Cultural Revolutions

Thomas Molnar, R.I.P.

On July 10, in Richmond, Virginia, the intellectual historian Thomas Molnar went to his reward, leaving behind an array of gorgeous ruins.  By these I mean not his works, which were masterfully crafted and will endure.  No, the ruins that Molnar used to guard are the temples, forts, and libraries of our previous civilization, the crumbling traces of what David Gress called (in From Plato to NATO) the “Old West,” those institutions of order that cannot neatly fit into any ideology—including the Americanism-for-export that “movement” conservatism promoted throughout the Cold War, whose legitimate heir is neoconservatism.

When I would visit him in his Lincoln Center digs, and later in (of all places) suburban New Jersey, Molnar used to shock me with such observations.  I’d always believed, before meeting him, that the right/left spectrum was born with the French Revolution, but Molnar casually referred to the institutions of “the right” in ancient Greece and Rome, even Egypt.  And again, to this American conservative, his definitions were unexpected.  On the right he included, along with the priests and the soldiers, the magistrates—the government!  On the left he grouped most rhetoricians and the leaders of the merchant class.  Indeed, throughout his writing—from the book that made his reputation, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961),...

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