A leftist’s guide to the conservative movement, one podcast episode at a time, with co-hosts Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell.
Here's the Latest Episode from Know Your Enemy:
Matt and Sam are joined by two special guests, Sarah Jones and Marshall Steinbaum, who return to the show to take stock of where we're at: our failed response to the pandemic, the connections between the pandemic and the protests, and how all this might play out in November. The four of us range widely—but be warned, this is not the most inspiring conversation. Are there any reasons to be hopeful? Listen and find out.
Sources Cited and Further Reading:
Eric Levitz, "Coronavirus is Killing Our Economy because It Was Already Sick" (New York Magazine)
Sam Adler-Bell, "Conservative Incoherence" (Dissent)
Sarah Jones, "Eugenics Isn't Going to Get Us Out of This Mess" (New York Magazine)
Sarah Jones, "The Coronavirus Class War" (New York Magazine)
Matthew Sitman, "Why the Pandemic is Driving Conservative Intellectuals Mad" (The New Republic)
Know Your Enemy bonus episode: What Are Intellectuals Good For? (with further thoughts on the protests that followed George Floyd's murder)
There's been no shortage of commentary on the rise of the "nones," those Americans who claim no religious affiliation, a trend especially notable among younger people. But that doesn't mean we live in a secular age. Matt and Sam talk to Tara Isabella Burton about her new book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, and the way our search for meaning and the need for ritual has met our neoliberal economic order. What does this spiritual churn mean for our politics? Why do reactionary ideas find a ready audience among those disillusioned with modern life? We take up these questions and more in a wide-ranging conversation about the way we live now.
Sources and Recommended Reading:
Tara Isabella Burton, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World
Tara Isabella Burton, "Christianity Gets Weird" (New York Times)
Daniel José Camacho, "The Racial Aesthetic of Burton's 'Weird Christians'" (Sojourners)
Michael Anton, "Are the Kid Al(t)right?" (Claremont Review of Books)
Matt and Sam are joined by writer and editor Shuja Haider to discuss a topic near and dear to all of our hearts: country music. We talk about country's conservative reputation, the problems with (and virtues of) Ken Burns's recent documentary about country music, and the humane politics that arise from acknowledging—as the best country songs do—our collective frailty. Plus, a bunch of great music recommendations for your quarantine listening.
A playlist featuring every song we mention in the episode, plus a few more bangers can be accessed here.
Matthew Sitman, "E Pluribus Country," Dissent, Winter 2020.
Shuja Haider, "The Empty Jukebox: Johnny Paycheck and the Return of the Repressed in Country Music," Viewpoint, March 10, 2015
Shuja Haider, "A World That Draws a Line: Interracial Love Songs in American Country Music," Viewpoint, March 1, 2017
Shuja Haider, "Canon Fodder," Popula, Sept 13, 2018
Cole Stangler, "Emotional Archaeology: An Interview With Ken Burns," Commonweal, Sept 13, 2019
Shuja Haider, "The Invention of Twang," The Believer, Aug 1, 2019
Shuja Haider, "Somebody Had to Set a Bad Example," Popula, Nov 14, 2018
Nick Murray, "The Other Country," LA Review of Books, Nov 1, 2018
Jesse Montgomery, "African Chant," Popula, Sept 18, 2018
Here it is—the mailbag episode. Recorded on 4/20 and celebrating a full year of Know Your Enemy, Matt and Sam answer listener questions about: conservatives hiding in plain sight, our favorite conservative novelists, a George W. Bush counterfactual, the right’s response to COVID-19, and—against our better judgment—some Bernie Sanders campaign postmortem.
We received so many amazing questions for this and recorded tons of material. So much, in fact, that we decided to release another 25 minutes of it as bonus material on Patreon. If you get to the end of this episode and find yourself hankering for more, sign up on Patreon and you can listen to some extra discussion of Bob Dylan and political realignment + our entire back catalog of bonus episodes.
Thanks for your support through all this. Stay safe and (reasonably) sane.
Matthew Sitman, "Trump's Intellectuals and the Great Moving Right Show," The Bias, April 3, 2020.
Matthew Sitman, "A Time For Politics," Commonweal, April 23, 2020.
Matthew Sitman, "Saving Calvin from Clichés: An Interview with Marilynne Robinson," Commonweal, October 5, 2017
Sam Adler-Bell, "Coronavirus Has Given the Left a Historic Opportunity," The Intercept, April 14, 2020.
Sam Adler-Bell, "Beautiful Losers," Commonweal, March 11, 2020.
John Thomason, "Hope Deferred (on Obama and Marilynne Robinson)," The Point, May 8, 2017.
Matt and Sam are finally joined by the show's longtime bête noire, Marshall Steinbaum, for a deep dive into the Chicago school of economics and the wreckage it's supported—from welcoming the birth defects caused by deregulating the pharmaceutical industry to justifying massive resistance to desegregation to being put in the service of Coronavirus truther-ism. Where did this iteration of libertarianism come from, intellectually and institutionally? Who are the key figures in the Chicago school? How have their ideas infected the way we all think about economics and politics? It's a sordid, depressing tale of rightwing money, intellectual dishonesty, and a gleeful desire to discipline the forces of democracy.
Sources and further reading:
Marshall Steinbaum, The Book That Explains Charlottesville, Boston Review, August 14, 2017
Marshall Steinbaum, Economics after Neoliberalism, Boston Review, February 28, 2019
Isaac Chotiner, The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory that Informed the Trump Administration, New Yorker, March 30, 2020
Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains (Penguin-Random House, June 2017)
Edward Nik-Khah, Neoliberal Pharmaceutical Science and the Chicago School of Economics (Social Studies of Science 2014, Vol. 44(4) 489–517)
Our rollicking conversation with Know Your Enemy Film Correspondent Jesse Brenneman is now out from behind the paywall! Be prepared: we dive into Darrel Campbell's 2012 war-on-Christmas fever dream Last Ounce of Courage, a deranged film that nevertheless offers real insight into the conservative mind. (If you really love freedom, you can watch the film here, before you listen. But it is not at all necessary.)
Jesse is a seasoned radio producer and dear friend—and funny. He has his own new podcast you should check out: Tech Talk with Tim and Ted.
WATCH: Last Ounce of Courage (YouTube)
*** As mentioned in the intro, we're doing a mailbag episode next week. Please submit questions you'd like us to answer on air by email knowyourenemypodcast[AT]gmail.com OR by tweet @Knowyrenemypod ***
Matt and Sam talk to John Ganz about paleoconservatism, the Island of the Misfit Toys of the American right. Along the way we're introduced to David Duke, Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis, and others, and discuss their enduring influence on the Republican Party and conservative politics—both in 1992, when Buchanan made a failed run for president, and today, when the hopes of their movement seems to have been fulfilled in Donald Trump.
Sources and Recommended Reading:
John Ganz, The Year the Clock Broke (The Baffler)
John Ganz, Finding Neverland (The New Republic)
Rick Perlstein, I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong (New York Times)
Murray Rothbard, Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement
Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Castaway (America's Future Foundation)
Shuja Haider, How To Be a Democrat, According to Republicans (The Outline)
Ross Douthat is that strangest of all creatures, a religious conservative with a New York Times column—a perch from which he pronounces on U.S. politics, the Catholic Church, and modern culture with style and intelligence, plus a dash of mordant pessimism. In other words, the perfect choice to be the first "enemy" to come on the show. He joins Matt and Sam to discuss his own conservatism, the American right in the Trump era, and his new book The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success.
- Ross Douthat, "The Decade of Disillusionment," NYT, Dec 28, 2019
- Ross Douthat, "The Case for Bernie," NYT, Nov 30, 2019
- Ross Douthat, "Trump’s Message: Love It or Leave It, With a Bigoted Edge," NYT, Jul 16, 2019
- Ross Douthat, "What Are Conservatives Actually Debating?" NYT, June 4, 2019
- Rudyard Kipling, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings," Harper's, Oct 26, 1919
Making It is Norman Podhoretz's 1967 memoir about his journey from the working-class neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn to his heady ascent in the New York literary scene of 1950s and '60s. It's also a fascinating psychological study of a man on the cusp of converting from Cold War liberalism to what came to be known as neoconservatism—a shift driven, at least in part, by the cool reception of this book. Making It proves a fascinating text through which to understand not just one conservative mind, but multiple generations of New York intellectuals, the neoconservative movement, and the politics of grievance, self-pity, and narcissism that have come to define much of conservatism in the Trump era.
- David Klion, "The Making and Unmaking of the Podhoretz Dynasty," Jewish Currents, Dec 19, 2017
- Norman Podhoretz, "My Negro Problem — And Ours," Commentary, Feb 1963
- Janet Malcolm, "‘I Should Have Made Him for a Dentist'" New York Review of Books, Mar 22, 2018
- Louis Menand, "The Book That Scandalized the New York Intellectuals," The New Yorker, Apr 24, 2017
- Benjamin Moser, "My Podhoretz Problem — And Ours," Jewish Quarterly, Dec 5, 2018
- Lee Smith, "Making It," Tablet, Jan 16, 2019
Matt and Sam talk to Rebecca Traister of New York magazine about sexism and electoral politics. How has patriarchy conditioned the political careers of politicians like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren? How does the right mobilize anti-feminism to win? And how do conservative women like Sarah Palin use traditional womanhood and femininity to their advantage? Listen to find out!
Traister is the author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger.
Rebecca Traister, "Elizabeth Warren's Classroom Strategy," The Cut, Aug 6, 2019
Rebecca Traister, "Leader of the Persistence," New York Magazine, July 23, 2019
Elaine Blaire, "The Power of Enraged Women," New York Times, Sept 27, 2018
Liesl Schillinger "Book Review: Big Girls Don't Cry," New York Times, Sept 16, 2010
Will Arbery's play "Heroes of the Fourth Turning"—about four conservative Catholic friends arguing under a night sky in Wyoming—feels like it was written to be discussed on Know Your Enemy. An ominous meditation on faith, conservatism, empathy, cruelty, and power, "Heroes" has ignited debate and garnered praise across the political spectrum—from First Things to the (failing) New York Times to Rod Dreher's blog at the American Conservative. Arbery was raised by conservative Catholic professors and grew up imbibing the ideas of the right and the teachings of the Church. He writes from a place of deep love and withering scrutiny. Lucky for us (and you!) Will displays all the sensitivity, intellectually curiosity, and love in this conversation that he does in his remarkable play. Enjoy!
The New York Times profile of Will, "A Play about God and Trump, from a Writer Raised on the Right"
Vinson Cunningham, "A Play About the Nuances of Conservatism in the Trump Era," The New Yorker, October 14, 2019
B.D. McClay, "Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ is a haunted play about religious conservatives," The Outline, November 5, 2019
Rod Dreher, "Will Arbery’s Heroes," The American Conservative, October 2, 2019
C.C. Pecknold, "An extraordinary play that challenges progressives and conservatives alike," Catholic Herald, October 1, 2019
Sarah Jones joins Matt and Sam to discuss the myth of "Trump Country" and the pitfalls of reporting on rural America, and to address the most important question of all: is Donald Trump the Antichrist? (Answer: Probably not.) Sarah's essay, "Scapegoat Country," appears in this month's special issue of Dissent on "Left Paths in Rural America."
- Sarah Jones, "Scapegoat Country," Dissent, Fall 2019
- Sarah Jones, "What Brett Kavanaugh Means to Conservatives," New York Mag, Sept 30, 2019
- Sarah Jones, "Here’s How We’d Really Know That Trump Is the Antichrist," New York Mag, Aug 21, 2019
- Mollie Hemingway, "I wasn’t a Trump supporter. I am now." Washington Post, Jan 19, 2018
Sam interviews journalist Hannah Gais about (1) the far right's ongoing efforts to infiltrate conservative media and (2) the self-victimizing grift of Quillette anti-anti-fascist Andy Ngo.
- Hannah Gais,Leaked Emails Show How White Nationalists Have Infiltrated Conservative Media, Splinter
- Hannah Gais, The Making of Andy Ngo, Jewish Currents
Matt and Sam talk to Max Alvarez—writer, editor, and host of Working People, an excellent podcast—about growing up working-class and conservative in a mixed race household.
Matt and Max compare experiences as we try to answer some basic but tough questions: what attracts some members of the working class to conservative politics? How do the cultural and economic aspects of conservatism interact for working class conservatives? And what can the left learn from working-class conservatism's appeal?
Support Max's Patreon here!
- Max Alvarez, "Can the Working Class Speak?" Current Affairs (2018)
- Stuart Hall "The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists," (1988)
- Charlie Post's two-part essay from the early aughts in Against the Current (and Sebastian Lamb's response)
- Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Walmart
- Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas? (2005)
- Larry Bartels' review of Frank.
- John Jost, "Working Class Conservatism: A System Justification Perspective," (2017)
Oh and please support our Patreon!
With the help of Jane Mayer's essential 2016 book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, your hosts explore the world of right-wing philanthropy and the institutions—from centers at universities to think tanks in Washington, DC—it has funded. What emerges is a startling history of how a small group of incredibly rich families used novel techniques to shelter their wealth from taxation and fund a right-wing takeover of American politics.
Other sources cited and consulted:
- Theda Skocpol, "Who Owns the GOP?" (a critical review of Mayer in Dissent)
- Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism
- Amanda Hollis-Brusky and Calvin Terbeek, "The Federalist Society Says It’s Not an Advocacy Organization. These Documents Show Otherwise." Politico
- Mark Schmidt "The Legend of the Powell Memo," The American Prospect
- Honoré de Balzac, Eugénie Grandet (1833)
Matt and Sam's first ever guest, Patrick Blanchfield, is an Associate Faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and author of the forthcoming book Gunpower from Verso books, which you can and should pre-order here. In the wake of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton, we turn to Patrick—a truly brillant writer and thinker—to help us understand how these traumatic reptitions of spectacular violence are rooted in American history and ideology.
- "The Market Can't Solve a Massacre" (Splinter)
- "Recoil Operation" (New Inquiry)
- "Ghosts of 2012" (N+1)
- "The Gun Control We Deserve" (N+1)
- "Thoughts and Prayers" (N+1)
- "'They're Coming for the Ones You Love': My Weekend of Gun Training in the Desert" (The Nation)
- Declaration of War: The Violent Rise of White Supremacy after Vietnam (The Nation)
Other sources cited:
- Evan Simko-Badnarski, Condition Yellow (Images from Patrick and Evan's trip to a firearms training institute in Nye County, Nevada)
- Thomas Meaney "White Power," London Review of Books
- Adam Kotkso, Neoliberalism's Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capitalism
- Jonathan M. Metzl, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland
- Toni Morrison, Nobel Lecture (1993)
- Okkervil River "Westfall"
- Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
- Benjamin Madley, American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873
PS If you haven't already, please subscribe to Know Your Enemy on Patreon! For $5/month, you get additional episodes and other subscriber-only content. For $10/month you get the bonus content + a digital subscription to Dissent magazine!
The first National Conservatism conference was convened at the Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C. two weeks ago. It was a coming out party for the rising nationalist wing of the conservative movement, with attendees laying the groundwork for a more intellectual version of Trumpism. Many mainstream conservatives were in attendance, along with paleoconservatives, figures from the religious right, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and a popular Fox News host. In the era of Trump, mainstream conservatism is making room for hardcore nationalists, economic populists, illiberal theocrats, and others—this conference was a chance for them to find common ground.
Matt and Sam discuss the conference, what it means for the present and future of conservative politics, and how the left can combat the nationalists' appeal—which is, in many ways, much more powerful than that of the dying Reaganite consensus.
Here's what we read and watched:
- Video and text of Senator Josh Hawley's speech
- Alexander Zaitchick's profile of Hawley in the New Republic.
- National Conservatism 2019 YouTube channel (videos of many but not all speeches)
- Zach Beauchamp's original write-up at Vox.
- NYT's write-up.
- Osita Nwanevu (New Yorker), Conservative Nationalism is Trumpism for Intellectuals
- Jacob Heilbrunn (NYRB), National Conservatism: Retrofitting Trump’s GOP with a Veneer of Ideas
- Daniel McCarthy's (TORY ANARCHIST) take.
- Damon Linker's contrarian take.
- David Walsh's take on the conference and fascism
- Douthat's NYT column.
- Daniel Luban's profile in the New Republic of Yoram Hazony.
- Criticism from the right: The Federalist and Jacobite takes.
Interested in the background reading we did for this episode? There's a lot of it. But we want to show our work and give you the chance to dig deeper. Below are the articles we referenced, read, or drew upon for our conversation on the illiberal right.
Against the Dead Consensus, First Things
Sohrab Ahmari, Against David French-ism, First Things
David French, What Sohrab Ahmari Gets Wrong, National Review
R.R. Reno, What Liberalism Lacks, First Things
Romanus Cessario, O.P., Non Possumus, First Things
Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist., Integralism in Three Sentences, The Josias
Ross Douthat, What are Conservatives Actually Debating?, New York Times
Rod Dreher, The Meaning of the Benedict Option, The American Conservative
Adrian Vermeule, Integration from Within, American Affairs
Adrian Vermeule, A Christian Strategy, First Things
Matthew Sitman, Liberalism and the Catholic Left (a review of Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed), Commonweal
Emma Green, Imagining Post-Trump Nationalism, The Atlantic
Jane Coaston, David French vs. Sohrab Ahmari, Explained, Vox
Damon Linker, How the Intellectual Right is Talking Itself into Tearing Down American Democracy, The Week
Sam Adler-Bell, With Census Decision, Trump's GOP Falters in March to White Minority Rule, The Intercept
Isaac Chotiner, Interview with Ross Douthat on the Crisis of the Conservative Coalition, New Yorker
Eric Levitz, Oregon Republicans Flee State to Block Action on Climate Change, New York
Patricia Mazzei, Florida Limits Ex-Felon Voting, Prompting a Lawsuit and Cries of ‘Poll Tax’, New York Times
Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Bars Challenges to Partisan Gerrymandering, New York Times
Ronald Reagan's televised "A Time for Choosing" speech in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXBswFfh6AY
A choice excerpt:
"Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation. They tell us that by avoiding a direct confrontation with the enemy he will learn to love us and give up his evil ways. All who oppose this idea are blanket indicted as war-mongers. Well, let us set one thing straight, there is no argument with regard to peace and war. It is cheap demagoguery to suggest that anyone would want to send other people’s sons to war. The only argument is with regard to the best way to avoid war. There is only one sure way—surrender."
Sam Tanenhaus's original 2009 essay in The New Republic, the basis for the book we're discussing today: https://newrepublic.com/article/61721/conservatism-dead
Whitaker Chambers's 1957 dismantling of Ayn Rand in the pages of National Review: https://www.nationalreview.com/2005/01/big-sister-watching-you-whittaker-chambers/
And here's Buckley's 1955 mission statement for National Review: https://www.nationalreview.com/1955/11/our-mission-statement-william-f-buckley-jr/
In episode two of KNOW YOUR ENEMY, Matt and Sam discuss economist Albert O. Hirschman's 1991 book The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy. Along the way, they identify the persistent patterns in conservative rhetoric from Edmund Burke to Friedrich Hayek to Paul Ryan.
They finish off by examining some of the rhetorical tics of the progressive left, and Sam reminisces about the good old days when DSA was comprised exclusive of young nerds and old Jews.