Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Can't Say It Better Myself

Sometimes I wish I had the eloquence to speak about political issues. I'm afraid I'm a bit to emotional to lay out an argument clearly and persuasively which is probably why I am in theater. So when I run across something that makes me go, "Yeah, that's what I mean." I just have to share. For what's it worth, here are two recommendations:

Today, in the New York Times, I read an article by Frank Rich who so succinctly describes the fall of the neo-cons in our current society. He likens it to the fall of prohibition in the 1930's with the election of Franklin Roosevelt (who famously said upon signing the repeal, "What this country needs now is a drink.")

The article got me thinking about a documentary from the BBC entitled The Power of Nightmares. Brian and I got the documentary through Netflix and spent many weeks avoiding watching it. A political documentary about the rise of radical Islam and neo-conservatism? Sounds exciting!

But in actuality, it was very powerful (no pun intended). The similarities between the two groups (neo-cons and radical Islamists) are fascinating. Below is an excerpt, rather long I apologize, from the introduction:

In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life, but now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a War on Terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media. This is a series of films about how and why that fantasy was created, and who it benefits. At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world, and both had a very similar explanation of what caused that failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way that either intended. Together, they created today's nightmare vision of a secret organized evil that threatens the world, a fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most powerful.

Enough politics for now! On the lighter side, Frank Rich began life at the New York Times as a theater critic. He wrote about his childhood in Washington, DC, and his introduction to theater in a book entitled, Ghost Light. I highly recommend it, it's a bit lighter than The Power of Nightmares.


  1. The Rich article has nothing to do with neo-cons. It is about stem cell research. Perhaps you are using "neo-con" as a catchall for "people whose politics I disagree with"?


    "Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world..."

    Islamism dates back to the 18th/early 19th centuries, and its current form is one of the most illiberal ideologies in the world. This attempt to juxtapose radical Islam and neoconservatism is strained, to put it mildly, and I would take anything it prefaced with a large grain of salt.


  2. Perhaps I am using Neo-con to describe ideologies that I disagree with but I do believe the neo-con philosophy to be one of busying the populace with silly moral dilemmas to distract them from questioning the real politics of the government. As for you second comment, I didn't really understand it--both neo-conservatism and radical Islam were reactions to the liberal policies they saw as ruining the world.

  3. What you describe isn't neoconservatism. Neoconservatives are notable mainly for their idealistic foreign policy. Generally speaking, their domestic policies are more liberal leaning than a 'true' conservative. So to call out the neoconservatives in an article about the culture wars is misplaced. It is really conservatives, and the religious right (the movement which backs their positions on social policy), which the article is addressing.

    "...both neo-conservatism and radical Islam were reactions to the liberal policies they saw as ruining the world."

    Ignoring the fact that radical Islam was not born as a reaction to liberalism, the biggest thing wrong is that neoconservatives want to SPREAD liberalism while radical Islamists follow an ideology that is one of the most illiberal in the world. Militant Islam is a totalitarian ideology that wants to take away those freedoms, and will kill you if you disobey. Neoconservatives want you and everyone to be able to practice freedom of religion, education, speech, sexuality, dress, choice of government and leaders, etc.

    This is one of the main philosophical underpinnings of neoconservatism. Did the show touch on this difference at all?

    The paragraph you posted makes me think not. It reads like the theme of the show was to present the two forces as morally equal and opposite. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  4. What you have written is absolutely fascinating and something I really need to think about. I guess I've always lumped neo-cons with the religious right and the film does state that radical Islam rose as a reaction to liberal societies. Thanks for writing, I really appreciate your thoughtful approach. I can't dispute what you say because obviously I don't have enough information. Off to research!