Saturday, August 4, 2007

It's all our fault? How does that go?

The Road to Rightville - New York Times Book Review: By Stephen Metcalf
...In short, I am white, privileged, middle-aged and boring. But one thing I am not, and never will be, is a conservative. The recent essay anthology “Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys” (Threshold Editions, $23) has given us liberals a chance to think about why, even in our calcifying stodginess, American conservatism remains a nonstarter for us, a stack of loyalty oaths we’d never be tempted to sign. ...

As reasons for choosing one political affiliation over another, this is up there with “I am as God made me.” As if to drive home the point, Starr, the deputy editor of The Weekly Standard, quotes the British poet Philip Larkin. Larkin the poet was an artist of the first rank, but Larkin the man was an infamously small-minded reactionary. He once told an interviewer, “I suppose I identify the right with certain virtues and the left with certain vices. All very unfair, no doubt.” These essays are Larkinesque, but with all the heavily qualifying sardonicism stricken out. The left is knee-jerk and borderline depraved; the right is freethinking and decent. All very fair, no doubt. Lay this down as your given and the comforting solecisms flow forth unregulated. When the left is being idealistic, it is na├»ve, utopian, technocratic and meddling. When the right is being idealistic, it is idealistic. ...

As a sales pitch, the essays in “Why I Turned Right” are mostly a dud. But they offer a tantalizing clue as to how handsomely financed “fellows” at corporate-backed think tanks (a description that fits eight of the 13 contributors) manage to connect so unfailingly with a mass audience. From the evidence of this volume, their righteous anger at liberalism is not cynical. Not at all. Conservative pundit-intellectuals have locked into a magical frequency, one that remains occult to the left, connects with a large segment of the viewing and reading public, and comes from someplace very sincere. ...academia, or more properly the staggeringly uniform and unforgiving creed of ideological correctness against which almost every one of these writers sooner or later set his face.”

Young people tend to be politically unthinking, and liberal arts professors tend to be arrested young people. But many undergraduates, encountering the towering stupidity of college radicalism, tenured and otherwise, chose to be conservative, where conservative meant deferential to the past, appropriately awed by greatness, calm, courteous, skeptical and cautious. As Talleyrand immortally put it, “Above all, no zeal.” ... For them the primal scene of revulsion at the liberal mind-set stays forever fresh. “By virtue of its one-sidedness and extremism,” Stanley Kurtz writes, “the academy serves as a key generator of our polarized political and cultural battles.”

Here we near the answer to our riddle: how privileged college graduates, while fronting for the interests of corporations and the rich, speak the language of angry populism, and with such depth of conviction. ... “If high school had been an ape colony, we would have been those antisocial unattached males lingering on the fringes, envying the dominant males with their mates.”

To be genuinely humiliated is to know how to tap into the humiliations of others. Rejecting tout court a culture of cool that prevails against him, a certain sort of person turns to campus politics. Because these conservatives were, by and large, low-status males (or the feminism-disdaining women who loved them) in high school and college, they know instinctively how to connect with the culturally dispossessed. ...

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