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No Left Turns

More on Wood, Chait, and anger

Jonathan Chait snidely responds to Peter Wood’s NRO article, discussed here. And Wood responds:

[T]here is a huge difference between the existence of isolated individuals in love with their expressive anger and living in a culture in which such anger is cultivated as a virtue and justified as a form of righteousness.

That’s what happened among a large number of contemporary Americans, and Ramesh without quite realizing it nabs Chait’s contribution: Chait offers “arguments for anger.” Check that: arguments for anger. Since when did anger need arguments? Anger used to be something we sought to control, something that we tried to expunge, control, or channel, not something we argued for. We argue for the things we value or cherish. We may need anger now and then to rouse the indifferent to defend the things we cherish. Models of that kind of anger include Tom Paine and William Lloyd Garrison. But what happens when “being angry” becomes a pursuit in its own right?

I would love to see someone like Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., author of
Manliness, and some time ago, The Spirit of Liberalism, review Wood’s book. What I learned from Mansfield was the crucial role of spiritedness--expressed in terms of self-assertion and righteous (that is, principled) indignation--in liberal political life. It was, he argued, missing in the late 70s. Anger has made a comeback, according to Wood, but in the person of Chait, who, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to eschew principles in favor of pragmatism, it lacks any obvious connection to the reason with which it should be associated. If Chait and those he inspired were Achillean, they’d pose a real challenge to our republic. But, as it is, they’re not, which means that we can expect our native sobriety ultimately to reassert itself, so long as "decent people" treat them with the mild contempt they seem to deserve.

Update: Stanley Kurtz calls our attention to these two smart posts by Kevin Walker (whose site you should bookmark, if you haven’t already). Walker argues that contemporary anger--unmoored in nature or reason, or, more precisely, moored in natural self-assertion but uncontrolled by reason--is connected with the postmodern abyss. If there is no ground, there is only the (hysterical--the difference between Nietzsche and Machiavelli) assertion of a lonely and anxious self. Now I want commentary from Lawler as well as from Mansfield.

Discussions - 16 Comments

Chait is a vicious and unabashed hater.

Wood argues, like Malkin, that the Angry Right is more marginal than the Angry Left. I don’t understand by what definition the following folks are "marginal": Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Melanie Morgan, Michael Savage, Hannity, O’Reilly, and their myriad imitators and fans. (Plus, is Little Green Footballs marginal? I hope so, but a respectable blog like this one happily features that site on its blog roll.) Note, also, that Tom Delay is now happily participating in the same kind of angry discourse. Look back over his speeches in the congressional record, and I think you’ll find it’s not a new turn for him.

I agree that political anger is an interesting phenomenon, and I agree that American political discourse feels more angry now than it did ten years ago, but I’m not sure about the empirical basis for that sense. And I’m sure that Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are more at the core of the contemporary right than Chait with respect to the contemporary left.

The original "anger" article was bad, and unworthy of being the cover article, but not that bad. Chait’s description of it seems accurate to my recollection. What is more significant is the (uncaused by TNR and Chait) visceral anger about the political situation as a whole felt by broad segments of the left, and especially by many a greying and cranky boomer, that zapped onto Bush as a lighting rod. Chait really can’t really deny that his side is the impolitic one, and the really, really pissed off one, and everyone knows that Nov 2006 alone is not going alter the political psychology here...maybe a 2008 Dem pres will retstore a semblance of sanity and proportion to the left.

Wood and Malkin are simply right. Ted Rall, Olberman, Moore, "Screw Them" Kos, Dean, Sheehan, assaination fantasies, Whoopi Golberg and a whole parcel of celebrities, worst of all being Belafonte calling Condi Rice a "house n#[email protected]^r", Atrios explaining "why we say f*%# a lot" (studies of course show that left wing bloggers use this word 47 times more often than right-wing ones do),the bumper sticker imbalance...we on the right really cannot begin to compete with the high standards of doom-saying bile and ire the left has established in recent years.

The disturbing thing at TNR, which is no mere blog, is the religious bigotry that continues to grow worse and worse--scroll up for some posts on this--it is clear they now intend to employ Sullivan and Linker as their top religion/religious right-angle commentators. You might as well employ Jewish converts to Wahhabi Islam to cover Israeli politics.

As I’ve said here before, I say what I say about TNR as a suscriber, one who would like to remain so. For those who don’t read it regularly, I stress that the anti-Christian bigotry I speak of is of subtle sort, revealed in editorial decisions, etc., but increasingly consistent. Peretz and whoever else is sane there really need to get their house in order.

What do you think the average ad revenue of angry right wing media is, compared to angry left wing media? About the same? Or do Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glen Beck make more - with respect to their anger - than all of the folks you cited in your post? I’m betting the latter.

On the occasions when I’ve listened to Glen Beck, I never came away thinking, "Boy, he sure is angry." Funny, yes, and occasionally wrongheaded, but never angry.

Brett, its not for nothing that Walker Percy said, back in 1971’s uncannily still-timely Love in the Ruins , that conservatives are "Knotheads" with (bowel-related!)anger issues, although of course, he had some choice words for the other side, too. And it remains painful for me, now that I am a conservative, to admit that an anger-playing (but a pretty funny) showman like Limbaugh has done yeoman work for the conservative cause, and that I am identified with him.

But c’mon Brett, to turn the old Mary Tyler Moore song on its head, "liberal anger is all around" , and if for the past four years you haven’t been able to smell it, taste it, and feel it, it’s cause yer antennae be busted. Thankfully, unlike during the 60s, it hasn’t been an anger that has really felt it could accomplish much, and so the bitter bitchin’, as opposed to the street fightin’, goes on...

...just as Percy knew it would...I suppose another moment, a la Clinton, for constipation-inducing knot-head anger will come upon us eventually, but for the long term I’m sticking to my Delsol analysis in the post below.

On Beck, maybe you’re right, John. I’m not really familiar with his work. But he has mused about "nuking" Iran or "the whole Middle East." (And if he said it with a smile on his face, without anger, that’s not so good either.)

I think there is anger on the left. I myself am angered at the disasterous policies of this administration. But folks like Wood and Michelle Malkin play this game where they contend that the right "polices itself" or "marginalizes" the anger, and it’s just not true, either in relative or comparative terms (i.e., more than the left). If it were true, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh would be marginal figures, not centerpieces in the right wing media, they wouldn’t fill stadiums when they go on the road, and they wouldn’t be honored (as statesmen!) at places like Claremont.

If the discussion of anger is just another reason to trash the left, it’s not that interesting. There are existential conditions of modern life that cause fear and lead people to seek refuge in political certainties, which then must be guarded with anger. Often those fears are expressed in conservative terms. It may be true that anger at inequality is a factor as well, but the phenomenon is bigger - and in the U.S., at least, for the past twenty years or so, it’s been more profitable to be on the right and to pander to that anger.

Oh, I don’t know, I detected just a wee hint of something like anger in Glenn Beck when he said, regarding the New Orleans victims of Katrina (before calling them "scumbags"):

"I didn’t think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims."

(Feel free to provide the entire context to that quote. It doesn’t really make him look any better at all. Be sure to include his surreal and pathetic strategy for buffet lines! I guess that’s his "comedy" part.)

Brett, your dissection of the "game" that Malkin, Wood, Limbaugh, (and O’Reilly, Hannity, Savage, Beck, Coulter, the Powerline Boys, etc.) play is right on the money - well put and succinct. Thanks.

with apologies for the logorrhea: thanks, Craig. After rereading Joseph’s original post, though, I think I understand why Chait merits condemnation and Limbaugh doesn’t, in his view: it’s because Limbaugh is fighting the good fight, defending (however inarticulately and obliquely) orders grounded in nature and reason, whereas Chait is not. In other words, feminism is unmoored in nature, so attacks on "feminazis" are fine, if in poor taste. But there’s nothing comparably objectionable in the Bush administration’s principles and policies, so the left is, once again, revealed as being unmoored.

If you go back to my original post on Wood’s first article, you’ll note that I wonder about the evenhandedness of his treatment. I think that there is anger and incivility on both sides of the spectrum (there’s a conservative poster on NLT that has me in his sights, for a very modest example).

But it strikes me that there’s more anger and less civility currently on the left than on the right. And, as Brett notes, I do think that conservative "foundationalism" has something to do with that difference, while there seems to be less "foundationalism" (and hence more angst) on the other side. Yes, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, and there are foundational liberals and non-foundational conservatives (see, for example, Jeffrey Hart, who seems right now to be a very angry man). Indeed, I wish there were more "foundational" liberals and fewer anti-foundationalists of any stripe.

But that’s a topic for another day.


You’re right, Joseph; the thrust of the links - and Carl’s interesting reply above - point in the direction of defending a conservative anger, though (and not just for the present). I think this is an error, because I think that on balance foundationalism itself produces fear and anger rather than countering it.

It’s actually an old religious insight that foundations are questionable, despite what the orthodox may say. It’s the basic questionability of foundations that produces anxiety. Learning to live with that anxiety is part of the human condition, and it is the real antidote to anger and incivility.

"But it strikes me that there’s more anger and less civility currently on the left than on the right."

Wow! Where exactly are you looking to draw this conclusion?

I appreciate the attention to my article. It is perhaps worth adding that one of the major themes of my book on this subject is that the look-at-me proud performance-oriented wrath that I call New Anger is best understood as a cultural phenomenon. It didn’t start in politics but migrated there through the character of the participants. It is more prominent on the Left thanon the Right because the Left has deeper roots in the expressive individualism of the old Counterculture. The Right, however, has absorbed it too. And i don’t dismiss any of the examples quoted above, except for the placement of me beside Michelle Malkin as engaged in special pleading for conservative anger. I don’t exculpate conservative anger. i am just trying to register the various phenomena as accurately as I can. Somewhere in this discussion, we need to have some distinctions as between boorish comedy, sharpt satire, self-righteous anger, and righteous anger. Those don’t exhaust the list, but they get us started in the effort to tell the difference, for example between Rush Limbaugh and Duncan Black (Atrios). I’m sorry I couldn’t work all that into a few short articles on NRO--let along this post--and I am sorry too if it sounded as though I hold Jonathan Chait to blame for the whole effloresence of anger on the Left. Obviously he is not, but he did serve as a kind of cultural gatekeeper in allowing "respectable" people openly to adopt this new emotional stance. I’ll stand by that claim partly because I have a file cabinet full of articles written before and after Chait’s "I hate President George W. Bush" essay. In the aftermath, he was quoted widely for about seven months and the level of vitriol in other mainstream outlets noticeably increased. Note again, this doesn’t deny that a lot of conservatives are angry too. If you want the details of the arguments (here’s the slaes pitch) read the book.

Does no one care about context any more? Does no one care that Beck is an entertainer? He has many strongly-held beliefs, but why is it that only the Left seem to have any problem telling the difference between that and his tongue-in-cheek statements? I’ll tell you why - they aren’t TRYING to see what Beck really thinks. They know what they think and they know he doesn’t agree. That’s all they need to know to begin mounting their spiteful attacks.

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