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March 01, 2006

"There are encouraging ideological stirrings in Britain, thanks in large part to the efforts of a small London-based think tank called the Social Affairs Unit": Commentary reports on Neoconservatism and Anti-Totalitarianism

Posted by Michael Mosbacher

Douglas Murray's Neoconservatism: Why We Need It and Oliver Kamm's Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy are the subject of an extensive essay in the March 2006 issue of the American neoconservative magazine - or as it describes itself "America's premier monthly magazine of opinion" - Commentary.

The piece - Britain's Neoconservative Moment by Daniel Johnson - is full of praise both for Murray and Kamm - "first rate intellectuals" - and for the Social Affairs Unit. We are told:

there are encouraging ideological stirrings in Britain, thanks in large part to the efforts of a small London-based think tank called the Social Affairs Unit. Originally founded as a branch of the strongly pro-market Institute of Economic Affairs, it has developed an independent identity under its new director, Michael Mosbacher, who has turned it into a trans-Atlantic bridgehead for neoconservative ideas.
I will leave it to others to judge the accuracy - or otherwise - of this.

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It's an interesting essay. Some of Douglas Murray's views, as described there, seem to me to be naive and peculiar. For example:

"Inspired by academic thinkers like Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom, Murray proposes a restoration of authentically liberal education, with an end to the cultural relativism that he holds responsible for the fact that 'a large proportion of the people our educational systems are producing are not very nice.'"

In the first place - a minor point - it's not clear from the context that Murray (or perhaps Mr. Johnson) realizes that the "liberal" in the term "liberal education" has no political significance, but refers to one of the earlier senses of this difficult term.

Secondly, Strauss and Bloom were odd fish and it's difficult to know how much of what either said to take on face value. I don't see them as exemplars of educational thinking - and I'm not sure either's political thinking, though it is clearly anti-socialist, has much to do with either "neo-conservatism" or conservatism. Thirdly, even if "cultural relativism" is a problem for society, it's not clear to me that school is the main conduit for it.

I was also struck by this comment by Daniel Johnson:

"Is it realistic to suggest restoring the Church of England to its Victorian grandeur? Not to anyone the least bit familiar with the divided, depleted, and decrepit state of contemporary Anglicanism and with the leaders whom Murray expects to undertake this task of national re-education."

Quite. One could hardly improve on Mr Johnson's trenchant analysis. It sounds every bit as Utopian as any scheme of the lefts.

Posted by: Mike at March 1, 2006 08:03 PM
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