Left and Right

Is Modern Conservatism a Mental Illness?

By Paul Gottfried

Jonah Goldberg in his new collection of meditations, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas and Andrew Ferguson in his latest Weekly Standard opinion piece “The New Phrenology” complain how the other side gets nasty when depicting its well-meaning opponents. This bothers our “conservative” apologists, since they yearn for all the same good things as the other side: fairness, women’s rights, and democracy for the entire world.

Why, then, do liberals persist in depicting Republicans as fascists, a tendency that Ferguson insists is rife among Democratic sociologists? It recalls the Frankfurt School’s 1950 attack on the fascist “authoritarian personality.” According to Ferguson, the “political reporter” Thomas Edsall has discovered that “social science has lately become a tool of Democrats who want to reassure themselves that Republicans are heartless and stupid.” People such as Edsall, whom Ferguson refers to as “psychopundits,” treat Republican affiliations as evidence of mental disease.

I have called this phenomenon the “pathologization of dissent.” Goldberg and Ferguson superficially address these themes. But it seems ridiculous for those who have discarded the entire Old Right—and who, in Goldberg’s case, write for a magazine that purged John Derbyshire and Bob Weissberg—to be lecturing anyone about tolerance. Everything these journalists attribute to their “Democratic” or “liberal” debating partners applies equally to them. These chaps have no more right to be producing defenses of “conservatism” than Nero had to present himself as a defender of Christian teachings. Talk about chutzpah!

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