In a response to my article, “The Two Faces of the Tea Party,” Jonah Goldberg writes that “at times [Continetti] seems to be trying — and trying very hard — to use [Glenn] Beck to discredit the entire conservative argument against the progressive revolution in politics.”
I am doing no such thing. The long passage Goldberg excerpts in his post, in which I describe Beck’s construction of a “competing canon,” is not meant as an attack. Indeed, I respect Beck’s ability to introduce conservative authors into public discourse. I happen to like many of the books on that list. All of them are interesting. So let me settle any disagreement between Goldberg and his colleague Daniel Foster, who Goldberg says “seems to think Continetti is celebrating Beck’s bibliophile prosletyzing.” Foster is right: “Celebrating” — or at least, cheerfully acknowledging — is exactly what I was doing in that passage.
I make two critiques of Beck in my article. The first is that, as valuable an intellectual exercise as it might be to explore, as Goldberg puts it, the “progressive revolution in politics,” it is hard to see how such an exercise translates into today’s politics. The welfare state is here to stay. A Republican party that ran on the platform of repealing the Progressive Era would no longer be a force in American life. Hence the Tea Party may prove to be self-limiting, as its anti-statist ambitions grow more and more utopian. Now, obviously this is a debatable assertion, and I’ve been happy to see my article provoke a lot of discussion. But to disagree with Beck or anyone else on the relative merits of progressivism is not to write a “hit piece” on him.
Which brings me to my second critique. While Beck is introducing many excellent authors to his radio and television audiences, he is also introducing crank conspiracy theorists such as Carroll Quigley and Cleon Skousen. Goldberg concedes that Beck has a “conspiratorial streak,” but then says that I “might overstate my case.” I’m sorry, I don’t. Take, for example, Beck’s June 22 television show. His guest was Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, who has written a new book on the Weimar banker Sigmund Warburg. "His family is conspiracy central, right?" Beck asked Ferguson, and then referred, once again, to Quigley’s 1966 Tragedy and Hope.
Tragedy and Hope, as I write in my piece, is the bible of conspiracy theorists. Why? Because in it Quigley, a Georgetown professor for many years and a man of the left, “admitted” that most of world history since the early twentieth century has been the design of secret societies. From page 950:
"There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to study its papers and secret records."
Of course, Quigley is the only individual, dead or alive, who has studied “the papers and secret records” of the Round Table Group — perhaps because no such records and no such network exist.
Yet this did not stop Birchers such as Skousen and Gary Allen (author of None Dare Call It Conspiracy, 1971) from citing Tragedy and Hope as proof positive that an international conspiracy was at work in which the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderburg Group were acting in concert with the Soviet Empire to forge world government. Nor has it stopped Beck from repeatedly citing Quigley on his various media platforms as a guide to the confusing present.
I do not think that a politics radically adversarial to the government holds much promise for the future. And I do not believe that an individual who takes Carroll Quigley and Cleon Skousen seriously is the appropriate spokesman for a serious conservative populism.