I’ve read a couple of books by Dinesh D’Souza, a self designated conservative intellectual whose most controversial book, â€œThe End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society caused some liberal’s heads to explode back in the 90’s. As examples of deep conservative thought, they are excellent brain candy; fluffy, superficial explorations of the left’s dominance of American culture and academia. The End of Racisim was even skewered by some conservatives for being wretchedly sourced and borderline bigoted. Two black fellows at The American Enterprise Institute resigned in protest over the think tank’s promotion of the book as well as D’Souza’s continued affiliation with the group.
One of the black fellows who resigned, Glenn Loury, wrote a review of The End of Racism in which he called the then 34 year old D’Souza “the Mark Fuhrman of public policy” which may have been a little unfair but indicative of the effect that D’Souza’s shallow critique of black culture had on genuine intellectuals like Loury. D’Souza also wrote Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus in which he anticipated the much more scholarly efforts of David Horwitz in exposing the left wing bias of professors and college administrators. In D’Souza’s case, the major criticism was again one of poor sourcing. I would add that Illiberal Education, as a dialectic, was an utter failure. Logical fallacies abound in the book and it should have finished the young man as a serious critic.
But the same conservative network of foundations, think tanks, and study groups that raises up and propels brilliant thinkers like Michael Ledeen, Fred Kagan, and Jeffrey Hart to prominence also brings us the occasional dud. D’Souza, and to some extent Ann Coulter, share a predilection for generating outrage both for the sake of advancing their personal public personae as well as eliciting angry responses from the left. The latter is important in that most criticism of their work is just as shallow and vapid as the work being criticized – easy pickings for a clever interlocutor like D’Souza who is a regular on CNN and other cable news networks where clever ripostes and chicken soup bromides rule the airwaves.
The only book of D’Souza’s that I really liked was Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader – a hagiographic summation of The Gipper’s impact on America and the Presidency as well as a listing of his leadership qualities that D’Souza claims made him the leader that he was. Here D’Souza wasn’t attempting any deep analysis but rather simply giving his opinion of a man he obviously admired. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read with plenty of Reagan anecdotes and a rehash of some of his major addresses. I came away with a deeper appreciation of the man although not convinced that any of Reagan’s unusual qualities or unorthodox leadership style could necessarily be adopted by anyone else to be a successful President.
This much is clear; D’Souza is not cut out to be a scholar. His mind appears to be too undisciplined to rigorously examine the subject he writes about, taking the issues apart and putting them back together so that he is intimately familiar with all aspects of the matter. Nor does he seem to be very self critical in that I don’t see him constantly challenging his own ideas. While this is a failing of many people who consider themselves scholars, constantly bulldogging one’s own work brings texture and a richness to arguments and gives depth and nuance to criticism.
It is dangerous (and a little silly) to comment on a book I haven’t read. But D’Souza’s latest effort, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, judging only by what the author himself has said and news reports of its contents have revealed, I would have to say that D’Souza has elevated logical fallacy to an art form while making Ann Coulter look like a Sister of Mercy of liberal criticism.
“In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11. ... In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.
Muslim rage “fueled and encouraged by the cultural left” being “responsible” for 9/11? There are few more vociferous and sneeringly deprecating critics of the cultural left than yours truly but this is sheer lunacy. And it gets worse:
â€œI realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before. But it is a neglected aspect of the 9/11 debate, and it is critical to understanding the current controversy over the â€˜war against terrorism.â€™ â€¦ I intend to show that the left has actively fostered the intense hatred of America that has led to numerous attacks such as 9/11. If I am right, then no war against terrorism can be effectively fought using the left-wing premises that are now accepted doctrine among mainstream liberals and Democrats.”
First, the idea that no one has made this charge before is ludicrous and shows that D’Souza either lives in a cocoon or is a shoddy researcher:
It took culture warrior Robert Knight to refine the argument, and he was quite specific about who was to blame:
“None of this happened by accident. It is directly due to cultural depravity advanced in the name of progress and amplified by a sensation-hungry media.
- We were told putting women into combat areas is progressive and enlightened.
- We were told pornography is liberating, and that anyone who objects is a narrow-minded Puritan who needs therapy. We have been flooded with porn imagery on mainstream television and in magazine ads. Where did those soldiers get the idea to engage in sadomasochistic activity and to videotape it in voyeuristic fashion? Easy. It’s found on thousands of Internet porn sites and in the pages of “gay” publications, where S&M events are advertised alongside ads for Subarus, liquor and drugs to treat HIV and hepatitis.
- We were told homosexuality is harmless and normal, and the military should live with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexuals to stay in the barracks. We were told that men “marrying” men and women “marrying” women is inevitable – not only for America, but for the world. Imagine how those images of men kissing men outside San Francisco City Hall after being “married” play in the Muslim world. We couldn’t offer the mullahs a more perfect picture of American decadence. This puts Americans at risk all over the world, especially Christian missionaries who are trying to bring the Gospel to people trapped in darkness for millennia.
- This is a Perfect Storm of our own making, and it is up to normal Americans to unmake it. It is not beyond correction. The American people should start by getting on their knees and asking God’s forgiveness for letting it get this bad. Then, they should ask Him for guidance in how to restore the moral order.”
While Knight is talking specifically about Iraq, he generalizes the jihadis hatred – ostensibly the same hatred that fueled the 9/11 attackers. (Read Eric’s entire piece. It is an excellent antidote to D’Souza’s idiocy.)
In fact, as this review of The Enemy at Home in Slate Magazine by Timothy Noah points out, D’Souza’s slings and arrows directed at the “cultural left” (a term he apparently never defines) seems to have missed their mark entirely:
The heart of D’Souza’s book isn’t his libeling of the American left, but rather his libeling of the American right. D’Souza notes, correctly, that al-Qaida’s hatred toward the West in general, and the United States in particular, is animated to a great extent by America’s permissive culture. But Bin Laden isn’t some Michael Medved figure grumping about the vulgarity of American Pie. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Al-Qaida’s enemy isn’t the excesses of secular culture; it’s secular culture itself. And to a surprising degree, D’Souza is willing to go along for the ride. Theocracy, D’Souza argues, is misunderstood to mean “rule by divine authority of the priesthood or clergy.” Not so! There are checks and balances, just like in the U.S. Constitution. In Iran, for instance, “the power of the state and of the mullahs is limited by the specific rules set forth in the Koran and the Islamic tradition. The rulers themselves are bound by these laws.”
Jesus Lord what sophistry! And ignorance to boot. It would come as a huge surprise to the small number of cowering democrats in Iran that the power of the state is “limited” in any way. More than 200,000 Revolutionary Guards make sure of that. And the Supreme Leader, whose power is technically checked by an Assembly of Experts, in reality does anything he damn well pleases as long as he’s clever enough to justify it by interpreting the Koran broadly enough.
But Noah’s point that D’Souza is actually libeling conservatives is well taken. If conservatives in this country express similar criticisms of the cultural left as the Islamic fanatics, according to D’Souza’s illogic doesn’t that put the social righties on the same moral plane as the jihadis? Doesn’t it, in fact, make us allies with conservative traditionalists around the world – even conservative Muslims? You betchya!
[I]f the political left and the Islamic fundamentalists are in the same foreign policy camp [because they both hate American imperialism], then by the same token the political right and the Islamic fundamentalists are on the same wavelength on social issues. The left is allied with some radical Muslims in opposition to American foreign policy, and the right is allied with an even larger group of Muslims [which includes radical Muslims] in their opposition to American social and cultural depravity. This is the essential new framework I propose for understanding American foreign policy and American social issues.
I hardly think we need this kind of “framework” – which is about as broad and simplistic as I’ve ever seen proposed – in reaching a new intellectual paradigm that explains either American foreign policy or the cultural left. D’Souza is spouting nonsense – a language he speaks with great fluency and total obliviousness to rationality.
If D’Souza had written about the toxicity of the culture promoted by the left and its effect on the mores and manners of American society – dumbing down discourse while polluting the values and traditions that hold the country together, I may have taken a flyer on the book and bought it. But from all that I’ve read about this book – both left and right – it’s a tome only the rabid cultural warriors could embrace.
Do you think they’ll catch the irony of D’Souza’s idea of making common cause against the left by allying with Muslim conservatives? I think not. They’ll probably be too busy chortling over the savaging of lefty icons to pay much attention to what passes for nuance in the book.