Vladimir Putin recently gave a speech outlining a series of grievances, including with Hollywood, gender roles, and the progressive intelligentsia’s cancellation of J.K. Rowling — that, save for the fact it was delivered in Russian, sounded indistinguishable from a monologue on the Fox News evening lineup. Russia recently ordered its state-controlled television to increase its already-considerable coverage of Tucker Carlson’s commentaries, which frequently support Russian propaganda.
Of course, the simple conclusion for Carlson’s domestic critics is that he’s a mouthpiece for Putin. Yet this does not fully answer the question of which way the line of influence runs. Putin may be feeding ideas to the American right, but they also seem to be feeding ideas back to him. It is a genuine confluence of ideology and strategy, based on a shared set of enemies (the Democratic Party, the American security establishment, Western Europe, progressive social values, and liberal democracy) and a loosely held belief in preserving white Christian social values and suppressing immigration.
New Lines magazine, a European publication, recently obtained a strategy memo written by Mikhail Yakushev, the director of Tsargrad, a state-linked Russian group whose mission is “the revival of the greatness of the Russian Empire.” The memo describes efforts to foster covert ties between Russia and a host of right-wing European parties. A broad summary of the findings:
“Tsargrad and its officers in Moscow continued to act as the far-right parties’ contacts in Russia. They undertook clandestine measures to hide liaisons between European politicians and Aleksandr Dugin, Russia’s guru-esque philosopher of Eurasianism and an outspoken, longtime proponent of a Russian conquest of Ukraine. In some cases, the far-right parties sought advice from what they called their “Russian friends” to hinder anti-Russian proposals in the European Parliament. Tsargrad also served as an intermediary between the parties and Russia’s high-ranking politicians. One plan cooked up by the organization in March 2021 envisaged establishing a network to be known as ‘Altintern.’”
The Altintern is a deliberate revival of the “Comintern,” the old network of international Communist parties that took its direction from the USSR. Communist parties slavishly followed the party line, which often reversed itself depending on whatever foreign policy Moscow was following at a given moment. Loyal Communists in the West would zigzag between defending Nazi Germany when it was allied with Stalin — French Communists advocating sabotaging the war effort when Germany invaded in 1940 — and creating a Popular Front to resist fascism.
The Altintern, to be clear, was not actually created. But it does seem like a useful description of the loose international far-right alliance. It is simplistic to the point of falsehood to accuse the likes of Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Madison Cawthorn of being controlled by Moscow. They are allies of Putin who increasingly see Russia’s war aims as an extension of their own political project.
When Donald Trump came onto the scene, his alliance with Putin was shocking enough to the Republican Party that it required a lot of subterfuge (meetings in Trump Tower, sweetheart business deals, passing documents to Russian agents in bars, and so on). Now it has progressed to the point where the alliance can operate more or less out in the open.
Photo-Illustration: New York Magazine. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
I’ve written recently about the left-wing view that education does not matter, except as a source of stable employment for teachers and inculcating progressive values in children. That conviction is implicit in a new essay in the left-wing magazine Protean, headlined “Motivated Reasoning: Emily Oster’s COVID Narratives and the Attack on Public Education.”
The authors, Abigail Cartus and Justin Feldman, are both epidemiologists, but the essay is informed primarily by their socialist policy commitments. Oster, their subject, is a liberal economist who has driven a lot of people on the left mad by arguing during the pandemic that schools should be open.
Oster’s case for reopening schools is fairly simple. She finds very little evidence that in-person school increases community transmission of COVID-19. On the other hand, the harm produced by closing schools is enormous — ranging from disrupting child care for working parents and free school meals for low-income children to an enormous loss of learning, which fell disproportionately on poor and minority students.
Cartus and Feldman question (I would say they quibble with) Oster’s conclusions about the low transmission risk of in-person schooling. But the really astonishing thing about their polemic is that they don’t engage at all with the damage caused by closing schools. It’s not that they have different, lower measures of the harm caused by closing schools. Instead they simply ignore that factor altogether and hope their readers don’t notice.
Their basis for attacking Oster’s advocacy of open schools is that she rejects the “precautionary principle,” which “holds that decision-makers should err on the side of minimizing or eliminating a potential hazard, even if this might prove to have been an overreaction once more research becomes available.”
Closing schools during the pandemic, they argue, was “a straightforward application of the precautionary principle.” It is not clear why this is so, given that keeping children out of school creates a very large potential hazard. Cartus and Feldman do not explain why one hazard should be minimized and the other ignored completely.
Instead, their argument turns to guilt by association, convicting Oster of being embraced by organizations that have an antagonistic relationship with the left.
“When the pandemic arrived, billionaires and right-wing interests invested in neoliberal ‘education reform’ saw an opportunity to advance their interests: breaking unions, promoting charter schools, and undermining public education,” they write. “The pandemic also provided an opportunity to increase charter school usage at the expense of public school enrollment. It gave plutocrats like the Waltons yet another chance to attack teachers’ unions by painting their demands for safer working conditions as irrational. By advocating reopening in a seminar at Bellwether Education Partners (another Walton grantee) during a period when the Chicago Teachers Union was campaigning for stronger COVID rules, Oster helped the Waltons do precisely that.”
A different way to explain this set of facts would be that the left and the most vocal activists within the teachers’ unions have ideas about education that are deeply at odds with those of most parents; namely, they disregard the value of public school except as a source of stable employment for teachers and as an incubator of (progressive) civic values. Few parents were directly exposed to this until the pandemic, at which point the vast chasm between the left’s dismissal of academic achievement, and the hopes most parents hold that school will help their children get ahead, became a political crisis for the left.
In Cartus and Feldman’s telling, this crisis is something that happened to the left as a result of neoliberal treachery. The actual policy choices of the teachers’ unions and their allies are incidental. If parents became disenchanted with their pro-closing stance, it must be the billionaires’ doing.
Cartus and Feldman adopt the left-wing convention of identifying any advocate of education reform — that is, a supporter of testing to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools, and public charters, which are free and non-selective — as an enemy of “public education.” They have so deeply ingrained this belief that they can’t imagine any education reform support believes, even if in their view mistakenly, that reform can improve public education.
Indeed, that conviction is lodged so deeply in their minds that they paint themselves as the defenders of public education even when their position in question is closing public schools. Emily Oster’s “attack on public education” consisted of advocating for public schools to be open. It’s a measure of their fanaticism that Cartus and Feldman don’t even seem to be aware of the obvious contradiction in their own rhetoric.
Nate Hochman has an essay in the ClaremontReview making a point conservatives usually prefer to forget: William F. Buckley made his name by writing a book attacking academic freedom. God and Man at Yale, Buckley’s breakout work, was an argument that liberal professors were undermining traditional values and must be reined in. “I hasten to dissociate myself from the school of thought, largely staffed by conservatives, that believes teachers ought to be ‘at all times neutral,’” he wrote. “Where values are concerned, effective teaching is difficult and stilted, if not impossible, in the context of neutrality; and further, I believe such a policy to be a lazy denial of educational responsibility.”
Conservatives have shoved that memory aside in recent years, preferring instead to pose as defenders of unvarnished free speech on campus. The left has made this posture irresistible by frequently seeking to punish or shout down ideas they deem racist or sexist causes, which has included targets ranging from the far right all the way to the left.
Hochman is candid enough to argue not only that conservatives have not always supported free speech on campus, but that they should not chain themselves now to it as a principle. And while he concedes the old-fashioned liberal belief in freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas is preferable to the more militant left-wing effort to impose ideological conformity, neither is sufficient to fulfill what Hochman considers the ultimate end of an academy that inculcates conservative orthodoxy.
It may of course seem fanciful to imagine the right can control an institution that is overwhelmingly progressive. But bear in mind that Republicans are increasingly turning to their state power to control political discourse on campus. Florida has forbidden professors in its state system from testifying in the legislature when their expertise would undermine positions taken by Governor Ron DeSantis, and its “Stop WOKE” Act likewise restricts left-wing ideas on race.
Hochman’s essay lays the theoretical groundwork for a Republican agenda to suppress left-wing thought on campus. “The only thing preventing a conservative offensive against this class of administrators,” he writes longingly, “are the remnants of the fever dream of neutrality.”
Posing as believers in the ideals of John Stuart Mill has proven useful for the right in its battle against a censorious left. But at some point, the pose may be discarded.
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