A fresh raft of intellectual refugees are turning from the Left. Maybe they’re not washing up on the shores of conservatism or even Republicanism, but what’s clear is the Left they knew has left them. They are calling it “The Turn,” this experience of waking up to the new reality that the institutions and ideas they believed in, to which they committed their lives, have become utterly corrupted.
Walter Kirn was a huge deal in the rather small, insular, elite New York magazine and publishing world. He strode Manhattan like a colossus. Time Magazine. Vanity Fair. New York Magazine. New York Review of Books. New York Times Sunday Magazine. Hollywood made two of his novels into movies. I have no doubt he had his own table at Elaine’s. Maybe he sat at Woody’s.
Kirn’s essay at Substack last July was called “The Bullsh*t.” Kirn remembered the time when Time Magazine “grounded the American mind in a moderate shared reality.” He said there was a time when “it was still possible to regard our product as unifying and, in its way, definitive.” All that has changed. He says, now, “every morning, there it is waiting for me on my phone. The bullsh*t.”
Kirn’s complaint is the same as yours. Journalists are no longer journalists. Instead, they are propagandists for a political point of view. They have become cozy courtiers and chroniclers of the powerful. They are lap dogs happily kept on a short chain, eager to peddle their master’s lies—like Hunter’s laptop was a Russian plot.
Kirn has lost most of his income and all his old friends. He is unrepentant.
Liel Leibovitz was a fully credentialed denizen of the Upper West Side. Doctorate from Columbia. Professorship at NYU. Mainstream book contracts. Bylines in the smart magazines. Invitations to parties where one might sit next to Susan Sontag or Salman Rushdie.
He published “The Turn” last December at Tablet Magazine. He says “The Turn” is not a Damascene moment but starts as a twitch, then a few more twitches, “stretching into a gnawing discomfort and then, eventually, a sense of panic.” It is what happens when your world turns sideways. The Turn is when you cannot admit to your friends that even bigots ought to have free speech. The Turn is realizing you can’t express your doubts about lockdowns and school closures. The Turn is fearing the label “white supremacist” because you think burning cities is not necessarily “social justice.”
Leibovitz says, “You don’t get to be ‘against the rich’ if the richest people in the country fund your party in order to preserve their government-sponsored monopolies. You are not a ‘supporter of free speech’ if you oppose free speech for people who disagree with you. You are not ‘for the people’ if you pit most of them against each other based on the color of their skin or force them out of jobs because of personal choices related to their bodies.” He says the Left has become the party of the wealthy and state security agencies who preach racial division, state censorship, contempt for ordinary citizens, and for the U.S. Constitution. He has taken The Turn away from all that.
Alana Newhouse went to Barnard College on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and then took a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. She worked for legendary Democrat political consultant David Garth. She founded Tablet Magazine. In 2014, she gave birth to a baby boy, and she swore this boy lived in pain from the moment he was born. No one in the medical profession believed her. Finally, she came across a brain scientist named Norman Doidge, who helped her understand her son’s injury and how to proceed.
She asked Doidge why it took her and her husband “years to figure this out.” After all, both were children of doctors. And she and her husband were writers and researchers, with loads of health insurance. Doidge bluntly told her that the “medical system is broken.” Specifically, Doidge mentioned quotas for admission from emergency rooms, unnecessary operations, the monetization of illness vs. health, peer review run by Big Pharma, and many more maladies that have corrupted the system.
And then Doidge dropped the bomb on Newhouse. He asked, “How come so much of journalism I read seems like garbage?” At that moment, Newhouse realized Doidge was right. Journalism was broken. It had become garbage. And then she had the vertiginous realization that everything is broken.
She says, “For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc.” She says they are all broken. The cohort running these institutions now insist on sameness and purity. They have become “a mutually validating pipeline for conformists with approved viewpoints—who then credential, promote and marry each other.”
Leaving the Left is an old story.
The great novelist John Dos Passos turned on the Left when he realized the Soviets had murdered Spanish poet José Robles and that Fellow Travelers, including his close friend Ernest Hemingway, lied about it.
Arthur Koestler left the Communist Party over his disillusionment with Stalin. His book Darkness at Noon is one of the important books of this oeuvre.
Closer to our own time is the story of the neocons—Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, and others—who moved Right after they were “mugged by reality.”
David Horowitz and his friends had “second thoughts” about their Stalinist youth. They produced “second thoughts” books and hosted “second thoughts” conferences. They still do.
Overreach always opens eyes. Pro-abortion advocate Frances Kissling, former head of Catholics for a Free Choice, said her movement lost “moderate pro-choice Catholics” over the radicalism of partial-birth abortion.
It is quite remarkable news that Kirn, Leibovitz, and Newhouse have opened their eyes. We can expect many more of them, as we are living through desperate times where the Left has the whip hand and are happily using it. Though a longtime man of the Right, even I have taken a bit of a Turn in recent years. The people and institutions I once respected—military leaders, the FBI, even the CIA—I now fear. In some ways, The Turn is liberating.
The good news is that in twenty or thirty years, there will be a plethora of books and articles from Millennials. These former nonbinary-commie-BLM-loving Millennials will have made The Turn.
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