining some of the very best pieces from the magazine’s first decade. What better way to answer the surly mob of critics currently nipping at the heels of neoconservatives (and more broadly, the conservative movement at large) than with substantial arguments and razor sharp writing? “The Weekly Standard: A Reader 1995-2005” fairly bursts with both.

One of the more impressive traits of this collection, considered broadly: its willingness to expose how the business of deadline writing actually works. Editor Bill Kristol’s prologue, for example, is a must-read for any aspirant journalist, revealing insights not just into the inner workings of his magazine but into the conservative movement at large. Along those lines, New York Times columnist David Brooks’ 1996 meditation on “status-income disequilibrium,” reprinted here, is a heartbreaking essay about how folks with “high-status” jobs — titled positions at magazines, for example — often cannot afford financially to operate within the rarefied milieus their status affords them. Though it is hard to imagine the general reader holding much sympathy for what Mr. Brooks calls the “Titled Class,” he may just shed a tear or two after reading about the situational poverty of assistant editors, staff writers and their ilk.

In terms of intellectual heft, the cornerstone of this collection almost certainly is Irving Kristol’s meditation on the “Neoconservative Persuasion.” Originally published in 2003, at a time when neoconservative optimism about the democratic transformation of the Middle East was at its fever pitch, the elder Mr. Kristol argued that the central task of neoconservatism is to convert “the Republican Party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.”

To that end, the neoconservative persuasion, in Mr. Kristol’s rendering, was to be “hopeful … forward-looking … cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic.” The success of neoconservatism in that light would seem entirely contingent on the success of the American experiment, and perhaps The Weekly Standard’s ultimate raison d’etre boils down to a belief — a hope? — that the United States can be every bit as powerful and globally-dominant this century as it was in the last.

Of course, the balance of the collection is not quite so heavy with political philosophy, and the “best reads” herein are from authors content to make neoconservative arguments on the slant. Though some may wonder what Christopher Hitchens’ take on Bob Dylan or Paul Cantor’s remarkably informed and nuanced take on professional wrestling at the end of the last century have to do with the neoconservative persuasion, for example, the clear implication of their inclusion is that the neoconservative vision necessarily encompasses a thorough understanding and appreciation of Americana in its many permutations.

Not every piece in here is a must-read, and some articles, like the material written in the immediate wake of the Iraq invasion, seem dated to this reviewer. Yet those are small, likely subjective quibbles. Taken as a whole, no serious library is complete without this collection.

A. G. Gancarski is a writer in Jacksonville, Fla.

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