Magazine article The New Yorker

DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN Series: 6/6

Magazine article The New Yorker

DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN Series: 6/6

Article excerpt

"If my head were sticking on a pike at the South West Gate to the White House grounds the impression would hardly be greater," Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who, through decades of prodigious output, seems never to have produced a dull or undramatic sentence, wrote to a friend in 1965. At the time, Senator Moynihan, who died last week, was being pilloried by the left. A minor collateral effect of the war in Iraq is that it has put the word "neoconservative" into general circulation, but there were neocons long before there was this war. Moynihan was one of the first, back in the days when most of them were new to conservatism, and were Democrats, and were primarily concerned with domestic rather than foreign affairs. Neoconservatism then was the party of tough-minded, skeptical realism, the political home of the emperor-has-no-clothes boys watching the parade of liberal progress. Moynihan was the movement's star and a leader of its entrance into the realm of foreign affairs. His oppositional turn, in the mid-seventies, as United States ambassador to the United Nations, and, in particular, his vote against the infamous U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism, embodied the neocons' suspicion of international organizations (which exceeded Moynihan's suspicion of them), and propelled him into a successful race for the Senate from New York in 1976. He became the only neocon ever to transcend the advisory role in government and attain high elective office.

Moynihan expertly made himself into a central-casting version of a professor, in tweeds and bow tie. In Washington, people thought of him as the archetypal academic-in-government; the word "scholarly" appeared often in the obituaries. Although he was indeed a professor, this gets him slightly wrong. He was an intellectual, a manufacturer and purveyor of ideas--arresting ones that usually took the form of warnings of coming disaster. Moynihan was deeply conservative in his pessimism about the chances of the human project working out, especially in the social-order department, and was deeply liberal in his conviction that a large central government was probably the institution most likely to function effectively as a bulwark against the ever-pressing forces of chaos. He never really produced a magnum opus; the heart of his oeuvre is a series of extended essays--several of which appeared in The New Yorker--in which he took in the slogging scholarly work of others, ran it through some sort of internal converter, and released it, transformed, as big, attention-grabbing, historically contextualized, elegantly expressed assertions. …

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