Scott Lemieux makes an argument I offered during a bloggingheads segment with Ross, namely given the extremely low quality of Commentary‘s current output are we really so sure that John Podhoretz was a nepotism hire? As Scott writes, “Given that the actual content of the journal seems to be sixth-rate defenses of failed imperialist schemes and feeble Republican hackery” why shouldn’t J-Pod be able to do the job as well or better than anyone else.
In a somewhat more serious vein, one should note the “small world” problem here. The vast majority of intellectuals are on the left. But precisely in order to counteract this leftward domination of the traditional intelligentsia and traditional intelllectual institutions, the conservative movement has over the years dedicated a considerable amount of energy to building a large network of counterestablishment institutions and publications of various sorts. What’s more, because this counterestablishment is the product of a specific political critique of the intelligentsia and its impact on American politics, the tendency is for counterestablishment institutions to be much more explicitly political than what you see in traditional intellectual institutions.
The result is that the demand for certain forms of conservative intellectual output appears at times to threaten to outstrip supply. The relatively small number of outlets for liberal political commentary can draw on a vast cadre of liberals scattered throughout the arts and academia. On the right, though, there’s more output but less input. As a result, you have Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for the Journal of International Security Affairs (published by JINSA), Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for The Weekly Standard, Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for National Review, Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for The Wall Street Journal, Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for The New York Sun, Claudia Rosett writing about how the UN is evil for Commentary and so on and so forth.
Under the circumstances, almost any hire is going to wind up being “nepotistic” on some level. You’re dealing with a very, very, very small world that sometimes appears large because of the large number of institutions involved. But the actual number of people is small, and there tend to be large overlaps in personnel and funding sources. Overlaps, nepotism, and incestuous circles are hardly unknown on the left since that’s a pretty small world on its own terms, but it’s even more the case on the right in a way that makes these distinctions a bit meaningless.