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Walter Ong, Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, and Jonah Goldberg's New Book

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(1) Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, 2nd ed. (2015; orig. ed., 2000);

(2) An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by me and Paul A. Soukup (2002);

(3) Of Ong and Media Ecology, edited by me and Soukup (2012).

Now, in the 2016 presidential primaries in the Republican Party, the New York developer Donald J. Trump effectively used alarmist rhetoric to rally his supporters. Consequently, he emerged as the Republican Party's presidential candidate, with ardent supporters. Despite a strong showing in the presidential primaries in the Democratic Party by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. In the general election, Trump emerged victorious in the Electoral College, but Hillary won the popular vote. To his credit, Jonah Goldberg is keenly aware of just how narrow Trump's Electoral College victory was.

As I write, Thomas B. Edsall, a weekly columnist at the New York Times (NYT), has published "Meet the New Boss. Actually Quite Different from the Old Boss," in the NYT dated April 26, 2018. He says, "For dour decades, from 1968 to 2008, what was loosely described as the Republican establishment -- the party's congressional leaders, campaign operatives, donors, lobbyists and special interests -- reigned supreme." But Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election effectively ended the supremacy of the old Republican establishment.

Edsall concludes, "The post-Trump world is a Humpty Dumpty story. No one is going to put things back together again." Edsall may be right about that. Jonah Goldberg is not trying to put things back together again before Trump emerged as the Republican Party's presidential candidate in 2016. Instead, Jonah Goldberg is trying to put together something new for conservatives to rally around in time for the 2018 mid-term elections.

No doubt the Democratic Party will rely heavily on anti-Trump sentiment in the 2018 mid-term elections. But the Republican Party may not be able to rely heavily on pro-Trump sentiment. Clearly Jonah Goldberg's new book is his bid to influence conservatives and conservative-leaning voters in the Trump era as conservatives re-group for the 2018 mid-term elections.


As Jonah Goldberg knows, the conservative polemicist James Burnham in the title of his book Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism (John Day, 1964), his last book-length study. Perhaps Jonah Goldberg sees himself as the new James Burnham.

But Burnham is most widely known for his book The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World (John Day, 1941). According to Jonah Goldberg, "George Orwell was deeply influenced by Burnham's writing on the New Class and that fascination was a major inspiration for his novel 1984" (page 116).

However, in the book James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life (ISI Books, 2002), Daniel Kelly (1938-2012) offers the following assessment of Burnham's 1964 book Suicide of the West:

"Sill, the book had much to offer. For one thing, it was the first attempt at a comprehensive study -- psychological and sociological as well as political and intellectual -- of American liberalism in the middle of the twentieth century. For another, though it overemphasized some aspects of liberalism and virtually ignored others, focusing on what it saw as the pith of the ideology, and omitting nuance, it often hit its target squarely. But what in retrospect is most striking about the book is its success as a work of prophecy. For if its image of the postwar era's liberalism was debatable, it faithfully captured the liberalism of the 1970s and 1980s" (page 290).

As an aside, perhaps I should note here that Ong reviewed the 1953 book that Burnham edited and contributed to titled What Europe Thinks of America in the now-defunct journal Social Order (Saint Louis University), volume 4, number 4 (April 1954): pages 181-182. In the early 1950s, Ong had worked in more than 100 libraries in the British Isles and Continental Europe tracking down the 750 or so books (most in Latin) that he lists and briefly annotates in his book Ramus and Talon Inventory (Harvard University Press, 1958). Consequently, Ong was interested in what Europeans thought about America.

Oddly enough, Ong's concluding summary of the book still resonates today, even with certain issues that Trump discusses concerning nationalism versus globalism:

"Can a democracy such as America's, where the real concerns of the citizens are habitually internal concerns, be geared to an international outlook? Is our government, internally sound, necessarily irresponsible internationally? This question, which is becoming more and more common in Europe, recurs in several writers here. It leads to a conclusion, which [Raymond] Aron, [Julian] Amery, and [Vittorio] Zincone advance and in which all the other members of this symposium would seem to concur: Europeans are troubled, but not despairing, about the quality of the United States' international leadership, which they realize was forced on the United States, but which they also realize needs more than a crusader spirit and an ill-concealed and unfulfillable wish that all issues be statable in terms of good people vs. bad people, white vs. black" (page 182; italics in the original).


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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