The 'Right' Books and Big Ideas | The Nation


The 'Right' Books and Big Ideas

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Although few investments have paid off as handsomely as the Bradley-Heritage bet on the unknowns Murray and Olasky, similar stories can be told in a host of policy areas. To understand how liberals grew so defensive on affirmative action, look into Terry Eastland's Ending Affirmative Action: The Case for Colorblind Justice (1994), funded by Olin and Bradley; Frederick Lynch's The Diversity Machine: The Drive to Change the "White Male Workplace" (1997), also funded by Olin, and Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action (1989); and the Thernstroms' previously mentioned tome. At the now Murray-less Manhattan Institute, Peter Huber's Liability (1988) and Galileo's Revenge (1993) and Walter Olson's The Litigation Explosion (1991) helped spark the national debate on civil justice, the use of social science in the courts and the nationwide attack on trial lawyers commonly known as "tort reform."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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The right has funded far more than attacks on traditional liberal policies. It has used its financial power to underwrite books that portray liberals and liberalism itself as illegitimate and corruptive. To understand how alien leftist beings have kidnapped your college-age children, see Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (1988) and Charles J. Sykes's Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education (1988). Also quite popular among funders has been a full-frontal attack on the "culture of the sixties." David Horowitz, the beneficiary of millions of Olin, Bradley and Scaife dollars, is convinced that the publishing industry is controlled by "political comrades" of Cornel West and Edward Said. Horowitz has declared that "the conservative agenda should broadly be seen as the conservative counter-revolution against the 1960s. It was a national tragedy that we gave up our cultural institutions to the left, and now we need to take them back." With that in mind, we have read the Manhattan Institute's Myron Magnet, whose The Dream and the Nightmare (1993) blamed the sixties counterculture for the creation of the urban underclass; John DiIulio's Olin-funded jihad, in an endless series of journal articles, against a "permissive" penal code; Allan Bloom's bestselling jeremiad against modernity, The Closing of the American Mind; and a seemingly endless series of scoldings about our moral failings by the likes of Robert Bork, William Bennett and Michael Novak. Each one of them is generously supported by one or more of the foundations mentioned above. Each has played a seminal role in moving the political discourse to the right. During the House impeachment vote, for instance, ABC News chose Bennett and NBC chose Bork as guest commentators, despite the fact that their positions were deeply outside the mainstream of popular opinion on the subject. No liberals were similarly deployed.

In matters of foreign policy, conservative big ideas have had even greater success in determining the intellectual foundations of public discourse. Ever since the end of the Soviet Union, the foreign-policy establishment has been casting about desperately for a political paradigm to replace George Kennan's "containment" as the organizing principle of foreign and military policy. So far, three contenders have emerged. In 1989, former State Department official Francis Fukuyama argued in his essay "The End of History?" that no great challenges to Western-style liberal capitalism were likely to arise, and so, ideologically speaking, history had ended. The article was funded by Olin and published in The National Interest, which then promoted it and printed a series of responses from the Olin-funded Allan Bloom, Samuel Huntington and Irving Kristol, among others. Later it was expanded into a well-received Free Press book. Critics found Fukuyama's thesis provocative but difficult to apply to the real world, and recently even Fukuyama has articulated reservations in light of Russia's backsliding toward the possibility of a state-controlled economy.

Next up was Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who offered a thesis based on the notion of a global "clash of civilizations." Huntington divided the globe largely into Western nations and the Muslim world, which "threatened Western domination" with "kin-country rallying" and "the threat of broader escalation." Despite generating some initial excitement, his rigid division also failed to cohere as an agreed-on new paradigm. Huntington's Institute for Strategic Studies received more than $3.4 million in Olin funds between 1993 and 1999.

The most recent contender is Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs and a former protégé of Huntington's at his Harvard-based Olin Center. Zakaria argued in his essay "Illiberal Democracy" that the United States and the West should show more patience toward semidemocratic nations with one-party systems or elected authoritarian rulers as long as they "accord their citizens a widening sphere of economic, civil, religious and limited political rights." The essay will soon become a book, with some help from the Olin Foundation.

In addition to the fancy conferences, the cushy offices and the occasional consulting trip to the Governor's mansion in Austin, being a conservative intellectual, it should be noted, appears to be a pretty decent way to make a living. According to the July 1997 report of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, approximately $10 million was spent by conservative foundations between 1992 and 1994 to finance fellowships for authors at their favored think tanks. Dinesh D'Souza enjoyed $483,023 at AEI; Irving Kristol, $380,600, also at AEI; Robert Bork managed to scare up $459,777 for his office at Heritage; and William Bennett, also at Heritage, garnered $275,000 in addition to his considerable book earnings. Fellowships at the left's much smaller institutes do not, to put it mildly, compare. Small progressive "angels" like the Schumann Foundation, which generously funded my 1998 book Who Speaks for America? Why Democracy Matters in Foreign Policy through the good offices of the World Policy Institute, are in no position to make the researching of a book quite so comfortable or profitable. AEI notes in its 1998 report that "the most significant areas of expense growth were in the economics studies area and in efforts toward broader dissemination of our research." Thirteen percent of its more than $14 million 1997 budget went to publications and another 14 percent to "marketing and management." Those two figures together are more than most liberal foundations spend on their entire operations, including the gas and electric bills.

The publishing world, while consolidating itself to a disturbing degree, remains open to fresh ideas that it believes will likely capture the public imagination. Unlike much of the rest of the media, it lacks a discernible ideological viewpoint. Public-minded ventures like the New Press, Norton and the Perseus Books Group would love to expand their ability to reach serious readers with foundation-funded books that are also fun to read. What is needed is for liberal funders to recognize the value that books have in shaping the overarching direction of American political discourse and to fund not only the books but also the efforts required to make certain they receive a fair hearing. A progressive funder once told me that he never bankrolled books because if he took away a grant from a human rights or Third World poverty organization, "people would die." Yes, I said, but they will continue to die in greater numbers so long as the right has a lock on the foundations of public discourse. The outcome of any contest is a foregone conclusion when one side plays only defense.

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