The Unbearable Ugliness of Damon Linker

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Author Damon Linker has announced in a piece melodramatically entitled The Unbearable Ugliness of the Catholic Church that he is leaving the Church over the abuse crisis.  Go here to read the rest.  It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at this, to steal from Oscar Wilde, at least for anyone familiar with the career of Mr. Linker.

He was a convert to Catholicism and became employed by First Things by the late Father Richard Neuhaus.  He repaid Father Neuhaus thusly:


A few weeks later, [Damon] told me he was thinking of writing a book about First Things and its editor in chief. He explained that the book would be a critical appreciation of the achievements of the magazine. I said I would be happy to cooperate with such a project but I didn’t think there would be enough interest in the subject to elicit a large advance from a publisher. Moreover, this would be a first book by a relatively unknown writer. In early December, he told me that several publishers had indicated intense interest in the book he was proposing and that Doubleday had offered an advance of $160,000. He wanted to leave at the beginning of 2005 to start writing. Surprised but pleased by his good fortune, I congratulated him and renewed my offer to be of assistance wtih the book. I then said it might be helpful in that connection if I could see the proposal he had submitted to publishers. At this he blanched and, with obvious embarrassment, said that would not be possible. This was the first indication that he had agreed to write what in the publishing business is knowns as an “attack book,” which, unfortunately, is the genre to which “The Theocons” belongs.

Go here to read more of this.  Go here to read a review of the resulting hatchet job:


That omission has now been remedied by Damon Linker’s The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Linker argues that critics who worry about the threat posed by Protestant evangelicals are worrying about the infantry when they should be paying attention to Central Command. In case you haven’t been following important developments to which the author is privy, Central Command consists of a coterie of (mostly) Catholic intellectuals who are associated with First Thingsmagazine and its founding publisher, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Welcome to the inner sanctum of the “theoconservatives,” where wily theologians and political philosophers labor night and day to tear down Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation. Their goal, writes Linker, is “to sanctify and spiritualize the nation’s public life, while also eliding fundamental distinctions between church and state, the sacred and the secular.”

Such efforts, if successful, would not be fatal to the nation, but they would cripple it, effectively transforming the country into what would be recognized around the world as a Catholic-Christian republic. I hope that prospect is disquieting enough to inspire thoughtful American citizens to educate themselves about the theocons, their ideology, and the very real threat that they pose to the United States.

More about this presently. Consider first, however, the book jacket. The top of the front cover features a drawing of the White House with a prominent cross upon its roof. In case that bit of subtlety eludes you, the cover goes on to proclaim: “for the past three decades, a few determined men have worked to inject their radical religious ideas into the nation’s politics. This is the story of how they succeeded.”

If your paranoia remains unaroused, check out the back cover, where large boldface letters at the top ask, “WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT AMERICA?” This is followed by a series of sub-questions, in somewhat smaller type, beginning with “Do you believe the Catholic Church should be actively intervening in American politics on the side of the Republican Party?” and ending with “Do you believe the United States should be a Christian nation?” Then, in larger boldface font again, “The theocons answer yes to all of these questions. DO YOU?”

The back cover’s concluding paragraph warns that if theocons have their way, “the political and cultural landscape of our country [will be transformed] to such an extent that the separation of church and state as we have known it will cease to exist.” To put it gently, the cover material is crude, heavy-duty propaganda of a sort traditionally associated with unsavory pamphleteers of malign inclination. What it’s doing in a work that wishes to be understood as a serious analysis of an important intellectual phenomenon is a question best answered by Mr. Linker and his agent.

Since then Mr. Linker has been a reliable siren wailing against conservatives and the religious right.  When National Catholic Reporter stalwart Michael Sean Winters, of all people, calls you an anti-Catholic bigot, as he did here in 2009 in regard to Mr. Linker, you know there may be a wee bit of a problem with the fellow’s professed Catholicism.

The news that Mr. Linker has left the Catholic Church surprises me on the same level as would the news that Bill Clinton is not a virgin.


More to explorer

Thought For the Day


I am truly surprised by this:   The Arizona Democratic Party is planning to hold a vote this week to determine whether

Saint of the Day Quote: Saint Joseph of Cupertino

  I like not scruples nor melancholy: let your intention be right and fear not. Saint Joseph of Cupertino     There


  1. In other news, sources report that a old document was found proving that St Peter actually left the Church because that Judas guy that Christ hand-picked as a bishop, was a betraying dude.

  2. I doubt Linker ever entered the Church. It was one of his many guises and poses over the years. Some people leave the Church for carefully considered reasons (Patrick Henry Reardon) and some for emotional but heartfelt reasons (Rod Dreher). Some do so for reasons which are crass (the Church doesn’t provide them with the validation they fancy they are due, or its ethical and moral teaching critiques them while they’re in the process of getting what they want). In Linker’s case, it appears to have be one of a series of career moves.

    A charitable student of his career called him a ‘gyrovague’. His academic research was in the literary wing of political science (IIRC, Paul Zummo’s work was there as well). He lands a term position at Brigham Young University and gains a reputation as something of a Mormon sympathizer. Of course, Brigham Young doesn’t hire him for the tenure track, and he lands a position as a speechwriter on Rudolph Giuliani’s staff, where he worked for about 7 months. He was supposedly recommended to Fr. Neuhaus as a ‘neo-conservative’ and he presents himself as a recent entrant into the Church; not really necessary as Fr. Neuhaus hired and published people from a menu of denominations. Fr. Neuhaus hires him in 2001 as a staff editor.

    In early 2004, James Neuchterlein retired and decamped to Indiana and Linker was promoted in his place (over the objections of at least one of the two boards responsible for supervising First Things and the Institute on Religion and Public Life). Before the end of the year, Linker tells Neuhaus that the commute is too much for him and he’s got a book to complete. Neuhaus is curious and asks to see the manuscript and is poleaxed when Linker refuses to show it to him. In early 2005, he formally departs. Within months, he is slicing up Neuhaus’ project in magazine articles.

    The book appears in 2006. He makes an effort to advance and defend its argument in online forums. One of his interlocutors was Joseph Knippenberg, a fairly rank-and-file academic (though he did edit an academic journal). Pleasantly and politely, Knippenberg made short work of Linker. There’s a reason Linker was unable to land an academic position: he’s just not that good.

    Book reviewers are drawn from subcultures friendly to his thesis and Christian discourse in places like World (or First Things) is rightly resistant to assessing motives. Still, Linker’s association with and departure from the Institute on Religion and Public LIfe has to be one of the stranger incidents in American opinion journalism in the post-war period Dr. Knippenberg and others were not willing to put it on the table and say that the most parsimonious explanation of his conduct is that dishonorable cack-handed grifter is his metier. As is, he’s been a ‘freelance writer’ for 13 years while his wife paid the bills from her occupational therapy practice. He’s quite fortunate she hasn’t put him out on the curb, as women in such situations commonly do.

  3. Damon who?

    Intellectuals just got to be intellectuals. A pox on all of them.

    When he final finishes his post-doctoral work in theology, he might try economics. Those guys are dumb.

  4. “the literary wing of political science (IIRC, Paul Zummo’s work was there as well).”

    I don’t think I’ve ever referred to it quite that way, but it has a ring about it.

  5. Rod Dreher had a mostlysympathetic take on Linker, likening it to his own face-spiting rhinectomy.

    Dreher wouldn’t tolerate any criticism of Linker on his blog and would delete all comments to that end. Again, Linker was someone Dreher was quoting and to whom he was referring as an authority. (Dreher eventually banned me for chastising one of his pet commenters, and offered a fraudulent explanation for that). Without a doubt, Dreher and Linker have some shared character defects.

  6. To begin with, Richard John Neuhaus founded First Things in response to Jewish concern about the rise of Pat Buchanan and paleoconservatism. I have told this story before, but it is interesting to consult Benjamin Ginsberg, who wrote Fatal Embrace, when paleoconservatism was considered a very real threat in Jewish circles. Beneath the façade of interfaith collaboration on the civil rights movement model, Ginsberg discerns bedrock ethnic identity, which in America means religious affiliation. So the paleocons, led by Patrick Buchanan, “are socially conservative” and “some, like Buchanan, are conservative Catholics who reject the reforms mandated by liberal popes and the Vatican II conference [sic].” They were disgruntled in the early ‘90s because they had been swindled by the Republicans on the right-to-life issue, or, as Ginsberg puts it, “Though Reagan and Bush paid lip service to the concerns of these groups by praising the right-to-life movement and other moral goals, both lacked a genuine commitment to social issues that eventually became apparent and led to a sense of betrayal among social conservatives.”

    Pat Buchanan was the Ahmadinejad of his day. He was the revenant of Father Coughlin, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh all rolled up into one. He was the most significant threat to Jewish hegemony over American culture since America First, and Ginsberg’s description of him shows how dire the threat seemed to American Jews as of 1993:

    After a long hiatus, anti-Semitism has once again become a significant phenomenon on the political right. The most noteworthy expression was, of course, Pat Buchanan’s charge that the Persian Gulf war was promoted by the Israeli Defense Ministry and its “amen corner” in the United States and his subsequent description of Congress as “Israeli-occupied” territory.

    Richard John Neuhaus’s patrons Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz were every bit as concerned about the Pat Buchanan phenomenon and paleoconservatism as Benjamin Ginsberg. Seeing an opportunity, Neuhaus became a double agent. While still working as editor of the Rockford Institute’s Religion and Society newsletter, Neuhaus was undermining the institution which published it, referring to the Rockford Institute as located in “the fever swamps” of intellectual discourse at cocktail parties in Manhattan. Finally, the hostility came out in the open and after a high speed car chase in Manhattan to secure the filing cabinet containing donor names, Neuhaus succeeded in diverting a $250,00 Bradley Foundation grant from Rockford to be used as the founding nest egg for First Things.

    The founding of First Things was just one skirmish in a decade-long campaign which involved the subversion of just about every Catholic journal of opinion by Neoconservative agents of influence. Dale Vree, editor of the New Oxford Review recounted his big chance when a Jewish donor from the East Coast showed up at his offices and offered NOR money if it would support 1) free market economics and 2) a muscular American foreign policy. Vree declined, but the editorial record of other Catholic publications speaks for itself.

  7. Given the alternatives, I kinda like free market economics and a muscular American foreign policy myself.

  8. Amateur Brain Surgeon, treating us to another manifestation of E. Michael Jones intellectual decay is less than prudent or congenial.

    1. Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter were not the ‘patrons’ of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. Norman Podhoretz had no association with it at all and he and his wife didn’t have that kind of money. The Institute on Religion and Public Life was financed by the Bradley Foundation.and other philanthropies.

    2. Fr. Neuhaus founded the Institute in May of 1989 after the board of the Rockford Institute shut down their New York office (the “Center on Religion and Society”) and fired its employees in a peculiarly loutish way. Fr. Neuhaus had suggested by mail that the Center and the Rockford Institute divorce due to intramural disputes over various matters. Allan Carlson, the President of Rockford, shows up with two other foundation officials and a couple of security guards and insists Neuhaus and his staff vacate the premises. They end up out on the sidewalk with their effects in plastic bags.

    3. It didn’t have anything to do with the Gulf War or Patrick Buchanan. Neuhaus had complained about some of the content of Chronicles, the Institutes monthly opinion magazine and the Rockford board complained about the expenditures of Neuhaus’ office and what they considered to be insubordination by Neuhaus. (He’d refused to cancel on short notice a conference that was already arranged and organized).

    4. Neuhaus incorporated the Institution on Religion and Public Life and secured grant-funding from the same menu of foundations which had financed the Center on Religion and Society. Dr. Carlson et al learned the hard way that the foundations took an interest in Neuhaus work and if the folks in Rockford wanted to be pricks, they were on their own financially. (The Rockford Institute has been a shell ever since).

    5. The Center on Religion and Society had issued two publications: a quarterly quasi-scholarly journal called This World and a newsletter. Rockford owned the copyrights to these. They made a fitful effort to publish This World as an annual, then shut it down in 1993.

    6. Neuhaus and his staff designed a new publication as a continuation of the publications they issued while under Rockford’s aegis. It would be issued monthly and contain editorials, commentaries, quasi-scholarly aritcles, book reviews, and an appendix which resembled the former newsletter. That was First Things. It was meant to be an elaboration on what Rockford had published under the Center’s auspices.

    7. The mess about Jews and ‘neoconservative agents of influence’ has no reality outside the imagination of E. Michael Jones.

  9. “Given the alternatives, I kinda like free market economics and a muscular American foreign policy myself.”

    As do I Ernst. No other economic system can successfully compete with capitalism and the world tends to be a rather dangerous place.

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