Left-Wing Snobs and the Style of Contempt

Left-Wing Snobs and the Style of Contempt

Political impotence doesn’t always weaken the critical faculties, and some degree of aloofness from the well-known corruptions of power and money is essential for an independent social observer. Less known, though, is the effect on those faculties of going years without a chance that your ideas might be realized, of never having to ask yourself what you would do in such-and-such a situation if you had the power to do something. Without occasional exercise in the world, political writing tends to atrophy. Faced with their own long-term irrelevance, critics on the American left are confronted with several ways out, none of them satisfying.

They can make their meek adjustments and position themselves more opportunely—maybe not as far as the spent generation of neoconservatives, but close enough to the center of the room to have an occasional say in the political conversation. They can leave the room, write about other things. They can announce that the real conversation is actually happening on another floor, in departmental offices and professional journals. They can try to straddle the actual and the theoretical, engaging policy fights while keeping one eye out the window on the horizon (this has been Dissent‘s way, and its risks are earnestness and muddle-headedness).

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Lima