Monday, January 23, 2012

The Weirdly Besieged Attitude of Conservative Americans

The Economist's summary of remarks by one of New Gingrich's warm-up speakers at a South Carolina rally last week:
Mr Gingrich put "the academic left, the elite media and left-wing Democrats" on notice that his campaign was "about the end of their dominance of power" in America.
I ask you, in what universe do the academic left and left-wing Democrats hold a dominance of power? I know a fair number of academic leftists, and they are all in despair over America's future, which they see as dominated by giant corporations and their political pawns, war-mongers, massive violations of civil liberties, and resurgent sexism. And when did they ever dominate power?

It's an insane notion, and yet it is widely shared among conservatives. I can only think that it represents an underlying bewilderment in the face of constant social and economic change: the world refuses to hold still, and that must be somebody's fault. Academic leftists are about as powerful in America as Eskimos, but change is rapid and real, and that just plain scares a lot of people.

1 comment:

David said...

I would suggest three things among the causes for conservatives' paranoia about the academic left. First, I imagine it is probably in college that many conservatives first directly encounter many things that they don't like, including gay pride, unapologetic feminism, criticism of US foreign policy and general cosmopolitanism, and a community that takes the word of scientists on controversial subjects (evolution most of all) for granted. Second, it's important to remember that many self-consciously intellectual conservatives take their ideas from the Weekly Standard and the National Review, two journals that were founded largely as forums for hostility against leftist academics. Third, to the extent that American conservatives borrow anything from European conservatives, they are borrowing from a culture where leftism in general and academic leftism in particular have been powerful, at least in the past.

In general, it is striking how much both liberals and conservatives in the US draw their preoccupations positive and negative from the fights of the sixties and seventies. The intellectuals of both sides seem very much to be living in the past; it's true that liberals by and large haven't had any new ideas since about 1980, and, to the extent that conservatism seems more vital now, it's only because the keep coming up with new arguments against the same old liberal notions, not genuinely new ideas.

I don't necessarily think we need new ideas. But I'm a liberal fuddy-duddy.