I certainly don’t want to go “look how smart I am,” because if the latter is said people might actually start looking and I might get in trouble. But this passage from Joseph Epstein’s obituary of Irving Kristol leaped out at me:
At the same time, he liked to play with ideas. I remember a Chinese dinner with him at which he tried out the idea that Modernism in the arts was the devil’s work. He meant the actual capital-D Devil. Was he serious? I’m not certain even now, but the discussion, in which Irving argued that Modernist art undermined tradition and as such human confidence in institutions, was provocative in the best sense, causing a true believer (that would be me) to defend Modernism by arguing that the best of it was based precisely on tradition.
Dear readers, that’s not playing with ideas unless one is 14 years old and trying to be an intellectual in high school. And not just any high school – this is the kind of debate homeschooled kids who’ve never left the house otherwise and have encountered “modernism” in art history textbooks have (a few of you will know that I am not exaggerating one bit here). In fact, what’s stunning is how dull, trite, and ultimately cliched such a debate is, and yet Epstein has somehow remembered this as if it is the most significant experience in the world.
Garry Wills’ remembrance of Bill Buckley is another case in point; I’m no fan of Wills, not one bit: I think he’s a strange liberal with some Southern apologist tendencies (Paul Rahe’s review of “Lincoln at Gettysburg” does a very good job of showing his biases). But much of the article strikes me as probably being true. Conservatives don’t care to learn, by and large: they want to win the argument, and part of this has to do with the essential nature of conservatism. Conservatism has an “answer” for everything already – it doesn’t matter what it is, or what it could be, someone’s already written something or there’s some body of thought telling you why it’s bad and not as good as some other thing. In this respect, many of the liberals I find utterly mindless defenders of the status quo are very conservative: they’ve never had an independent thought in their lives, they already know what’s good and what’s bad. Congrats – you have your reward.
I think I’m going to ramp up criticism of the right-wing in this country in the coming weeks. I’m not sure yet, because I don’t want to get involved in a lot of petty debates. But it’s clear to me that my views are not represented the way they should be: I’m pro-life, want lower taxes, want much less regulation so people in this country can actually go into business for themselves, want a very strong and competently run foreign policy that does not cry every time military force is used, want free trade, want school vouchers, want comprehensive reform at the University level (we may not need affirmative action for conservatives, but it really is a disgrace I teach more in my blog than I was taught in undergrad – far more). Now I have a tremendous respect for the Republican Party, despite its problems, and I think a lot of bloggers who are attacking that party don’t realize how hard it is to govern, not in the least.
However, I don’t see why wanting the things listed above should tie me in with groups that are openly racist and secessionist (bloggers far more than Republicans are responsible for this, but Republicans are increasingly listening to bloggers, partly because of the experience with DailyKos and the Left). I don’t see why in order to criticize those groups, I would have to ally with liberals who would in some cases make fun of me or call me a bigot for being pro-life, as if abortion was obviously a good.
And at another level, I just refuse to be defined intellectually by people who don’t go out and look for the interesting things others have to say; again, there are quite a few who only want to hear their own voices, and apply the notion of the Devil to anything foreign. I think a large part of my work as a political scientist is making sure other voices are heard and understood, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder how that task is different from that of any given citizen, anywhere.