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The Tea Party’s New Front in the American Culture Wars: Literature


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What Adam Bellow and other conservatives get wrong about the political leanings of creators of imaginative fiction

Adam Kirsch

July 10, 2014


It has not always been the case that imaginative writers—novelists, poets, playwrights—are liberals. Look back at the 1920s, the classic decade of modernism, and you’ll find that some of the greatest names were attracted to various kinds of reactionary and even quasi-fascist thought, from T.S. Eliot to Ezra Pound to D.H. Lawrence. For the New York Jewish intellectuals surrounding Partisan Review and Commentary in the mid-20th century, reconciling their literary admiration for such figures with their left-wing political views was the challenge that produced a generation of great critics. Lionel Trilling, in particular, was always reminding the bien-pensant liberals who read the highbrow journals that literature was more disturbing, more ideologically unruly and humanly curious, than conventional left-wing politics allowed.


But when Adam Bellow complains, in a pair of recent articles in National Review and Buzzfeed, that the literary establishment today is a liberal monolith, one has to acknowledge that he’s probably right. Surveys are always showing that something like 95 percent of professors vote Democratic, and I suppose that if a similar survey were taken of novelists, the results would be similar. As an editor, Bellow has shepherded a number of conservative bestsellers into print—books like Illiberal Education and The Bell Curve—but in his National Review essay, he notes that conservatives tend to be more successful at nonfiction argument than imaginative literature. “For years,” he writes, “conservatives have favored the rational left brain at the expense of the right. With apologies to Russell Kirk, the conservative mind is unbalanced—hyper-developed in one respect, completely undeveloped in another. It’s time to correct this imbalance and take the culture war into the field of culture proper.”


To this end, Bellow calls for a conservative countercultural establishment: “MFA programs, residencies and fellowships, writers’ colonies, grants and prizes, little magazines, small presses, and a network of established writers and critics.” Clearly, the model he has in mind is the right’s successful creation in the 1970s, under the auspices of neoconservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol, of a network of think tanks and publications that provided intellectual ammunition to the Republican party. Bellow himself has founded a website, Liberty Island, which allows conservative and libertarian authors to self-publish their work online—a first step in the Long March to conservative cultural renewal.



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Whats Your Mission

To Boldly Go

Once upon a time the mainstream culture was conservative and the so-called counterculture was left wing. Today the situation is reversed and a new counterculture has arisen, one that boldly challenges the cynicism, nihilism, and stifling political correctness of popular culture today.

Our mission is to support this raw and untamed counterculture by gathering its creators in one place and providing the tools and resources they need to succeed. Here they can present their latest works, interact with colleagues, and connect with a likeminded audience. At Liberty Island, readers of a conservative or libertarian bent can find fiction, music, video and graphics that reflect their social values and political beliefs -- and readers of all persuasions can find new voices and undiscovered talent. Writers and creators you've never heard of, and won't find anywhere else, because their views have been excluded from the mainstream popular culture.

Think of Liberty Island as a rallying point for a revolt against conformity and groupthink. We aim to be the missing link in a cultural feeder system that has systematically marginalized those who did not go to the right schools, attend the proper writing programs, or toe the correct ideological line. At Liberty Island, good still triumphs over evil, hope still overcomes despair, and America is still a noble experiment and a beacon to the rest of the world.



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