The ex cathedra pronouncements of Andrew Sullivan as Andy Divine, Episode MMMI: the July 7, 2017 Encyclical. Political Observer comments

As a regular reader of Andrew Sullivan I find his reputation as an American Pundit a function of his self-advertisement, wedded to his abysmal ignorance of American political, social history.  Some examples from Mr. Sullivan’s July 7, 2017 essay:

But the loyalty endures — even deepens. “For now, there’s no way out, only through, and through it together,” writes Rich Lowry, explaining why he, and his magazine, National Review, are now in favor of party over country. Lowry was, you may recall, a prominent Never Trumper, throwing the entire Buckley legacy against the parvenu narcissist during the Republican primaries.

‘…throwing the entire Buckley legacy against the parvenu narcissist during the Republican primaries.’ If anyone qualifies for the status of ‘ parvenu narcissist’ it is Wm. F. Buckley Jr.! Son of a Texas lawyer and very successful oil speculator, who moved his family east to Sharon Connecticut. ‘God and Man at Yale’ and ‘McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning’ prefigured?

For the particulars on the peripatetic Buckley Family and Buckley fils :

And the notion of that ‘Buckley legacy’  is that Mr. Buckley somehow represented ‘Conservatism’s Virtue’ when his notorious 1955 essay on ‘Civil Rights’ which was once available for the internet reader, has been subject to political erasure, an old Stalinist strategy!  That essay rehearsed the the rationalizations of  Apartheid South Africa!

Mr. Sullivan then shifts his focus just enough to attack the ‘…conventional wisdom on the left.’ which, in sum, means an attack on the brilliant American scholar Michelle Alexander’s and her The New Jim Crow:

Here’s a book review I just came across that seems to me an intellectual shift. It’s a review of a new book by Fordham law professor John Pfaff, Locked In, about mass incarceration in America, and it upends a plank of conventional wisdom on the left. The book argues strongly against the notion that our vast and indefensible prison-industrial complex was deliberately created by an explicitly racist war on drugs that swept up nonviolent drug offenders, primarily black, from the 1980s on. The data don’t back it up:

Mr Sullivan presents the the fact that The New York Review of Books published  this essay by David Cole as a demonstration that that Review still has ‘Left Credentials’ :

In case you think I’m just rehashing a conservative critique of the excesses of today’s racial left, I should let you know that this review was written by David Cole, the national legal director of the ACLU. It’s published by The New York Review of Books. And its aim is toward prosecutorial reform, rather than racial grandstanding. It seems to me we need more of the former, and a good deal less of the latter.

As a reader of The New York Review of Books for over forty years, I have observed a Rightward political shift, starkly demonstrated by this essay by Lincoln Caplan of December 5, 2013. A long quotation from this review is revelatory of the shift to the Right of The New York Review of Books:

For some very informative background on the notion/practice of ‘Judicial Restraint’ and the part this idea played in the career of Learned Hand. And his ‘evolution’ on the question of Brown v. Board, from support to opposition, see this New York Review of Books essay by Lincoln Caplan. He reviews Reason and Imagination: The Selected Correspondence of Learned Hand: 1897–1961 edited by Constance Jordan, with a preface by Ronald Dworkin.(Behind a pay wall)

Hand was a career-long champion of strict judicial restraint. His fundamental belief was that, in our American democracy, judges and especially justices of the Supreme Court should defer to Congress and uphold statutes unless they served no practical purpose, because he doubted “the wisdom of setting up courts as the final arbiters of social conflicts.” James Bradley Thayer, a Harvard Law School professor and favorite teacher of Hand’s,3 articulated this guiding stricture. The standard-setting liberal Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Hand’s hero) and Louis Brandeis relied on this view in the first decades of the twentieth century when they dissented from Supreme Court rulings that struck down social legislation because, the Court’s conservative majority thought, the statutes were anti-business.

In 1958, when Hand was eighty-six and called by The New York Times “the most revered of living American judges,” he summed up his case for strict restraint in The Bill of Rights, the prestigious Holmes Lectures at Harvard Law School, delivered over three nights. By then, Earl Warren had been chief justice of the Supreme Court for five years. As Gerald Gunther explained, “The achievement of social justice through invocation of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment was well on its way to becoming the justices’ central preoccupation.”

Hand’s lectures made the case for judicial enforcement of them only “on extreme occasions.” He contended that there was no basis in the text of the Constitution or in its history for the Supreme Court to hold acts of government unconstitutional, especially statutes passed by Congress and state legislatures.

It was not, he wrote, “a lawless act to import into the Constitution such a grant of power,” for “without some arbiter whose decision should be final the whole system would have collapsed.” But justices and other judges, he advised, should use this power only when that was essential—when a governmental act violated the clear “historical meaning” of the amendments in the Bill of Rights—or they would function as a super-legislature. “For myself it would be most irksome to be ruled by a bevy of Platonic Guardians,” he said famously, “even if I knew how to choose them, which I assuredly do not.”

The lectures were an attack on judicial activism but also the Warren Court. In 1954, Warren had led the Court to the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Every justice then on the Court, as the legal historian Michael Klarman noted, “had criticized untethered judicial activism as undemocratic.”4 But the justices recognized that America was a transformed nation in its views about race and that history compelled the Court to find segregation of public schools unconstitutional.5 In a short opinion, Warren stated that principle.

Among liberal and centrist legal thinkers, the question was how broad a principle of equality the Court had actually stated. In his lectures, however, Hand staked out a very conservative position. The Brown ruling was unacceptable because it was second-guessing of legislative choices by the states, even though that put Hand on the wrong side of history.

Brown is considered to be simultaneously, ‘sociology’ and a betrayal of the hallowed ‘judicial restraint’: this set of claims became the central founding myths of The Federalist Society.

From his fervent advocacy for ‘The Bell Curve’ , to the present attack that is conducted by his political surrogate Mr. Cole, Mr. Sullivan’s racial animus is on full display. For a Review of the Bell Curve from an earlier iteration of the ‘Liberalism’ of The New York Review of Books, see Charles Lane’s review of the Bell Curve in the December 1, 1994 issue of that review, titled The Tainted Sources of ‘The Bell Curve’ :

The final section of Mr. Sullivan’s is devoted to the pressing issue of creating a new bumper sticker for the Democrats in 2018 :

But even I could not have come up with their attempts this week to create a new 2018 bumper sticker.

Mr. Sullivan with each essay proves beyond a doubt that he is willfully ignorant of American political and social history, wedded to an unslakable, not to speak of self-serving, ideological myopia. Rich Lowry, Michelle Alexander, and her political corollary Black Lives Matter, and The New Democrats need to pay heed to the political wisdom of our Discount Store Tiresias. What reader can forget this exercise of that wisdom via paraphrase and snippets from that staunch defender of Democracy Plato? Who might those Guardians be?

 This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

Political Observer



About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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