‘The permanent revolution’? The New York intellectuals, the CIA and the cultural Cold War
It is by now something of a commonplace that the ‘neoconservative’ intellectual movement associated with the administrations of George W. Bush is partly descended from the ‘New York intellectuals’, the community of antiStalinist leftists who dominated American high culture in the early years of the Cold War.2 One continuity between the two groups is ideological: the zeal with which the New York intellectuals once urged a US crusade against Soviet communism is now brought to the prosecution of the ‘War on Terror’. Another is tactical, with ‘neocon’ organisations such as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) routinely employing polemical devices pioneered on the Old Left during the 1930s, such as issuing public letters over a long list of celebrity signatories. Finally, there is a direct bloodline, with the offspring of New York intellectuals showing up in the ranks of the neocons, the most obvious example being William Kristol, former VicePresident Dan Quayle’s Chief of Staff, founder of PNAC and son of Irving Kristol, the leading New York intellectual often referred to as the ‘godfather’ of neoconservatism.3 The question of precisely how much key neoconservative ideas are influenced by Trotskyism, the principal ideology of the New York intellectual community in its formative phase, is a controversial one: for example, the claim of writer Michael Lind that the neocon idea of the ‘global democratic revolution’ originated in the Trotskyist
concept of the ‘permanent revolution’ has been hotly contested by historian Alan Wald.4 Nonetheless, there is general agreement that there are strong similarities between the characteristic beliefs and rhetoric of the literary anticommunists of the early Cold War era and the ‘defense intellectuals’ of more recent times.