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Critics at Work

Just what is "Neoconservative Criticism"? What gives it any particular essence or distinguishes it from other brands being bartered in bookstores and newsstands throughout the Republic? The wiseacre might answer that it is the kind of criticism practiced by neoconservatives, and thus leave us where we began—that is, in the dark. Which is just about where we find ourselves after turning the final page of Professor Winchell's sometimes amusing, if not very enlightening, study of the phenomenon (assuming there is such a thing). The three critics chosen as exemplars of neoconservative crit. may, or may not, relish the pigeonhole they have been asked to occupy, but never mind: they are treated tenderly, at times almost lovingly, and hence will not think of calling their lawyers. If none of the trio has the heft and beam of a great critic or editor, all have raised considerable dust in the literary arena, and they have made some imprint on the National Letters.

But there is still that neoconservative tag that bothers me, as it apparently bothers Winchell, who tries—not very successfully—to pin it down in his first chapter, and then waves at it again in the final two or three pages of the book. Early on we are informed that neoconservative intellectuals "are recent converts to laissez-faire economics and have been cultural traditionalists from the cradle," and that their conversion to the...

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