STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Rise of the Neo-Authoritarian Intelligentsia
By Staff News & Analysis - August 20, 2010

This is what a propagandist, by definition, does: asserts any claim as fact in service of a concealed agenda without the slightest concern for whether it's true. Will the existence of a vast and menacing Iraqi nuclear program help my cause (getting Americans to attack Iraq)? Fine, then I'll trumpet that. Now, however, it will help my cause (mainstreaming an attack on Iran) to claim that the Israelis permanently ended Iraq's nuclear efforts in 1981, thus showing how well these attacks can work. No problem: I'll go with that. How can anyone take seriously — as a Middle East expert and especially as a journalist — someone with this blatant and thorough of an estrangement from any concern for truth? Can anyone reconcile these factual claims? Jonathan Schwarz, who flagged this contradiction, documents how Goldberg's dishonest propaganda begins in the very first sentence of his new Atlantic article, which reads: "It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons." – Salon.Com/Jeffrey Goldberg (left)

Dominant Social Theme: Did the Atlantic magazine publish elite propaganda?

Free-Market Analysis: We were startled to find this article appearing in the leftist Salon.com because it deals evidently and obviously with the Daily Bell theme: that prominent writers can construct fear-based arguments that help support larger power-elite dominant social themes. In this case, Jeffrey Goldberg seems to have done just that. But unlike on other occasions, he is being called out in numerous publications.

While we were surprised by the article, we were not surprised by the author, one Glenn Greenwald, an openly gay lawyer and commentator for Salon who for some reason happens to be one of the most courageous libertarian writers in America. We keep waiting for him to get fired from Salon for writing the things he does. Unlike the left, he doesn't attribute the problems of the US and the West in general to Republicans. Unlike the right-wing commentators, he doesn't attribute the problems to "liberals." For the most part, he gets it exactly right. The problem is the ever-expanding, voracious authoritarian, Western state – and its enablers.

Certainly Goldberg is one such enabler. We are not surprised that Goldberg's dishonest militarist propaganda appeared in the Atlantic either. We picked up on what the Atlantic had become long ago, when it published an article by Simon Johnson, who used to be a top bureaucrat for the International Monetary Fund. At the time, we wrote:

What a world! And what an article. This one excerpted above, recently appeared in The Atlantic magazine. It is one of the most devious and clever we have ever read. It poses as a confession by a powerful man, but it really is a disguised apologia intended to defend central banking and shift the blame for the current crisis onto Wall Streets "oligarchs." In this, it mimics the very best of the kind of muckraking that occurred in the 1930s when Wall Street and European bankers were blamed for the great crash and subsequent Depression. It is beyond that even. It is muckraking as an art form. …

Part of the power lies in the placement – The Atlantic. There was a time in the West when the intellects of the world's most powerful city, New York, marched to the beat of "thought magazines" – the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and The Atlantic among them. New York was a place where the brightest and most verbal people flocked. They read a lot and lived in apartments crammed with books. And boy could they write, and talk. And they believed in art and the written world. Thought magazines were their secular temples. Once upon a time, an article this well written, this powerful, this passionate, would have set leftish New York intellectuals on fire. It would have made the opinion-makers jump. What the article's author, Simon Johnson, writes would have resonated with grand power. It's that good.

You can read the article here: The Quiet Coup.

On rereading the article, we were probably premature in predicting the demise of the thought magazine, certainly in America. At the time, the New Yorker, Harpers, the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal and other such publications were positively supine and had been for nearly a decade while the Internet surged with new thinking and intellectual excitement. We thought the Johnson, therefore, was an anomaly, but it turns out it was not. In fact, the mainstream, elite-associated thought magazine is making a comeback.

The return of the thought magazine and thought articles is both interesting and important. In the past, say in the early 20th century, thought magazines tended to be somewhat cerebral and focused on so-called leftist ideology. It was almost a given that most good writing would be presented in one sense or another through the lens of soft Marxism or at least populism. The New Yorker then blazed the trail with an even softer socio-political perspective. The great editor of the New Yorker, William Shawn, favored long and sometimes arcane articles of great variety.

The New Yorker came on hard times and was sold to Conde Nast which really didn't know what to do with it. Uber-editor Tina Brown took over in the 1990s and she did try to give the New Yorker a new and hipper style. She did her best, but the New Yorker was still a magazine in search of a voice. It reminded one a little bit of a publication that was almost dutifully intellectual – but from which a fashion magazine was straining to burst if only Tina would let it.

We are not sure even today if the New Yorker has truly rediscovered its voice – and we make this suggestion based on the admittedly non-factual perception of the "buzz" that the magazine is generating. On the other hand, publications like Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic are starting, again, to create considerable buzz in our opinion. This means the decade of quiescence is finished. The editors of these mainstream thought magazines are gradually beginning to discover how to deal with the truth-telling of the Internet.

This is an important point, of course (to us anyway) as thought magazines are integral part of Anglo-American promotions. As we pointed out just the other day, the intelligentsia has to be brought on board before a fear-based meme can be truly said to be effective. Without a buy-in from the "thinking class," the rest of the population is far less apt to take the promotion seriously. Thought leaders are necessary from a credibility standpoint.

But now the power elite has a problem. Not all of the intelligentsia is leftist or socialist these days. Some of them are right wing and a good many are libertarian. This is a very big problem for the elite. The response (and it is increasingly effective as we have indicated) is apparently to cultivate a whole new brand or class of quasi-libertarian intellectual. These individuals, like Johnson, deal in populist or free-market rhetoric but do so within the framework of a fairly large history of ideas. One has to dig down deep before the essential falsity is unearthed.

The Atlantic is becoming very good at this. The Wall Street Journal, as we pointed out just yesterday, is catching up as well. The new formula is one that combines free-market concepts with an erudite frame of reference and a kind of uncompromising Westernism, in our view. The idea (meme) being flogged is that the West, for all its financial ruin, serial wars, renditions, judicial viciousness and regulatory authoritarianism is still better than "anywhere else."

This is a powerful concoction, in fact. The temptation with such cleverly written articles is to be bedazzled by the literary allusions, by the uncompromising pro-Western approach and the general familiarity and comfortableness with the creation of a beguiling literary patina. Beneath the surface of course these articles and authors are engaged (from our point of view) in flogging certain dominant social themes. Some of them may be doing it purposefully and others may have come to certain conclusions on their own, but the end result is the same.

So we would argue that Goldberg and his article in the Atlantic are part of this new style of journalism. We will call it "neo-authoritarian." Here's how Greenwald describes it (speaking of Goldberg): "His pose is objective journalist. He'll feign ambivalence; about whether Iran should be bombed – thus showing how thoughtful and non-ideological he is – while infecting the discourse with … factual falsehoods … in service of skewing the debate towards ensuring an attack happens."

We are observing the creation of a new voice. It is one, now that we consider it more closely, probably pioneered at the Weekly Standard, but that Neo-Con publication is didactic and often not very referential. This Neo-Authoritarian dialogue is slightly different in marrying intellectual literacy to the memes of the elite. This can certainly be seen in the Wall Street Journal article that we analyzed yesterday. We called Ayaan Hirsi Ali's article – How to Win the Clash of Civilizations – "devastatingly brilliant." We also presented the crux argument of her article as follows: "The West's universalist pretensions are increasingly bringing it into conflict with the other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China. Thus the survival of the West depends on Americans, Europeans and other Westerners reaffirming their shared civilization as unique— and uniting to defend it against challenges from non-Western civilizations."

After Thoughts

This is heady stuff. Hirsi Ali is using the firepower of her intellect not to promote peace or understanding but to advocate what is essentially (in our humble view) the "long war." This is indeed a new paradigm for the modern intelligentsia. In the past century most of the intellectual class has been seen as peaceable and even pacifistic. But the new tone of the modern-day mainstream writer for thought magazines (some of them anyway) is increasingly militant and chauvinistic. It is fascinating (in a queasy way) to watch.

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