The Closing of the Liberal Mind

From the Weekly Standard:

This piece by Eric Levitz has been around for a few days and has already been widely panned. But I think it’s worth more discussion, if for no other reason than its unusual honesty.

Writing in New York Magazine's “Daily Intelligencer,” Levitz argues that in its quest for “diversity,” the liberal media doesn’t need conservatives. He’s not simply calling for the defenestration of provocative writers like Kevin Williamson; he argues that liberal publications can do without any conservative voices at all.

Levitz makes two general points: Conservative ideas have no merit because the right is wrong just about everything and that conservative intellectuals have no constituency to speak of. “Donald Trump’s election exposed the irrelevance of conservative intellectuals,” he writes, “and thereby, the incoherence of many a liberal publication’s mission statement.”

It’s worth noting here that he is not talking about publications with clear ideological missions, like the Nation on the left, or this publication on the right. Instead, his focus is publications like the Atlantic and the New York Times, who at least give lip service to hosting a dialogue that represents the major intellectual currents on both sides of aisle—while upholding fundamental principles of civility, good faith, and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings (regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender).”

Levitz argues that this was always problematic because conservatives have always ”rejected those supposedly shared values, and many of the conservative movement’s animating ideas were manifestly arational and racist.”

Before Trump, he writes, liberals could indulge the fantasy that Republicans, “still spoke in a language broadly similar to David Brooks’s.” But now all of that has changed. “Trump has made the reality of the American right unmistakable: There is no mass constituency for the conservative policy agenda, only one for its paranoid warnings of national, cultural, and racial decline.”

Levitz’s target, however, is not Trumpist propaganda. His main point is that liberal publications should stop publishing Never Trump conservatives, because they are politically negligible, representing only about 5 percent of the electorate. But, he writes, “but they are just about the only kind of Republican one will encounter on the pages of the Atlantic or New York Times.”

This the dilemma that Levitz sees:

If the conservatives who are fit to print aren’t actually representative of the Republican worldview, then what do they offer their (predominately) liberal readers? If center-left publications are going to screen out ideas that are undeniably relevant—on the grounds that they violate their institutions’ bedrock values—why retain irrelevant perspectives that are so much in tension with those values?

So there is therefore no reason, he argues for liberal publications to continue to publish “polite sophists with boring, bankrupt ideas (i.e. Bret Stephens),” or “stylish trolls” like Williamson.

Instead, he suggests redistributing their column inches to ideas he thinks are more relevant—like democratic socialism. Rather than treating conservative or free market ideas as having any merit, he proposes discussions of bringing Amazon, Walmart, Google, and big banks “under democratic control.” Among the other diverse topics he suggests:

• Is an adequate response to climate change compatible with the maintenance of capitalism as we’ve known it? Or is our choice between eco-socialism and barbarism?
• Is the Supreme Court a legitimate institution that must be protected, or is it an unaccountable, unelected legislature that abets reactionary interests?
• Is the U.S. Constitution bad?
• Should people be able to own ideas?
• Should prisons be abolished?

In other words, Levits would turn liberal publications into a caricature of what conservatives have always suspected they are; just more turgid, intolerant, and boring.

Here Levitz verges on self-parody (and not for the first time). Using the criteria of popularity and “relevance,” editorial decision making would become a very different business. How many interesting authors might not have been published if the question was “How does Kierkegaard poll?” Or “What percentage of the electorate agrees with Mencken?”

His argument that ideas are only worth publishing if they have a “constituency,” also seems odd for a writer on the left. It would be interesting, for example, to conduct a public opinion poll on interest in intersectionality, gender pronouns, or “cultural appropriation.”

For all that, Levitz’s piece is bracing, because it is so candid in its insularity, intellectual bigotry, and closed-mindedness. That makes it valuable as an artifact of the mindset that has done so much to alienate conservatives from much of the media and that has contributed so much to the ghettoization of our political discourse. Not surprisingly, when you tell roughly half of the country that they are benighted bigots whose ideas are no even worth hearing, they go elsewhere.

And we’ve seen how that works out.