David Brooks summarizes the value and work of The Public Interest, which is about to stop publication after 40 years. The short of it is that a bunch of FDR style Liberal "social scientists" (the most important were Moynihan, Kristol, Glazer, Bell) started testing what programs worked and what didn’t and in the process began to turn against the same programs they had been advocating. Although their work was of value, they were wrong on a number of fundamental points. For example, in the Liberal euphoria of the Great Society (they started publishing in 1965) they thought that the ideological battles had all been won by the New Deal-Great Society crowd because they scoffed (or were unaware of) at the great intellectual (not only public policy) work of the Conservatives. Conservatives (of every stripe) were already hard at work on fundamental issues and made frontal attacks on New Deal Liberalism by going back to the sources and showing how the historicism of the Progressives and New Dealers were ill founded and led to more than bad public policy. The Conservatives moved toward a re-articulation of self government based on natural rights, and the necessary limits that imposed on government: They questioned the very foundations of the Progressive-Liberal mind, not only its policies.
These old-fashioned Liberals were wrong in thinking that politics had concluded with the New Deal. And then something else happened, along came "the Sixties" (the New Left) to further confuse their moral-political sensibilities. The nihilism of the New Left--the frontal attack on America (Amerikkka, as they said) and the things for which it had stood from the start--offended the sensibilities of the New Deal-Great Society Liberals, but they couldn’t defend themselves. The Conservatives came to the defense of America’s principles and virtues--based on natural rights and natural right--and, therefore, perhaps oddly, to the defense of the Old Liberals, agains the New Left.
And the Old Liberals were compelled to reconsider their own, limited, ability to defend the things for which the country had always stood. So they began to give up on their historiscism and turned toward the electric cord that binds us. And the alliance began, and the Public Interest crowd no longer voted for Democratic candidates en masse.
So, oddly these guys at The Public Interest both represented and caused the death of Liberalism as we had known it for over a generation. And, the way politics works, these old fashioned Liberals, called "neo-conservatives" by the early 1970’s, became allies of Conservatives, and then friends. And they prospered together. And the rest, as they say, is what is happening now. And the New Left, as represented in what’s left of the once-great Democratic Party, not only lost, but still don’t understand why they lost. They lost the intellectual wars, and then, eventually, the political battles. That’s why there is a realignment and that’s why the Democratic Party is now the minority party in the country.
It might be rightly said that with the end of the The Public Interest two things will have died at once, both New Deal Liberalism and neo-Conservatism. That the current post-Sixties Liberals like to call themselves Progressives is an indication of this, and so is their vitriolic attacks on neo-Conservatism. The new Progressives
think they are fighting something that doesn’t exists. No wonder they are losing.