Rogues’ Gallery

The Liberal Crack-up.
by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
Simon & Schuster. 265 pp. $16.95.

The Liberal Crack-up merrily surveys the transformation during the 60’s and 70’s of traditional liberals, mostly one-time New and Fair Dealers, into what R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. calls “New Age Liberals” (they could as accurately be described as McGovernites). Tyrrell, who is the editor of the American Spectator, satirically analyzes their cults and culture, their peculiar social, economic, scientific, and political notions, their wild enthusiams, fads, and hatreds.

Appropriately, Tyrrell starts with the culmination of the liberal era, the disastrous administration of James Earl Carter, Jr. He concludes that Carter was the worst President of the 20th century, worse even than Warren Gamaliel Harding. In his characteristically sarcastic style, Tyrrell refers to the ex-President as “the Wonderboy,” which, curiously, is what Calvin Coolidge in private conversation called a much abler but equally unlucky President, Herbert Hoover.

Tyrrell devotes a number of instructive and entertaining chapters to some of the symptoms that marked the degeneration of Roosevelt-Truman liberalism into New Age liberalism: environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement, the impulse to glorify even the most barbarous regimes of the Third World, consumerism, the so-called peace movement, egalitarianism. One particularly trenchant chapter chronicles the degradation of the civil-rights movement and the rise of “mountebanks” like Stokely Carmichael and Jesse Jackson.

In his concluding chapter, Tyrrell tries to define the common element in all the diverse obsessions of his cast of true believers. It is, he finds, a peculiar species of Puritanism (peculiar because it is sometimes admixed with hedonism). These are busy bodies, he writes, determined to harass their fellow citizens and, by force if necessary, make them obey the moral imperatives of the cranks.

Tyrrell’s case is buttressed by a good deal of evidence drawn from sources which people like me never get a chance properly to savor. One such source is Ms. magazine, from which Tyrrell has culled a number of astonishing quotations, including defenses of sado-masochism and other odd types of sexuality—e.g., “If hostility to men causes lesbianism then . . . in a male-dominated society lesbianism is a sign of mental health.” (In a recent issue of the Yale Law & Policy Review, I myself recently came across the statement by an ultrafeminist author that “One might ask . . . not why some women embrace explicit sadomasochism, but why any women do not.”) Another is the Village Voice, from whose pages Tyrrell brings us the thoughts of Anna Mayo, resident anti-nuclear columnist and adept of the view that nuclear-power plants produce dreadful diseases and birth defects and could devastate the country at any moment.

Among the individuals Tyrrell anatomizes, as a professor of law I admired particularly his deft dissection of two of my own trade, Ronald M. Dworkin and Richard Falk. On both Tyrrell employs his favorite technique of destruction, verbatim quotation. Dworkin, a legal philosopher and leading advocate of egalitarianism, is cited for his curious belief that “A more equal society is a better society, even if its citizens prefer inequality.” (Tyrrell forbears to note that Dworkin has not given his own substantial fortune to the poor. There are a good many limousine leftists among the New Age liberals but few or no Saint Francises.) From Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton, Tyrrell quotes at length a panegyric on the Ayatollah Khomeini, who according to Falk, “has had considerable involvement in human-rights activities” (as the persecuted followers of the Bahai religion would no doubt be happy to testify) “and is committed to a struggle against all forms of oppression . . . with a strong belief in minority rights.”

One of the incidental joys of The Liberal Crack-Up is the service it performs as a treasury of where-are-they-now information. I learned, for instance, what became of the one-time civil-rights leader Floyd McKissick and of the $37 million the taypayers sank into his Soul City, North Carolina; of Rennie Davis, one of the so-called Chicago Seven, who went on to discover that “the practical method to end poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism” was Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission; and of Jerry Rubin, who took up Esalen and yoga before succumbing to the allures of Wall Street.



Most of the time I find myself in agreement with Tyrrell, even with respect to his at first somewhat startling assessment of Carter as a worse President than Harding. Harding was not gifted intellectually (H.L. Mencken referred to him as “the Marion Stonehead”); he knew next to nothing of economics or international affairs; and he appointed a few crooks to fairly high office. But unlike Carter he was innocent of messianic impulses, he had enough sense to leave really important matters to really able men. He did far less harm than Carter to the country. I do question, on the other hand, Tyrrell’s judgment that Jesse Jackson is a “mountebank”; he actually seems to me more sinister than that.

The Liberal Crack-Up is not without its faults, including a tendency to exaggeration, perhaps endemic to satire. And it has its omissions: Tyrrell’s catalogue of muddleheaded clergymen seems not quite complete without mention of such specimens as the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. and the Right Reverened Paul Moore. In his concluding chapter he might have added that many New Age liberals resemble the old Puritans as well in being killjoys, anxious to make life less enjoyable for the rest of us. The militant feminists, for example, seem hostile to heterosexual love, while the anti-nuclear activists seem positively to resent light and heat.

Tyrrell’s style, moreover, is too heavily and too obviously influenced by the greatest of all American polemicists, H.L. Mencken. But this, at least, is an error in the right direction. More people ought to try to write as well as Mencken, and if Tyrrell incidentally encourages such an effort he will have performed yet another valuable service in addition to the one he has rendered in parading before us so entertainingly this gallery of today’s rogues and fools.



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